Terrorism: May 10, 2002


: A century before the attack on the World Trade Center, New York City was a favorite target for America's rivals and enemies.

The newspaper "Die Zeit" reported on 8 May that Kaiser Wilhelm II's turn of the century plans to attack New York City and Boston had been discovered. As the 19th Century ended, the upstart United States stood in the way of the Kaiser's plans to establish colonies across the globe. While a viable plan to strike America's Northeastern cities, the German government could force United States to acknowledge her interests on the American continent and in the Pacific, as well as control the newly-built Panama Canal.

Imperial Germany documents found in the military archive in Freiburg detailed how, during the winter of 1897/1898, Naval Lieutenant Eberhard von Mantey recommended a plan for a strike on the United States that would force Washington to accept a treaty giving Germany a free hand in the Pacific and Atlantic. The plans were reworked and revised several times over the next decade. 

One variation foresaw a force of 100,000 troops transported across the Atlantic on 60 ships. Another saw the bombardment of New York City so that panic would break out amongst it's three million residents. While Chief of staff Alfred von Schlieffen was skeptical about the idea of attacking the United States, 3,000 sea miles away, he remained loyal to his Kaiser and supported the planning process.

The question remains, did the German plans have any chance of succeeding? Or was it merely a staff planning exercise that became a practical joke on a grand scale, never really intended to be executed? At the time, Germany and Great Britain were engaged in a major arms race with the Dreadnought battleship designs. In June 1900, the Reichstag (German parliament) passed the second Fleet Act (which mirrored the wishes of then-State Secretary for the Navy Alfred von Tirpitz), which confirmed the doubling of the Imperial Fleet planned for in the first Fleet Act.

Around the same time, America had just mobilized an army of citizen soldiers to defeat Spain in Cuba and the Philippines. Most of the standing Army remained bogged down in that Pacific country, chasing the Moros, while the bulk of the remainder were stationed in America's West. The US Navy was in a better shape even though the Great White Fleet was years away and coastal defense forts were still a fixture in America's eastern seaboard ports.

The Eastern states still had their militia regiments and a heavily armed civilian populace easily fired-up by a large pool of Civil War veterans. At the turn of the century, there was already a good deal of anti-German sentiment in the American press. Nostalgic books were hitting the stores about the American Revolution, a fair number of which covered the defeat of the Hessians (particularly at the battle of Fort Mercer).

An audacious German commander with the element of surprise may well have achieved spectacular initial successes (the Royal Navy was able to burn Washington DC in 1812), but ultimately the nightmare of logistics would have probably doomed any German attack. At least one work of fiction covers this German plan: Robert Conroy's "1901" covers the invasion through New York City, initial reverses by US militia forces, the problems Germany has with controlling the sea lanes and supplying their troops, as well as how the UK gets involved in assisting America. - Adam Geibel

Additional References

"1901", Robert Conroy, Lyford Books, ISBN 0-89141-537-8, 1995, 374pp

"Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War", 
Robert K. Massie, Ballantine Books, ISBN: 0-345-37556-4, 1991, 1007 pages, index, notes, bibliography, b&w plates

For the Great White Fleet online, including a list of books 


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