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Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (Anglais) Broché – 2 novembre 2004

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Description du produit

Extrait

CHAPTER 1

July 1914

On an afternoon in early July 1914, a middle-aged man with restless, bright blue eyes and curly, iron-gray hair boarded his yacht in the German Baltic harbor of Kiel, and the following morning departed on his annual summer cruise to the fjords of Norway. Two unusual and striking features marked the vacationing traveler: one of these he was eager to display; the other he was even more anxious to conceal. The first was his famous brushy mustache with its extended, upturned points, the creation of a skillful barber who worked on it every morning with a can of wax. The other, hidden from sight, but all the more noticeable for that, was his left arm, three inches shorter than the right. This misfortune was the result of an extraordinarily difficult breech delivery performed without anesthesia on his eighteen-year-old mother, Princess Victoria of England. He was unable to raise his left arm, and the fingers on his left hand were paralyzed. Every doctor had been consulted, every treatment attempted; nothing worked. Now, the useless hand was gloved and carried in his pocket, or placed at rest on the hilt of a sword or a dagger. At meals, a special one-piece knife-and-fork set was always placed next to his plate. To compensate for the helplessness of his left arm, he had developed the right to an unusual degree. He always wore large jeweled rings on his right hand; sometimes, grasping a welcoming hand so hard that the rings bit and the owner winced, the hand shaker said merrily, “Ha ha! The mailed fist! What!”

There were two sides to the traveler’s behavior. He was a man of wide reading, impressive although shallow knowledge, a remarkable memory for facts, and, when he wished, amiability and charm. He had a strong, clear voice and spoke equally well in German and English although his English had the slightest trace of an accent and when he resorted to English slang, which he liked to do, he frequently got it wrong. He “talks with great energy,” said an Englishwoman who saw him often, “and has a habit of thrusting his face forward and wagging his finger when he wishes to be emphatic.” “If he laughs,” said an English statesman who knew him, “which he is sure to do a good many times, he will laugh with absolute abandonment, throwing back his head, opening his mouth to the fullest extent possible, shaking his whole body and often stamping with one foot to show his excessive enjoyment of any joke.” His moods changed quickly. He could be expansive and cheery one day, irritable and strident the next. His sensitivity to suspected slights was acute, and rejection turned him quickly to arrogance and menace. Remarkably, he could switch between personalities like an actor. He had complete control of his facial expressions. In public, he tightened his features into a glowering mask and presented himself as the lofty, monarchical figure his rank proclaimed. Other times, he allowed his face to relax and a softer, milder expression appeared, one indicating courtesy and affability—sometimes even gentleness.

This complicated, difficult, and afflicted person was Kaiser William II, the German emperor and Supreme War Lord of the most powerful military and industrial state in Europe.

The imperious side of William II’s character was the handiwork of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor and creator of the German empire, who inflamed the young prince in his youth with the glory of monarchy. Astride a white horse, wearing the white cuirassier uniform of the Imperial Guard and a shining brass helmet crested with a golden Hohenzollern eagle, William saw himself as an embodiment of the divine right of kings. “We Hohenzollerns derive our crowns from Heaven alone and we are answerable only to Heaven,” he announced, adding that God was “our old ally who has taken so much trouble over our homeland and dynasty.” Ich und Gott were the two rulers of Germany, he declared, sometimes forgetting who was answerable to whom. “You have sworn loyalty to Me,” he once told a group of new army recruits. “That means, children of My guard, that you . . . have given yourself to Me, body and soul. . . . It may come to pass that I shall command you to shoot your own relatives, brothers, yes, parents—which God forbid—but even then you must follow My command without a murmur.” He drew surprising historical analogies. In 1900, sending a contingent of German troops to China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, he shouted to the departing soldiers, “There will be no quarter, no prisoners will be taken! As a thousand years ago, the Huns under King Attila gained for themselves a name which still stands for terror in tradition and story, so may the name of German be impressed by you for a thousand years on China.”

