6/7/1917 The U-boat war denounced in the Reichstag #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to bring the war to a swift end. Instead it has brought the USA into the war against Germany and shows no sign of starving Britain into submission. Now there is increasing disquiet and a sense that the U-boat campaign has been a terrible mistake. This disquiet has penetrated to the ranks of parliamentarians who had previously been supportive of the government. Speaking before the Reichstag’s Steering Committee, Matthias Erzberger of the Centre Party today argues that the navy and the government sold the country a pup with the U-boat campaign, underestimating Britain’s resilience in the face of submarine warfare and peddling the false notion that the U-boats could force Britain out of the war in six months.

Erzberger’s U-boat scepticism is significant. His party, which represents Catholic interests, had backed the U-boat war on the strength of the navy’s assurances. With the Centre Party swinging against the U-boats the government of Bethmann Hollweg is now in trouble. To make matters worse, the Centre Party is now lending its support to those parties calling for a compromise peace to end the war.

image source:

Matthias Erzberger (Spartacus International)

30/6/1917 Germany’s dawning realisation that the U-boat war has failed

Germany is trying to win the war with its escalated U-boat campaign. The U-boats have been given carte blanche to attack Allied merchant ships without warning. They are also authorised to attack ships flying neutral flags but suspected of carrying supplies to Allied countries. The Germans hope that the submarine war will reduce Britain to poverty and starvation, forcing it to make peace with Germany

Since the beginning of the escalated campaign in February the Germans have sunk an astonishing 3,844,000 tons of Allied shipping. Holtzendorff, the German navy’s chief of staff, has calculated that sinking 600,000 tons a month would be enough to cripple British trade. The U-boats have achieved these targets, sinking 670,000 tons in June alone, so surely this means that the British will soon be forced to make peace?

Yet the British do not appear to be on the brink of collapse. Holtzendorff appears to have miscalculated. The British have been able to increase domestic food production and through effective rationing are spreading food supplies relatively fairly (far more successfully than is the case in Germany). The U-boat campaign has not scared neutral shipping from the seas. Instead it has reduced the amount imported into the likes of Holland and Denmark for resale to Germany.

Allied countermeasures against the submarines are becoming more effective, with merchant ships increasingly sailing under protection in convoys and US and British destroyers patrolling more aggressively against the U-boats. It is starting to look as though the U-boat campaign is not going to end the war in the next few months. Tacitly recognising that the war will continue, the German navy now orders the construction of more U-boats, which will not be available for use until 1919.

images:

A merchant ship torpedoed (Military History Now: Sea Wolves Unleashed – Germany’s First U-boat War)

A U-boat surfaces (Military History Now: Sea Wolves Unleashed – Germany’s First U-boat War)

14/6/1917 The Seeadler claims its first American victim

German raiding ship the Seeadler has sailed from the Atlantic into the Pacific. In the heart of the sea the windjammer is somewhat cut off from events in the wider world, so its captain, Felix von Luckner, has only just learned that the United States has entered the war against Germany. The news does not dismay him for it greatly increases the number of enemy merchant ships he can attack. Today he sinks his first American ship, the A. B. Johnson. He hopes it will not be the last.

image source:

The Seeadler, by Christopher Rave (Wikipedia)

31/5/1917 Another good month for the U-boats

Germany’s U-boats have had another good month, sinking some 670,000 tons of merchant shipping (a total including both Allied ships and neutral ships trading with the Allies). This is a good bit less than was achieved in April but is still very impressive.

Holtzendorff, the German navy’s chief of staff, has calculated that monthly shipping losses of 600,000 tons will force Britain out of the war. If his calculations are correct and these losses can be maintained then autumn should see Britain starved out of the war. With Russia in chaos and Italy not up to much that would effectively leave France to face the might of Germany alone.

image source:

A U-boat puts to sea, garlanded with flowers (WW2 Weapons: Diary February 1, 1917)

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)