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The U-Boat at War

August 6, 1914- ten German U-Boats establish the first patrol of the North Sea
Ineffective to begin with due to minefields, mechanical failures, and inaccurate torpedoes

September 5, 1914- first U-boat victory at sea when U-21 sank the British Pathfinder September 22, 1914- Sub U-9 sank three aging British cruisers in less than an hour

Wake up call for the British Royal Navy

The U-Boat at War

By October, 1914- German U-boats forced the most powerful navy (Britain) to leave its home base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands October 20, 1914- first U-boat sinking of a merchant ship

German U-boats began to sink such neutral ships as ferries, hospital boats, merchant ships, and passenger ships

Done by the rules of engagement, but would not last as they resorted to unrestricted sub warfare

The U-Boat at War

By early 1915- German policy became unrestricted sub warfare to gain an advantage at a time of stalemate British had established the unusually restrictive blockade of Germany by this point (Starvation Blockade) Bethmann-Hollweg advised against shoot without warning policy because he did not want to incite the U.S. to war February 4, 1915- Kaiser establishes war zone around the British Isles and declares unrestricted sub warfare on neutral vessels

The U-Boat at War

Early 1915- German U-boat base was at Ostend, Belgium January 1915- 43,550 tons of shipping had been sunk August 1915- 168,200 tons of shipping had been sunk 1915- no way for British ships to shell or fire upon a submerged sub U-29 was rammed by the HMS Dreadnought
Only sinking of a sub by a battleship in WWI

British established a privateer fleet of yachts and trawlers to hunt down German subs

The U-Boat at War

1915- U-boats had become serious weapons of war

Stood a good chance of starving Britain to a point of surrender However, from the standpoint of a propaganda war, it was disastrous
Confirmed the brutality and ruthlessness of the Germans Deaths of U.S. citizens began to make the newspapers

The U-Boat at War

April 1915- Harpalyce was torpedoed without warning

Headed to America to pick up food relief for Belgium Commission for Belgian Relief was painted in white on the side of it Flying a white flag International opinion was outraged at the German hostilities on the high seas and in Belgium itself


British decoy ships to avoid the German sub attacks

July 24, 1915- first successful Q-Ship counterattack

Merchantmen concealed weapons on the decks When German subs would approach, a portion of the crew would frantically run around the ship and then abandon ship by life raft German sub would figure that the ship had been abandoned and approach to fire its top-deck machine gun- instead of wasting a torpedo Remaining Q-Ship crew would unveil the heavy artillery and blow away the German sub
Brits waste no time creating a fleet of these special-service ships


Concealment of weapons was very creative

Behind panels in the hull Inside structures or cargo on the deck Inside lifeboats that were cut in half and hinged open for firing

Crew appeared sloppy, undisciplined Sometimes dressed as women
Masquerade continued even in port so as not to give away their special-service status


Ships themselves were like chameleons

Repainted during the night Fake funnels, deck structures, masts, and deck cargoes were added and/or removed Flags were changed Some installed special piping to allow them to simulate battle damage with clouds of steam


of Q-Ships determined by incident on August 19, 1915

Nicosian was carrying 800 mules and 80 American muleteers Came under German U-boat attack

Baralong (Q-Ship) approached incognito and then dropped its charade and pumped artillery into U-27 and sank it
German sailors swimming at sea were shot to death unmercilessly by the British sailors

Americans were told not to talk to anyone about this incident, but inevitably told the American press
Germany was outraged and Q-Ship kills declined at this point

U-Boats in the Mediterranean

Germans wanted to support their allies the Turks in their defense of Mediterranean attacks by the Allies Five U-boats sneaked through the Strait of Gibraltar by fall of 1915 There were a significant number of German U-boat kills in the Mediterranean Allies spent a lot of time and effort looking for U-boat bases in the region and never found any because there were none (fleet was too small)

U-Boats in the Mediterranean

Allies began to divert shipping around the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Suez Canal Allies became extremely desperate and asked for Japan to send two flotillas of destroyers to the Mediterranean in 1917

Unrestricted Sub Warfare is Resumed

German diplomats would attempt to negotiate a peace

Unsuccessful negotiations would result in the reinstitution of unrestricted sub warfare This time, the Germans could blame the stubbornness of the Allies Negotiations went nowhere in early 1916 and the policy was resumed

Unrestricted Sub Warfare is Resumed

134 submarines in German fleet by 1916

Blue-ocean U-boats
Four forward and two rear torpedo tubes One or two 86 mm guns or a single 105 mm

Mine-laying U-boats (UE class) Coastal patrol U-boats (UB class) Small mine-layer U-boats (UC class)

Late 1916
154 sunken merchant vessels- 443,000 tons

The Convoy System

Consolidation of merchant ships into convoys was a risky policy

Possible easy targets for German sub packs

Royal navy leaders were resistant to such a policy British PM- David Lloyd George

Instituted convoy system in early 1917 Losses for ships in convoy fell drastically
2% vs. 10% traveling on their own Dropped to 1% in October 1917

New Mines

Mark H2 Mine
The Northern Barrage
70,000 mines ran across the North Sea from the Orkney Islands to Norway

German Naval Bases along the North Sea

25,000 mines sealed off German bases

English Channel at the Dover Straits

Several dozen U-boats were sunk in this fashion

The Depth Charge

Credited to Admiral Sir Charles Madden

Inadvertently gave Admiral Sir John Jellicoe the idea when he suggested that he wished they had had a mine to drop on U-boats that blew up at the U-boats depth

D-Pattern Mark III depth charge

Big can filled with 130 kg of TNT and a pressure-sensitive detonator Could be set to blow up at six depths
From 30 m to 180 m

The Depth Charge

First used in action in July 1916 December 6, 1916- first U-boat kill using depth charges Americans adopted a similar ash can

Accounted for several dozen sunken Uboats

Even if the charges missed, the sub crews were terrified and demoralized

The Depth Charge

Projectors- a type of mortar depth charge

Could be launched 75 yards from the ship Destroyers now had the ability to bracket the presumed position of the U-boat

The Hydrophone

First means of locating a submerged U-boat

A directional underwater microphone that could be steered by an operator to locate the source of an undersea sound Tricky to use, easily confounded by other sources of noise
But better than nothing

Air Power Aids Naval Powers

Maritime air patrols greatly increased the navys ability to seek out and find enemy vessels Flying boats attacked U-boats cruising on the surface Four hundred blimps accompanied convoys through the dangerous approaches to Britain Patrolled the sea lanes for raids


1918- 55 U-boats sent to sea (16 destroyed)

Both records for WWI

Summer of 1918- life expectancy of a Uboat was six combat patrols Germany decided to take the war to U.S. shores

Deutschland class- long-range cruisers

Six torpedo tubes and at least two 150 mm guns

Patrols were executed, minefields were placed in strategic harbors (like Baltimore, Delaware Bay), and important telegraph wires were cut America became better at detecting and protecting themselves against Uboat attacks U-boats had distinguished themselves in combat during WWI

Fleet of subs reached 365 ships by the end of the war They had sunk almost 5,000 Allied ships 13,000 men of which 5,000 died Lost 178 subs 15,000 killed civilians