Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War/Chapter 13
Chapter 13 - The Military and Political Significance of the U-boat CampaignEdit
OUR fleet was built for the protection of German interests at sea; its object was quite definitely a defensive one. This was proved in its construction; its main strength consisted in battleships and torpedo-boats which were meant exclusively for naval battles. There were so few cruisers that they barely sufficed to scout for a fleet on the move. Both in numbers and in construction they were unfitted to threaten the trade of the enemy; they could not touch English world-trade, because the British Isles formed a barrier in the North Sea. We had no naval bases abroad. Thanks to English policy, in this war a hostile fleet ran little risk in attacking ours, though it was built as a defence against such attacks. England had secured the co-operation of the next strongest land and sea Powers, and could count on the benevolent neutrality of the United States of America, until they, too, sided with our enemies. Nevertheless, England forbore to risk her superior fleet in battle, and her naval policy in the war was confined to this: to cut Germany off from all sup- plies by sea, and to starve her out by withholding food and raw materials.
On October 2, 1914, the British Admiralty published a warning that it had become necessary to lay a large minefield at the entrance of the Channel into the North Sea; this was 1,365 square sea miles in extent. It left free a narrow channel near the English coast, which was only passable within British territorial waters. On November 2, 1914, the whole of the North Sea was declared to be in the War Zone. Any ships which crossed it other than by routes prescribed by the British Admiralty would do so at their own peril, and would be exposed to great danger from the mines laid in these parts and from warships which would search for suspicious craft with the greatest vigilance. This was the declaration made by the British Government. The provisions of the Declaration of London of 1909 had not been ratified by England at the time, and she therefore did not consider herself bound by any international laws which would have made it possible to get articles of trade through neutral countries into blockaded Germany. The result of the measures adopted by the British Government were as follows:
- All import trade into Germany both by land and sea was strangled, and in particular the importation of food was made impossible, because the distinction between absolute and relative contraband was done away with. Even the importation of goods that were not contraband was prevented, by taking them off the ships on the plea that contraband might be hidden in them; then when they were landed, either they were requisitioned or detained on the strength of some prohibition of export so that they had to be sold.
- The neutral states in order to obtain any oversea imports for themselves were forced by England's demands to forbid almost all export of goods to Germany. The British Government even demanded the cessation of trade in free goods and their own produce between these countries and Germany, threatening to treat the neutral country as an enemy if these demands were not complied with.
- In neutral countries, especially in the United States of America, whole industries were forced to stop all trade with Germany. In addition to this, the neutral countries of Europe were compelled to set up organisations which controlled all the trade of the country, and thereby placed it under the control of England. Persons and firms who did not comply with the regulations were cut off from sea trade, because all cargoes addressed to them were detained under suspicion of being destined for the enemy.
- Free trading of neutral merchant vessels on the North Sea was made impossible when that was declared to be in the War Zone, because every ship that did not follow the instructions of this declaration was exposed to the risk of destruction. In this way all shipping was forced to pass through English waters and so to submit to English control. Winston Churchill, at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, openly expressed the aim of the British Government in his speech at the Guildhall on November 9, 1914. He said the British people had taken as their motto, "Business as usual during alterations in the map of Europe," and they expected the Fleet, on which they had spent so much care and money, to make it possible for them to adhere to this motto, and the Fleet was at the moment about to do so. It was very difficult at the beginning of war to estimate the full effect of the pressure exerted by sea power. The loss suffered was obvious and easily computed; the loss they inflicted was often invisible, or if it was visible its extent could not be deter- mined. The economic stringency of the blockade required time to attain its full effect. They saw it then only in the third month. They must have patience and consider it in the sixth, the ninth, the twelfth months; then they would see the success which would be achieved gradually and silently, which meant the ruin of Germany as surely as the approach of winter meant the fall of the leaves from the trees.
The attitude of the English Fleet was absolutely in keeping with this declaration. They avoided battle or any attempt to destroy the German Fleet. They thought they could force Germany's submission without any fear that the English Fleet might forfeit its superiority to the other fleets of the world. Their strategy also gave their fleet certain tactical advantages if we should seek to join battle in those waters which it had selected for its stand. From this position the English Fleet was enabled to carry out the system they had planned of watching the approaches to the North Sea and the routes which lead to Scandinavia, and at the same time most effectively to protect this system from German attacks emanating from the Bight.
The English plan, however, was based on the further assumption that the Fleet would be able effectually to protect English trade. They probably counted upon the life of our cruisers in foreign waters being a short one, and reckoned that only in exceptional cases auxiliary cruisers would evade the watch in the North Sea and get out. These might temporarily disturb trade, but could never have any decisive effect. The English were not mistaken in this assumption; and in their certainty of controlling the seas, without any regard to the rights of neutral countries from whom they were not likely to meet with serious opposition, they took such measures as were best adapted to cut off Germany. When they declared the War Zone they dropped the old idea of a blockade, because mines and submarines made it impossible to carry out a regular blockade effectively. So far as the Englishman was concerned, that was the end of the blockade, and he proceeded to introduce an innovation which, to his idea, was suited to the times, and therefore justified; nor did he trouble in the least about the protest of neutrals.
