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A German destroyer abandoned and on fire east of the harbour during the Second Battle of Narvik in a photograph taken from the battleship HMS Warspite. She drifted until the next morning (14 April) when she sank.

The poor design of the German destroyers, made life aboard the ships all the more difficult. At the end of the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles imposed a maximum size on the German Navy of 15,000 men of which 1,000 could be officers. Germany was forbidden from building naval ships over a certain tonnage, could never build submarines, and in general had her entire navy reduced to glorified coast guard.

Almost the entire Imperial German Fleet was seized by the British and forced to steam under the guns of the Royal Navy to the fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow. Several months later on 21 June 1919, at a signal from the German flagship the vessels scuttled themselves. Fifty-two out seventy-four total ships sank while the other were towed or pushed ashore by Royal Navy ships on guard.

Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow: SMS Bayern down by the stern and sinking at Scapa Flow on 21 June 1919.

The most deleterious consequences to the German Navy was the forced breakup of naval shipyards along with the collapse of commercial shipyards with experience building warships due to lack of German naval construction. Naval ship building is a complex endeavor requiring workers with a wide variety of skills some of which are only required by yards building warships. With the breakup or bankruptcy of the building yards, the skilled workforce which built Germany’s navy ships was scattered to the winds and was impossible to re-assemble several decades later when Nazi Germany began to re-arm.

Even more damaging was both the unemployment of naval ship designers, a rare specialty, who went on to seek other work, and very few German men coming into the profession. When time came to re-arm, warship designers were difficult to find and most were not experienced and made numerous mistakes.

[Images courtesy of the UK Imperial War Museum and the UK Imperial War Museum.]