Third Rank Navies of WW1

Navies of third and fourth rate in 1914-18
North, West and Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East…

By stating “third rank” we don’t intend to offense any nation, but since the Royal Navy could be assimilated as a naval superpower or “first rank navy”, there were certainly “second rank” ones, namely all from major naval powers at the time, including USA (soon to be first rank, as well as Japan), France, Germany, Italy and Russia. Austro-Hungary was second rank, but probably leaned towards a third rank one, as well as Turkey. In this new chapter we’ll see all these less-known navies, from solid, powerful third rank to very small fleets, more akin hypothetic “fourth rank” ones.

In 1914, Scandinavian countries are in neutrality position. “Third rank” marines were tied to the neutral posture of their countries for the most. Meanwhile, some fell either by choice of force in one or another side: This was the case of the Dutch Fleet, which, far to be negligible in 1914, was one of strongest of the list, although weakened by her geographical split between Europe and the Far East.

Norwegian Draug class destroyers

Turkey much involved to the side of Austro-Hungary and Germany, and despite being Europe’s “sick man”, the Turkish fleet was in quantity and quality lightyears from what she was earlier in the XIXth Century, especially in the 1870s when she openly rivaled the Russian Navy in the Black Sea and dominated the Eastern Mediterranean, like the old glory days of the Ottoman Empire. But she received an unexpected boost by the arrival of the modern German Cruiser Breslau and Battlecruiser Goeben, following an epic escape (see Admiral Souchon “mad run” to Constantinople).

Unfortunately for the Ottoman Empire, allied might in the Mediterranean was crushing, especially after the arrival of Italy in 1915, added to the Russian and Greek navies, not speaking of the French and British fleets, the latter blocking both gateways to the antique sea, via Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. As a result, the few Turkish successes were attributed to a single minelayer in the Dardanelles.

Rival Greek Navy was Balkan’s main naval power. Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Albania possessed a few valuable units, but carefull stayed neutral after the bloodbath of the recent Balkan war. Of the three Scandinavian navies, which strongly stuck to their non-belligerent status, were focused on coastal defense. Crossing fire with the Hochseeflotte was out of question.

From the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish and Portuguese Navies, still counting a few colonies, only had a minimal strength and stayed neutral. Portugal counted six small cruisers, while Spain which had its nose blooded in 1898, against a rising, reborn young US Navy, still possessed five cruisers and one old battleship, but also three brand new Dreadnought commissioned in UK and partly built locally at the Ferrol Shipyard.

Argentinian Rivadvia class Battleships. Brazil, Argentina and Chile competed for naval supremacy with US or UK ordered dreadnoughts.

South American countries had been well equipped, rival Argentina, Chile and Brazil ordering Dreadnoughts and counting on the extreme smaller units or feeble tonnage. Their naval policy was naturally aligned to the US Navy doctrine and also strayed neutral.

In Asia, young and old Dragons also competed for regional supremacy. Of course Japan was the naval superpower on the rise, blessed by the celebrated Battle of Tsushima ten years ago, inflicting a crushing blow to the Russian Pacific and Black sea fleets. China was no more than a quiet observator, its fleet crippled by her defeat in 1894 at Yalu, again at the masterful hands of the Japanese. Recent events had been merely an appetizer for Nihhon Kaigun indeed, as she will rose to the global third place. China on the other hand, prudently remained neutral, only in situation to guard its waters and patrol the yellow river with a fleet of gunboats. Siam possessed also a diverse aggregate of armed civilian ships, but nonetheless declared war to the central Powers in 1917, a decision of little consequence…

Third rate navies:
-Scandinavia: Norwegian, Danish and Swedish Navies
-Western Europe: Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese Navies
-Balkans: Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian Navies
-South America: Brazil, Argentina, Chili, Peru
-Asia: China, Siam

Fourth Rate Navies:
Belgium, Cambodge, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Equador, Egypt, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Persia, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Coastal Battleship Norge (1900). 4 of such BS were in service, alongside two more of the older Haarfarge class. A powerful proposition for a coastguard.

