14/5/1917 The Battle of Otranto

On land the Italians are making their tenth attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarian defences at the Isonzo. At sea though it is Austria-Hungary which is attacking. Their target is the Otranto Barrage, the Allied blockade of the mouth of the Adriatic at the Straits of Otranto. Drifters, mostly British, patrol here, trailing nets in which they hope to catch enemy U-boats; larger ships are ready to support the drifters in case of enemy action.

Led by Commander Horthy, an Austro-Hungarian flotilla sails out at night to attack the drifters, sinking 14 of them and damaging another four. An Allied squadron comprising British, French and Italian ships gives chase, trying to prevent Horthy’s ships from escaping back to port. However the Austro-Hungarians also bring up reinforcements. In the fighting that follows, the Austro-Hungarians see one of their cruisers suffer heavy damage (with Horthy himself severely injured) but the Allies have the worst of it, losing two destroyers.

The battle shows the Allies that they cannot be certain of complete control of the Adriatic. However there are no great consequences of the action. The Otranto Barrage remains in operation, but it also continues to be a a rather ineffectual barrier to German and Austro-Hungarian submarines.

image sources:

The Castle of Otranto (Echoes form the Vault)

SMS Novara, Horthy’s flagship (Wikipedia)

Horthy, seriously wounded (Wikipedia)

10/5/1917 Convoys against U-boats

The Germans are hoping that their U-boats will force Britain out of the war by the autumn. Last month the submarines sunk a record quantity of Allied shipping. As a trading nation, Britain needs its merchant fleet to survive. If the Germans can continue to destroy its ships faster than they can be rebuilt then Britain will be reduced to poverty and starvation.

The British are trying various measures to counter the U-boat threat. Food production at home is being increased and ship building is being accelerated. And now they try a novel tactic to protect the ships while they are at sea. Instead of having merchantmen sail individually, easy targets for the German submarines, today the first convoy of 17 ships, escorted by warships of the British navy, sets sail for Britain from Gibraltar. Some fear that having all these ships sail together presents the Germans with too tempting a target, but the hope is that they will be protected from the U-boats’ depredations by their escorts.

2/5/1917 US warships arrive in Europe

The USA is now at war with Germany. It will be some time before the Americans have an army ready to send to Europe, as their pre-war army was tiny and fit only for ineffectual invasions of Mexico. The USA is now working to expand its army but it will not be until 1918 or possibly later that it is has a trained force large enough to send to Europe.

At sea though the Americans are ready for action. The country has a sizeable navy and is keen to commit it to the war against the U-boats. The first flotilla of US Navy destroyers arrives in the southern Irish port of Queenstown today. From here it will take part in patrols against the German submarine menace.

image source:

US warship in Queenstown (Visit Cobh)

30/4/1917 Great successes for Germany’s U-boats

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)

27/4/1917 Germany’s annoying Belgian naval bases

On land the Western Front is still stalemated. At sea Britain remains dominant, its mighty fleet forcing Germany’s main battle fleet to remain in port. Germany is under blockade and its economy is being slowly strangled. Yet the British do not have it all their own way. German U-boats are striking back against Allied merchant shipping, hoping to starve Britain into submission. Another threat to the British is the German naval bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge in Belgium. German warships operating from here are able to disrupt Allied shipping in the Channel.

Jellicoe, now the head of Britain’s navy, is increasingly preoccupied with the threat posed by these German naval bases. Today he presents a memorandum to the war cabinet warning that Britain is heading for disaster unless these ports are neutralised. Not merely is he concerned about the disruption of Allied shipping in the Channel, he also fears the prospect of these bases being used for an attack on England itself.

Robertson, the British army’s chief of staff, passes on Jellicoe’s concerns to Haig. Haig begins to think about staging an offensive in Flanders, a Third Battle of Ypres, with the capture of the Channel ports as the ultimate goal.

18/4/1917 The “Seeadler” makes its way into the Pacific

German raider the Seeadler has been prowling in the Atlantic, attacking Allied merchant ships. The British have had enough of this impertinent ship and have despatched their own warships to hunt it down. But the Seeadler is caught by a storm which blows it far to the south. From here its captain, Felix von Luckner, decides to make his way round Cape Horn and into the Pacific. Thus he leaves behind his pursuers and prepares to prey upon the bountiful shipping of the world’s largest ocean.

image source: The Seeadler (Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log)

5/4/1917 Brazil’s “Paraná” sunk by U-boat

Germany hopes that its U-boat war will force Britain to make peace. However the U-boats attacks on Allied and neutral shipping are making new enemies for Germany. The USA is already on the brink of war with Germany, but it is not the only neutral whose ships are being sunk by the Germans. Today the UB-32 torpedoes the Paraná, a Brazilian merchant ship carrying a cargo of coffee. This could now mean that Germany will be acquiring a new South American enemy for itself.