Alfred von Tirpitz

From Kaiserreich

Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz (born Alfred Peter Friedrich Tirpitz ;Küstrin, Prussia March, 19 1849 - Berlin, Germany March, 6 1930) was a German admiral and statesman, also known as the Good Chancellor. As a Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office from 1897 to 1916, von Tirpitz was instrumental in the development of the Kaiserliche Marine as a major naval force in the world. He was the eighth Imperial Chancellor of the German Empire from 1924 to his death. His tenure is considered by most historians as the Golden Age of the post-Weltkrieg Germany and its development as the first major power in the world and in its colonial expansion. During his mandate was created the Mitteleuropa system and happened the 1926 German intervention of China and the creation of the Freistaat Mittelafrika.



Early life

Born in Küstrin in Brandenburg, the son of a senior civil servant, he grew up in Frankfurt (Oder). He joined the Prussian Navy in 1865 and attended Kiel Naval School, gaining his commission in 1869. Upon the creation of the German fleet in 1871 he was part of a torpedo squadron. In 1877 he rose to become the head of the torpedo-arm which he re-organised into the torpedo inspectorate.

Captain Tirpitz became Chief of the Naval staff in 1892 and was made a Rear Admiral in 1895. In 1896-97 he commanded the Asian cruiser squadron and oversaw the gain of Kiautschou as a German naval base. In 1897 he was made Secretary of State of the Reichsmarineamt - the Imperial Naval Office. An energetic campaigner for a greatly enlarged fleet, he attracted the attention and support of the Kaiser Wilhelm II. Tirpitz was ennobled to von Tirpitz in 1900. Tirpitz' design to achieve world power status through naval power, while at the same time addressing domestic issues are commonly referred to as the Tirpitz Plan. Politically, the Tirpitz-Plan was marked by the Fleet Acts of 1898, 1900, 1908 and 1912. By 1914, they had given Germany the second-largest naval force in the world (roughly 40% smaller than the Royal Navy). It included seven modern dreadnoughts, five battlecruisers, twenty-five cruisers and twenty pre-dreadnought battleships as well as over forty submarines. Although including fairly unrealistic targets, the expansion program was sufficient to alarm the British, starting a costly naval arms race, pushing the British into closer ties with the French.

The Tirpitz Plan


Grand Admiral von Tirpitz

Tirpitz developed a "risk theory" (an analysis which today would be considered part of game theory) whereby, if the German Navy reached a certain level of strength relative to the British Navy, the British would try to avoid confrontation with Germany (that is, maintain a fleet in being). If the two navies fought, the German Navy would inflict enough damage on the British, that the latter ran a risk of losing their naval dominance. Because the British relied on their navy to maintain control over the British Empire, Tirpitz felt they would rather maintain naval supremacy in order to safeguard their empire, and let Germany become a world power, than lose the empire as the cost of keeping Germany less powerful. This theory sparked a naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain in the first decade of the 20th century.

AHowever, this theory was based on the assumption that Great Britain would have to send its fleet into the North Sea to blockade the German ports (blockading Germany was the only way the Royal Navy could seriously harm Germany), where the German Navy could force a battle. But due to Germany's geographic location, Great Britain could blockade Germany by closing the entrance to the North Sea in the English Channel and the area between Bergen and the Shetland Islands. Faced with this option a German Admiral commented, "If the British do that, the role of our navy will be a sad one", correctly predicting the role the surface fleet would have during the Weltkrieg.


Tirpitz had been made a Grand Admiral in 1911. Despite the building program he felt the war had come too soon for a successful surface challenge to the Royal Navy as the fleet act of 1900 had included a seventeen-year timetable. Unable to influence naval operations from his purely administrative position, Tirpitz became a vocal spokesman for an unrestricted U-boat warfare, which he felt could break the British strangelehold on Germany's sea lines of communication. Interestingly, his construction policy never bore out his political stance on submarines, and by 1917 there was a severe shortage of newly built submarines. When restrictions on the submarine war were not lifted he fell out with emperor and was compelled to resign on March 15, 1916. He was replaced as Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office by Eduard von Capelle.

In 1917, after his theories of unrestricted submarine warfare were definitely rejected by Erich von Ludendorff, Tirpitz created the Pan-Germanist and nationalist-oriented German Fatherland Party (Deutsche Vaterlandpartei), which strongly rejected any possibility of peace negotiations, which were discussed within the Reichstag. Leading this party along with admistrator Wolfgang Kapp, Duke Johann Albrecht zu Mecklenburg and entrepreneur Alfred Hugenberg, Tirpitz put all his efforts in opposing parliamentarism and democracy, supporting Hindenburg-Ludendorff rule and the Kaiser himself, seeking to rally the entire country for an all-out effort. As the Weltkrieg came to be brighter for Germany, the DVP gained in notoriety, becoming more and more opposed to Syndicalism.