Norvegian flag The Norwegian Navy in 1914

En 1905, the union between Norwegian and Swedish crown arrived to term, the former only possessing a rather small coastguard contingent of gunboats and TBs. Its limited industrial capabilities obliged the government to order its major units in UK, while Sweden was totally autonomous of foreign acquisitions. The Norwegian navy possessed a monitor, four coastal battleships, four gunboats, one destroyer and 12 Torpedo Boats in all, totalling 1000 active officers and sailors reinforced by 1000 conscripts. FY1914 Naval plan was more ambitious, aiming at a supplement of 3 destroyers, 3 TBs, 4 submersibles, and two more coastal battleships.

Draug class destroyers

Neutral for the duration of the war, Norway did not suffered of commerce disruption as much its freighter fleet was meager. Its most precious asset, iron, constituted the focal point of its neighbors. The Norwegian navy multiplied missions of minesweeping and coastal patrols. However, despite its well-known and well-shown neutrality, Norway leaned towards the allies. In 1916 indeed, she intercepted a precious German diplomatic suitcase, infected by germs destined to poison plasma bags en route for British casualties.

Glatton - Ex Nidaros
HMS Glatton: Formerly Nidaros class, ordered to UK in 1913 but requisitioned after the outbreak of war.

The British admiralty also tried in 1918 to drag more actively Norway into chasing U-boats, giving their precious latest acoustic equipment in exchange, but such proposal was rejected.

So here was the Norwegian naval strength in 1914:

Tordenskjold profile

-4 Coastal Battleships: 2 classe Norge (1900), 2 classe Haarfarge (1897). Ordered (1913): 2 classe Nidaros. The latter has been ordered in UK was were requisitioned by the RN at the outbreak of war and integrated as the HMS Gorgon et Glatton.

Norge class coastal battleships

-2 Cruisers: Frithjof (1895), Viking (1891). These two small tonnage ships has been rebuilt and rearmed in 1904-1908. Frithjof served as schoolship.

Frithjof cruiser profile (1895)

-4 Destroyers: 3 Draug (1908-13), single Valkyrjen (1896).

Kjell of 2nd class TBs

-40 Torpedo Boats:
1st class: 3 Teist (1906), 10 Hval (1896-1901).
2nd class: 5 Ravn (1903), 4 Hvas (1900), 8 Varg (1894), 3 Snar (1888), 4 Od (1882).
3rd class: Rap (1872), Ulven (1878), Myg (1899).

A4 class submarines

-4 Submersibles: Köbben (1909), three A2 class (1913), all built in Germany.
-11 Miscellaneous: Gunboat Aeger (1893), Ellida (1880), two Gor class (1884), five Vale class (1874), 2 Rjukan class (1860).

Until 1918, the Norwegian navy built Three Trygg class TBs, only achieved postwar, in 1919-21; gunboat Orkla (1917), minelayer Fröya (1916), and two Glommen class (1917).

Vale class gunboats

The Swedish Navy

The end of Kalmar union between the Crowns of Norway and Sweden, was the result of count Bernadotte 1814’s active lobbying, recently ended in 1905. Sweden was left to control the Skattegat strait towards the Baltic, the eastern coast being controlled by the old rival from St Petersburg, the Russian Empire. Sweden however had the double chance to have a powerful industrial basis, and resources to go with these assets. Its story was comparable to the US Navy, althought on the smaller scale. The diet (Parliament) approved many coastal battleships recently that dwarved any comparable ships and were worthy of “pocket dreadnoughts”.

Already by far the most prominent Scandinavian naval power, Sweden was however still way below its European neighbours both in quantity and quality, making it only a regional naval power. Sweden innovated with submarines, noticeably those of Nordenfelt, produced by Bolinders Mekanika Verkstad and Nordenfelt, Karlsvik in Stockholm. In 1885 these submersibles made such an impression at an international naval exhibition that UK, Greece, Turkey and Russia bought some. They predated Holland and Laubeuf submarines by nearly 10 years.

This tradition endured and Sweden aligned a rather powerful fleet of submarines in 1914. Naval bases were located at Karlskrona (the main naval fortress, fortified in the Vauban style), plus six large drydocks for submersibles at Stockholm, forts and coastal batteries, three drydocks, a TB base at Göteborg. Two other bases were located at Farösund, Gotland and Hemsö Bothnia gulf. The navy was commanded by an admiral, split between the coastal force and the fleet, divided into squadrons. Coastal defense wasn’t limited to forts but also comprised numerous batteries well hidden into granit-built blockhaus, rail batteries, and minelayers.
(Other informations to come)