Englishman and German, yachtsman and medieval warlord, bumptious vulgarian and representative of the Deity: William never quite determined who he was. He changed his mind with bewildering frequency, but, in the opinion of his former chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, the kaiser was “not false but fickle. He was a weathercock whose direction at any given moment very largely depended on the people with whom he happened to associate.” Albert Ballin, who built the Hamburg-America Line into the largest steamship company in the world, would always say, “Whenever I have to go and see the emperor, I always try and find out whom he’s just been with, because then I know exactly what he’s thinking.”

Despite her gold and white paintwork (“gleaming swan plumage,” one passenger called it), the top-heavy Hohenzollern, with her ram bow and bell-mouthed funnels, was the unloveliest royal yacht in Europe. Her navigation officer, Erich Raeder,* described her as a “lumbering monstrosity . . . [that] rolled in rough weather to a point uncomfortable even for old sailors. Her watertight integrity would not have met the safety requirements of even an ordinary passenger ship.” None of this troubled the kaiser, who used her only in the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, never in the heavier seas of the North Atlantic. In any case, his cruises to Norway were spent mostly at anchor in a spectacular fjord. There, surrounded by sparkling blue water, granite cliffs and dark green forests, plunging waterfalls wreathed in mist, and patches of sloping meadow dotted with farmhouses, William felt completely at ease. Some rules were always observed—no one ever spoke to the kaiser unless he had spoken first—but now, at fifty-five, he was more mature and composed than the youthful Prince Hal of a quarter century before. When he embarked on the first of his all-male yachting trips to Norway, taking with him a dozen friends whom he referred to as his “brother officers,” the atmosphere resembled that of a rowdy junior officers’ mess. By 1914, the atmosphere had become more correct, but the guest list remained all male. William’s wife, Empress Augusta, whom he called Dona, remained in Berlin. “I don’t care for women,” he said. “Women should stay home and look after their children.”

The kaiser’s day on the yacht was rigidly scheduled: mild exercises before breakfast; in good weather, an hour in his small sailboat; in the afternoons, shore excursions or rowing contests between the crews of the Hohenzollern and the escorting cruiser Rostock. These activities, however, were not allowed to interfere with the kaiser’s afternoon nap. To get the most from this hour and a half of rest, William always removed all of his clothing and got into

*Raeder would become a Grand Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the German navy in World War II. bed. “There’s nothing like getting in between two clean, cold sheets,” he declared. At seven, the company sat down to dinner, where the kaiser drank only orange juice sipped from a silver goblet. Every evening after dinner, the party gathered in the smoking room. This summer, along with songs and card games, William and his guests listened to lectures on the American Civil War.

William’s love of yachting—like his decision to build a powerful navy—had roots in his English heritage. His mother, who had married the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich, was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter; William was the queen’s eldest grandchild. He considered the British royal family to be his family; when he was angry at his British relatives, he described them as “the damned family.” He always held his grandmother in awe; Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, stirred mixed feelings. William sensed—correctly—that Bertie saw him as bothersome and looked down on him as a parvenu. This duality in William’s life—Prussia versus England, Bismarck versus Queen Victoria—warred within him constantly and affected the face he turned toward the public. Indeed, the split personality of Imperial Germany was almost perfectly mirrored by the personality of the kaiser: one moment, warm, sentimental, and outgoing; the next, blustering, threatening, and vengeful.

William measured culture, sophistication, and fashion by English yardsticks. His highest approbation was reserved for the Royal Navy. In his memoirs, he wrote, “I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood.” For William, the appeal of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s seaside palace on the Isle of Wight, was that Portsmouth, the premier base of the Royal Navy, was only five miles away across the Solent. “When as a little boy I was allowed to visit Portsmouth and Plymouth hand in hand with kind aunts and friendly admirals, I admired the proud English ships in those two superb harbors. Then there awoke in me the wish to build ships of my own like these someday and when I was grown up to possess as fine a navy as the English....

Revue de presse

Praise for Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought

“Dreadnought is history in the grand manner, as most people prefer it: how people shaped, or were shaped by, events.” —Time

“A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era . . . engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“[Told] on a grand scale . . . Massie [is] a master of historical portraiture and anecdotage.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Brilliant on everything he writes about ships and the sea. It is Massie’s eye for detail that makes his nautical set pieces so marvelously evocative.” —Los Angeles Times



From the Hardcover edition.

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