The Influence of Dreadnoughts on the Outcome of the First World War - Part 1
Patrick Harris -
Dreadnoughts were hugely powerful battleships created by many of the world’s navies in the early twentieth century. Dreadnoughts did not however, affect the outcome of the First World War. This came about through four main reasons. Few dreadnoughts were made, there were geographic limitations, dreadnoughts were too fast, and the Royal Navy (RN) failed to exploit its numerical advantage. These reasons contributed to the ineffectiveness of the dreadnought during the First World War.
At the start of the First World War, there were few dreadnoughts in existence, resulting in their inability to affect the outcome of the war. At the start of the First World War, both Britain and Germany, the main combatants of the dreadnought arms race, did not have large enough amounts of dreadnoughts to inflict a massive defeat upon each other: “The naval arms race between Britain and Germany had become so intense that by the outbreak of war in 1914, Germany had twenty four modern dreadnoughts to Britain’s thirty four.” Grant, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare, (2012) p. 272. Both nations had roughly an equal amount of dreadnoughts.
In 1914, there were not many dreadnoughts in existence, due to dreadnoughts being too expensive for any nation to make them quickly in large numbers; this resulted in dreadnoughts not affecting the outcome of the First World War. Dreadnoughts cost a massive amount of money to build, fit out, and maintain: “HMS Dreadnought was commissioned with a final cost of £1,783,833 [adjusted to modern inflation, is £43,960,807] (2011 Figure).” Konstam, Naval Miscellany, (2012) p. 75. When you take this amount and multiply it by the numbers of dreadnoughts each nation had, it is easy to see why so few dreadnoughts were made. Overall, Britain’s battle fleet of dreadnoughts at the start of the war cost £1,494,667,438 in modern terms. Nations had no choice but to spend this money, as their existing fleets of warships were severely inferior to His Majesties’ Ship (HMS) Dreadnought: “The emergence of HMS Dreadnought meant that all existing battleships became obsolete. Warships like the brand new King Edward VII were rendered almost worthless. All the world’s navies faced the same problem, but it was Britain, with the largest battle fleet in the world, which had the most to lose. As a result, the government had little choice but to pour vast sums of money into building up a new battle fleet.” Konstam, Naval Miscellany, (2012) p. 76. Through having to spend this much money modernizing their entire navy, nations were unwilling to make dreadnoughts in large amounts.
Relatively few dreadnoughts were made due to their construction at an unsustainable pace, leading to their ineffectiveness in the First World War. HMS Dreadnought was made extremely fast, putting strain on many nations’ shipyards: “HMS Dreadnought was laid down in Portsmouth dockyard in October 1905, and was completed in a record breaking 14 months, a whole two years before her foreign rivals" Konstam, Angus, Naval Miscellany, 2012, p. 76. This created a precedent for fast construction that neither British nor German yards could complete. The shipyards at the time were simply not equipped to create enough dreadnoughts to seriously affect the outcome of the First World War.