To English ideas it is self-understood that naval warfare is directed towards the destruction of enemy trade, and equally so that all means that can promote this end are right. Their practicability was founded on the might of the English Fleet, from which neutral protests rebounded unheeded. This war has made it clear that the neutrals were mistaken when they thought that they could demand of that great Sea Power, England, the same rights that she had secured by treaties when she herself had been neutral. These rights of neutrals are nothing but pretensions which a mighty Sea Power would like to turn to its own advantage if on some occasion it should not be one of the belligerents and should wish to carry on its trade regardless of whether one of the parties at war should suffer thereby or not.
This was typical of the relations between us and America. Of course, the semblance of right must be maintained, and for that purpose any catchword! which happens to appeal most to the people is made use of.
In this war it was the "dictates of humanity" which had to bolster up American trade interests. No State, not even America, thought it against the dictates of humanity to build submarines for war purposes, whose task it should be unexpectedly to attack warships and sink them with all on board. Does it really make any difference, purely from the humane point of view, whether those thousands of men who drown wear naval uniforms or belong to a merchant ship bringing food and munitions to the enemy, thus prolonging the war and augmenting the number of women and children who suffer during, the war?
What England considered to be maritime law is most clearly seen by the layman in her attitude towards the Declaration of London. On the invitation of the British Government there was a conference in connection with the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1909 by which a number of rules were drawn up, the signatory Powers - amongst them England, France, Russia, the United States, Germany and others - "had agreed in the statement that the rules drawn up in the Declaration were in all essentials in conformity with the generally accepted principles of International Law." England had not ratified this treaty owing to the veto of the House of Lords because it did not take British interests sufficiently into consideration. She therefore had the formal right not to abide by these rules, but at the same time she ran counter to the principles of International Law recognised by every State. On August 20, 1914, the British Government announced that it had decided to accept the Declaration of London in general, but with certain changes and additions that it considered absolutely imperative in order to be able to carry out operations at sea effectively. Here with touching ingenuousness it is stated that the Englishman considers himself bound by law only in so far as it does not hinder his operations, and that he will allow himself such deviations as will ensure the effective execution of his plans. That meant that he contravened the right of neutrals to send any goods to Germany and put obstacles in the way of such trade by every means in his power. The Neutral States even had to give an undertaking to consume all food received from overseas in their own countries and not to make use of foreign imports to set free a like quantity of home-grown food for transport into Germany. Anyone who wished to defend himself by means of remonstrances or protests in law was foredoomed to defeat owing to this brutal policy of might; but unfortunately this was the form our own policy had taken.
Moreover, we looked in vain for sympathy from the neutrals. America declared that if England ignored International Law that did not give us the right to pursue a course contrary to International Law to which America would be expected to submit. On the contrary, she demanded for her citizens the right to travel anywhere by sea unmolested. If we did not refrain from the counter-measures we had announced, which she considered contrary to the dictates of humanity, she would hold us responsible. Such a peremptory tone was not employed towards England. And why should it have been ? The Englishman was only too glad of the visits of American ships, for they brought him everything that he badly needed. No disturbance of trade was to be expected from him, for he would have thereby injured his own interests and could, therefore, never be in the awkward position of running counter to the dictates of humanity as understood by America. How the efforts of Americans to tighten the screw of hunger on our people could be reconciled with humanity is a question that can only be explained by the peculiar maxim of the Anglo-Saxons that "business" has nothing to do with it.
When the starvation of Germany was recognised as the goal the British Government were striving to reach, we had to realise what means we had at our disposal to defend ourselves against this danger. England was in a position to exert enormous pressure. We could not count on any help from the neutrals. Without exception they had submitted to England's will, though they had not all sought their advantage in it as Norway and America had done. As we have explained in the preceding chapters, in view of the attitude of the English Fleet, our Fleet with its smaller numbers, and as it was constituted at the outbreak of war, could not hope to score a decisive success by means of which German trade might revive and British trade be at the mercy of our cruisers. The assumption that we might have done this is Utopian and does not take into account the subsidiary means of controlling sea traffic which would still be left to England, even if her war Fleet proper were badly damaged.
The help of such neutrals as were left in this war would not have afforded us sufficient security to enable us to maintain our economic life, so long as imports from overseas were lacking, even if they had been in a position to treat us in a more friendly manner after their spines had been stiffened by a severe English defeat at sea. We could only escape from this tight corner if we could find the means of exerting a still more stringent pressure upon English trade and so force England to yield. The U-boat might rescue us, because the protection which the English afforded trade was powerless against this weapon.