Reichskanzler von Tirpitz

After the Peace with Honour, when it became too obvious that Hindenburg and Ludendorff were overshadowing the Kaiser and that they were unable to handle the Empire in times of peace, the DVP changed its views, becoming very critical of the government policies, advocating for an extreme application of Wilhelm II's Weltpolitik and an active fight against Syndicalism. Helped by the Kaiser himself, the press tycoon Alfred Hugenberg‎ and many contacts within the military, Tirpitz took advantage of the dictators' failure to deal with the political scandal cause by the suicide attempt of Prince Joachim to force Ludendorff to resign from his position of Chief of the Army in 1924, thus putting an end to his rule. The Kaiser eventually named Tirpitz Imperial Chancellor on November, 2 1924.

Vowing to be remembered in world history, and having total support from the Kaiser, Tirpitz retained most of Georg Michaelis' ministers into his cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann, in addition to a few newcomers from the DVP or strongly nationalist politicians. In German internal politics, Tirpitz put in place a huge cult of personality around the Kaiser's persona in order to improve the Hohenzollern family's image that had been put in trouble by various scandals. He also financed and supported many national-populist and Pan-Germanist movements, such as newly-created Ernst Röhm's DNVP, in order to counter social-democratic or syndicalist audience in Germany, thus enhancing the decline of the SPD and the rise of ultranationalist politicians. As a retired Admiral, he also vowed to improve the Kaiserliche Marine, and took interest in aircrafts, in order to use Manfred von Richthofen's prestige, but stayed very relunctant towards mechanized tactics.

Foreign policies

In Europe, Tirpitz enabled the Mitteleuropa system in order to ensure German prosperity and predominance in a world she dominated, enterining military and economic union with the German-controlled kingdoms (United Baltic Duchy, Lithuania, White Ruthenia, Ukraine), for the double task of participating to the German domination and forming a strong shield against unstable Russia. Some said he participated to a "divide to rule" policy towards Germany's allies in order to keep them exploited economically, such as the federalization of Austria-Hungary following 1927 Augsleich negotiations, the renewal of Arab nationalism in the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria's internal problems.

However, Tirpitz didn't respected the interventionist and anti-Syndicalist views he had promoted during his career, feeling that Germany had nothing to win in a war against the Commune of France, only enabling the building on the Siegfried Line in Lorraine and the reinforcement of the army of Flanders-Wallonia. He also let the British Empire fall into Syndicalist revolution and desintegration, just in order to occupy for two years Scapa Flow's base, to keep the Entente far from Europe and to occupy former British holdings throughout the world such as in Africa or in Ceylon.

The question of Africa, after the occupation of formerly British colonies, came to a deadlock: even if they gave to Germany a lot of prestige, African huge territories were quite worthless and judged as wastelands by many German politicians, as they were rather inhabited and constantly spread by Native revolts. To relieve Germany from spending money for Africa, Tirpitz created in late 1925 the Freistaat Mittelafrika, giving it an autonomous status with the obligation to deliver each month a tribute to Germany.

Tirpitz also vowed to give Germany power on continents she didn't dominated. If he enabled military assistance to Argentina (now La Plata), Peru and Venezuela to counter falling American influence, the greatest achievement of the Tirpitz Chancellorship was the 1926 German intervention in China. Taking advantage of the state of anarchy in China, Tirpitz set up a giant colonial expedition, conquering the country in a few months and spliting it in two, between a restored Qing Empire the south of which was controlled by a giant consortium of German firms, the Allgemeine Ostasiatische Gesellschaft.

Being one of the most popular Chancellors in the history of Germany after Otto von Bismarck himself, Grand Admiral von Tirpitz died on March, 6 1930, while in office, in Berlin. He received state funerals, which were attended by the whole German gotha and establishment, all the members of the military and 500.000 people.

Military career

  • April, 24 1865 - Kadett
  • June, 26 1866 - Seekadett
  • June, 24 1869 Entry into the Navy of the North German Federation
  • September, 22 1869 Unterleutnant zur See
  • May, 25 1872 Leutnant zur See
  • November, 18 1875 Kapitänleutnant
  • September, 17 1881 Korvettenkapitän
  • November, 24 1888 Kapitän zur See
  • May, 13 1895 Konteradmiral
  • December, 5 1899 Vizeadmiral
  • November, 144 1903 Admiral
  • January, 27 1911 Großadmiral
  • From March, 15 1916 Retired


Tirpitz married on November, 18 1884 Maria Auguste Lipke, born on October, 11 1860, who still lives these days.

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