Blockade of Germany

The blockade of Germany during World War I was a part of the First Battle of the Atlantic between Britain and Germany.

About 750,000 German civilians died from starvation caused by the British blockade during the War. ["Die miserable Versorgung mit Lebensmitteln erreichte 1916/17 im "Kohlrübenwinter” einen dramatischen Höhepunkt. Während des Ersten Weltkriegs starben in Deutschland rund 750.000 Menschen an Unterernährung und an deren Folgen. [http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/wk1/wirtschaft/versorgung/index.html] ] Still more perished from starvation "after" the Armistice in November 1918 as the blockade was continued into 1919, in order to force Germany to sign the controversial Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

The British established a naval blockade of Germany early in the war. This blockade was unusually brutal in that even food deliveries were denied, as it was said to 'help the war'. As for retaliatory measures,the German Empire could not fight with British naval strength on an even basis. With numbers against them, special strategy was needed, thus the only possible way Germany could impose a blockade back on England was through "under-sea-boats" or "U-boats", submarines. The German Chancellor was against this sort of blockade because it meant attacking neutral ships as those of the United StatesFact|date=July 2008 as well. But the military pushed submarine warfare forward.

On 4 February 1915, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone. Effective 18 February, ships in the area would be sunk "without warning". British ships hiding behind neutral flags would not be spared, though some effort would be made to avoid sinking clearly neutral vessels.

The German U-boat force was now primarily based at Ostend in Belgium, so German submarines had better access to the sea lanes around England. The Germans made use of this advantage and sent out about 20 U-boats to begin the naval blockade. In January, before the declaration of "unrestricted submarine warfare" as the submarine blockade was called by detractors, 43,550 tonnes of shipping had been sunk by U-boats. The number of sinkings then steadily increased, with 168,200 tonnes going down in August.

Losses of British warships were small. Although the battleship "Formidable" had been sunk by "U-24" on New Year's Day, the fast destroyer screens soon made successful attacks on battleships and cruisers a thing of the past. On the other hand, there was little a British Royal Navy warship could do to sink a German Imperial Navy U-boat if the submarine's captain was reasonably alert. The U-boat was generally safe from shelling once it had . It could be rammed if it were at periscope depth, but ramming was hardly a reasonable tactic as a standard practice.

Destroyers were not able to attempt to attack the U-boats as they were protecting the fleet, so the British pressed every vessel they could into service, including yachts and trawlers, as auxiliary patrol vessels. However, the U-boats were able to easily evade the patrols and sink merchant vessels traveling unescorted.

Militarily, submarine patrols were proving a great success, and the U-boats stood a good chance of starving Britain into surrender. However, in terms of the propaganda war, it was a great disaster for Germany. America wanted to stay out of the European war, but American public opinion had turned against Germany, as strategic submarine usage seemed to confirm the German reputation for brutalityFact|date=July 2008. The deaths of American citizens on a British vessel, braving contested waters and sunk by the German Navy, began to make headlines in the USA.

When on 7 May 1915, the British liner Lusitania with Americans on board was sunk by a German submarine, outrage in the American media brought the US closer to declaring war on Germany. Under threat of US retaliation, on 27 August, the Kaiser imposed severe restrictions on U-boats attacks against large passenger vessels. On 18 September 1915, he called off "unrestricted submarine warfare" completely.

Under pressure from the military early in 1917, Wilhelm II reimplemented prior submarine strategy. In February, 86 vessels were sunk, followed by 103 in March, and then 155 in April. Disregarding the American war industry, the European conflict was a detriment to American trade and the American economy. Still many believed that the USA would stay true to its promise of neutrality, and accordingly, Germany could deal with Britain without American interference. But, in a split vote the US Congress declared war on Germany in April 1917, with the purported justification being successful U-Boat strategy, the sinking of the "British" oceanliner, and the speculatory Zimmerman Telegram, wherein Germany offered a political and military alliance with Mexico.

References


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