A military and political problem of the utmost importance thus arose: Germany was in possession of a weapon which would render the English Fleet ineffective and was capable of upsetting England's whole plan of starving us out. It was only when the effectiveness of these boats under the pressure of war had proved to be far beyond all expectations that it became clear that the U-boat could attain such importance as a weapon in naval warfare. The closest under- standing between the political leaders and the Naval Command was requisite for the use of this weapon. The first considerations were of course those concerning Maritime Law.
It would take too long to reproduce here all the legal discussions that took place on this question. The novelty of the weapon demanded new methods which the opposition considered unjustifiable and which they, of course, opposed with the greatest vigour, since they were contrary to their interests. But there was no doubt that the English conduct of the war had given us the right to use retaliatory measures, especially since they had shown by example that it was a simple law of necessity imposed by war, to make use of the means at one's disposal "in order to carry out operations at sea effectively."
The submarine was a weapon of war adopted by every state. This gave us the right to make use of it in the manner to which, owing to its peculiar nature, it was best adapted. Any use of it which did not take this peculiar nature into account would be nonsensical and un-military. The U-boat's capacity for diving made it specially suitable for war on commerce, because it could appear unexpectedly and thereby cause fear and panic and scare away trade, while at the same time it could escape the pursuit of the enemy. The fact that it could travel under water made the new weapon particularly promising. If it sank merchant vessels, including their crews and any passengers, the blame would attach to those who despised our warnings and, open-eyed, ran the risk of being torpedoed, in exactly the same way as the crews of those steamers that would not submit to English dictation, and in spite of the English warnings, took the risk of crossing the areas where mines were laid.
Was the audacity of the merchant seamen to prevent us from seizing a weapon on the use of which our fate depended? Certainly no legal considerations could stop us from pursuing this course, but only political considerations as to whether we were strong enough to disregard unjustified protests. It was imperative to make the most of the advantages arising from the submersibility of the boat, otherwise the weapon would be blunted at the start and bound to be ineffectual. The U-boat must constitute a danger from which there was no escape. Neither watchfulness nor speed could afford ships sufficient protection. That was the consideration on which the conclusion was based, that, as the loss of ships increased, trade with the British Isles must ultimately cease. The submersibility of the boats would also leave the enemy in doubt as to the number of boats with which he had to wrestle; for he had no means of gaining a clear idea of the whereabouts of his opponent. One single successful U-boat that had made a route dangerous might produce the impression that two or more had been at work. For it is human nature to exaggerate unknown dangers. The target of attack presented to the U-boats by English trade, spread all around the British Isles, was vulnerable at every point of the coast. Therein lay a great advantage as compared with the conduct of war against trade as carried on by cruisers. They had to seek the open sea where there was little traffic in order to escape pursuit; the U-boat on the contrary could frequent the neighbourhood of the coast where all traffic met, and could escape pursuit merely by diving.
All these considerations had led to the same suggestion being made at one and the same time from the most varied sections of the navy - that our conduct of naval warfare must follow the example given by England, and be directed towards the destruction of commercial traffic, because in that way we can hit England in a vital spot. The U-boat will serve as a suitable weapon for this purpose.
In November, 1914, the Leaders of the Fleet laid this suggestion before the Chief of the Nayal Staff, Admiral von Pohl, advancing the following arguments:
"As our coast is not blockaded, our trade with neutrals, in so far as it does not involve contraband, might continue in the usual way. Nevertheless all trade on the North Sea coast has ceased. England exerts strong pressure on our neighbours to put a stop to all trade between them and us in goods which we need for the conduct of the war. Their most vigorous efforts are directed towards preventing the import of food from neutral countries. This does not apply merely to food imports destined for the troops; England wants to starve our whole nation. In this she overrides all rules of International Law, as food is only conditional contraband and only liable to stoppage, therefore, when intended to assist in the conduct of the war. According to the provisions of the London Conference, conditional contraband can only be stopped when it is shipped direct to the enemy country. If it be sent via a neutral country, e.g. Holland, it is not permissible to stop it. In spite of this a large number of steamers carrying food, oil, metals, etc., to neutral countries have been held up on the way, although it had not been ascertained with certainty that their further destination was Germany.
"As England is trying to destroy our trade it is only fair if we retaliate by carrying on the campaign against her trade by all possible means. Further, as England completely disregards International Law in her actions, there is not the least reason why we should exercise any restraint in our conduct of the war. We can wound England most seriously by injuring her trade. By means of the U-boat we should be able to inflict the greatest injury. We must therefore make use of this weapon, and do so, moreover, in the way most suited to its peculiarities. The more vigorously the war is prosecuted the sooner will it come to an end, and countless human beings and treasure will be saved if the duration of the war is curtailed. Consequently a U-boat cannot spare the crews of steamers, but must send them to the bottom with their ships. The shipping world can be warned of these consequences, and it can be pointed out that ships which attempt to make British ports run the risk of being destroyed with their crews. This warning that the lives of steamers' crews will be endangered will be one good reason why all shipping trade with England should cease within a short space of time. The whole British coast, or anyway a part of it, must be declared to be blockaded, and at the same time the aforesaid warning must be published.
