German U-Boats in World War One

During the first world war maritime warfare underwent a technical change that led them to becoming a revolutionised weapon. Both the British and Germans used them to lead attacks on other submarines, merchant ships and battleships. World War One was the first time submarines are used for a significant amount of time in battle or skirmishes. The German submarines entertained a distinguished success in managing to halt and destroyed almost half of all food and supplies carried by the British Merchant Navy. Even though they had similar purposes they should not be confused with the Austro-Hungarian submarines.

Unterseeboot, or ‘U-Boat’/’Undersea Boat’, had several naval stations on German coast lines, and the Germans had a total of 29 boats at the beginning of the war. Most were manufactured in Brugge Harbour but requirements for more submarines meant that development grew to involve Zeebrugge and Oostende Harbours. Each piece of the submarines was designed and built inland in German factories and then transported to the harbour were they would be fitted together piecemeal. A large amount of naval manufacturing took place in these harbours since torpedoes and destroyer boats were also constructed large-scale here. Even though they were crucial in damaging enemy naval war ships they were mostly designed for commercial warfare, as the main aim was to sink merchant ships from between Britain, America and Canada.

The U-boat Campaign during World War One took place during the entire four years. It mostly took place in the waters around Britain and in the Mediterranean since these were the busiest channels for sea port trade. Since both Germany and England relied on imports for food and fertilizer, the general idea was to blockade each other and sink the ships. Pre-War England had a vastly superior navy, something that had been built up to prestige over some five hundred years. This meant it was vital for Germany to catch up in naval aspects in order to successfully unhinged Britain’s trading standards. This they did with swift renovations to their underwater ships. In August 1914 the first ever submarine flotilla patrol took place by German U-boats with the aim to sink the British Grand Fleet’s premium ships. However U-15 subs failed in the one attack that took place with torpedoes missing their mark. The Germans knew that merchant ships in the Mediterranean had to make stops in places like Crete, Gibraltar, Malta and navigate the Suez canal. It was around these areas that were targeted in order to disallowed British and neutral ships to pass. U-33, U-39 and U-35 were responsible for taking control of the Mediterranean commercial fleets.

The second attack taking place mere days after the announcement of War between England and Germany was broadcast. On the 5th of September HMS Pathfinder was sunk by U-21, the first of which to be done by a self-propelled torpedo. The next biggest was during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign when the U-21 sank two pre-dreadnaught battleships, one the most lethal battleships in the English and American navy. Commercial warfare began in 1915 when the Kaiser declared the waters surrounding the British Isles to be a series of war zones. This meant merchant ships could be attacked without warning and without provocation even if they are ships declared neutral. However restrictions had to replaced onto submarine movements and attacks when a SM U-20 sank an American civilian ship the RMS Lusitania and SS Sussex. Part of the Sussex Pledge the Germans were forced to do was to limit submarine fleets. The Germans resorted to surfacing submarines while in battle which led to a small victory at the Battle of Jutland. Despite winning the battle the British Grand Fleet was still in control of British waters. Therefore the Germans went back to just targeting merchant ships. This succeeded with several million tonnes of shipping destroyed up until 1918. 1917 saw a reversion to unrestricted submarine warfare but by armistice the Germans had failed to deplete the British resources enough. This meant on the declaration of peace in 1918 all the German submarines had to surrender and sail to the British submarine port at Harwich. The decisive moment was when Japan joined the Allies in 1917 who were strongly anti-submarine. The Japanese fleets aided by the French and Italian was successful in patrolling the Mediterranean and blockading the Germans.

Most of the U-boats the Germans created were studied at great length ensuring some of the more technical aspects were taken into consideration when upgrading the British submarines. Much was scrapped in aid in use as building materials and the rest was sold to Allied navies. The last moment to take place by the German Submarines during World War One was to stage and suppress a naval mutiny since the loss of so many ships destroyed naval morale.

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