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THE WORLD WAR - COMMERCE WARFARE

Wreck of the commerce raider Emden aground on North Keeling island.
Chrono date: 
1914 Jul 28 to 1918 Nov 11

Interdiction of enemy trade has always been the great weapon of sea power; and hence, though mines, submarines, and the menace of the High Seas Fleet itself made a close blockade of the German coast impossible, Great Britain in the World War steadily extended her efforts to cut off Germany's intercourse with the overseas world. Germany, on the other hand, while unwilling or unable to take the risks of a contest for surface control of the sea, waged cruiser warfare on British and Allied commerce, first by surface vessels, and, when these were destroyed, by submarines. In the policies adopted by each belligerent there is an evident analogy to the British blockade and the French commerce destroying campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. And just as in the earlier conflict British sea power impelled Napoleon to a ruinous struggle for the domination of Europe, so in the World War, though in a somewhat different fashion, the blockade worked disaster for Germany.

"The consequences of the blockade," writes the German General von Freytag-Loringhoven, "showed themselves at once. Although we succeeded in establishing our war economics by our internal strength, yet the unfavorable state of the world economic situation was felt by us throughout the war. That alone explains why our enemies found ever fresh possibilities of resistance, because the sea stood open to them, and why victories which would otherwise have been absolutely decisive, and the conquest of whole kingdoms, did not bring us nearer peace."

For each group of belligerents, indeed, the enemy's commerce warfare assumed a vital significance. "No German success on land," declares the conservative British Annual Register for 1919, "could have ruined or even very gravely injured the English-speaking powers. The success of the submarine campaign, on the other hand, would have left the United States isolated and have placed the Berlin Government in a position to dominate most of the rest of the world." "The war is won for us," declared General von Hindenburg on July 2, 1917, "if we can withstand the enemy attacks until the submarine has done its work."

Commerce warfare at once involves a third party, the neutral; and it therefore appears desirable, before tracing the progress of this warfare, to outline briefly the principles of international law which, by a slow and tortuous process, have grown up defining the respective rights of neutrals and belligerents in naval war. Blockade is among the most fundamental of these rights accorded to the belligerent, upon the conditions that the blockade shall be limited to enemy ports or coasts, confined within specified limits, and made so effective as to create evident danger to traffic. It assumes control of the sea by the blockading navy, and, before the days of mines and submarines, it was enforced by a cordon of ships off the enemy coast. A blockade stops direct trade or intercourse of any kind.

Whether or not a blockade is established, a belligerent has the right to attempt the prevention of trade in contraband. A neutral nation is under no obligation whatever to restrain its citizens from engaging in this trade. In preventing it, however, a belligerent warship may stop, visit, and search any merchant vessel on the high seas. If examination of the ship's papers and search show fraud, contraband cargo, offense in respect to blockade, enemy ownership or service, the vessel may be taken as a prize, subject to adjudication in the belligerent's prize courts. The right of merchant vessels to carry defensive armament is well established; but resistance justifies destruction. Under certain circumstances prizes may be destroyed at sea, after removal of the ship's papers and full provision for the safety of passengers and crew.

The Declaration of London,[1] drawn up in 1909, was an attempt to restate and secure general acceptance of these principles, with notable modifications. Lists were drawn up of absolute contraband (munitions, etc., adapted obviously if not exclusively for use in war), conditional contraband (including foodstuffs, clothing, rolling stock, etc., susceptible of use in war but having non-warlike uses as well), and free goods (including raw cotton and wool, hides, and ores). The most significant provision of the Declaration was that the doctrine of continuous voyage should apply only to absolute contraband. This doctrine, established by Great Britain in the French wars and expanded by the United States in the American Civil War, holds that the ultimate enemy destination of a cargo determines its character, regardless of transshipment in a neutral port and subsequent carriage by sea or land. The Declaration of London was never ratified by Great Britain, and was observed for only a brief period in the first months of the war. Had it been ratified and observed, Germany would have been free to import all necessary supplies, other than munitions, through neutral states on her frontiers.

[Footnote 1: Printed in full in International Law Topics of the U. S. Naval War College, 1910.]