"The declaration of the blockade is desirable in order to warn neutrals of the consequences. The gravity of the situation demands that we should free ourselves from all scruples which certainly no longer have justification. It is of importance too, with a view to the future, that we should make the enemy realise at once what a powerful weapon we possess in the U-boat, with which to injure their trade, and that the most unsparing use is to be made of it."
Such action was suggested on military grounds. As was only natural, the political leaders were filled with grave doubts on account of its probable effect upon neutrals. The Imperial Chancellor sent a reply to the Admiralty on December 27, 1914; in this he summed up his reflections on the subject and declared that there was nothing from the legal point of view to be urged against the U-boat campaign, but that the decision must depend upon military and political considerations as to its advisability. The question was not whether it should be done, but when it could be done without ruining our position. Such a measure as the U-boat blockade would react detrimentally upon the attitude of neutrals and our imports; it could only be employed without dangerous consequences when our military position on the Continent was so secure that there could be no doubt as to the ultimate outcome there, and the danger that the neutrals would join our opponents might be regarded as out of the question. At the moment these conditions did not exist.
This answer shows that the importance of this matter was not fully recognised or appreciated.
It was not a question of whether the Navy might make use of a new and peculiar weapon in order to make the conduct of war at sea more effective and many-sided; the question was whether the gravity of the situation had been truly appreciated. The Imperial Chancellor's answer culminated in the remark: First the war on land must be successful; then we can think of attacking England.
Enemies on all sides! That was the situation. Could the war on land alone rescue us from the position, or war at sea as carried on heretofore? How could we increase our efforts so as not to be defeated? Simple and straightforward reflection on this question pointed to the U-boat campaign against commerce as the way out. Of course it was our duty thoroughly to weigh its political consequences, its practicability from the military point of view, and its chances of success on a careful estimate of English economic conditions. But the study of these points ought to have preceded the war. It was neglected then because no one foresaw that a fight with England would mean a fight against her sea traffic with all the consequences it would entail. For who anticipated that we could possibly be in a position to inflict as severe an injury on English trade as that which we must expect to receive from the effects of the English blockade? It is no reproach to anybody not to have foreseen this. On the contrary, such aggressive ideas were quite foreign to our naval policy. In the course of the world-war, under the necessity of defending ourselves against the nations opposed to us, when we recognised the magnitude of the disaster which England had planned for us then, and then only, we descried a prospective possibility of winning freedom. It was lucky for us that our naval policy made it possible for us to carry out this plan; that we could pass from the state of defence, in which the enemy would cheerfully have allowed us to go on stewing, to an offensive; that we not only possessed this weapon in our naval armament but that we also had the men to use it, men with sufficient technical knowledge and the necessary courage; and lastly that the U-boats could rely on the security of their bases which the Fleet was called upon and ready to maintain.
The prospect was one of overwhelming magnitude, for it meant neither more nor less than the realisation of Germany's demand for the freedom of the seas. If we compare the importance of this undertaking with the manner of its execution we are filled with bitter disappointment over the lack of far-sightedness and resolution amongst those with whom the ultimate decision lay; and with deep regret for the great and heroic sacrifices that were made in vain.
Thus the U-boat campaign became almost entirely a question of politics. It was originally suggested by the Navy for military reasons; for it was the Fleet that had to bear the brunt of English pressure at sea, and it was the Fleet's duty to neutralise the effect of that pressure, which was very definitely directed against our economic life. Considering the strength of the English Fleet and its strategy, it was impossible to remove this pressure directly, but all the same the U-boat had proved to be a weapon with which we could inflict direct injury on English economic life, notwithstanding the protection which the Fleet afforded it. Economic life in England was almost entirely dependent on shipping, and so there was a prospect of our inflicting such material injury upon that island State that it would be unable to continue the war; four-fifths of the food of the country and all raw materials it needed, excepting coal and half of the iron ore, had to be imported by sea. Neutral shipping also took part in supplying these imports. That is why the U-boat war against English trade became a political question, because it might do very considerable injury to the interests of countries which so far were not involved in the war.
There is such an enormous literature on the subject of the economic as well as the legal conditions, that I shall content myself with an account of the political developments of the U-boat campaign and of its military realisation as it affected us in the Fleet.
