The Great Divide: 1914–1920
At the beginning of the twentieth century the balance of power in the world was shifting. Britain still had the largest battle fleet, but its control of the seas was no longer something to be taken for granted. Germany, the United States, France and Japan now had sizeable battle fleets that, collectively, outgunned Britain’s. More disturbingly, the cost of naval weaponry had escalated. Gone were the days when Britain could patrol the seas and guard the outposts of empire at little cost to the taxpayer. Between 1870 and 1911 Britain’s naval budget had increased from £9.8 million to £40.3 million, and expenditure on the army by almost as much.1 Weapons were not only becoming more expensive; they were becoming obsolete and needing replacing sooner. Around the middle of the nineteenth century a ninety-gun warship could be built for as little as £100000; by 1912–13 the cost of one of the new Dreadnoughts ran to some £2.5 million. As the Spanish had discovered in Manila Bay, an antiquated navy stood no chance against properly equipped modern fighting ships; either a country kept up with technological change or ceased to be a great power.
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