The Blockade of Germany

Unable to establish a close blockade, and not venturing at once to advance the idea of a "long range" blockade, England was nevertheless able to impose severe restrictions upon Germany by extending the lists of contraband, applying the doctrine of continuous voyage to both absolute and conditional contraband, and throwing upon the owners of cargoes the burden of proof as to destination. Cotton still for a time entered Germany, and some exports were permitted. But on March 1, 1915, in retaliation for Germany's declaration of a "war area" around the British Isles, Great Britain asserted her purpose to establish what amounted to a complete embargo on German trade, holding herself free, in the words of Premier Asquith, "to detain and take into port ships carrying goods of presumed enemy destination, ownership, or origin." In a note of protest on March 30, the United States virtually recognized the legitimacy of a long-range blockade—an innovation of seemingly wide possibilities—and confined its objections to British interference with lawful trade between neutrals, amounting in effect to a blockade of neutral ports.

As a matter of fact, in spite of British efforts, there had been an immense increase of indirect trade with Germany through neutrals. While American exports to Germany in 1915 were $154,000,000 less than in 1913, and in fact practically ceased altogether, American exports to Holland and the Scandinavian states increased by $158,000,000. This trade continued up to the time when the United States entered the war, after which all the restrictions which England had employed were given a sharper application. By a simple process of substitution, European neutrals had been able to import commodities for home use, and export their own products to Germany. Now, in order to secure supplies at all, they were forced to sign agreements which put them on rations and gave the Western Powers complete control of their exports to Germany.

The effect of the Allied blockade upon Germany is suggested by the accompanying chart. In the later stages of the war it created a dearth of important raw materials, crippled war industries, brought the country to the verge of starvation, and caused a marked lowering of national efficiency and morale.

Germany protested vigorously to the United States for allowing her foodstuffs to be shut out of Germany while at the same time shipping to England vast quantities of munitions. Throughout the controversy, however, Great Britain profited by the fact that while her methods caused only financial injury to neutrals, those employed by Germany destroyed or imperiled human lives.

The Submarine Campaign

 

From The Blockade of Germany, Alonzo E. Taylor, World's Work, Oct. 1919.

EFFECTS OF THE BLOCKADE OF GERMANY

Decreased supply of commodities in successive years of the war. World War One.

The German submarine campaign may be dated from February 18, 1915, when Germany, citing as a precedent Great Britain's establishment of a military area in the North Sea, proclaimed a war zone "in the waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole English Channel," within which enemy merchant vessels would be sunk without assurance of safety to passengers or crew. Furthermore, as a means of keeping neutrals out of British waters, Germany declared she would assume no responsibility for destruction of neutral ships within this zone. What this meant was to all intents and purposes a "paper" submarine blockade of the British Isles. Its illegitimacy arose from the fact that it was conducted surreptitiously over a vast area, and was only in the slightest degree effective, causing a destruction each month of less than one percent of the traffic. Had it been restricted to narrow limits, it would have been still less effective, owing to the facility of countermeasures in a small area.

Determined, however, upon a spectacular demonstration of its possibilities, Germany first published danger notices in American newspapers, and then, on May 7, 1915, sank the unarmed Cunard liner Lusitania off the Irish coast, with a loss of 1198 lives, including 102 Americans. In spite of divided American sentiment and a strong desire for peace, this act came little short of bringing the United States into the war. Having already declared its intention to hold Germany to "strict accountability," the United States Government now stated that a second offense would be regarded as "deliberately unfriendly," and after a lengthy interchange of notes secured the pledge that "liners will not be sunk without warning and without safety of the lives of non-combatants, provided that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance." Violations of this pledge, further controversies, and increased friction with neutrals marked the next year or more, during which, however, sinkings did not greatly exceed the level of about 150,000 tons a month already attained.

During this period Allied countermeasures were chiefly of a defensive character, including patrol of coastal areas, diversion of traffic from customary routes, and arming of merchantmen. This last measure, making surface approach and preliminary warning a highly dangerous procedure for the submarine, led Germany to the announcement that, after March 1, 1916, all armed merchant vessels would be torpedoed without warning. But how were U-boat commanders to distinguish between enemy and neutral vessels? Between vessels with or without guns? The difficulty brings out clearly the fact that while the submarines made good pirates, they were hampered in warfare on legitimate lines.

