German-British fleet agreement

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Announcement on the German-English fleet agreement of December 21, 1937

With the note dated June 18, 1935, referred to as the German-British naval agreement , the British government allowed the German to expand its navy to 35% of the British strength. This agreement, which bypassed the British Parliament by means of the diplomatic exchange of notes , de facto replaced the corresponding provisions of the Versailles Treaty .

The proposal to agree on a strength ratio of about 1: 3 with Great Britain comes from the spring of 1934. After Germany left the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October of the previous year , the Nazi government no longer felt bound by arms restrictions. However, since the former German alliance partner Great Britain could not be alienated, the Navy proposed a contractual limit to 33%, later 35% of the British fleet, which corresponded to the French and Italian quota from the Washington Fleet Agreement . The German desire for a strength ratio of 50% had to be postponed.

After a mixture of offers (numerous allusions by Adolf Hitler to a German-British togetherness and various peace speeches) and threats (such as the barely veiled armament of the submarines and the air force ), the British in March 1935 during the stay in Berlin Foreign Minister Simon and the Lord Seal Keeper Eden invited a German naval delegation to London. This delegation, chaired by the future Ambassador and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop , began negotiations with the British on June 4th.

As a basis for negotiations on the German side, the following demands were considered:

  • qualitative equality among ship types
  • Fixing the German fleet size at 35% of the British
  • Dimensioning of the 35% according to global tonnage , d. H. free configuration of the composition of the fleet

In addition, Germany indicated its willingness to support certain British proposals for the international naval conference that was scheduled for late 1935.

After Ribbentrop had initially invoked the need for close German-British cooperation in the future, Simon announced the British intentions: The talks and any agreement should be understood as a transitional measure until Germany would be integrated into an international naval armament system. By this he meant a German participation in the fleet conference that was to meet in London at the end of the year. In the days that followed, the Germans succeeded in pushing through the most important points. In the June 18 note, the UK government agreed to the following framework:

  • Permanent strength ratio of 35 to 100.
  • Germany undertakes not to cross this limit, even with massive armaments by other powers.
  • The strength ratio applies to the total tonnage as well as separately for the individual ship classes.
  • In the case of submarines, Germany may have up to 100% of British strength, and any increase over 35% must be at the expense of the other classes of ship. Germany declares not to go beyond 45% of the British submarine strength for the time being.

This resulted in the following permissible total tonnages for the individual ship classes (1 tn.l. ≈1016 kg):

The obligation that Germany also had to adhere to the 35% limit when other powers were arming resulted from British efforts to maintain the international naval system and to avoid a new general arms race . In the mid-1930s, the submarine weapon was considered obsolete and ineffective due to new technical means of defense, so up to 100% of the British submarine weapon, which is especially small, appeared to be relatively harmless on the British side. On the whole, the agreement had an interim character, which was to be finally clarified at the international naval conference in London at the end of 1935. Germany was not invited to the conference, which lasted until March 25, 1936. At the agreed provisions there is joined by a bilateral treaty with Great Britain on 17 July 1937 (the provision for submarine use to prize regulations already on 23 November 1936).

At least Hitler was extremely satisfied with the results. He described June 18, 1935 as the "most beautiful day of his life" because he saw the agreement as the first step towards the longed-for alliance with the island kingdom. On the other hand, feelings within the navy were mixed: the agreement allowed the company's own fleet to be tripled immediately, as well as the construction of battleships and aircraft carriers , which naval command had dreamed of as early as the 1920s. On the other hand, the 35% meant that the upper limit was below the French limit. Even though a continuous construction phase set for around ten years began, internal planning soon went beyond the scope of the agreement and culminated in the “ Z-Plan ” of January 1939. After Hitler had the “ rest of Czech Republic ” occupied, Great Britain and France issued a guarantee for Poland . Great Britain introduced compulsory military service on April 26, 1939. On April 28, 1939, Hitler took the declaration of guarantee for Poland as an opportunity to terminate both the German-British naval agreement and the non-aggression pact with Poland .


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