The Naval Race 1906 to 1914

The Naval Race 1906 to 1914

Although the relationship between Germany and Britain were already strained at the start of the 20th Century - for reasons including militarism and imperialism - between 1906 and 1914 relations became dominated by an aggressive naval race.

The Naval Race arguably began at the turn of the century, when Germany introduced two new naval laws. The laws aimed at ensuring the country could rapidly expand its navy, and Britain saw this as a symbol of intent to attack.

The British government suggested that the forthcoming changes that were to be made to Germany’s naval fleet marked a significant turning point - signalling Kaiser Wilhelm II's intentions to create a strong battle fleet that was able to defeat Britain’s world-leading ships.

Britain was also concerned that Germany could threaten to target seaborne merchants, which would result in a huge impact on the successful trade routes going into and out of Britain.
In 1906, Britain decided to retaliate by launching its first ever dreadnought, HMS Dreadnought, which revolutionised naval power and is associated with a generation of successful battleships. However, this then prompted a reaction from Germany in the form of a proposed fourth naval bill, which called for four battleships to be built each year.

Eventually, Germany decided that Britain was too strong in the area of ship building (and that Germany was unable to afford the proposed four battleships a year) and so admitted defeat. However, many historians argue that this race had caused such significant damage to the relationship between the two countries - leaving Germany even more determined to out-engineer Britain elsewhere in its arsenal - that the friction was one of the main causes for the war.

HMS Dreadnought 1906
HMS Dreadnought 1906

The table below shows the battleships possessed by both Great Britain and Germany from 1906 to 1914.

Dreadnoughts Great Britain Germany
1906 1 0
1907 3 0
1908 2 4
1909 2 3
1910 3 1
1911 5 3
1912 3 2
1913 7 3
1914 3 1
Total 29 17
Dreadnought battle-cruisers Great Britain Germany
1906 0 0
1907 3 0
1908 0 0
1909 1 0
1910 1 2
1911 2 1
1912 1 2
1913 1 2
1914 0 0
Total 9 7

By 1914 Great Britain had 38 dreadnoughts and dreadnought battle cruisers

By 1914 Germany had 24 dreadnoughts and dreadnought battle cruisers

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Naval Race 1906 to 1914". 2019. Web.