Interpretations and Perspectives of the Great Conflict
Edited By Jarosław Suchoples and Stephanie James
Jan Asmussen - Heligoland during the Great War. A Major Theatre of War That Never Was
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Faculty of Command and Naval Operations Polish Naval Academy in Gdynia, Poland Institute for Social Sciences Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, Germany
Heligoland during the Great War. A Major Theatre of War That Never Was
Abstract: Heligoland (German: Helgoland) was occupied by the British during the Napoleonic wars in 1807. For the next 76 years the island remained British. In 1890 the island became part of a deal that lead to German acceptance of British suzerainty over Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar. Germany received Heligoland in exchange. At the time the treaty, arranged by Salisbury, was seen as a net gain for the Empire and only few regarded the surrender of British territory to Germany as a problem. Germany swiftly transformed the island into a major naval fortress. During the Great War the sea at Heligoland became the spot of the first major Anglo-German sea battle. British operational planning foresaw on several occasions the occupation of the island. This paper examines the perceived military value of the island for Britain and Germany as opposed to its actual importance for Allied and German naval war efforts. It will be argued that while Heligoland did not play any decisive part in the war, this was not the view of major decision makers in Berlin and London. As a result the island narrowly escaped being another major theatre of war that would probably have entered the records as another military disaster like Gallipoli or Verdun...
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