Germany Merchant Navy

By | January 25, 2022

The proud navies of the Hanseatic ports took a fatal blow both from the Cromwell Sea Act and from similar measures, adopted in other countries, which made long-distance navigation almost impossible; the repeal of the Act(1851) was the sign of liberation, and the fleets of Hamburg and Bremen nearly doubled in 7 years (1851-57). But the German navy did not have, at the time of the empire’s establishment, a very important situation: in 1870 it was in fact constituted by 81.994 tons. net of steamships, increased, in 1890, to 723,652, compared to a decrease in the tonnage of sailing ships (from 901,313 to 709,761). The real development of the German navy took place after 1890 (the 1,433,413 net tons of that year gradually increased to 3,153,724 as of December 31, 1912) due to the following factors: expansion of German foreign traffic; control of most of the European emigration traffic to the United States; development of shipbuilding industry as a consequence of the low cost of metallic materials, and of the compulsory construction at home of ships suitable for subsidized services; cumulative preferential tariffs for shipping goods to German ports, judicious subsidies.

But the most important factor in the development of the pre-war navy can be found in the patriotic spirit of the amateurs, intelligently protected by the state. After long discussions, in July 1886, the creation of 2 subsidized postal lines to the Far East and to Australia was approved; Norddeutscher Lloyd, which had been founded in Bremen some 30 years earlier, was awarded the contract ; the subsidiary lines of the Far East were entrusted by Norddeutscher Lloyd himself to Hamburg – Amerika Linie. Another subsidized line (always established with the aim of facilitating access to new markets) was the Deutsche Ost – Africa Linie. And a form of indirect aid was obtained with the combined tariffs established in 1890 in favor of the Deutsche Levante Linie which concluded, for this purpose, agreements with the various railway administrations. Similar concessions were extended to the Atlas Linie (which was then absorbed by the Deutsche Levante) and therefore also to the Deutsche Ost – Afrika. In addition to these cumulative fares for certain destinations, one Ausnahme Fares it granted substantial reductions in favor of goods destined for export in general. But the government still facilitated the navy in other ways, Fr. ex. indirectly hindering the transit of emigrants from Austria-Hungary, Russia, etc., if they had tickets for passage on ships of non-German companies. To judge exactly the influence of this emigration traffic hoarding, however, it should be noted, first of all, that the German merchant navy was mainly composed of liners. Of the 5,082,061 gross tons that it counted as of June 30, 1914, more than four million was divided between companies engaged in regular services, and among these the following had a predominant part: Hamburg – Amerika Linie (or Hapag), Norddeutscher LloydHamburg Süd – AmerikanischeHansaDeutsch – AustralKosmos RolandDeutsche Ost – AfrikaWoermannHamburg – Bremen – Afrika, which owned a complex of 3,194,000 tons. gross, were associated with each other and were part of the Reederei – Vereinigung, so that a contract stipulated with one of them was valid for the whole group. The main strength of this block was concentrated in the Atlantic trade and the main services of the two largest components of the group, Hapag and Lloyd, were in the United States. It follows that the prosperity of the transatlantic trade affected the whole group and therefore the whole merchant navy.

Immediately after the war (January 10, 1919) the German navy was made up of 1081 ships per ton. gross 2,882,200. But the Treaty of Versailles (May 7, 1920) required the transfer to allied and associated governments of all ships of 1600 and more gross tons, half the tonnage of ships whose gross tonnage is between 1000 and 1600 tons, the fourth part of the tonnage of steam-powered chalutiers and other fish-boats. Germany also undertook not to maintain controls on emigrants in transit. The German fleet was therefore reduced to the seventh part of its pre-war proportions: 773,000 tons. gross; and was made up of ships unsuitable for transatlantic navigation because they were less than 1600 tons.

