17/10/1917 The Action off Lerwick: a daring German strike on a British convoy #1917Live

Britain’s navy dominates the seas. Since Jutland, Germany’s main battle fleet has remained in port, fearing annihilation at the hands of the British. Germany’s main naval threat to the British now is its U-boats, with which it has been attempting to strangle British trade. Nevertheless, German warships still threaten the British, with destroyers based in Belgian ports disrupting British control of the Channel.

Away from the European coast the British believe they have little to fear from German warships. Convoys bringing in coal regularly traverse the North Sea from Norway. German U-boats have been unsuccessful in their attempts to attack these, so now the Germans try something new. Two light cruisers, the Brummer and the Bremse, slip out of their base, disguised as British warships. Today they encounter a coal convoy near Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. At first the British ships escorting the coal merchants think they are meeting other ships from the Royal Navy; when shells start to fall on them they realise their mistake.

The battle is an uneven one. The Brummer and the Bremse sink both of the destroyers escorting the convoy and then turn their attentions on the merchant ships, sinking nine of them (with only three escaping). Then the Germans head for home. They have taken no losses themselves but some 250 or so sailors from the convoy lose their lives.

image source:

Postcard (Metropostcard: Naval Actions  1917-1919)

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.