Germany’s leaders are still trying to make up their minds what to do with their U-boats. Many in the army and navy feel that if the U-boats are allowed to attack Allied ships indiscriminately they would bring Britain to its knees. This would be especially likely, they argue, if the U-boats were also allowed to attack neutral ships without warning, if they appear to be trading with the Allies. The island nation of Britain is dependent on its maritime trade, so they reckon that it would be impoverished and brought to starvation by an aggressive U-boat campaign.
Bethmann Hollweg, Germany’s chancellor, is the most resolute opponent of an indiscriminate U-boat campaign. He knows that unrestricted submarine warfare will anger the Americans and could bring the USA into the war on the side of the Allies. He is sceptical of the claims of the U-boat advocates and feels that Germany has enough enemies without adding the USA to their number.
The U-boat lobby are gaining ground but for now Bethmann Hollweg is still able to block their more extreme plans. Today Hindenburg and Ludendorff approve naval plans for an escalated U-boat campaign, but it will be one conducted according to the agreed rules of international law. U-boats will have to stop and search ships for contraband before giving their crews and passengers time to evacuate before their ships are sunk. This will assuage the concerns of the Americans, but it will also leave the U-boats more vulnerable to Allied counter-measures. The U-boat advocates fear that this is a pointless compromise that will prevent the submarines being used to their full potential.
U-boat attack, painted by Willy Stower (Unterseeboot)