Germany redoubled U-boat activities to lend strength to her peace proposals at the close of 1916, and when these failed she decided to disregard altogether the cobwebs of legalism that had hitherto hindered her submarine war. On February 1, 1917, she declared unrestricted warfare in an immense barred zone within limits extending from the Dutch coast through the middle of the North Sea to the Faroe Islands and thence west and south to Cape Finisterre, and including also the entire Mediterranean east of Spain. An American ship was to be allowed to enter and leave Falmauth once a week, and there was a crooked lane leading to Greece.

Chart  of British mined area and North Sea mine barrage.

GERMAN BARRED ZONES

British mined area and North Sea mine barrage.

In thus announcing her intention to sink all ships on sight in European waters, Germany burned her bridges behind her. She staked everything on this move. Fully anticipating the hostility of the United States, she hoped to win the war before that country could complete its preparations and give effective support to the Allies. General von Hindenburg's statement has already been quoted. It meant that the army was to assume the defensive, while the navy carried out its attack on Allied communications. Admiral von Capelle, head of the German Admiralty, declared that America's aid would be "absolutely negligible." "My personal view," he added, "is that the U-boat will bring peace within six months."

As it turned out, Germany's disregard of neutral rights in 1917, like the violation of Belgium in 1914, reacted upon her and proved the salvation of the Western Powers. After the defection of Russia, France was in imperative need of men. Great Britain needed ships. Neither of these needs could have been supplied save by America's throwing her utmost energies into active participation in the war. This was precisely the result of the proclamation of Feb. 1, 1917. The United States at once broke off diplomatic relations, armed her merchant vessels in March, and on April 6 declared a state of war.

Having traced the development of submarine warfare to this critical period, we may now turn to the methods and weapons employed by both sides at a time when victory or defeat hinged on the outcome of the war at sea.

Germany's submarine construction and losses appear in the following table from official German sources, the columns showing first the total number built up to the date given, next the total losses to date, and finally the remainder with which Germany started out at the beginning of each year.

After 1916 Germany devoted the facilities of her shipyards entirely to submarine construction, and demoralized the surface fleet to secure personnel. Of the entire number built, not more than a score were over 850 tons. The U C boats were small mine-layers about 160 feet in length, with not more than two weeks' cruising period. The U B'g were of various sizes, mostly small, and some of them were built in sections for transportation by rail. The U boats proper, which constituted the largest and most important class, had a speed of about 16 knots on the surface and 9 knots submerged, and could remain at sea for a period of 5 or 6 weeks, the duration of the cruise depending chiefly upon the supply of torpedoes. In addition there were a half dozen large submarine merchantmen of the type of the Deutschland, which made two voyages to America in 1916; and a similar number of big cruisers of 2000 tons or more were completed in 1918, mounting two 6-inch guns and capable of remaining at sea for several months. The 372 boats built totaled 209,000 tons and had a personnel of over 11,000 officers and men. There were seldom more than 20 or 30 submarines in active operation at one time. One third of the total number were always in port, and the remainder in training.

 

Boats built

Losses

Remainder
(On Jan. 1 of year following)

End of 1914

31

5

26

1915

93

25

68

1916

188

50

138

1917

291

122

169

1918

372

202

170

It is evident from her limited supply of submarines at the outbreak of war that Germany did not contemplate their use as commerce destroyers. To the Allied navies also, in spite of warnings from a few more far-sighted officers, their use for this purpose came as a complete surprise. New methods had to be devised, new weapons invented, new types of ship built and old ones put to uses for which they were not intended—in short, a whole new system of warfare inaugurated amidst the preoccupations of war. As usual in such circumstances, the navy taking the aggressive with a new weapon gained a temporary ascendancy, until effective counter-measures could be contrived. It is easy to say that all this should have been foreseen and provided for, but it is a question to what extent preparations could profitably have been made before Germany began her campaign. It has already been pointed out in the chapter preceding that, had the German fleet been destroyed at Jutland, subsequent operations on the German coast might have made the submarine campaign impossible, and preparations unnecessary.

Anti-Submarine Tactics, German submarines

Anti-Submarine Tactics

Of the general categories of anti-submarine tactics,—detection, evasion, and destruction—it was naturally those of evasion that were first employed. Among these may be included suspension of sailings upon warning of a submarine in the vicinity, diversion of traffic from customary routes, camouflage, and zigzag courses to prevent the enemy from securing favorable position and aim. The first method was effective only at the expense of a severe reduction of traffic, amounting in the critical months of 1917 to 40 per cent of a total stoppage. The second sometimes actually aided the submarine, for in confined areas such as the Mediterranean it was likely to discover the new route and reap a rich harvest. Camouflage was discarded as of slight value; but shifts of course were employed to advantage by both merchant and naval vessels throughout the war.

