When World War I began the German navy found itself in a difficult position. The battle fleet that Admiral von Tirpitz had been building was incomplete, and as a result the Germans were at a numerical disadvantage against the Royal Navy. The Germans also suffered from a geographic disadvantage. Great Britain sat directly across the shipping lanes from Germany to the outside world. As a result it was relatively easy for the British to cut the Germans off from their international trade and isolate them. The Germans could do little in return. The major German naval bases were located within the Helgoland Bight, too far from Great Britain to pose a serious threat. The Germans needed a way to turn the tables on the British geographically, and at the same time, reduce the British superiority in surface forces.
To try and accomplish the latter goal the Germans implemented a strategy which they called Kleinkrieg. In theory this involved the aggressive use of destroyers, torpedo-boats, and submarines against the British fleet and British commerce in an effort to whittle away at Great Britain's naval superiority. Then, once the scales had been balanced, the High Seas Fleet could seek out a decisive battle with the British Grand Fleet. The strategy had one fatal flaw; it could only be implemented from the Bight if the British instituted a close blockade of the German coast. The Germans confidently expected that this was exactly what the British would do; however, the British instead, realizing the dangers of torpedoes and mines, implemented a distant blockade which gave the Germans control over the relatively unimportant southeastern North Sea. Britain's geographic position made this possible. Since they could block the exits from the North Sea with fleets based in Britain they did not need to opt for a close blockade. This made it even more imperative that the Germans find away to turn the tables on the British geographically.