The suggestion made by those in command of the Fleet to inaugurate a U-boat campaign against commerce was adopted by the Chief of the Admiralty Staff, von Pohl, in the form of a declaration of a War Zone which was published on February 4, 1915, of which the wording was as follows:
- NOTICE IN THE IMPERIAL GAZETTE (Reichsanzeiger)
- 1. The waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are herewith declared to be in the War Zone. From February 18, 1915, onward, every merchant ship met with in this War Zone will be destroyed, nor will it always be possible to obviate the danger with which the crews and passengers are thereby threatened.
- 2. Neutral ships, too, will run a risk in the War Zone, for in view of the misuse of neutral flags ordained by the British Government on January 31, and owing to the hazards of naval warfare, it may not always be possible to prevent the attacks meant for hostile ships from being directed against neutral ships.
- 3. Shipping north of the Shetland Islands, in the eastern part of the North Sea, and on a strip at least 30 nautical miles wide along the Dutch coast is not threatened with danger.
- Chief of the Naval Staff,
- (Signed) v. POHL.
This declaration was made with the consent of the Government, which sent a memorandum to the Powers affected, in which it was clearly indicated that the declaration referred to the use of U-boats. The idea of declaring a blockade of the whole British coast, or individual ports, had been dropped. In declaring a War Zone we were following the English example. The characteristic of a blockade had always been that it must be rendered effective. But the number of boats at our disposal at that date could not be considered sufficient for such a purpose. The blockade of individual ports would not have fulfilled the object of spreading consternation amongst the whole English shipping community, and would make it easy for the English to take defensive measures if these could be confined to certain known areas.
Unfortunately, when they declared the War Zone, those in authority could not bring themselves to state in so many words that all shipping there was forbidden. Such a prohibition would not have been in accordance with the Chancellor's ideas as expressed at the end of December in the memorandum stating his doubts of the political wisdom of the move. This new declaration represented a compromise. We know from Grand- Admiral von Tirpitz, Secretary of State to the Imperial Admiralty, that he was given no opportunity to influence this decision. This Is all the more incomprehensible, because he had to furnish the necessary material, and therefore should have had the casting vote as to whether the scheme were practicable or no. There seems to be no particularly valid reason why the announcement should have been hurried on in this way, except that perhaps Admiral von Pohl wanted to close the discussions with the Foreign Office by publishing this declaration before he took up his new post as head of the Fleet, to which he had already been appointed. This undue haste proved very awkward for him in his new position when he realised that the U-boats could not act in the way he had planned, on account of the remonstrances of the neutral States. He found himself obliged to protest against the orders issued for these reasons, orders which endangered the vital interests of the U-boats.
The success of this declaration of a War Zone depended upon whether the neutrals heeded our warning and refrained, for fear of the consequences, from passing through the War Zone. If they did not wish to lose the advantages accruing to them from their sea trade with England they had to take the risks.
The memorandum issued by the Government had characterised our action as a retaliatory measure against Great Britain, because the latter conducted the war against German trade in a manner which ignored all principles of International Law. It then proceeded:
"As England has declared the waters between Scotland and Norway to be part of the War Zone, so Germany declares all the waters round Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole English Channel, to be in the War Zone, and she will combat hostile ship- ping in those parts with every weapon at her disposal. For this purpose, from February 18 and onward, she will seek to destroy every hostile merchant ship which enters the War Zone, and it will not always be possible to obviate the danger with which the persons and goods on board will be threatened. Neutrals are therefore warned in future not to risk crews, passengers and goods on such ships. Further, their attention is drawn to the fact that it is highly desirable that their own ships should avoid entering this zone. For although the German Navy has orders to avoid acts of violence against neutral ships, so far as they are recognisable, yet, in view of the misuse of neutral flags ordained by the British Government, and owing to the hazards of warfare, it may not always be possible to prevent them from falling a victim to an attack directed against an enemy ship."
Our U-boats received orders to adhere to the following rules while conducting their campaign against commerce:
"The first consideration is the safety of the U-boat. Consequently, rising to the surface in order to examine a ship must be avoided for the sake of the boat's safety, because, apart from the danger of a possible surprise attack by enemy ships, there is no guarantee that one is not dealing with an enemy ship even if it bears the distinguishing marks of a neutral. The fact that a steamer flies a neutral flag, and even carries the distinguishing marks of a neutral, is no guarantee that it is actually a neutral vessel. Its destruction will therefore be justifiable unless other attendant circumstances indicate its neutrality."
This attitude was all the more justified because the object of the whole enterprise was to make use of the U-boats to compensate us, since, owing to our geographical position, it was impossible for our surface ships to touch English world commerce. A perceptible effect of the campaign against commerce could only be achieved if the peculiarities of the U-boat were taken into consideration, as they were in the instructions issued to them. The U-boat, as a special weapon in the war upon sea-borne trade, was to carry out the blockade in the War Zone. Its strength lay in the difficulty of perceiving an under-water attack, and it had to make use of this in the interests of self-preservation. You do not demand of an aeroplane that it should attack the enemy on its wheels.