Methods of detection depended on both sight and sound. Efficient lookout systems on shipboard, with men assigned to different sectors so as to cover the entire horizon, made it possible frequently to detect a periscope or torpedo wake in time to change course, bring guns to bear, and escape destruction. According to a British Admiralty estimate, in case a submarine were sighted the chances of escape were seven to three, but otherwise only one to four. Aircraft of all kinds proved of great value in detecting the presence of U-boats, as well as in attacking them. Hydrophones and other listening devices, though at first more highly perfected by the enemy, were so developed during the war as to enable patrol vessels to discover the presence and even determine the course and speed of a submerged foe. Along with these devices, a system of information was organized which, drawing information from a wide variety of sources, enabled Allied authorities to trace the cruise of a U-boat, anticipate its arrival in a given locality, and prophesy the duration of its stay.

Among methods of destruction, the mounting of guns on merchantmen was chiefly valuable, as already suggested, because of its effect in forcing submarines to resort to illegal and barbarous methods of warfare. Hitherto, submarines had been accustomed to operate an the surface, board vessels, and sink them by bombs or gunfire. Visit and search, essential in order to avoid injury to neutrals, was now out of the question, for owing to the surface vulnerability of the submarine it might be sent to the bottom by a single well-directed shot. In brief, the guns on the merchant ship kept submarines beneath the surface, forced them to draw upon their limited and costly supply of torpedoes, and hindered them from securing good position and aim for torpedo attack.

Much depended, of course, upon the range of the ship's guns and the size and experience of the gun-crews. When the United States began arming her ships in March, 1917, she was able to put enough trained men aboard to maintain lookouts and man guns both night and day. A dozen or more exciting duels ensued between ships and U-boats before the latter learned that such encounters did not repay the risks involved. On October 19, 1917, the steamer J. L. Luckenbach had a four-hour running battle with a submarine in which the ship fired 202 rounds and the pursuer 225. The latter scored nine hits, but was at last driven off by the appearance of a destroyer. To cite another typical engagement, the Navajo, in the English Channel, July 4, 1917, was attacked first by torpedo and then by gunfire. The 27th shot from the ship hit the enemy's conning tower and caused two explosions. "Men who were on deck at the guns and had not jumped overboard ran aft. The submarine canted forward at an angle of almost 40 degrees, and the propeller could be plainly seen lashing the air."[1]

[Footnote 1: For more detailed narratives of this and other episodes of the submarine campaign, see Ralph D. Payne, The Fighting Fleets, 1918.]

In coastal waters where traffic converged, large forces of destroyers and other craft were employed for purposes of escort, mine sweeping, and patrol. Yet, save as a means of keeping the enemy under water and guarding merchant ships, these units had only a limited value owing to the difficulty of making contact with the enemy. During the later stages of the war destroyers depended chiefly upon the depth bomb, an invention of the British navy, which by means of the so-called "Y guns" could be dropped in large numbers around the supposed location of the enemy. It was in this way that the United States Destroyers Fanning and Nicholson, while engaged as convoy escorts, sank the U-58 and captured its crew.

The "mystery" or "Q" ships (well-armed vessels disguised as harmless merchantmen) were of slight efficacy after submarines gave up surface attack. In fact, it was the submarine itself which, contrary to all pre-war theories, proved the most effective type of naval craft against its own kind. Whereas fuel economy compelled German submarines to spend as much time as possible on the surface, the Allied under-water boats, operating near their bases, could cruise awash or submerged and were thus able to creep up on the enemy and attack unawares. According to Admiral Sims, Allied destroyers, about 500 in all, were credited with the certain destruction of 34 enemy submarines; yachts, patrol craft, etc., over 3000 altogether, sank 31; whereas about 100 Allied submarines sank probably 20.[1] Since 202 submarines were destroyed, this may be an underestimate of the results accomplished by each type, but it indicates relative efficiency. Submarines kept the enemy beneath the surface, led him to stay farther away from the coast, and also, owing to the disastrous consequences that might ensue from mistaken identity, prevented the U-boats from operating in pairs. The chief danger encountered by Allied submarines was from friendly surface vessels. On one occasion an American submarine, the AL-10, approaching a destroyer of the same service, was forced to dive and was then given a bombardment of depth charges. This bent plates, extinguished lights, and brought the submarine again to the surface, where fortunately she was identified in the nick of time. The two commanders had been roommates at Annapolis.

