The Wonderful Kiel Canal

H. J. Shepstone in the London Magazine April 1 1915

The Wonderful Kiel Canal

H. J. Shepstone in the London Magazine April 1 1915

The Wonderful Kiel Canal

H. J. Shepstone in the London Magazine

WHEN, in June last, the Kaiser formally opened the new locks of the Kiel, or Kaiser Wilhelm, Canal, built in connection with the deepening, widening, and general improvement of this wonderful artificial waterway, little was said about the enterprise at the time. This was all the more remarkable when we remember that the scheme had demanded an expenditure of no less than £12,000,000, or four million pounds sterling more than the waterway origi-. nally cost, and that the new work carried out could claim to rank among the engineering wonders of the world. Indeed, the new locks are larger than those at Panama, and the new channel is wider and deeper than any of the great ship canals.

Yet the Germans said virtually nothing about their improved channel being deeper and wider than the famous Suez or the more-recently completed Panama waterways, nor did they dwell upon the wonders of their new locks, which are longer, wider, and deeper than those colossal concrete structures in the American isthmus.

Why this silence? It certainly cannot be put down to modesty on the part either of the German Government or of the nation, nor to their inability to let the world know what they had accomplished. No one is more fully alive to the value of advertising than the Germans. In the matter of publicity, our engineering and other commercial firms—and the Government, too, for that matter—could learn much from the Teuton. No; the reason why the wonderful and daring work of the German engineer at Kiel was not made known to all and sundry was because this vast scheme was carried out mainly for strategical considerations.

The undertaking was put in hand and feverishly hastened to completion in order that the latest German Dreadnoughts might safely and expeditiously be transferred from the North Sea to the Baltic, or vice versa, thereby making the whole of the German fleet operative at a few hours’ notice in either waters. In a word, the new locks at Kiel and the widened and deepened waterway there were a bold bid on the part of Germany to make herself mistress of the seas of Northern Europe.

To appreciate the engineering difficulties and wonders of the waterway, however, it is necessary to describe first the building of the original canal, and then to note the improvement recently completed. The canal was begun in 1887, and completed in 1895. It is a little over sixty-one miles in length, so can claim to be the second longest canal in the world. It is only exceeded in length by the Suez, and is some twenty miles longer than the new canal across the isthmus of Panama.

As an aid to commerce, it saves two and a half days’ journey around the coast of Denmark. It reduces the distance from London to Petrograd by some 238 miles, while Hamburg is brought nearer to the Russian capital by some 424 miles.

The canal is not lockless, although it is nearly so. Whereas the object of the locks at Panama is to transfer ships to a higher or lower channel, those at Kiel have been constructed to meet the rise and fall of the tides. Now, there are virtually no tides in the Baltic, but locks have been found necessary at the Baltic end of the waterway, to prevent northeasterly gales piling up the water in the bay, which would cause the banks of the canal to be flooded. Thus, when winter storms arise, the locks at Kiel are closed to keep out the stormy waters, but ordinarily they are left open throughout the twenty-four hours of every day.

At the Elbe, or western, end the situation is different. Here the tide has a maximum range of 27% feet, and, consequently, at every ebb, in order to maintain the desired depth of water, the gates must be closed, though ships, of course, can pass through, subject to the delays attendant upon the passage of all locked waterways. There are two locks at each entrance, side by side, to allow the passage at the same time, of both outgoing and incoming vessels.

It was on June 20th, 1895, that the canal was opened to traffic by the present Kaiser. The ceremony was certainly an imposing one. The Emperor and his sons, in the imperial yacht Hohenzollern, followed by some twenty-three other vessels, entered the locks at Brunsbüttel at 4 a.m., and arrived at the Baltic end of the waterway at 12.45 p.m., where they were received with many salutes and other demonstrations from the foreign warships assembled in Kiel Harbour.

In 1913 some 39,000 vessels made use of the waterway. During times of peace the canal is open to the shipping of all nations, warships as well as other vessels. In time of war, however, its use is entirely restricted to vessels of the German Navy. To pass through the channel takes a small vessel on an average ten hours, and a large ship fifteen hours.

As already stated, this wonderful waterway was designed mainly for strategical reasons, to enable the German Fleet to operate effectively and quickly in either the North Sea or the Baltic. When, therefore, the locks at the entrance became too small for the newer types of battleships and cruisers the canal lost much of its importance. Hence it was decided to widen it, and in the Naval Budget of 1908, the German Government voted a sum of no less than £11,150,000 for this purpose.

Curiously enough, this work was hastened as a result of an accident that befell the Belgian steamer Palorames, of 1,300 tons, while making the passage of the canal. While rounding one of the sharp curves the vessel collided with the masonry of the banks and sank in such a position that not the smallest vessel could pass by. Owing to the fact of the block not being known to captains at sea. a large number of steamers and sailing vessels accumulated at the ends of the canal. It was ten days before the waterway was cleared again.

