Naval Arms Race

British fleet heading out to sea

      Some World War I historians have considered the German naval build-up in the early 1900s to be one of the causes of the war.  They allege that the German decision to fortify its navy and challenge Great Britainís clear naval supremacy increased the tension between the two nations and convinced the British that the Germans wanted a war.  However, it seems British intelligence was greatly overstating the speed with which Germany was building new ships, and this misinformation may have been intentional, to convince the British public to support greater their own naval build-up.  The possibility of legal constraints never materialized, as discussions of arms control measures were rejected.  Thus, each state retained its full discretion to pursue the naval policies it wished, and in the end, the tension between the two countries on this issue may have increased the likelihood that Britain would enter the war against Germany.  [An excellent discussion of this issue can be found in Edward E. McCullough, ěThe Anglo-German Naval Race,î Ch. 7, in How the First World War Began, 1999.]

Links shows a series of tables containing the numbers, classes, completion date, and characteristics of the British and German naval forces.  Germany's decision to build a powerful navy to rival Great Britain's led some scholars to identify this naval arms race as a secondary cause of the war.  Although this site does not provide analysis of the data, nor any support or denial of the arms race theory, the tables do show the increase in naval construction in both Germany and Great Britain in the early 1910s leading up to the outbreak of the war in 1914.

To see a compilation of photographs and tables of the Allied and Central Powers ships and equipment, as well as a list of their chief commanders, go to

For a series of images showing the different features of a dreadnought ship, go to