Risk Fleet Theory


Risk Fleet Theory
   A naval strategic theory formulated by German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. Whereas the Tirpitz Plan was developed to challenge British naval dominance of the high seas with a formidable German battle fleet, the risk fleet theory articulated in a memorandum in 1900 observed that the German fleet need not be strong as the Royal Navy, because the latter would in the case of war not be in a position - given the burden of the defense of a worldwide empire - to concentrate its entire fleet against Germany for a battle in the home waters of the North Sea. A German fleet, the theory posited, need therefore be powerful enough only to inflict serious damage on the Royal Navy and thus compromise the latter’s capacity to meet and defeat other enemies. Britain would not risk a major battle with the German High Seas Fleet because the potential damage to Britain’s strategic position, even in victory, would be too great.
   The theory specifically and Germany’s naval buildup generally were crafted to nullify Britain’s two-power standard for naval supremacy. In this it succeeded, yet it also backfired to Germany’s disadvantage. Britain’s response to the German challenge was a radical recalibration of the naval arms race by way of the development of the Dreadnought , which abandoned quantitative advantage in numbers of ship for qualitative superiority in firepower. Moreover, Tirpitz was in error about the risks Britain was willing to take to destroy the German fleet. In the spring of 1916, the Royal Navy did in fact hazard an all-out contest with the High Seas Fleet off Jutland. It sustained but also inflicted heavy losses - and retained dominance of the North Sea for the remainder of the war.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Keegan, John. The Price of Admiralty. New York: Viking, 1989;
    Scheer, R. Germany ’ s High Sea Fleet in the World War. New York: P. Smith, 1934. Steel, Nigel, and Peter Hart. Jutland 1916: Death in the Gray Wastes. London: Cassell, 2003.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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