THE WAR AT SEA 1914-18 The War at Sea during the First World War consists mainly of: The impact of Germany’s U-boat campaign against the British merchant fleet and The Battle of Jutland The U-boat campaign: restricted submarine warfare Germany made very effective use of its small U-boat fleet (only 23 at the start of the war). At first, the Germans stuck to the rules of war by sinking only merchant ships belonging to Britain and her allies. This resulted in a small number of sinkings: only ten by Feb. 1915. After Feb. 1915 the Kaiser ordered a change of tactic. Un-restricted submarine warfare, Feb-Oct 1915 From Feb. 1915 the Germans declared that any ship in British waters (even neutral ones) would be attacked – this was unrestricted submarine warfare Sinkings shot up – in August 1915 alone, U-boats sank 42 merchant ships. One of their victims was the British passenger, the Lusitania, torpedoed in May, 1915. Among the 1200 civilian dead were 128 Americans The sinking was a public relations disaster for the Germans and US opinion was outraged. After the war, it became known that the Lusitania was carrying munitions for Britain – a breach of the rules of war 1. What risk do you think the Germans were running with their un-restricted submarine warfare campaign? 2. Why, nonetheless, do you think they went ahead with it? 3. Why was the sinking of the Lusitania a public relations disaster for the Germans? 4. What does the poster suggest was another benefit for the British? German propaganda disaster The actual sinking of the Lusitania was enough of a disaster. It was made even worse when a German medal- maker decided to cast a medal to celebrate its sinking. The British circulated copies as further evidence of German ‘barbarism’. The German government ordered all German copies to be destroyed – but too late. This, in fact, is the second edition of the medal. The first had the Wrong date for the sinking (5 May instead of the 7 May) April 1917: US enters the war The Germans suspended their campaign in September 1915 because of the hostile reaction of neutral (especially American) opinion. However, the British naval blockade of Germany’s ports was causing terrible shortages of food and there was pressure to resume the campaign. In February 1917 the Germans resumed their campaign. US opinion was further angered by the publication by the British of the Zimmerman telegram in the same month. In this secret telegram the German gov. promised Mexico three US states if they would declare war on the US! This hare-brained scheme finally drove the United States to declare war on 6 April, 1917. The Battle of Jutland, May 1916 This was the biggest sea battle of the war, fought between the British fleet of Admiral Jellicoe and the German fleet of Admiral von Scheer. Von Scheer decided to take his fleet out to sea to break the Royal Navy blockade of Germany which was causing such hardship among German civilians. The British were waiting for him, as they had cracked the German code and knew his plan. The Battle: a German victory? Unfortunately for Jellicoe, the battle went Germany’s way. Three British battle cruisers were blown apart when their magazines were exploded by German shells (see next slide) German gunfire was both more accurate and more damaging because of a design fault in the British ships. The British losses were 14 ships and 6000 sailors; the Germans 11 ships and 2500 sailors. However, the Germans had a much smaller fleet and could not afford these losses, so Scheer broke away from the battle and returned back to port. Play the video file: the Battle of Jutland in Windows Media Player Who did win the battle? In the short term – it was German victory: they sank more ships and killed more British sailors. But, in the long term, it proved to be a British victory because the German fleet never came out to sea again. It spent the rest of the war bottled up in its ports at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. This left control of the seas to the Royal Navy and the British blockade remained in force. The effect of the blockade was devastating on civilian morale (and so on the morale of the troops, as well): 750,000 German civilians died during the war as a result of the poor diet forced on the by the blockade. It could be argued that the blockade (and therefore Jutland) was the real winner of the war for Britain.
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