Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

SOME LESSONS FROM KIEL

The North Sea and Baltic Canal, after eight years of hard work and the expenditure of nearly eight millions sterling, has been completed and opened for traffic, and the Danish peninsula has become an island. The canal, which runs from near Brunsbüttel, in the mouth of the Elbe, to the Fjord of Kiel, on the Baltic, has a length of about sixty miles, a normal width at the surface of 197 feet, a normal width at the bottom of a little over 72 feet, and a depth over that central portion of 29 feet 6 inches; so that the largest vessels in existence, inclusive of all men-of-war, can traverse it without having to lighten themselves, and that vessels not of the largest size can safely pass one another without being obliged to lie up, or even to stop. For the convenience of the very few ships which cannot pass one another in that manner, there are, at intervals, broadenings, or bays,' where the bank-to-bank width is, for a distance of 820 feet, increased to 328 feet, and the bottom width to 197 feet. Nor are there any overhead obstructions. The canal is crossed by four lines of railway, two of which have comparatively little traffic. For the service of these two, swing bridges, pivoted close to the bank, are provided. At ordinary times the bridges are swung round so as to lie parallel with the waterway; and only when trains are due are they thrown across to the opposite side. The whole operation can be accomplished in two minutes. Each bridge is double, a separate swing span carrying each set of rails; and thus, should any unforeseen accident occur to temporarily prevent the working of one span, the entire traffic can be conducted by means of the other. Upon the remaining two railway lines the traffic is heavier, and, in consequence, fixed bridges have been built to carry it. But these bridges are so lofty that no masted ship now afloat need, before attempting to pass under them, send down more than her top-gallant masts, which are spars such as, of course, she would not need in a canal in any conceivable circumstances The height between water-surface and bridge is within a few inches of 138 feet, and the spans, which are the broadest in Germany, have a reach of 511 feet. A third swing bridge, at Rendsburg, is for the use of vehicles and foot-passengers. The new canal is not lockless, although it is nearly so. The Baltic Sea is almost without tides; and, therefore, a lock at the Baltic end is rendered necessary only by the possibility that occasionally a strong north-easterly gale may pile up the water to an inconvenient extent in Kiel Bay. The effect of the eastern lock, when closed, will be to prevent a special tide of that kind from flooding the banks of the canal; but ordinarily that lock will be left open throughout the twenty-four hours. At the Elbe, or western end, the situation is different. There the rise and fall are considerable, and consequently, at every ebb, in order to maintain the desired depth of water the gates must be closed for some hours, though ships will still be able to pass through, subject to the delays which are attendant upon the passage of all locked canals. The two terminal locks are very important engineering works. Each really consists of a pair of locks, placed side by side, and parallel one with the other; and the dimensions of each lock are : clear length 492 feet; width 82 feet; depth 32 feet. There are, so far, no ships 82 feet broad; but there are a few ships more than 492 feet long. Even these monsters, however, can traverse the canal whenever it is not necessary to use the locks, or, in other words, during by far the greater portion of every day. Indeed, compared with the Suez Canal, the new waterway may be regarded as a fine broad high road, whereas the older work is but a well-kept country lane. There are many ships that cannot use the one; there are none that cannot use the other.

The advantages to the commerce of the Baltic must be considerable. On the route from London to St. Petersburg the canal saves 238 miles; on the route from Hamburg to St. Petersburg it saves 424 miles; and, since it has been estimated that there are now annually about 1,500 ships having a registered tonnage of 1,100,000, which might greatly gain by using the canal, it is clear that the commercial prospects of the enterprise are promising. In fact, much more than half of the whole Baltic trade is expected by sanguine authorities to adopt the new route, especially if the present very moderate rate of tolls be not increased. It is probable that the canal will be frozen during at least a month every winter; but the ice obstructing the natural entrance to the Baltic often exists for a far longer period, owing to the comparative freshness of Baltic water. Recent observations show that already the canal water is salter than the water in Kiel Fjord ; so that apparently a greater difficulty may next winter be experienced in approaching the canal than in traversing it. But, apart from this, it must always be more easy to make effective use of ice-breakers in the canal than in the open sea, and, aware of this, the administration has secured a very powerful icebreaking plant, with the assistance of which it does not despair of keeping the way altogether open during all but the severest seasons.

