From the Theatre of War. The German Navy

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 12 April 1849


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 9, p. 259;
Written: by Engels about April 12, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 271, April 13, 1849.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung
Keywords : Germany, Denmark, War, Navy

Schleswig-Holstein. The Danes have left Hadersleben and the town has been re-occupied by the imperial army.[1] A few particulars have come in on the fighting in the Sundewitt area, according to which losses on both sides were fairly high. The imperial army has taken a number of prisoners.

North-German papers are still largely occupied with that remarkable stroke of luck in the port of Eckernförde.[2] This unique and quite unexpected event will probably figure as the greatest imperial military feat until the next German revolution. It has become clear that the Danes had definite orders to carry out the crazy attempt on Eckernförde. Obviously, in the prevailing circumstances they were bound to suffer such a defeat. Moreover, this whole affair shows what a droll institution the German Navy is. For the German Navy, which still exists only on paper, in spite of all the money, earrings, Bracelets and false jewels sent to Frankfurt, is now at last to become a reality. It is to be built from the wreckage of the Danish battleship Christian den ottende which was blown to smithereens! We are not joking. All Eckernförde, along with the victorious imperial troops stationed there, is busy fishing for splinters, gun-carriages, water kegs, yards, etc. as these are driven ashore, and storing them for the building of the German Navy. The Hamburrg Bösen-Halle reports all this with appropriate seriousness. For our part, we predict that the gloriously captured Gefion will be brilliantly recaptured by the Danes as soon as she shows herself on the high sea.

Four Danish blockade ships, three frigates and a corvette, are already again lying off the Elbe. The frigate Havfruen is lying off the Oder. This is a good opportunity for the German Navy to show itself, but it will fight shy of that. The whole German Navy served no other purpose except for too much boasting and excellent profits for the Hamburg, American and English shipping companies which palmed off their discarded ships on the Frankfurt imperial powerlessness for vast sums of money. The whole flotilla, which is lying in the Elbe and can already be seen in lithographs in all the picture shops, is unseaworthy; still less can the lightly-built ex-merchantmen and ex-steamboats from the Weser, promoted to warships, carry the weight of the guns or withstand the recoil of firing them. Not to mention the elegantly equipped erstwhile transatlantic steamships which the other day brilliantly ran aground and are lying in the Weser.

The whole story of the German Navy is sheer plagiarism, it has all happened before. Many years ago the Belgian model state (on the water Germany’s model state as well) bought from a Liverpool shipping company the steamship The British Queen for 1,200,000 francs in order to open up a steamship line between Antwerp and New York. On the masts of this ship was hoisted the black-red-and-gold flag which the German fatherland also has in common with the Belgian model state.[3] But what happened? On the very first voyage it became clear that The British Queen was not seaworthy, and this cast-off Liverpool ship was lying in the Antwerp dock ever since until at last, some little time ago, it was resold for 130,000 francs under the description “old wood”.

That is the German Navy! When the Danes next take a German ship, they will auction it also in Copenhagen for “old wood”.

That the Germans will never become a naval power is the fault of their geographical position. But they could have a navy which would at least protect their coasts and rule in the Baltic, in spite of Danes and Russians. But even that they will never get so long as the black-red-and-gold and black-and-white [4] imperial trash prevails. A German Navy will only be possible when the red flag is hoisted on its masts.

  1. The war with Denmark over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein renewed by Prussia at the end of March 1849 was waged in the name of all the states of the German Confederation. Owing to this, military and naval contingents from., Schleswig-Holstein were regarded as the nucleus of an all-German imperial army and navy, their formation being stipulated by the imperial Constitution drawn up by the Frankfurt National Assembly. pi 259
  2. On April 5, 1849 a German coastal battery fired on the Danish squadron at the harbour of Eckernförde (Schleswig); two damaged Danish ships were captured. This event, which made no essential difference to the course of war with Denmark, was claimed by the official Prussian press as a major victory
  3. Black-red-and-gold — a symbolic combination of colours signifying the unity of Germany. The Belgian state flag, introduced during the revolution of 1830-31, after the separation of Belgium from Holland, included the same colours but arranged differently (vertical black, gold and red stripes)
  4. An ironical allusion to the strivings of the liberal majority of the Frankfurt National Assembly to place the Prussian King (black-and-white — state colours of the Prussian monarchy) at the head of united Germany (black-red-and-gold — symbol of its unity) as the “Emperor of the Germans”.