The danger which the neutrals ran arose from the difference in their attitude towards the two declarations of a War Zone made by England and by Germany. Never did a single ship, not even an American, defy the British order, and thereby test whether, in an extreme case, England would have carried out her declaration of a War Zone by the exercise of violence. On the contrary, the neutral ships voluntarily followed the routes prescribed by the English Admiralty, and ran into British ports. In our case the neutrals, despite all warnings, tried to break through again and again, so that we were forced to carry out our declaration in such a way that the threatened danger became a reality.
The assumption that the neutrals would accept our attitude without protest was not fulfilled. The United States especially raised very decided objections, accompanied by threats. In view of the attitude they observed towards England they could not contradict the statement that the new conditions of naval warfare formed a reason for new laws; but they made use of the maxim that the dictates of humanity set limits to the creation of new laws. That was equivalent to saying that human life must be spared under any circumstances, a demand which the U-boat is not always able to fulfil, owing to its very nature. This is an extraordinary example of the Anglo-Saxon line of thought. You may let old men, women and children starve, and at the same time you insist that they must not be actually killed, because the English blockade of the North Sea could be carried out in such a manner that the ships only needed to be taken into port and not sunk.
It appears very curious to-day that the possibility of such objections was not foreseen and their consequences carefully examined. Owing to such objections our Government was faced with the following alternatives: Either it must retract its declaration of a War Zone, or, in carrying out activities in the War Zone, should consider the neutrals, and in so doing gravely diminish the chances of success, if not destroy them altogether. Once we had shelved the question of our moral right to carry on the U-boat campaign, because of the American demands made in the name of humanity, it became increasingly difficult to take it up again later in an intensified form, if this should prove necessary; for if there were need of an amelioration of the military situation, which the U-boat campaign could have brought about, then we must expect that the politicians would object on the grounds that the employment of this weapon would only make the general situation worse.
That is the key to the continued opposition of the Imperial Chancellor to the initiation of a mode of warfare which could have dealt an effective blow at England. He had made it impossible from the very start. For in their answer to the American protest our Government said that they had announced the impending destruction only of enemy merchant vessels found in the War Zone, but not the destruction of all merchant shipping, as the American Government appeared erroneously to believe; and they declared that they were furthermore ready to give serious consideration to any measure which seemed likely to ensure the safety of legitimate neutral shipping in the War Zone.
This recognition of legitimate shipping was in direct contradiction to the intentions of the Naval Staff. It is not clear why the declaration of the U-boat campaign should have been made so hastily, if the political leaders had not the will to carry it through. But there had to be a clear understanding on this point, if we intended to institute a U-boat campaign at all. One almost is tempted to think that this was a feeler to see if the neutrals would tamely submit to our action. But the consequences which a refusal must entail were far too serious. The form of the announcement of February 4 made it possible for our diplomats to maintain their declaration, and at the same time, in the conduct of the campaign, to grant the neutrals the immunity which they demanded. This restriction was forced upon the U-boats, and thus the U-boat campaign was in fact ruined.
The Note could not have been worded with greater diplomatic skill if we had wished not to carry out the will of our leaders responsible for the conduct of the war, but rather to protect the interests of our enemies, which in this case were identical with those of the neutrals.
Before the date fixed for the opening of hostilities had arrived, two telegrams were received by the Fleet on February 14 and 15. They ran as follows:
- "For urgent political reasons send orders by wireless to U-boats already dispatched for the present not to attack ships flying a neutral flag, unless recognised with certainty to be enemies."
- "As indicated in the announcement on February 2, H.M. the Emperor has commanded that the U-boat campaign against neutrals to destroy commerce, as indicated in the announcement of February 4, is not to be begun on February 18, but only when orders to do so are received from the 'All Highest.'"
Thereupon the head of the Fleet telegraphed to the Naval Staff:
"'U 30' already in the neighbourhood of the Irish Sea. The order only to destroy ships recognised with certainty as hostile will hardly reach her. This order makes success impossible, as the U-boats cannot determine the nationality of ships without exposing themselves to great danger. The reputation of the Navy will, in my opinion, suffer tremendously if this undertaking, publicly announced and most hopefully regarded by the people, achieves no results. Please submit my views to H.M."
This telegram reflects the impression made upon Admiral von Pohl, as head of the Fleet, by the receipt of the two orders, which so utterly contradicted the hopes he had placed on his declaration of a War Zone. And it also proved how unwilling the Admiral himself was to demand such action from the U-boats. But the doubts which had arisen among our political leaders as to the wisdom of risking America's threatened displeasure continued to hold sway. I do not intend to question that their estimate of the general situation, combined with our capacity to carry on energetic U-boat warfare, justified their doubts; but then it was a grievous mistake to allow such a situation to arise, for it blocked the way for an unrestricted U-boat campaign in the future.
