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The sinking of the Lusitania combined with those of the British liner Arabic and American liner Hesperian in August and September led on 18 September to the end of the unrestricted submarine campaign. In its place was a restricted campaign that entailed the practice of warning merchant crews before the sinking of their vessels.
A return to unrestricted submarine warfare against armed merchant vessels on 29 February ended similarly when on 24 March a German submarine sank the steamer Sussex with the loss of additional American lives. In response to a warning from United States President Woodrow Wilson that any further incident would lead to ending diplomatic relations, the Germans on 24 April once again suspended unrestricted submarine warfare.
SMS Viribus Unitis Austro-Hungarian Battleship
Nevertheless, both forms of submarine warfare exacted a heavy toll on shipping. British losses for the first half of alone approached , gross tons and this was more than could be replaced by new construction. The damage inflicted came at little cost to the Germans. By the opening of , the German Navy had lost only forty-six submarines since the beginning of hostilities. Despite the success of the campaign, the Germans believed that the restricted submarine campaign was not sufficient to force Britain from the war.
This estimation led to the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare, for the first time during the war being completely unrestricted, on 1 February amidst the declining fortunes of the Central Powers on land. While the Germans recognized the risk of the United States declaring war on Germany as a result, the High Command believed that Britain could be brought to heel within a couple of months before the United States could affect the course of the war. This calculation proved gravely mistaken as the United States, upon its declaration of war on 6 April , undermined the German submarine campaign as part of its war effort.
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Vice Admiral William Sims , the commander of American naval forces in European waters, lobbied for the institution of a convoy system to decrease shipping losses. This call led to implementation of the system in May with an increasing number of the escorts being American destroyers. Shipping losses gradually decreased from their peak of , gross tons in April to , gross tons in October , being the last full month of hostilities.
Not only did shipping losses decrease, but the number of German submarine losses rose. The German submarine campaign against the Allies consequently failed with disastrous results. Not only did it not force Great Britain from the war, it also led to the entry of the United States into the conflict. The naval blockade was a key factor in the defeat of Germany in World War I.
Its potential, however, was in question in the pre-war years. A blockaded nation might be able to break a close blockade through the use of small ships armed with these weapons. Also, improved coastal artillery , mines, and submarines could destroy blockaders. Another problem was posed by international law that protected neutral rights at sea. While Britain could seize all merchant ships sailing through the North Sea for Germany, naval strategists noted that neutral commerce, even in contraband items being those goods deemed to have a military value , would continue unchecked to those countries contiguous to Germany.
In terms of this trade, the onus of proof of destination rested with Britain rather than the neutral. Germany could import contraband supplies from these countries and thus undermine the whole effort. The British had not resolved these problems on the outbreak of World War I. Even so, they implemented a blockade since naval officials still attached some importance to it. The blockade was conducted in two theaters: the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.
In the Mediterranean, a British squadron stationed at Gibraltar monitored commerce with the aid of the French Navy. These activities, however, pale in comparison to those in the North Sea, which was the principle theater for the blockade. On 5 November , the Admiralty declared the entire North Sea a war zone where all ships entering into it would do so at their own risk.
A Fleet in Being : Austro-Hungarian Warships of WWI
The blockade of the North Sea consisted of two separate forces. One was the Dover Patrol that sealed off the Dover Strait. De Chair was charged with the interception of all ships trying to pass through the northern entrance to the North Sea and to send any vessels suspected of carrying contraband for Germany into a port for examination. The primary port of inspection became Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. The Northern Patrol, and consequently the blockade, experienced operational problems from the start that needed resolution. Magnifying this problem was no clear definition of where this force should conduct its patrols.
At first, the patrol policed an area from the north of Aberdeen, Scotland to the coast of Norway in the vicinity of Jutland. This position exposed the squadron to German submarine attack and resulted in the sinking of one cruiser on 15 October The situation of the force improved when it was withdrawn farther north to a patrol line that extended from the Shetland Islands to the coast of Norway. An additional improvement was the replacement of the old cruisers by twenty-three armed merchant cruisers in December The efforts of the squadron, however, in and did not produce significant results.
While German commerce via its own merchant ships virtually ceased, it was clear that the European neutral powers were shipping contraband goods to Germany through the use of their own ships calling at their own ports. In , each of these threats claimed one merchant cruiser of the squadron.
The first significant step towards a tighter blockade came in early when the British government created the Ministry of Blockade. This administrative body produced new blockade legislation. It was an effort that strengthened enormously after 6 April when the United States, the greatest neutral power that had opposed the blockade and sent supplies to the European neutral powers, entered the war on the side of the Entente. These two events in combination produced a much more effective blockade in spite of the fact that many of the policies of the Ministry of Blockade, such as rationing the European neutrals, contravened international law.
Nevertheless, by the end of , the German civilian sector was on the point of collapse and the army was undersupplied due to the great decrease in supplies getting through the blockade. A key problem by the end of the war was the decline in foodstuffs. The production of many other materials of war, while they remained close to their peacetime levels, proved insufficient for a protracted war effort.
On 8 December the Tenth Cruiser Squadron was abolished and its remaining ships assigned to convoy duty. The squadron had intercepted and boarded 12, vessels at sea and failed to prevent ships from breaking the blockade. This record came at a cost of nine ships and the loss of 1, officers and men. In March a giant minefield, the Northern Barrage, replaced the squadron. By this point, however, the blockade was purely a diplomatic endeavor since the entry of the United States into the war sealed the greatest leak to the European neutrals.
While historians continue to debate the degree of impact that the blockade had on the German civilian sector, particularly in the matter of fatalities from starvation, and the German war effort overall, the blockade certainly brought economic hardship and widespread unrest within Germany that was a contributing factor in its decision to sue for peace.
It was discontinued on 12 July when the Allied powers received word that the German government had ratified the Treaty of Versailles. The naval war of World War I proved largely a disappointment to officials on both sides as it did not produce the decisive fleet actions envisioned in the pre-war years.
Military technology and history
Nevertheless, the war at sea was a crucial part of World War I overall. The German use of the submarine against commerce not only threatened the Allied war effort, but also drew the United States into the conflict. Finally, the naval war held great ramifications for the future since many practices employed in the First World War were those pursued in the Second World War.
Osborne, Eric W. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed.
DOI : Version 1. Naval Warfare. By Eric W. These figures include losses around the world to all causes. Selected Bibliography Campbell, N. An analysis of the fighting , Annapolis Naval Institute Press. Goldrick, James: The king's ships were at sea. Halpern, Paul G.
Herwig, Holger H. Massie, Robert K. Spector, Ronald H.