The quantity of traffic that can be dealt with is almost unlimited. Work may go on night and day, seeing that the canal is lighted electrically from end to end, that there are plenty of powerful tugs at the disposal of the administration, that at each end there are capacious basins in which vessels may await, if necessary, their turns, and that a speed of 5:3 knots, or upwards of six statute miles an hour, will be permitted even to merchantmen using the route. Warships will, of course, adopt such speed as service considerations may render desirable or possible; and with a view to this sort of express traffic, the banks of the canal, along the greater part of the length, have been solidly faced, so as to resist, as much as may be, the disruptive effects of the wash of heavy ships passing rapidly. A local engineer tells me, however, that he doubts whether any big vessel, no matter how powerfully engined, could steam at more than ten knots in the canal, the water being so shallow, and the inevitable result of the attempted rapid motion of a 10,000 ton craft in such a narrow channel being to push a huge volume of water in advance of her, and so to create enormous resistance.

But I need not, after all that has of late been written on the subject, dwell further either upon the construction of the canal, or upon its commercial future. Other matters claim attention.

One aspect of the importance of the North Sea and Baltic Canal has certainly not yet received the attention which it merits; and that aspect is the strategical one. The commercial advantages of the work are sufficiently patent to be easily distinguished by all; but it would be a mistake to imagine that the practical German Government has been induced merely, or even mainly, by commercial considerations to spend its millions on the new waterway. If commercial considerations had been the only ones to be kept in view, nothing is more certain than that the whole affair would have been left to private initiative, and that the Imperial Government would have vouchsafed very little material support to the venture. But, in fact, commercial considerations are very subsidiary ones in comparison with the strategic gains which the rulers of the new German Empire have sought for and have at length attained. In order to fully understand what these are, one must briefly survey the strategical situation from the naval point of view of some European countries which, up to the present moment, have shared with Germany the peculiar disadvantages, from the influence of which she has now relieved herself.