Immediately after the United States entered the war (April 1917) and the consequent confiscation of the 600,000 tons. of Germanic ships that were in the North American ports, the German government had studied the first measures to protect the merchant navy from the consequences of the war (loans to shipowners, granted at the best conditions). But after the peace treaty, the reconstruction of the fleet seriously had to be done. For this purpose, an agreement was stipulated in February 1921 between the government and shipowners, under which the former granted, in order to replace the ships sold to the allies or lost, the sum of 4 billion and 700 million marks (adding to this the previous sums allocated for the same purpose reached a total sum of almost twelve billion); on the other hand, the owners committed to build 1,500,000 tons in a decade, dating from January 10, 1920. gross, ie one third of the ships sold or lost, ordering 90% from national shipyards; a clause also required the establishment of a specific joint stock company, the Schiffbau Treuhandbank, headquartered in Hamburg and with 100 millions of brands of capital. These conditions were fulfilled on April 21, 1921 and the yards feverishly set to work launching 500,000 tons. gross in 1921 and 575,000 in 1922; to the new constructions were added the ships bought back by the allies; but the material thus produced was not enough, and the United States was asked to hire a certain number of the steamboats already owned by Germany; as the United States was still in a state of war with Germany, the request was rejected, but agreements were concluded between the main private shipping companies of the two countries which provided for the joint management of the pre-war lines. Following these agreements, the Germans were able to calmly await the construction of the new ships which gradually got back into line, and reconstitute the organization taking up the pre-war lines: the New York-Hamburg at first; that of the Plata then; then the line for the Dutch Indies, etc.

The German merchant navy had already reached 2,590,073 tons in early 1923; this figure rose, in 1925, to 3,073,713 tons. gross; at June 30, 1931 to 4,254,601 tons; the German merchant fleet thus came to occupy the 4th place among the world navies. The development of the navy was also facilitated by a special maritime credit scheme and by the reintroduction of preferential railway tariffs for the benefit of German ports. German traffic of passengers and emigrants to the United States from 403,288 in 1913 had fallen to 2268 in 1921, but then gradually increased to 84,604 in 1926; however, regardless of the current crisis, it is no longer to be assumed that it, with regard to the emigration movement, can resume the proportions of the past.

The characteristic of the post-war German navy is the development given to the concentration movement in comparison with the pre-war years. Despite the inflation, the gold balance sheets presented in the course of 1924 by the large companies HapagLloydHansaHamburg – Süd showed that they had maintained a healthy situation; moreover, these companies, from 1920 to 1924, had been able to rebuild almost a third part of their fleets, so that while the life of the smaller companies became difficult as a result of the monetary contraction resulting from the revaluation, the four aforementioned companies obtained new capital and Hapag and the Lloyd they began around their fleets, taken as a nucleus, two vast movements of concentration which had the purpose of decreasing the operating costs by giving way to better resist the competition of foreign navies. The concentration movement was still pursued in the following years, until, with effect from 1 January 1930, the Hapag and Lloyd agreement for a duration of 50 years was reached: an agreement which became more intimate in April 1932, while the state – in return for the financial aid granted – he placed his trustee on the joint board of directors of the two companies and reserved the approval of the appointment of eight other members. So today the interests of six companies: HapagLloydHamburg – SüdHansaWoermannDeutsche Ost – Ajrika are the so linked and connected, that this group, which controls about 2 1 / 2 million tons. gross, or about 60% of the German merchant navy, should be considered as a unit. The statistics of 1931 reveal in the current German fleet, as in the past, a predominance of ships assigned to regular services since 3,395,364 tons. gross belong to 25 shipping companies.

Naturally, in its reconstruction effort, the navy was facilitated by shipyards, whose development also goes back to the period following the establishment of the empire. The German naval industry began to assume importance from 1873 in relation to the new treatments to give rise to a naval navy; already the average annual production of the five-year period 1894-1899 had risen to 130,000 tons; that of the period 1899-1906 to 206,000; in 1913 the production was a record: 451,000 tons of steamships, 24,000 of motor ships, 90,000 of sailing ships; in all 565,000 tons. gross. During the war the shipyards worked a lot for war constructions; in the immediate post-war period they had, as we have seen, a huge boost; then construction slowed down due to the crisis. In 1925 the government made 50 million marks available to industry in the form of mortgages; another 18 million were granted towards the end of 1926. Also in this field there was a movement of concentration, however less intense than among the shipping companies. The current conditions of the industry are not good; it can produce 700,000 tons. gross per year (compared to 1 million in August 1925), but it is believed that this figure should be reduced by half.

According to, the current German ship, for 4,254,601 tons. gross as mentioned above, it is made up of 1689 steamboats per ton. 3,598,543, 462 motor vessels per ton. 627.507, 20 sailing ships per ton. 28,551. Among these ships a not large number of tanks (32 per ton. 149,683). The fleet is relatively young; 884.365 tons are under the age of 5; 1,240,651 between 5 and 10 years; only 978,754 are older than 20 years. Germany owns the two fastest transatlantic liners in the world, Europe and Bremen, with turbines, launched in 1928 and 1929, speeds from 26 to 27 knots; they also take their place among the largest ships in the world (49,746 tons and 51,656, respectively).

Germany Merchant Navy