The Naval Warfare of World War One through rare photographs, 1914-1918


In the years before World War I, Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Britain had peacefully enjoyed its position as the world's dominant naval force since the Napoleonic Wars, but Germany now sought to counter that dominance.

A new generation of ships became central to the naval race: the dreadnoughts. Named after the Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought, these 'castles of steel' became a symbol of naval power in the early 20th century.

Dreadnoughts represented a revolution in battleship design and yet their construction was based on a centuries-old definition of a naval campaign objective as a face-to-face confrontation of two opposing battle fleets.

During World War I, senior naval officers trained in the days of sail not only learned to command new ships and wartime unused weapons; He also saw a change in warfare that transformed war at sea from a traditional surface encounter into a complex balancing act of defensive strategies and covert tactics that included two new and unexpected dimensions: underwater and in the air.

As the war began, Britain was quick to capitalize on its enduring naval supremacy and geographical position by establishing a trade blockade of Germany and its allies.

The Royal Navy's Grand Fleet patrolled the North Sea, laying mines and cutting off access to the Channel, curtailing the activities of the German High Seas Fleet and preventing merchant ships from supplying raw materials and food to Germany. The North Sea became 'a maritime no man's land in which the British fleet was bottling up', as described by Richard Hough in The Great War at Sea 1914–1918.

The effect of the blockade on German civilians after the Four Years' War was noted by British Army Major General Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston during a visit to Germany in December 1918: "The food situation is indeed very dire ... The Germans are living entirely on their food capital now - they've ate all their laying hens and all their milch [sic] cows... [there's a] real shortage.

In September 1914 a simultaneous torpedo of HMS Abukir, Hogg and Cressie by a German submarine shocked the Royal Navy and forced the Admiralty to recognize the threat that U-boats, as they became known, could be used by the surface fleet. were in front of.

Although the Allies had their own submarines, which were active in the Adriatic, Baltic and Dardanelles during the war, defenses against submarines were slow to develop.

The British Navy appealed for views from its own personnel and the wider public. Minefields, net barrages, depth charges and patrols were introduced, but often these defenses could not be avoided.

U-boats could move virtually undetected, as periscope viewing was the most reliable method of location at a time when sonar technology was still in its infancy.

In January 1916, John Rushworth Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, in response to an inquiry by Lord Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister and then First Admiralty, emphasized the importance of playing to the Navy's core strength – its size. Gave. Maintain control of the North Sea: "... as a possible naval offensive ... I have long come to the conclusion that it would be suicidal to split our main fleet ...".

For the first two years of the war, the Allies accordingly focused their naval efforts on the defensive strategy of defending trade routes, developing anti-submarine equipment, and maintaining the blockade rather than actively seeking direct confrontation.

Defense was an important strategy, but it was also grueling, repetitive and unnatural. Many in the Navy longed for decisive action and a great naval victory to remember the Battle of Trafalgar and to satisfy the general public.

The petty battles at Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank and the disastrous Dardanelles campaign did little to defuse the tension. First Sea Lord Admiral H.B. Jackson commented to Jellicoe "I think you should watch out for your vital commanders with general health as well as immobility [sic]. I wish you could get a change in your monotonous work.

Jackson's wish was granted on 31 May–1 June 1916 when The Grand Fleet met the High Seas Fleet in direct combat off the coast of Denmark. The Battle of Jutland was the only major naval battle of World War I, and the most important encounter between battleships of the dreadnought era.

With fewer ships, Germany's plan was to divide and conquer. A German advance force led by Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper engaged Vice-Admiral David Beatty's battlecruisers, hoping to cut off the main fleet.

When Beatty pursued Hipper, a gunfight ensued, with Hipper leading Beatty toward the rest of the High Seas Fleet. The Allies suffered early casualties in the loss of HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary before rejoining Beatty's Grand Fleet.

The High Seas Fleet and Grand Fleet clashed throughout the afternoon until darkness descended. The High Seas Fleet participated during the night and by the early hours of 1 June, the fighting was over.

Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. Germany inflicted more damage on the Allies than itself and yet the High Seas Fleet was incapacitated while the Grand Fleet remained a major naval force.

However, controversy over Jellicoe and Beatty's actions quickly followed the fighting and denied both the Royal Navy and the British public an outright victory, calling for years of despair.

It is telling that 'may your hard work be crowned a resounding victory', in the words of Jellicoe's farewell to his naval colleagues upon leaving the Grand Fleet a few months later.

After the Battle of Jutland the High Seas Fleet never attempted to engage the entire Grand Fleet again, and German naval tactics focused on covert underwater operations.

Submarine historian Richard Compton-Hall has suggested that the starvation of the German population due to the Allied blockade had a decisive effect on the increasingly brutal attacks of U-boat crews, culminating in the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare on 1 February 1917. . U-boats attack trading ships, hoping to disrupt Allied trade and likewise undermine Britain, an island nation dependent on its imports.

The result was heavy casualties in the merchant navy and a lack of British shipping with which the shipbuilders could not keep pace. Neutral ships were not immune and neither were passenger liners.

The RMS Lusitania was sunk by a U-boat in 1915, killing American passengers and prompting some to enter the war. The renewed threat to civilians caused the United States to declare war in April 1917, a month in which 869,000 tons of Allied shipping were sunk.

A letter from the Chamber of Trade to the cabinet in April 1916 predicted that "...a lack of shipping would put this country in a more serious trouble than any disaster less than a naval defeat..." .

The undefeated defeat of The Grand Fleet made it clear that the war would be won or lost not in traditional sea warfare but by the Allied response to the so-called 'submarine threat'.

The Allied response was a system of convoys. Warships protected merchant and passenger ships, protecting them from U-boat attacks by strength in numbers.

The concentration of shipping in small groups across vast seas made ships difficult, rather than easy, to find; The steeply sloping courses made it difficult for U-boats to predict convoy routes and target torpedoes; And the accompanying warships were able to counter-attack using a depth charge.

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the US Naval Air Service provided cover, spotting submerged U-boats and thus preventing them from coming in front and accurately targeting the convoy. Shipping losses declined and by the time of the Armistice in 1918, the loss rate in convoys was less than 0.5 percent.

1 comment:

  1. Why"sic"? "Milch cow" is the correct term for a cow used to provide milk.


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