It’s taken ’til October 24 in the book for Lloyd notDavies and I to fall out. We’ve done well to get this far. But how strange to find that the cause of our rift is, of all things,… canals!
Canals – or ‘tiefs’ – are important in this book. Without canals there are no barges, and without barges there is no – *SPOILER ALERT* – invasion of Britain. (And if you have got this far without knowing this book is about the prospect of Britain being invaded by Germany, then what the hell have you been doing?)
The disagreement with my fellow adventurer revolves around whether the Frisian canals or ‘tiefs’ of 1898-1903 were designed for transporting barges full of troops – or indeed whether they were navigable at all.
Lloyd has a view that German tiefs are not at all like British canals. The latter were (mostly) built for transportation and haulage. The former were basically large ditches, created chiefly for drainage & irrigation. The fact that you could sail a barge down them was incidental. (I’m paraphrasing Lloyd’s argument – I’m sure he’ll write his own blog on the subject soon).
We’ve talked about sluices and dykes before (it crops up on October 15), and observed at the time that Childers is very quick to see military build-up where there are just farmers at work, see invasion plans where there are only sea defences.
But I think, in the case of canals, the widening schemes, barge-building and general movement of raw materials that Carruthers sees when he walks down the Benser Tief on the night of October 24 is a little bit more than unplanned ad hoc usage of drainage ditches.
A brief consultation of The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Economic History (another book I never thought I’d read ’til we started this project), tells me the Germans went a bit mad for canals from the 1860s onwards, and extended the canal network from less than 750km of waterway to over 7000km in less than 50 years. For our purposes, the most important constructions were the Dortmund-Ems Canal and the Ems-Jade Canal.
The former allowed coal and other important raw materials from the Ruhr to reach the North Sea in bulk via a German port for the first time. The latter meant all those materials could make their way across Frisia to Wilhelmshaven, Germany’s primary North Sea naval base.
There’s little doubt that Germany was flexing its military and industrial muscles with these projects. It’s not a big mental leap, therefore, to see how making the Frisians tiefs navigable would add another dimension to the whole system, allowing materials and troops to get out to the coast and beyond very quickly.
To my mind, these tiefs *are* clearly navigable and designed to be so. It’s about this that Lloyd and I disagree. To prove my point, though, I have planned a route down the present-day ‘tiefs’, ‘leides’ and ‘schoots’ that can take us all the way from Esens to either Aurich or Wittmund, with the possibility of connecting directly into the Ems-Jade Canal.
Sure, these days it’s a somewhat circuitous route, but it is on fairly wide stretches of water all the way – certainly wide enough for a small barge. I reckon we could kayak or canoe the whole thing on October 24 this year, no problem. And thus I would prove that Childers’s speculation about a possible invasion plan isn’t just paranoia or the mistaking of a ditch for a canal. You could get troops on barges out to the coast using these tiefs, I reckon, and certainly some of them were being modified during this period to take vessels of some sort.
Lloyd notDavies, I contend, is wrong. I look forward to his desperate counter-argument in a future blog post.