[Footnote 1: The Victory at Sea, World's Work, May, 1920.]

Work of the United States Navy

Having borne the brunt of the naval war for three years, the British navy welcomed the reënforcements which the United States was able to contribute, and shared to the utmost the experience already gained. On May 3, 1917, the first squadron of 6 American destroyers arrived at Queenstown, and was increased to 50 operating in European waters in November, and 70 at the time of the armistice. A flotilla of yachts, ill adapted as they were for such service, did hazardous duty as escorts in the Bay of Biscay; and a score of submarines crossed the Atlantic during the winter to operate off Ireland and in the Azores. Five dreadnoughts under Admiral Rodman from the U. S. Atlantic fleet became a part of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.

Probably the most notable work of the American navy was in projects where American manufacturing resources and experience in large-scale undertakings could be brought to bear. In four months, from July to November, 1917, the United States Navy constructed an oil pipe line from the west to the east coast of Scotland, thus eliminating the long and dangerous northern circuit. Five 14-inch naval guns, on railway mountings, with a complete train of 16 cars for each gun, were equipped by the navy, manned entirely with naval personnel, and were in action in France from August, 1918, until the armistice, firing a total of 782 rounds on the German lines of communication, at ranges up to 30 miles.

The American proposal of a mine barrage across the entrance to the North Sea from Scotland to Norway at first met with slight approval abroad, so unprecedented was the problem of laying a mine-field 230 miles in length, from 15 to 30 miles in width, and extending at least 240 feet downward in waters the total depth of which was 400 or more feet. Even the mine barrier at the Straits of Dover had proved ineffective owing to heavy tides, currents, and bad bottom conditions, until it was strengthened by Admiral Keyes in 1918. By employing a large type of mine perfected by the United States Naval Bureau of Ordnance, it was found possible, however, to reduce by one-third the number of mines and the amount of wire needed for the North Sea Barrage. The task was therefore undertaken, and completed in the summer of 1918. Out of a total of 70,000 mines, 56,570, or about 80 per cent, were planted by American vessels. The barrage when completed gave an enemy submarine about one chance in ten of getting through. According to reliable records, it accomplished the destruction or serious injury of 17 German submarines, and by its deterrent effect, must have practically closed the northern exit to both under-water and surface craft.

The Attack on Zeebrugge and Ostend, Royal Navy, Royal Marines

OSTEND-ZEEBRUGGE AREA

The Attack on Zeebrugge and Ostend

At the Channel exit of the North Sea, a vigorous blow at the German submarine nests on the Belgian coast was finally struck on April 22-23, 1918, by the Dover Force under Vice Admiral Roger Keyes, in one of the most brilliant naval operations of the war. Of the two Belgian ports, Ostend and Zeebrugge, the latter was much more useful to the Germans because better protected, less exposed to batteries on the land front, and connected by a deeper canal with the main base 8 miles distant at Bruges. It was planned, however, to attack both ports, with the specific purpose of sinking 5 obsolete cruisers laden with concrete across the entrances to the canals. The operation required extensive reconstruction work on the vessels employed, a thorough course of training for personnel, suitable conditions of atmosphere, wind, and tide, and execution of complicated movements in accordance with a time schedule worked out to the minute.

At Ostend the attack failed owing to a sudden shift of wind which blew the smoke screen laid by motor boats back upon the two block ships, and so confused their approach that they were stranded and blown up west of the entrance.

