Curious Anglo-German Agreements

What Grand Fleets used to look like /

What Grand Fleets used to look like /

Why ‘curious’? Because the first was agreed between Britain and Germany only fourteen years before the outbreak of a world war, the first of its kind.  And the second was signed only four years before the next one.

The 1890 Anglo German Agreement was a good try made by Germany to bring Great Britain closer, if not actually within, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy). By means of the Agreement Britain gave Germany the island of Heligoland in the cold vastnesses of the North Sea. Britain had ‘annexed’ Heligoland from Denmark during the Napoleonic Wars. She also made a present of a small strip of land which would give German South-West Africa (now Namibia) access to the Zambezi river.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained: in return Britain achieved a protectorate over Zanzibar, a huge island off the east coast of Africa, as well as German acceptance of British claims to enormous territories in East Africa, giving her possession of the Nile sources, and access to them from the coast. All of these clauses in the 1890 Agreement would prove contentious and provoke more violence after 1914.

The 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement is even more curious; In that year the Government had decided Britain could not fight the monstrous Japanese fleet as well as strong European ones, and nobody wanted an expensive naval race with Germany such as had happened before 1914.

Britain therefore invited Germany to ‘talks’ between naval representatives. It is indeed curious, because Hitler had been Chancellor since 1933, but the admirals got their heads together and decided that Germany could have a navy that was 35% of the British and Commonwealth fleets, and equal in number of submarines. Looking back with certain hindsight from 2013, it does seem odd, but it happened. The British were expected to believe that Germany had no intention of having a larger navy, though they knew and Hitler knew that the only way to break Britain in the approaching world war was to defeat her Royal Navy first. Even more mysterious was Britain’s permitting Germany to break the disarmament provisions agreed upon at the Treaty of Versailles (q.v.) but gaining nothing in return.

To add insult to injury, Britain did not consult either the League of Nations (q.v.) or France or Italy before signing the Agreement, which led to bad blood and offence being taken within the Stresa Front after it had been formed. The Stresa Front had also been signed in 1935, in an Italian town called Stresa. It re-affirmed the Treaties of Locarno and declared that the independence of Austria ‘would continue to inspire their common policy’. The Anschluss (union of Germany with Austria) was yet to come (in 1938) but the Naval Agreement helped greatly to weaken the Stresa Front, which completely collapsed with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in October, 1935.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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