There can be little doubt that the U-Boat goes down in history as one of the greatest Stealth weapons ever developed. By utilizing tactics and technologies geared towards avoiding detection and disabling their opponents’ abilities to counterattack or effectively defend themselves, the U-Boat served as an impressive equalizer against the might of the British Royal Navy. It could easily be argued that the tactics employed by the Germans in neutralizing a far superior naval power led to the dramatic rise of guerrilla warfare in the 20th Century.
What the average person may not realize, however, is that the rise of submarine warfare, and possibly the First World War, where U-Boats first figured prominently, was a direct result of a birth defect. Indeed, the entire history of warfare in the 20th Century can, in a way, be traced to a single physician.
The man who would become Kaiser Wilhelm II was born on January 27, 1859, as Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht. He was the son of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, later Kaiser Friedrich III, and Princess Royal Victoria of Great Britain, daughter of Queen Victoria, later The Empress Victoria of Prussia. His mother, Victoria, was an ardent Anglophile, and when she was due to give birth, refused to be tended to by anyone but an English physician. Given that she was in Prussia, the only doctor available was one who was perhaps not as well-versed in maternity and childbirth as might befit a crown princess. Nevertheless, she was insistent, and relied only on his services.
The subsequent birth of her son, Wilhelm, was an extremely difficult breech birth, and this left Wilhelm with a deformed left arm. Wilhelm ended up inheriting the mental illness that was historically prevalent in both Friedrich’s and Victoria’s family lineage, which resulted in something of a megalomaniacal streak as well as significant delusions of grandeur, symptoms that were particularly dangerous in an heir to the thrones of both the German Empire and the British Empire. The sole detractor to his inflated self-image was that withered left arm, a fact he came to blame primarily on his English mother and her English physician. By extension, then, he began to view the English as his adversary, and principally responsible for his shortcomings.
This image was not helped by his many visits to his grandmother, Queen Victoria of England. Many times he had opportunity to witness the might of the Royal Navy, and grew to respect and admire it. As he grew older, this admiration clashed with his Prussian self-identity, and it gradually turned to jealousy. During Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1897, the German Navy, which had attended to pay its respect, was, by Wilhelm’s estimation, shown to be so vastly inferior to the Royal Navy as to be an embarrassment. As a direct result of this, in 1898 he implemented a massive buildup of the German Navy, in order to build a fleet that would rival the British.
This buildup caught the British somewhat by surprise, and before they could react, Germany was building a fleet of impressive new battleships and cruisers. But when the British did react, they brought the full might of their experience to bear. Germany had clearly bested them on several elements of new battleship design, and they responded in 1906 with the HMS Dreadnought. This was, for its day, such a technological tour-de-force that it forced the German Imperial Navy to rethink its strategy.
Britain had a massive naval industrial complex at its disposal. The nation’s specialty was in ship-building, and Germany, and its ultra-nationalistic Kaiser, quickly realized that there was little chance of defeating the Royal Navy at their own game. To that end, a quiet backup strategy began to form. Since 1890, there had been a fringe element in the Imperial Navy working on developing a functioning submarine, which the Germans called an Unterseeboot. As tensions between nations rose, and Wilhelm’s distrust of the British caused him to form a series of dangerous alliances which would eventually result in the First World War, the Imperial Navy began to pour more resources into these U-Boots, in the hopes that it might give them an advantage over the might of the Royal Navy.
Their gamble proved a success. In the fall of 1914, a single U-boat was able to sink multiple British cruisers without receiving a shot in return. This led to an entirely new strategy, never tried before, of packs of U-boats hunting for warships and merchant vessels using stealth techniques. The British Grand Fleet was caught completely unprepared, and as a result, was rendered largely ineffective in the naval aspects of World War I.
It was, of course, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s distrust of the British as a result of his disfigurement that caused him to order a naval buildup. The British response to his naval buildup fueled his belief that the British Empire was pursuing a goal towards the destruction of the German Empire. This resulted in not only the development of the U-boat, but Wilhelm’s series of treaties that created the tinder-keg that was eventually sparked by the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, resulting in the First World War. The outcome of that war created the conditions for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War, and that war created the conditions for the Cold War, and the dramatic rise of high-tech submarine warfare. The principles learned in the art of submarine warfare were transferred to aerial warfare, and resulted in the development of Stealth aircraft. Which, of course, all culminated in Stealth Week, here on AtomicToasters.
So if you’re not enjoying Stealth Week, don’t blame us. Blame the English physician for not reading up on his maternity textbooks.