100 years on
This month sees the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One – the so called “war to end all wars”. The armistice signed on 11 November 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles concluded in 1919 may have attempted to deliver world peace, but as we all know, little more than two decades later, another world conflict of an almighty scale was underway.
As we all pause to reflect on the horrendous loss of life, at land and at sea, during the period 1914-18 and in all subsequent wars since, it is worth remembering the role of some German sailors in expediting the end of the war. Less than three weeks before the armistice, the German Navy was ordered to sea on 24 October 1918 – to engage the British Royal Navy for one final time.
Perceived as a potential suicide mission and in the context of Germany’s failing position in the overall conflict, German sailors in the High Sea fleet decided they had simply had enough – and mutiny broke out in the Navy, with the rebellion centred on the famous Baltic Sea port of Kiel.
The actions of the sailors and workers who formed a “Soldier’s Council” with a list of demands (including the launching of the fleet to be prohibited under all circumstances, and wider social demands such as freedom of speech) are perceived to have been hugely instrumental in accelerating the end of the war. Furthermore, the Kiel revolt is seen as a catalyst for a general revolution which swept aside the German monarchy and created the Weimar Republic. One wonders how many lives were saved by the courageous actions of these German sailors.
In terms of 100 year anniversaries, another interesting one caught my eye recently: celebrations in Panama to mark nearly 100 years since the creation of its ship registry (December 1918). It is incredible to think how much influence a relatively small country such as Panama has in world maritime trade, with the recent expansion of its famous canal and a registry which now accounts for around 18% of the world’s fleet.
The influence continues with far-sighted deals such as the recent co-operation agreement with the People’s Republic of China which offers preferential rates in Chinese ports to those vessels operating under the Panamanian flag. Amidst all of the tragedy and chaos in the world in 1918, it is amazing to think of the vision and ambition of those involved in setting up a registry which is in such good health 100 years on.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR