As tensions mounted between Great Britain and Imperial Germany in the years leading up to World War I, there was a “naval scare” in 1909. It seemed Berlin was about to match or potentially surpass London’s construction on the new Dreadnought class of battleships. German industry had surpassed British industry in total output after decades of high economic growth had closed the gap, ultimately giving Germany Europe’s largest economy and changing the balance of power. There are similarities and lessons from the Anglo-German naval arms race relevant to the current Sino-American naval arms race that has accompanied Beijing’s rise in economic strength.
HMS Dreadnought was launched in 1905 at the direction of Admiral Sir John Fisher, who had been elevated to First Sea Lord in 1904. The revolutionary design increased from four to ten the number of heavy (12-inch) guns in capital ships and would see the size of main guns (13.5 and 15 inch) increase as the design matured. The Royal Navy’s superiority was at risk, as all powers started at zero with the new design.