Large parts of the history of Sicherungsstellung Nord and the construction of German field fortifications in what we know today as Southern Jutland, are based in the second Danish-Prussian war in 1864. The same is true of many of the views that underpin 40 years of Danish foreign – and defense policy and neutrality during the First World War.
Historically, the strategic location of Denmark as the “plug” in the Baltic Sea has been a problem. A location that we have understood to exploit, but which also have been at challenge. It might have drawn the country into the World War I and later it made Denmark interesting for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.
At the turn of the century, Admiral von Tirpitz tried to build a German navy that would for the first time make Germany to a significant naval power in the region.
This, of course, concerned the most significant naval nation of the time, England, and was instrumental in the formation of the “Entente Cordiale”, the English-French pact in 1904. This pact ended the otherwise somewhat unfriendly position between the two European rivals, giving them each free rein hands in colonial politics. France was already allied with Russia, which is why the Russian Baltic fleet became an important part of the balance of power. It became more balanced, with Germany having gained direct access from the Baltic to the North Sea with the construction of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal (Kieler Canal). This Baltic fleet could now keep the Russians bound, while the English Home Fleet could keep the German High Sea Fleet in check.
Already in the autumn of 1904, this balance shifted, when the Russia’s Vladivostok fleet during the Russian-Japanese war was,destroyed and the Russian Baltic fleet was send tom japan to revende this.
The Russian Baltic fleet was going south across India and Africa.
The Russian navy was subsequently totally destroyed by Admiral Togo’s navy in the battle in the Tshushima Strait in 1905.
Now the balance of power in the Baltic Sea had overturned. Germany now was the region’s most important naval power, and the English Home Fleet was significantly reinforced. There was even talk of a preventive attack on the German navy.
With the “Triple Entente”, Germany felt that they were out of the colony race and the newly acquired status as naval power was now to be exploited. France was undergoing a political advance in Morocco, and Kaiser Wilhelm made a very unfortunate move by travelling to Tangier on a cruiser and go ashore.
A definite challenge.
It was later rumored that during this crisis, French Foreign Minister Delcassé maybe was promised a landind of 100,000 English troops in Esbjerg in the event of a war with Germany, possibly by the English king personally.
This promise and more, a bitterly departed Delcassé revealed in the French magazine Matin in 1906.
It must be stated, that such a promise has never been confirmed.
Delcassé was described by Kaiser Vilhelm as “France’s most dangerous man for Germany”, which is why the revelation caused wild astonishment in Germany.
Esbjerg subsequently was central for many years in German strategic planning in the region.
The fear was real, which was clearly documented through the so-called Lütken talks.
The Danish Captain L.C.F Lütken was of the opinion that maintaining Danish neutrality was only realistic if Denmark helped to close the German northern flank – Jutland.
Lütken sought, apparently on his own initiative, the German Chief of Staff Moltke in 1906, and from Lütken’s recollections and correspondence we know that Moltke returned again and again to a possible English landing in Esbjerg.
Lütken held several informal talks with Moltke, both in Berlin and during a German naval visit to Copenhagen over a three-year period.
It was not until 1919 that it was revealed that Lütken was actually sent on this informal mission by the Prime minister J.C. Christensen why this, based on Lütken’s reports, had the opportunity to steer towards a policy of neutrality that did not provoke the Germans too much.
Lütken could report back, what Denmark should avoid to stay neutral.
In southern Jutland, which became German after 1864, a lot of major exercises were held and the privately-housed soldiers could tell their Danish host people about a defense against 100,000 Englishmen who came from Esbjerg.
These exercises were practically all held where Sicherungsstellung Nord later came to be.
In 1909, articles in major German newspapers such as Vossische Zeitung and Berliner Tageblatt appeared on the need for defense of the Jutland west coast and Esbjerg with considerable forces. The fact that there were several English naval visits to Esbjerg in the years 1905-09 also helped to confirm the German apprehension.
Already in the German General Staff’s assessments before World War I, the campaign plan stated that “for the protection of Schleswig-Holstein and Kaiser Vilhelm Kanal, marches 8-11. mobilization day, the Northern Army consisting of IX. Reserve Corps and 4th “Gemischten” Landwehr Brigades under the command of Höherer Landwehrkommandeur 1… .. ”
However, since the war on the Western Front required all available forces, IX was deployed. Reserve corps here, and the Northern stronghold was left to the Landwehr and Landsturm.
The military situation worsened in 1916, with Hindenburg taking over the post of head of the German General Staff with Ludendorff as the nearest helper. (First General Quartermaster).
Before the introduction of the unrestricted submarine war that might force the naval nations of Holland and Denmark into the war on the English side, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff demanded that the flank to the north was effectively closed.
Ludendorff in his recollections:
It was only with the deepest regret that we could not speak in favor of the unrestricted submarine war, as it, in the opinion of the Chancellor, could possibly lead to war with the Netherlands and Denmark. To protect ourselves from both states, we did not have a single man available. They would be able to move into Germany with their armies, even though they are not warlike, and give us the death blow.
There was no reason to fear Denmark.
The Danish Neutrality army was reduced from 57,000 in 1914 to now 33,000, and the plans for the forces in Jutland were very defensive. The preferred plan was an elusive battle against a defense at the Limfjord, which could not be said to threaten either Berlin or Germany. But the two German military commanders made the Danish army a possible threat, demanding a firm north defense.
The first time an actual position is mentioned, is a letter from OKK (Oberkommando der Küstenverteidigung) to Hochseekommando (2 September 1916) where a position with the position of the Security post is foreseen. Things have thus been dealt with when the Admiral Staff on 16 September. 1916 receives telegram from Ludendorff with order to initiate the establishment of a “Stellung in Gerippe” (partially expanded position) in the line Hoptrup -Toftlund – Skærbæk.
Sep 18 announces General Malachowski from OKK that a position was already being established between the Genner Fjord and Römö.
However, there were only 5 land-storm battalions at the border (Kongeåen) but that two divisions were in the process of being set up, which could also be advanced to the border.
In September 1916, the Deputy General Command for the 9th Army Corps was ordered to establish Sicherungsstellung Nord according to plans that had been prepared for a long time time, and on September 10 and 17, the first German pioneer troops arrived in Southern Jutland.
We know that in the event of a Dutch declaration of war, two army group commands and 9½ infantry divisions were kept in reserve. In the event of a Danish attack, they would remain in the defensive, and had assigned a general command and two division staffs, as well as 6 mixed (mixed) brigades.
But what forces should have occupied the security position is still unknown.
IX Reserve Corps could be a possibility unless they were engaged on the Western Front.
It seams impossible to imagine, that Landsturm and Landwehr would be responsible for a crowded northern front alone.
We do not know how long time the German commander think was available, after a recognized landing of English forces in Esbjerg?