At Zeebrugge, two of the three block ships, the Iphigenia and the Intrepid, got past the heavy guns on the mole, through the protective nets, and into the canal, where they were sunk athwart the channel by the explosion of mines laid all along their keels. To facilitate their entrance, the cruiser Vindictive (Commander Alfred Carpenter), fitted with a false deck and 18 brows or gangways for landing forces, had been brought up 25 minutes earlier—to be exact, at a minute past midnight—along the outer side of the high mole or breakwater enclosing the harbor. Here, in spite of a heavy swell and tide, she was held in position by the ex-ferryboat Daffodill, while some 300 or 400 bluejackets and marines swarmed ashore under a violent fire from batteries and machine guns and did considerable injury to the works on the mole. Fifteen minutes later, an old British submarine was run into a viaduct connecting the mole with the shore and there blown up, breaking a big gap in the viaduct. Strange to say, the Vindictive and her auxiliaries, after lying more than an hour in this dangerous position, succeeded in taking aboard all survivors from the landing party and getting safely away. Motor launches also rescued the crews of the blockships and the men—all of them wounded—from the submarine. One British destroyer and two motor boats were sunk, and the casualties were 176 killed, 412 wounded, and 49 missing. For a considerable period thereafter, all the larger German torpedo craft remained cooped up at Bruges, and the Zeebrugge blockships still obstructed the channel at the end of the war.

ZEEBRUGGE HARBOR WITH GERMAN DEFENSES AND BRITISH BLOCKSHIPS

ZEEBRUGGE HARBOR WITH GERMAN DEFENSES AND BRITISH BLOCKSHIPS

The Convoy System

Of all the anti-submarine measures employed, prior to the North Sea Barrage and the Zeebrugge attack, the adoption of the convoy system was undoubtedly the most effective in checking the loss of tonnage at the height of the submarine campaign. Familiar as a means of commerce protection in previous naval wars, the late adoption of the convoy system in the World War occasioned very general surprise. It was felt by naval authorities, however, that great delay would be incurred in assembling vessels, and in restricting the speed of all ships of a convoy to that of the slowest unit. Merchant captains believed themselves unequal to the task of keeping station at night in close order, with all lights out and frequent changes of course, and they thought that the resultant injuries would be almost as great as from submarines. Furthermore, so long as a large number of neutral vessels were at sea, it appeared a very doubtful expedient to segregate merchant vessels of belligerent nationality and thus distinguish them as legitimate prey.

BRITISH, ALLIED AND NEUTRAL MERCHANT SHIPS DESTROYED BY GERMAN RAIDERS, SUBMARINES AND MINES

BRITISH, ALLIED AND NEUTRAL MERCHANT SHIPS DESTROYED BY GERMAN RAIDERS, SUBMARINES AND MINES

(Figures in thousands of gross tons)

The accompanying chart shows the merchant shipping captured or destroyed by Germany in the course of the war. After 1914 the losses were inflicted almost entirely by submarines, either by mine laying or by torpedoes. According to a British Admiralty statement of Dec. 5, 1919, the total loss during the war was 14,820,000 gross tons, of which 8,918,000 was British, and 5,918,000 was Allied or neutral. The United States lost 354,450 tons. During the same period the world's ship construction amounted to 10,850,000 tons, and enemy shipping captured and eventually put into Allied service totalled 2,393,000 tons, so that the net loss at the close of the war was about 1,600,000 tons.

But in April, 1917, the situation was indeed desperate. The losses had become so heavy that of every 100 ships leaving England it was estimated that 25 never returned.[1] The American commander in European waters, Admiral Sims, reports Admiral Jellicoe as saying at this time, "They will win unless we can stop these losses—and stop them soon."[2] Definitely adopted in May following, the convoy system was in general operation before the end of the summer, with a notable decline of sinkings in both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The following table, based on figures from the Naval Annual for 1919, indicates the number of vessels sunk for each submarine destroyed. It shows the decreased effectiveness of submarine operations after September 1, 1917, which is taken as the date when the convoy system had come into full use, and brings out the crescendo of losses in 1917.

[Footnote 1: Brassey's Naval Annual, 1919.]

[Footnote 2: World's Work, Sept., 1919.]

 

Vessels sunk
per
submarine
destroyed

Total No. sunk

 

Aug. 1, 1914- Feb., 1915

10.4

 

69 ships sunk, almost entirely by surface cruisers.

 

 

 

 

Feb. 1, 1915- Feb. 1, 1917

48

544
(two years)

Half by torpedo; 148 without warning; 3,066 lives lost.

 

 

 

 

Feb. 1, 1917- Sept. 1, 1917

67

736
(7 months)

572 by torpedo; 595 (69%) with out warning.

 

 

 

 

Sept. 1, 1917- April 1, 1918

20.2

548
(7 months)

448 (82%) without warning.

 

 

 

 

April 1, 1918- Nov. 1, 1918

12

252
(7 months)

239 (91%) without warning.