The disaster caused the authorities considerable anxiety, and the proposed improvements were accordingly put in hand without delay. According to plans these were to have been completed by January, 1915, but, as a matter of fact, the whole of the scheme was finished last June, just before war broke out.

As the reconstruction was commenced in the summer of 1909, it has meant five years of labor, and the total expenditure amounted to just over £12,000,000. The increased cost was entirely due to the feverish rate at which the work was pressed forward during its later stages. By October, 1910, an army of four thousand men had taken up their abode along the canal banks, working at no less than twenty-two distinct points. Later, this number was considerably augmented ; indeed at one time as many as fourteen thousand men were engaged, the whole sixty miles of the waterway being virtually one continuous workshop.

Naturally, the most difficult and costly part of the whole scheme was the rebuilding of the locks. They are the largest structures of their kind in existence. There are four—two at each entrance. Each measures 1,150 feet in length, 148 feet in width, and 46 feet in depth. The dimensions of the famous Panama locks are 1,000 feet, 110 feet, and 39 feet respectively.

By pumping the water out of them, the Kiel Canal locks can be used, if need be, as gigantic dry docks. Thus, with a closed canal, or even a partially closed channel, the German Fleet has at its disposal four massive dry docks, two at each end of the waterway.

Another advantage following on the improvement of the canal is that, as the surface level is now 334 feet wide, ships are enabled to pass each other in any direction at full speed. Special attention was paid to the curves, the water-levels here being considerably widened. Moreover, at suitable intervals new sidings were built, some of them stretching a distance of 4,000 feet. In these sidings alone, there being eleven all told, a fleet could lie at anchor without interfering with the passage of other vessels.

Then the existing bridges needed re. building, and the new high-level railway bridges, built of steel lattice-girders, are among the finest examples of this class of bridge engineering. The canal is crossed by two road bridges, five railway bridges, and sixteen wire-roped ferries. The railway bridges have each a clear elevation of 150 feet. The Rendsburg structure, situated about half-way along the canal, took three years to build, and is a marvellous piece of engineering work. With its

I approaches, the bridge has a total length of over a mile.

Accidents during night passages are made unlikely by the placing, at every 800 feet along the banks, of powerful arc j lights, by which the waterway is brightly [ illuminated. Indeed, from entrance to entrance every foot of the channel is well J lit, and can be navigated on the darkest I night by any vessel at a fair speed.

A writer describing the opening cerej mony relates how the Kaiser took up his j position “in solitary grandeur on a special platform built for him above the bridge of ¡ his Imperial yacht. While he stood at the I salute, the gleaming golden bow of the j yacht broke through the strand of black,

; white, and red ribbon stretched across the locks. With this act the first passage of j the enlarged canal was symbolized, and j was followed by a salute of thirty-three j guns from the combined German and British fleets assembled in the harbor at Kiel.”

At dinner that evening the Kaiser made a speech, in which he said: “We must be in the position to carry out in reality one j of the ablest sayings of the Iron Chancellor ; we must so live that we can at all I times say that we Germans fear God— otherwise absolutely nothing and no one [ in this world.”

The canal is excellently protected at both ends against a possible attack by j hostile fleets. The entrance from the BalI tic is two miles south of Friedrichsort, where the strongly fortified coasts of the I bay are only 2,600 feet from each other, i At the North sea end it is amply proÍ tected against attack from the open sea j by the forts of Heligoland, the batteries j on the island of Neuwerk, and the guns of , Wilhelmshaven. Tt may be argued, from , a glance at the map, that Heligoland and j Wilhelmshaven lie some distance from the j mouth of the canal. Wilhelmshaven, for j instance, is not in the mouth of the Elbe, j but some miles to the south-west, in the I estuary of the Jahde. Nevertheless, no j hostile fleet, in time of war, when beacons j and lightships are, of course, removed,

} could hope to prevent the Germans in the Elbe from reaching the Jahde at their leisure.

The two estuaries blend together into a larger estuary, which is, over a greater part of its extent, a network of difficult channels among many sandbanks, a few miles outside of which lies Heligoland. We all know to what extent that island has been fortified since its cession, and so long as it remains German the intervening water space must, at least while there is a German fleet in being, be regarded for all practical purposes as a German roadstead.

Thus we see the strategical reasons that led the German Government to spend £12,000,000 in improving the Kiel Canal and how, with Wilhelmshaven and Heligoland, this corner of the North Sea has become a formidable and strong German naval base difficult to attack from the open sea.

It was this combination of strength, f perhaps, that led the great War Lord, as I he surveyed the completion of his latest preparation for “The Day,” to exclaim how the Germans feared nothing and no one in this world, only God.