Interpretation

Use the information below and also the tables you can access from the data page to help you answer the questions in this exercise.

Consider which (if any) of the following statements might be a legitimate inference from the figures you have seen. Note down the major points that might be made for and against each statement, and then click on the statement to follow the link to look at the commentary on each statement below.

Remember: you do not have to agree with the commentary!


The British won the Anglo-German naval race

The naval race was not the sort of "race" which had a clear-cut winner or loser. Clearly the Germans did force the British into a major (and hugely expensive) programme of naval building, which presumably they would not otherwise have done. On the other hand, Britain did prove willing and able to respond effectively to the German threat, though it was not always possible for her to maintain what had been thought to be essential ratios of strength. The Germans did not out-build the British (this was never likely) but their High Seas Fleet was able to pose a credible threat to the British when war came.

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The Germans never posed a serious threat to British naval supremacy.

Strictly speaking this is probably true, in the sense that there was never any likelihood that the Germans would oust the British from their supreme position. But the threat that the Germans could give the British a good run for their money was real, the more so since the German fleet was concentrated in the Baltic and North Sea, whereas the British had to spread their resources over a much wider area of the globe.

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The naval race made war more likely.

There is no way of deciding this with any degree of precision. Arms races are often blamed for causing wars, but there have been plenty of arms races which have not led to war, and may well have helped to avoid it (the arms race of the Cold War may fall into this category). The naval race certainly helped to fuel mutual suspicion both in terms of public opinion and policy, though things were noticeably calmer by 1913-14.

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The naval race was more about numbers of ships than about better quality of ships.

Much of the rhetoric of the naval race was about numbers, especially about how many dreadnoughts would be built (as when the British Navy League called for "Eight, and We Won't Wait!" whereas the government's response was "four now and four later"). In the light of what happened at Jutland, it is hard to avoid the idea that too much faith was placed in numbers and not enough attention was given to the quality, especially of battle cruisers. Above all, the heavy emphasis on numbers of battleships obscured the crucial importance that would be played by submarines.

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The naval race was over long before 1914.

"Long before" might be stretching things a bit, but there is evidence to suggest that the British were on top of things by 1913, with a naval programme which maintained their lead over the Germans. Relations between the two countries were considerably better by that year, though each side kept its naval programme going right up to the outbreak of war and beyond.

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The naval race scared Britain into a shipbuilding programme she could ill afford.

The naval expenditure estimates were very heavy, and became the subject of immense public controversy. Remember that these were peacetime figures, and the Liberal Government had major expenditure priorities in social welfare, particularly the financing of the new Old Age Pensions scheme. Churchill's figures for 1913-14, presented in 1912, provoked enormous arguments in Cabinet (the senior policy Committee of Government Ministers) and in Parliament, though in the event the figure voted was even higher than he had originally proposed. Whether these figures represented money that Britain could "ill afford" depends on your precise definition of "afford".

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The naval race starved the German army of resources and therefore helped the Allies in the First World War.

There might be something in this idea, although it is hard to see any evidence of it in the short term. If anything, Germany suffered from not building up her fleet enough: the British naval blockade, which a large German fleet might have been expected to challenge, was a major factor in bringing Germany to defeat.

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Return to the data page to answer the questions in this exercise.