From July 26, 1917, to October 26, 1918, 90,000 vessels were convoyed, with a total loss from the convoys of 436, or less than half of one per cent. The convoy system forced submarines to expose themselves to the attacks of destroyer escorts, or else to work close in shore to set upon vessels after the dispersion of the convoy. But when working close to the coast they were exposed to Allied patrols and submarines.

Testifying before a German investigation committee, Captain Bartenbach, of the V-boat section of the German Admiralty, gave the chief perils encountered by his boats as follows: (1) mines, (2) Allied submarines, which "destroyed a whole series of our boats," (3) aircraft of all types, (4) armed merchantmen, (5) hydrophones and listening devices. Admiral Capelle in his testimony referred to the weakening of their efforts due to "indifferent material and second-rate crews."

Transport Work

Dependent in large measure upon the anti-submarine campaign for its safety and success, yet in itself an immense achievement, the transport of over 2,000,000 American troops to France must be regarded as one of the major naval operations of the war. Of these forces 48% were carried in British, and 43% in American transports. About 83% of the convoy work was under the protection of American naval vessels.

The transportation work of the British navy, covering a longer period, was, of course, on a far greater scale. Speaking in Parliament on October 29, 1917, Premier Lloyd George indicated the extent of this service as follows: "Since the beginning of the war the navy has insured the safe transportation to the British and Allied armies of 13,000,000 men, 12,000,000 horses, 25,000,000 tons of explosives and supplies, and 51,000,000 tons of coal and oil. The loss of men out of the whole 13,000,000 was 3500, of which only 2700 were lost through the action of the enemy. Altogether 130,000,000 tons have been transported by British ships." These figures, covering but three years of the war, are of significance chiefly as indicating the immense transportation problems of the British and Allied navies and the use made of sea communications.

These three main Allied naval operations—the blockade of Germany, the anti-submarine campaign, and the transportation of American troops to France—were unquestionably decisive factors in the war. Failure in any one of them would have meant victory for Germany. The peace of Europe, it is true, could be achieved only by overcoming Germany's military power on land. A breakdown there, with German domination of the Continent, would have created a situation which it is difficult to envisage, and which very probably would have meant a peace of compromise and humiliation for England and America. It is obvious, however, that, but for the blockade, Germany could have prolonged the war; but for American reënforcements, France would have been overrun; but for the conquest of the submarine, Great Britain would have been forced to surrender.

In the spring of 1918 Germany massed her troops on the western front and began her final effort to break the Allied lines and force a decision. With supreme command for the first time completely centralized under Marshal Foch, and with the support of American armies, the Allies were able to hold up the enemy drives, and on July 18 begin the forward movement which pushed the Germans back upon their frontiers. Yet when the armistice was signed on November 11, the German armies still maintained cohesion, with an unbroken line on foreign soil. Surrender was made inevitable by internal breakdown and revolution, the first open manifestations of which appeared among the sailors of the idle High Seas Fleet at Kiel.

On November 21, 1918, this fleet, designed as the great instrument for conquest of world empire, and in its prime perhaps as efficient a war force as was ever set afloat, steamed silently through two long lines of British and Allied battleships assembled off the Firth of Forth, and the German flags at the mainmasts went down at sunset for the last time.

 

This work is from the chapter, World War 1: COMMERCE WARFARE :-

A History of Sea Power, by William Oliver Stevens and Allan Westcot

REFERENCES

Brassey's Naval Annual, 1919.

The Victory at Sea, Vice-Admiral W. S. Sims, U. S. N., 1920.

Annual Report of the U. S Secretary of the Navy, 1918

The Dover Patrol, 1915-1917, Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, R. N., 1919.

Zeebrugge and Ostend Dispatches, ed. by C. Sanford Terry, 1919.

Laying the North Sea Mine Barrage, Captain R. R. Belknap, U. S. N., U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Jan.-Feb., 1920.

American Submarine Operations in the World War, by Prof. C. S. Alden, U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings. June-July, 1920.

For more popular treatment see also Submarine and Anti-Submarine, Sir Henry Newbolt, 1919; The Fighting Fleets, Ralph D. Payne, 1918; The U-Boat Hunters, James B. Connolly, 1918; Sea Warfare, Rudyard Kipling, 1917; etc.

 

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