30/8/1916 Germany ponders a renewed U-boat campaign

Naval strategy continues to perplex the Germans. Admiral Scheer had favoured an aggressive strategy, attempting to catch elements of Britain’s navy at a disadvantage, thereby chipping away at the enemy’s naval dominance. But at the Battle of Jutland Scheer’s fleet came worryingly close to annihilation by the superior British fleet. That has made the Germans more cautious. The fleet is the Kaiser’s pride and joy and he does not want it destroyed.

The failure of Scheer’s fleet actions have strengthened those who call for a more aggressive U-boat strategy. Germany is suffering increasing privations, thanks largely to Britain’s naval blockade. Setting the U-boats free to attack Allied shipping at will would pay the British back in their own coin, for industrial Britain needs to import food to keep its workers fed. U-boat advocates argue that the submarines would quickly bring the British to their knees, forcing them out of the war.

Chancellor Bethman Hollweg is more cautious. He knows that an aggressive U-boat campaign runs a very high likelihood of bringing the Americans into the war against Germany. But the U-boat advocates dismiss such fears. The American armed forces are currently of a minuscule size and the submarines would bring Germany victory before the Americans had a significant strength built up, or so they say.

At a conference today Bethmann Hollweg faces a relentless badgering from the U-boat advocates. He does not quite give in but he leaves the final decision to the army’s commanders. But with Hindenburg and Ludendorff only just appointed, the army is in no state to make a decision on this important question. For now the U-boats will remain on the leash.

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Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (Wikipedia)

31/5/1916 Jutland: the fleets collide

In the North Sea to the west of Jutland the British battlecruiser squadron under Admiral Beatty is running north, hotly pursued by the main German fleet. If the Germans can catch and destroy the British they will have shifted the naval balance decisively in their favour. But Beatty is leading them into a trap. The main British fleet under Admiral Jellicoe is steaming south to join the battle.

Admiral Scheer commands the German fleet. Just when he thinks he has caught up with the battlecruisers he realises the deathly danger he is in. He is sailing straight towards the main British fleet, whose ships are lined up to fire all their guns upon him. However, visibility is poor. He reacts quickly, ordering his ships to make an about turn before the British capitalise on their advantage.

In the bad light of the early evening the two fleets now bumble around, the Germans hoping to escape and the British hoping to catch them. A second time the Germans find themselves sailing towards the entire British fleet, but again they manage to about turn before they are obliterated. Finally night falls.

Under cover of darkness the Germans slip away. Jellicoe is happy to let them go, as he does not want to risk his fleet in a chaotic night action. The two fleets head for home.

The largest naval battle in history is over. British losses are greater, with over 6,000 men killed and three battlecruisers sunk, while the Germans have suffered more than 2,500 men killed and lost one battlecruiser and an obsolete battleship; both sides have lost several smaller ships. However, neither side has landed a killing blow and Britain continues to enjoy the naval dominance it had before the clash.

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HMS Invincible explodes (Wikipedia)

Battle of Jutland fleet action (Wikipedia)

30/5/1916 Admiral Scheer prepares to sail into a trap

Britain remains the world’s pre-eminent naval power. The Royal Navy enforces a blockade of Germany that is strangling the enemy’s industry and making its people increasingly go hungry.

Germany also has a substantial navy, albeit smaller than the British. It is commanded by Admiral Scheer. He hopes to find a way of defeating the larger British fleet. If Britain were to lose its naval dominance then Germany would surely win the war, as the blockade would be at an end and Britain itself could be invaded.

The German fleet makes ready to set sail tomorrow. Scheer has a plan in mind. His battlecruiser squadron will patrol aggressively, attacking British shipping to the north west of Jutland. The expectation is that British battlecruisers will respond, whereupon the German will sail south, to draw the British towards the waiting guns of the main German fleet.

Unfortunately for the Scheer, the British have cracked the radio code used by the German navy. They intercept a signal revealing that a major operation will take place tomorrow. Though they do not know the details of Scheer’s plan, or even how many of his ships will be setting sail, they decide that their own fleet will head out to the North Sea tomorrow to block whatever the Germans are up to. The stage is thus set for the greatest naval clash in human history.

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Reinhard Scheer (Lexikon Erster Weltkrieg)

25/4/1916 Lowestoft: the German fleet attacks England

Reinhard Scheer, the new admiral of the German fleet, is intent on a more aggressive naval strategy. His hope is to lure British ships into a battle on German terms. If a great defeat could be inflicted on the British fleet then the blockade of German could be raised; the Germans would also be able to threaten Britain with invasion. Either of these would tip the balance of power so far in Germany’s favour as to guarantee German victory in the war.

Today German battle cruisers attack Lowestoft and other targets on the East Anglian coast. Hiding in reserve the Germans have the rest of their fleet. They hope to ambush any British squadron that comes out to intercept the battlecruisers.

The shelling of Lowestoft causes relatively little damage and few casualties. At sea the German battlecruisers fight an inconclusive battle with some British cruisers, but no capital ships emerge that the main fleet considers it worthwhile to engage. The Germans sail back to base. Although Scheer has not won his decisive victory, the raid raises the morale of his sailors. On the British side, the attack on Lowestoft causes some outrage and a determination that the German operations in the North Sea must be stopped.

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Die Seeschlacht bei Lowestoft am 25. April 1916

Reinhard Scheer

Damaged street in Lowestoft

(all Wikipedia)

18/1/1916 A new commander for the German fleet spells danger for Britain

After some clashes with the British fleet in 1914 and early 1915 the main German fleet has been confined to port. The British navy is more powerful and German leaders fear destruction should the two fleets end up in a straight fight. But now Germany has a new naval commander, as Admiral Reinhard Scheer succeeds the unwell Hugo von Pohl. Scheer favours a more aggressive strategy. He knows that it is the British fleet that is the source of Britain’s strategic dominance. If the British navy could be defeated then the blockade of Germany would be lifted, allowing for the unimpeded import of foodstuffs and the raw materials needed for the war effort. The way would also be open for an invasion of England itself.

How to defeat the British fleet is something of a conundrum, given Britain’s naval dominance. Scheer begins to think about combined operations in which the British will be attacked by a combination of German capital ships, U-boats and Zeppelins. If the naval balance in the North Sea can be changed then Scheer will have won the war.

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Reinhard Scheer (Wikipedia)