Ego and War

Eastern Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm’s summer palace 1900

The Kaiser stood silently arms crossed behind his back his head bent low in thought.   A solitary electric light from his desk lamp gave his face an ominous appearance as he looked upon the gardens of his summer palace. It was the only light in use. There was no need to light an entire room when he only needed one.  A brooding man he preferred the dark. It gave him a sense of solitude and freedom to think about affairs of state without the annoying input of his advisors and cousins who happened to be most of the Royal heads of Europe.

He was brooding over a slight he’d received from his cousin King George V of Britain.  A remark made while playing cards on the deck of Britain’s latest Battleship 'Dreadnaught', which wouldn't be officially commissioned for several years. King George boasted of the British Navy being the largest and most advanced navy in the world. It wasn’t meant as a slight but rather a statement of fact made under the influence of wine. However, as Wilhelm suffered an inferiority complex he was easily insulted.

The meeting was between Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, King George V of Great Britain and Czar Nicholas II of Russia seeking to address recent changes in Europe, changes that threatened their rule. The Ottoman Empire was struggling with a Turkish Nationalist movement which threatened to destabilize it.  Being that the Ottoman Empire was the oldest single family Monarchy to exist the fear was that if it collapsed European Monarchies would follow.

Growing unrest and a general dissatisfaction with monarchies was not a new problem, but it was a persistent one. An age-old threat that ebbed and flowed with time, the mood of the church, the harvest and the people the harvest was meant to feed and too often did not.  Extravagant displays by a King or Queen in such times often fed the anger of people starving in the streets.  Such anger was easily exploited with powerful words and gestures of solidarity with the common man, thus the seeds of revolution are sown.  This meeting was meant to address the growing communist movement in Russia, what they all feared was an off shoot of the Turkish Nationalist Movement.  What they could not know is that the communist movement would one day see Czar Nicholas and his entire family executed and the Romanov Dynasty ended with the rise of the Soviet Union. 

Great Britain being the most politically stable nation participating in the conference played host in order for the conference to be held in relative safety.  To enhance that safety the meeting was held on a ship in Scapa Flow the British Fleets home anchorage in the Orkney Islands.  To further enhance security they were surrounded by 40 of the Royal Navy’s most advanced ships of the line as well as countless patrol craft, each bristling with deck guns, torpedoes and a new type of gun called the heavy machine gun.  If so much as a canoe approached within a mile of the meeting it would be turned to splinters. 

 That evening following the conference the Kaiser strolled out onto the fantail of his ship anchored a half-mile from the Dreadnaught, which King George had lit up like a Christmas tree.  The ship itself, the Dreadnaught, was merely a shell, which the Kaiser already knew through his intelligence agency.  The guns protruding from her faux plywood turrets were empty barrels.  She didn't even have operational boilers yet.  Having been pulled from the yards they had used a new type of building material, plywood, to create a faux superstructure.  Plywood sheets were easy to mold into complex forms thereby creating the appearance of  a ‘heavy’ structure.  It was meant to look impressive for the purpose of intimidation, a show of pre-emptive force specifically directed at the Kaiser.  Of course as impressive as the faux superstructure was it was nothing compared to the reality that was to follow, a deliberate understatement.   The king knew to keep his cards breasted with regard to the Kaiser.  In reality the guns would be much bigger and the armor plating stronger than anything known. 

Once commissioned the Dreadnaught would be the most advanced ship on the high seas, not to mention the deadliest.  King George wanted the Kaiser to see it to let him know that if he ever quarreled with Britain this would be waiting for him with hundreds more just like it. The Kaiser knew immediately who the message was for and he took it the way King George intended, only it did not deter him, but drove him to act more aggressively, spurring him on to dangerous and provocative actions.

 Her massive guns and sleek, fast hull would be a dominant force on the high seas. Two Dreadnaught battleships could stand off entire fleets sinking them at will long before they came under fire themselves, if they ran out of ammunition they could outrun any ship afloat. No other battleship could match the firepower of the Dreadnaught class.  Her secondary armament would be equal to the largest guns in any other fleet.  Her primary batteries were of unheard of caliber with such high explosive shells that even a solitary hit was likely to cripple any ship armored or otherwise.  In fact the Dreadnaught was the first ship of its type to exist and would be the standard from which all future battleships were designed. 

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