30/4/1918 The UB-85’s mission of failure comes to an embarrassing end #1918Live

German U-boats are still attacking Allied shipping, their crews pushed to the limit of endurance in a desperate efforts to inflict unsustainable losses on the enemy. By now though there is clearly little likelihood of the submarines winning the war for Germany; the claims by Admiral Holtzendorff that the U-boats could end the war by the autumn of 1917 now seem laughably naive.

Declining morale and the sending forth of U-boats crewed by insufficiently trained crews is taking its toll on the submarine fleet. Today in a bizarre episode the UB-85 is lost after its crew forget to close a hatch when it submerges. Water enters the U-boat, disabling its electrical engine, and forcing it to surface but the submarine could still have used its diesel engine to escape approaching British ships. Instead its commander orders his men onto deck, where they shout “we surrender!” at the British before abandoning ship. The UB-85’s mission had already been one of complete failure, with every torpedo it fired missing its target.

NOTE: In later years reports will emerge that the UB-85’s troubles stemmed from an attack by a sea monster. This story has no basis in fact and appears to have been made up in 2005. See Recovered WWI German U-Boat Revives ‘Sea Monster’ Tales

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UB-148, a similar vessel to the UB-85 (Wikipedia)

13/4/1918 German troops storm Helsinki

The Red Guards in Finland are now on the back foot. Counter-revolutionary forces have stormed the mill town of Tampere. Now the Reds are under attack in Helsinki, the country’s capital, which has been under Red control since the start of the civil war. Mannerheim, commander of the Finnish Whites, wanted to leave Helsinki alone until his men are ready to attack it but Goltz, commander of the German expeditionary force, has different ideas. He wants the civil war in Finland brought to an end as quickly as possible, in order to intimidate Russia’s Soviet government. So his men attack the city while German warships bombard it from the sea.

The ill-trained Red Guards are no match for the regular troops of the Germans. Helsinki is soon secured, with the last Red holdouts in the working class district of Kallio surrendering today. Several thousand Reds (fighters and sympathisers) are arrested and transferred to a prison camp on the Suomenlinna islands.

With Vyborg in the east the only remaining major centre of Red resistance it looks distinctly like the Finnish civil war is drawing to a close.

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German troops in Helsinki (Wikipedia: Battle of Helsinki)

Red prisoners (Wikipedia: Battle of Helsinki)

7/3/1918 Germany prepares to intervene in Finland’s civil war #1918Live

Finland is now gripped by civil war, with Reds and Whites fighting to determine the future direction of the country. The Reds look to Soviet Russia for support while some of the Whites seek aid from Germany. With the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, German attention should be shifting away from the East, but Ludendorff is keen to ensure the emergence of a pro-German regime in Finland, as this will allow him to threaten Petrograd in the event that the Russians renege on their commitments.

A German naval expedition has already landed on Finnish Åland Islands, joining a Swedish force ostensibly there to protect the Swedish-speaking islanders. Now the Germans sign an agreement with the White Finns, recognising their independence and promising military aid against the Reds. But the agreement binds Finland tightly to the Germans: has Finland achieved independence from one imperial master only for the Whites to squander that freedom by turning the country into a German satellite?

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Swedish, German and Russian troops in the Åland Islands (Wikipedia: Invasion of Åland)

21/12/1917 Germany’s sea wolf Luckner at bay #1917Live

Germany’s Luckner had been imprisoned by the New Zealanders after his ship, the Seeadler was accidentally sunk. But a few days ago he busted loose, commandeering a small boat and setting sail to the Kermadec Islands, where he hoped to seize a larger ship and resume his raiding operations against Allied shipping. Unfortunately for him, the New Zealanders guess his destination; as he approaches the Kermadecs he is intercepted by a New Zealand warship and obliged to surrender. As he is returned to captivity it appears that now Luckner’s war really is over.

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Felix von Luckner recaptured (National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy: Count Felix Von Luckner)

19/12/1917 Britain attempts to close the Channel to U-boats #1917Live

Germany is continuing with is U-boat campaign, though at this stage it is clearly not about to force the British to throw in the towel. Allied countermeasures against the U-boats mean that it is becoming ever harder for them to prey on merchant shipping. Aside from dazzle camouflage, which may be just an ineffectual morale booster for Allied sailors, the increased use of convoys means that the U-boats can no longer attack civilian ships with impunity. The Allies are also more able to attack U-boats underwater than before, thanks to improved depth charges that can sink or force to the surface a submarine.

Another weapon being used against the submarines is the mine. Last year an attempt was made to block off the Channel to U-boats using a combinations of mines and nets. That failed when strong currents damaged the barrage but now the British try again. This time they place minefields deep underwater and post sentry ships with searchlights on the surface. Today the barrage claims its first U-boat victim; UB-56 is attempting to transit the Channel by night and submerges when it is caught in searchlights, only to then be sunk by a mine. Its crew of 37 perish in the waters.

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map (Naval-History.net: The Dover Patrol)

UB-148, a similar vessel to the UB-56 (Wikipedia)

13/12/1917 Motuihe jailbreak: a German pirate busts loose #1917Live

In August German raider the Seeadler was accidentally wrecked in the Pacific. Shortly afterwards its captain and crew found themselves prisoners of war on the New Zealand island of Motuihe.

Luckner, the Seeadler‘s former captain, is not content to spend the rest of the war behind barbed wire. Using an amateur dramatic production as cover he leads an escape by his fellow sailors. Seizing a small boat and a machine gun from their guards, the Seeadler‘s crew head off towards the Kermadec Islands, where they hope to steal a larger vessel. Then Luckner will be able to resume his predation on Allied shipping.

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Felix von Luckner (left), prior to his escape (Motuihe Island Restoration Trust: Count Von Luckner)

31/10/1917 Hard times for Germany’s U-boats #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to force Britain out of the war. It has failed. The Germans underestimated the resilience of the British to shipping losses but they also failed to anticipate Allied countermeasures against the U-boats. Allied ships are now increasingly sailing in convoys, guarded from the U-boats by warships. The U-boats have great difficulties pressing attacks against ships in convoys, with the result that Allied shipping losses have declined. In October the U-boats managed to sink around 460,000 tonnes of Allied shipping, still an impressive figure but well below the over-optimistic target of 600,000 tonnes projected as being needed each month to force Britain to make peace.

The escalated U-boat campaign, and Allied countermeasures against it, is also taking its toll on the U-boat crews. Not merely are they being worked to exhaustion, they have also seen their own losses spiral upwards from those of the previous year. The submariners are giving their all, but for naught.

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U-boat and crew (Eurasia Times: WWI U-boat found off Belgium)