The German navy was actively involved in both world wars. Although it was not the largest in either, their navy was still needed to defeat Britain. As such, Germany’s most notable naval battles were with the Royal Navy.

The Battle of Jutland[1]

Jutland was the largest German naval battle in history, and one of the largest generally. In 1916, Admiral Scheer drafted a plan to trap and destroy the British Grand Fleet. If this could be done then the Imperial German Navy could break Britain’s economic blockade. As such, in 1916 the Imperial German Navy sent two fleets under Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper to trap the Grand Fleet. The fleets met off Jutland, and during the battle Britain’s Grand Fleet lost a higher tonnage of ships. However, after taking losses themselves the German navy still had to withdraw. Both sides claimed a victory, although Britain’s economic blockade continued.

German U-boat Campaign 1917

The failure of the Battle of Jutland convinced the IGN to change tactics. As such, Scheer was convinced that Britain could be defeated with unrestricted submarine warfare. With their U-boats Germany began targeting British merchant shipping and British merchant losses did indeed increase. However, as Britain's navy switched to convoy tactics they reduced their losses and German U-boat losses increased. The U-boat campaign failed, and the USA also declared war on Germany during the campaign.

The Battle of River Plate

The Battle of River Plate, in 1939, was a small naval battle that involved three Royal Navy cruisers and the German pocket battleship the Graf Spee. It was also one of the first naval battles between the Royal Navy and German navy in this war. Three British cruisers met the Graf Spee off River Plate, and were unable to the sink the ship. During the skirmish the Exeter was also hit, although just remained afloat. The Graf Spee escaped the Royal Navy at a port in Montevideo, although it could not remain there and Royal Navy ships had encircled the harbor. As such, the captain scuttled the Graf Spee shortly after leaving port.

Battle of the Atlantic

The longest German naval battle was the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted from ’39 up ’45. It German U-boats that sank thousands of British merchant ships. However, Donitz’s U-boats were unable to win as increasing U-boats losses ensured their gradual withdrawal from 1943 onwards.

These were a few of the most notable German naval battles in the world wars. They involved both U-boats and surface fleets, and ultimately the German navy lost all of them.