Germany has let loose its U-boats to attack Allied merchant ships without warning. The U-boat campaign has brought the USA into the war against Germany, but this is considered to be a price worth paying. Before the commencement of the campaign, Holtzendorff, the navy’s chief of staff, projected that the U-boats would be able to sink enough ships to force Britain out of the war by the autumn of 1917. That would mean the end of the war as the Allies could not continue the struggle without Britain.
Holtzendorff had predicted that the U-boats would need to sink 600,000 tons of shipping a month to cripple Britain. Until now they have not met this target, but in April they greatly exceed it, sinking some 840,000 tons of shipping. This success appears more to have been achieved by increasing the numbers of U-boats on patrol than by the new tactics. As well as the increased number of U-boats, the submariners are being pushed to spend more time at sea, meaning they have more opportunities to hit the enemy.
The British are responding to the U-boat threat in a number of ways. They are attempting to increase domestic food production and to stretch flour stocks by mixing barley in with wheat. They have also increased production of new ships to replace the ones lost, as have their American allies. The British have also pressured neutral countries into keeping their ships at sea, so that they can also be used for British trade. The British are also considering the introduction of convoys, so that merchant ships will sail under naval protection.
Although Allied shipping losses this month are very high, there is no sign as yet that the U-boat campaign is leading to real hardship in Britain. Bread remains un-rationed and food is still relatively abundant. Despite their successes, some senior figures in the German navy begin to wonder if the U-boats will not actually end the war by August.
images source (Canadian War Museum)