These countries are France and Russia. Each of them, like Germany, has hitherto possessed a divided naval force, capable of concentration only with the assent, or, failing that, in the event of the inability to prevent it, of certain other Powers. The whole force of France, at sea, may be accepted as about equal to three times the whole naval force of Germany, or as about equal to twice the whole naval force of Russia. This being so, the relative naval strength of the three great military powers of Europe, as estimated by the amount of matériel belonging to each, may be roughly expressed by the following figures : France, 60; Russia, 30; Germany, 20. The accuracy, is at least amply sufficient for purposes of illustration. France normally maintains about two-thirds of her naval force in, or dependent on, the Mediterranean, and one third in, or dependent on, the Atlantic ports on her seaboard; so that her Mediterranean strength is represented by 40, and her Atlantic strength by 20. She ought not to be able-I fear that I dare not say that it is impossible for her—to effect a junction of the two divisions so long as we hold an interior position in or near the Strait of Gibraltar, and desire to prevent the operation, or so long as she has to keep in check a large Italian fleet, based upon Spezia, Naples, and Taranto. Therefore, her relative force, available for operations in the North Sea or Baltic, need not be estimated as superior to the entire naval force of Germany. Russia is similarly situated astride the Continent. In the Baltic, she bas about two-thirds of her strength; in the Black Sea, about onethird; and she cannot hope to assemble the two divisions anywhere without the acquiescence of Europe. Thus, France and Russia are each, so far as the North Sea and Baltic are concerned, about equal to Germany, but not more than equal. Each can bring against her a force expressed by 20; and she, in return, can oppose a force expressed by 20. Until now, Germany, like France and Russia, has had the solid land between the two divisions of her fleet, and has only been in a position to combine the two portions subject to the good will, or to the impotency, of the Powers holding the roundabout sea routes, by which alone these two portions could reach each other. One division, valued at 10, had its headquarters at Wilhelmshaven, where it was subject to observation, if not to blockade, by a French force valued at 20; the other, also valued at 10, had its headquarters at Kiel, where it was subject to observation or blockade by a Russian force valued at 20. Even if Russia were not hostile, there would still be risk of a French force, valued at 20, taking up such a position off the Sciw as to be able to prevent the Kiel and Wilhelmshaven forces from joining, and to defeat each in detail, should it venture out. But the North Sea and Baltic Canal has altered all that. Whereas formerly Germany could not hope to meet either France or Russia upon equal terms, she may now feel pretty confident of being able to oppose equal forces to either. Moreover, she has secured for herself the interior position. The way, by sea, from the mouth of the Elbe, at Brunsbüttel, to Kiel Bay, in the Baltic, occupies about 62 hours, at a speed of 10 knots. By the canal, the passage, at a speed of only 5 knots, can be made in 12 hours; so that henceforth the two divisions of the German fleet can unite in less than one-fifth of the time needed for the union of hostile forces observing the Elbe on the one hand, and Kiel on the other; and, in addition, they can unite without any possible interference on the part of the foe. It is not too much to say, then, that the existence of the canal doubles the strategical strength of the German navy, so far, at least, as it may be called for for employment either in the North Sea or in the Baltic. The cost has been, roughly, 7,800,0001. To have actually doubled the German fleet would have cost, at the lowest computation, 14,000,0001.

It is true that the canal, although it has been spoken of as uniting Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, does not literally unite them; for Wilhelmshaven is not in the mouth of the Elbe, but some miles to the south-west, in the estuary of the Jade. Nevertheless, no hostile fleet, in time of war, when beacons and light-ships would, of course, be removed, could hope to prevent the Germans in the Elbe from reaching the Jade at their pleasure. The two estuaries blend together into a larger estuary, which is, over the greater part of its extent, a network of difficult channels among sandbanks, a few miles outside of which lies Heligoland. That island, since its cession, has been strongly fortified, and, so long as it remains German, and is not swept away by the storms of the North Sea, the interior water space must, at least while there is a German fleet in being, be regarded as, for all practical purposes, a German roadstead. The strategical importance of Heligoland to Germany was not realised, and was, indeed, laughed at in England, at the time of the cession ; but a full appreciation of the services to which, in case of need, the Baltic Canal is to be put, throws a new light upon the subject, and vindi"cates the carefulness and foresight of the German Government. An English Heligoland might have gone far towards entirely neutralising the value of the canal ; a German Heligoland gives it a singular completeness.

It may be not unprofitable to devote a little further attention to the new strategical situation that has been created by the canal. It may be recollected that in 1870 the French, after having sent their Atlantic squadron to watch or blockade the Baltic ports of Germany, felt justified in withdrawing from the Mediterranean nearly all their Toulon force, and in sending it, under Vice-Admiral Fourichon, to the North Sea, to seal up the Elbe, the Weser, and the Ems. It is in the highest degree unlikely, unless they forget the past, and conclude an alliance with Italy, that the French, in our time, will ever again feel at liberty to desert the Mediterranean, or even seriously to weaken their strength there. But if they do, and if, in the event of war, they concentrate the mass of their naval force against Germany, they will not be able to do what they did in 1870. Fourichon, and later, Gueydon, and Penhoat, could, until the extremity of winter, coal under the lee of Heligoland, although, of course, outside the limits of British territorial waters. Henceforth the island will lend no protection whatsoever to the successors of these officers, but will stand as a point which they must not approach within gunshot, at

« ElőzőTovább »