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)

11/10/1917 Operation Albion: German troops seize the islands of Estonia #1917Live

On the Eastern Front, the Russian military situation continues to deteriorate. German troops have already taken Riga; now they land on Saaremaal in the Estonian archipeligo, crushing Russian resistance there. This is an ominous development: the amphibious operation is outflanking Russian defensive lines, threatening a German advance on Petrograd itself. To those in the capital who fear that the revolution has gone too far, the prospect of the Kaiser’s troops arrival becomes almost something to hope for.

image source:

Riga & the Baltic Islands (Wikipedia: Operation Albion)

21/9/1917 The Seeadler’s captain captured #1917Live

The Seeadler, a German raiding ship, has preyed on Allied shipping in the Atlantic and Pacific before being accidentally wrecked on the island of Mopelia in the Society Islands. Felix von Luckner, the Seeadler‘s captain is however determined to continue his war. He leaves Mopelia with five of his men in an open boat, hoping to capture a ship that he can use to continue his raiding.

Pretending to be Norwegians crossing the Pacific for a bet, Luckner is able to obtain supplies from the New Zealand authorities on the island of Atiu. He travels on to the Fijian island of Wakaya (a journey of some 3,700 kilometres in an open boat) but here his luck runs out as the local police see through his Norwegian-sailor ruse. Luckner and his men are arrested and sent off to New Zealand as prisoners-of-war.

image sources:

1919 image of Felix von Luckner (Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log: Marauders of the Sea, German Armed Merchant Raiders During World War I)

Mopelia (Maupiha’a), Fiji and New Zealand (Badass of the Week: Felix von Luckner)

31/8/1917 U-boats v. Dazzle Ships

HMS Alsatian, Dalmuir
Germany’s escalated U-boat campaign was meant to knock Britain out of the war by autumn this year. Although it has brought the USA into the war, Germany’s leaders believed this a price worth paying if Britain was eliminated. However the projections by Holtzendorff, the navy’s chief of staff, have proved hopelessly optimistic with regard to the level of shipping losses that would force Britain to sue for peace. It is clear that Britain will be fighting on for some time yet.

Holtzendorff appears also to have failed to reckon for more effective countermeasures by the Allies against the submarine menace. More ships trading with Britain are now sailing in convoys, protected against U-boats by Allied warships. British and American destroyers are also conducting more aggressive patrols against the submarines. These efforts, combined perhaps with the exhaustion of the U-boat crews, have led to a decline in tonnage lost to the U-boats. U-boat sinkings are now below the level Holtzendorff projected as being needed to force Britain to make peace. It has become apparent that the U-boat campaign has brought the USA into the war for nothing.

One novel method now being used to protect Allied merchant ships is camouflage. A ship is clearly too big to hide but ships are now being painted in strange patterns that are meant to make it difficult for an enemy to quickly work out its speed and direction, thus making them harder to target. This has become known as Dazzle camouflage. Whether Dazzle materially protects a ship from the attentions of a U-boat is unclear but these strange patterns inspire confidence in the men who sale in these Dazzle ships.

image sources:

HMS Dalmatian (Flickr: misterworthington)

Dazzle ships in convoy, by Norman Wilkinson (Wikipedia: Dazzle camouflage)

2/8/1917 Disaster strikes the “Seeadler” #1917Live

The Seeadler is a German raider that has been preying on Allied shipping since it set sail in December disguised a Danish trader. Initially this three-masted sailing ship operated in the Atlantic but since April it has been prowling in the Pacific. The Allies are frustrated by the Seeadler‘s depredations and have sent warships to hunt it down, but to no avail. The Pacific is a big ocean and Luckner, the Seeadler‘s captain is adept at hiding in it.

But the sea has other dangers than enemy warships. After its long time at sea, Luckner brings the Seeadler to the lagoon of Mopelia, an isolated coral atoll, so that essential repairs can be carried out. Then unexpected disaster strikes. The ship is somehow wrecked against the island’s reef, perhaps (as Luckner will report) by a tsunami. The crew and their prisoners are able to escape to the island, carrying provisions and some equipment with them, but now Luckner and his men are marooned.

image sources:

The Seeadler‘s journey and locations of ships engaged (Wikipedia)

The wreck of the Seeadler (Naval History Homepage)

2/8/1917 German sailors mutiny in Wilhelmshaven #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat crews are fêted as heroes, for the country still hopes that their efforts will bring the war to a victorious end. Although the U-boat crews are being pushed to the limit, they enjoy an esprit de corps that allows them to endure what others would find unendurable. Things are different for the crews of Germany’s surface fleet. Since the Battle of Jutland last year, Germany’s battleships have remained in port, fearing annihilation at the hands of the British fleet. The naval crews are sitting out the war and their boredom leads them towards disaffection.

German sailors have many grounds for discontent. Their officers are aloof and uncaring and the navy enforces an iron discipline on the ships. Food is also an issue: although the officers eat well, rations for the rank and file are appalling. Moreover there is also anti-war and socialist agitation taking place among the sailors.

Throughout the summer disaffection has been escalating into incidents of low-level insubordination. Today though in an escalation several hundred sailors from two battleships stage a demonstration in Wilhelmshaven. Their demands are relatively innocuous but the naval authorities are alarmed. They quickly suppress the mutiny, arresting many sailors and prepare to court-martial the ringleaders.

For Germany’s leaders the Wilhelmshaven mutiny is a disturbing incident. They have watched with some delight as discipline breaks down in the Russian army, but Wilhelmshaven suggests that Germany’s own armed forces are not immune from rebelliousness.

image sources:

Sailors from the Prinzregent Luitpold, one of the ships affected by the mutiny (De Eerste Wereldoorlog 1914 – 1918: Muiterij op de Duitse oorlogsvloot in de zomer van 1917: hongeroproer of revolutiepoging? [The First World War 1914 – 1918: Mutiny in the German fleet in the summer of 1917: food riot or attempted revolution?])

Sailors’ protest march (De Eerste Wereldoorlog 1914 – 1918: Muiterij op de Duitse oorlogsvloot in de zomer van 1917: hongeroproer of revolutiepoging? [The First World War 1914 – 1918: Mutiny in the German fleet in the summer of 1917: food riot or attempted revolution?])

30/7/1917 German U-boat crews meet their July targets #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign is now controversial, as Reichstag politicians have become sceptical about its ability to defeat Britain by the autumn. They are beginning to suspect that it has brought the USA into the war for nothing.

The U-boat crews themselves meanwhile are continuing to do their utmost. In the last month they have sunk another 600,000 tonnes of Allied shipping. According to the projections by Holtzendorff, the navy’s chief of staff, this rate of success should be enough to force Britain out of the war. However, although the British are hurting, there does not seem to be any obvious sign that they are about to collapse. For Germany it looks like the U-boat crews are doing all that was asked of them but that Holtzendorff has greatly underestimated the resilience of the enemy.

image source:

US propaganda poster (Wikipedia)