On February 18 instructions in conformity with the new conditions were issued to the U-boats with regard to their course of action. They ran as follows:
"1. The U-boat campaign against commerce is to be prosecuted with all possible vigour.
"2. Hostile merchant ships are to be destroyed.
"3. Neutral ships are to be spared. A neutral flag or funnel marks of neutral steamship lines are not to be regarded, however, as sufficient guarantee in themselves of neutral nationality. Nor does the possession of further distinguishing neutral marks furnish absolute certainty. The commander must take into account all accompanying circumstances that may enable him to recognise the nationality of the ship, e.g. structure, place of registration, course, general behaviour.
"4. Merchant ships with a neutral flag travelling with a convoy are thereby proved to be neutral.
"5. Hospital ships are to be spared. They may only be attacked when they are obviously used for the transport of troops from England to France.
"6. Ships belonging to the Belgian Relief Commission are likewise to be spared.
"7. If in spite of the exercise of great care mistakes should be made, the commander will not be made responsible."
On February 22 the U-boats were to begin their activities on these lines. In these instructions the Naval Staff had been obliged to conform to the declaration which the Imperial Government had made to America, explaining its conception of the conduct of the campaign against trade in the War Zone, although they had had no opportunity of expressing their doubts of the possibility of carrying out these instructions in practice.
The activities of the U-boats were made much more difficult because, for the time being, all goods conveyed to the enemy in neutral bottoms reached him without obstruction, and their successes were thereby reduced to a third of what they would otherwise have been; for that was the extent to which neutral shipping was engaged in the commercial traffic with England. Further, neutrals could not be scared out of trading with England, because they knew by the declaration made to America that activities in the War Zone would be attended with less danger than had been threatened. Our intention of pursuing a milder form of activity was confirmed to Holland when, after the sinking of the steamer Katwyk, popular opinion in Holland grew very excited, and our Foreign Office assured the Dutch Government in the following Note that an attack on a Dutch merchant vessel was utterly foreign to our desires:
"If the torpedoing of the Katwyk was actually the work of a German U-boat the German Government will not hesitate to assure the Dutch Government of its profound regret and to pay full compensation for the damage."
Besides the neutral ships, many enemy ships by disguising them- selves with neutral distinguishing marks could get through with their cargoes in safety if the U-boat was not able to set its doubts on the subject at rest. This became very noticeable when the arming of steamers, which had meanwhile been carried out, had been added to the misuse of flags, and the U-boats were exposed to great danger in determining the nationality of ships.
All these circumstances contributed to lessen the results. Our enemies acted in an increasingly unscrupulous manner, especially when bonuses were offered for merchant vessels which should sink U-boats. A particularly crude case was that of the British auxiliary cruiser, the Bar along, whose crew shot down the whole crew of "U 27" (Commander, Lieutenant-Commander Neigener) when they were swimming defenceless in the water and some of whom had taken refuge on board an American steamer.
Regardless of all added difficulties, our U-boat crews devoted themselves to their task. Trying to achieve the greatest possible results, they nevertheless avoided incidents which might be followed by complaints, until on May 7 the sinking of the Lusitania, the English liner of 31,000 tons, aroused tremendous excitement.
The danger which England ran, thanks to our U-boats, was shown in a lurid light; the English Press expressed consternation and indignation. It was particularly striking how the English Press persisted in representing the loss of the Lusitania not so much as a British, but as an American misfortune. One must read the article in The Times which appeared immediately after the sinking of the Lusitania (8/5/1915) to realise the degree of hypocrisy of which the English are capable when their commercial interests are at stake. Not a word of sympathy or sorrow for the loss of human life, but only the undisguised desire (with a certain satisfaction) to make capital out of the incident in order to rouse the Americans and make them take sides against Germany.
They were not to be disappointed in their expectations. In an exchange of Notes, which lasted until well into July, the Americans demanded the abandonment of the U-boat campaign because the manner in which we used this weapon to destroy trade was in practice irreconcilable with America's demand that her citizens should have the right in the pursuit of their lawful business to travel by sea to any spot without risk to their lives in so doing. We expressed our willingness to abandon this use ol the U-boat if America could succeed in inducing, England to observe International Law. But this suggestion met with no success. The U-boat campaign was, however, further hampered by an order not to sink any big passenger steamers, not even those of the enemy.
On August 19, 1915, a further incident occurred when the steamer Arabic was sunk by "U 24"; although the boat acted in justifiable self-defence against a threatened attack by the steamer, yet the prohibition with regard to passenger boats was made more stringent, for the order was given that not only large liners, but all passenger steamers must be warned and the passengers rescued before the ship was sunk. On this occasion, too, when the answer to the objections raised by America were discussed, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Bachmann, was not allowed to express his views. Consequently he tendered his resignation to His Majesty, which was duly accepted. Admiral von Holtzendorff was appointed in his place.
In consideration of the small chances of success, the U-boat campaign off the west coast of the British Isles was abandoned. The Chief of the Fleet, Admiral von Pohl, also asked to be released from his office if this last order concerning the passenger ships were insisted on, because he could not take the responsibility of issuing such instructions, which could only be carried out at great risk to the U-boats, in view of the fact that so many losses had occurred since the first limiting order had been published; further, he held it to be impossible to give up the U-boat campaign, which was the only effective weapon against England that the Navy possessed. His objections to the limitation of the U-boat campaign were dismissed by the remark that he lacked full knowledge of the political situation.
Though the U-boat campaign west of England was given up, it was not stopped entirely, for subsequent to March, 1915, a U-boat base had been established at Zeebrugge, and another in the Mediterranean. "U 21" had been sent under Hersing's command in April, 1915, to assist our warships which were engaged in the defence of the Dardanelles, and this had given proof of the great capacity of our U-boats. Consequently the newest boats, "U 33" and "U 34," were sent to Pola, the Austrian Naval Base, in order to carry on the U-boat campaign in the Mediterranean. The secession of Italy (May 27, 1915) to our enemies gave our boats there a new field of activity, because practically all steamer traffic in these waters was carried on under enemy flags, and complications with neutrals were hardly to be feared.
Thus the U-boat campaign dragged on, though with but moderate success, to the end of the year. Yet it managed to deal wounds to English sea trade which exceeded in gravity anything that the island State had ever thought possible. The total sinkings from February to August amounted to 120,000 tons. Further results were:
September, 136,000 tons.
October, 108,000 tons.
November, 158,000 tons.
December, 121,000 tons.
(These figures indicate gross tonnage)
Before the U-boat campaign oversea traffic to and from England had hardly been seriously reduced. Although the cruiser campaign carried on by the Emden, the Karlsruhe and 1 the Kronprinz Friedrich Wilhelm and the Prinz Eitel-Friedrich had had a disturbing, effect, yet no decisive results could be achieved owing to the lack of oversea bases. The rise in freights was still moderate, and on the whole the Englishman hardly suffered at all. There was no question of want anywhere, and the rise in prices was slight. The U-boat campaign, however, changed British economic conditions fundamentally. Freights rose considerably. In May, 1915, they were double what they had been in January; in January, 1916, they had risen on an average to ten times the amount they had been before the war (January, 1914). Wholesale prices, of course, followed this movement, and though imports had not decreased so much that there was any talk of want, yet the U-boat campaign had led to a scarcity, because the demand, so much increased by the needs of the army, was greater than the supply.
Towards the end of the year the lack of tonnage began to be felt acutely, and it became clear that this lack was the chief difficulty that England had to face as a result of U-boat warfare. In January, 1916, the new Chief of the Naval Staff handed in a memorandum in which he subjected British economic conditions to a thorough examination, and drew the following conclusions from his investigations:
- The U-boat campaign of last year, gradually increasing its weapons but hampered by growing restrictions of a non-military nature, dealt a blow to a new economic entity hitherto little affected by the war and capable of strong resistance. By means of a scarcity which was mostly felt in a considerable rise in the price of important foodstuffs as well as of manufactured goods and raw materials, it reduced England's commerce to such an extent that serious economic and financial injury is apparent in all directions. This injury has aroused a feeling of considerable anxiety in England, where it was felt that a vulnerable spot was threatened; moreover, it was calculated gradually to make England inclined for peace. The effect wore off as soon as England was certain that for reasons due to considerations of a non-military nature the U-boat campaign would not be continued.
- The economic changes set up by the U-boat campaign have persisted, though for the most part in a milder form. Towards the end of 1915 lack of transport reduced British sea-traffic to such an extent that the difficulties due to the interruption in British foreign trade were rendered more acute by the steady rise in the price of imports. Market prices followed suit. The financial situation, too, became disquieting owing to the drain on the country caused by the military and political situation.
- A new U-boat campaign would be undertaken under much more favourable circumstances than that of February, 1915, because the amount of tonnage still available for British imports and exports cannot stand much further diminution, as in that case the transport of essential goods will suffer, and because England has been robbed of the better part of her power of resistance by shortage, rise in prices and financial overstrain. Moreover, a new U-boat campaign has such weapons at its disposal that it is in a position to achieve considerably more from a military point of view than last year's campaign, for though the enemy has increased his defensive power the U-boats are equipped with a number of new technical improvements.
- If on this basis the U-boat campaign has to be carried on with the same restrictions of a non-military nature as last year no doubt England's economic, and consequently also her financial, position will be further damaged. But it cannot be assumed with ariy certainty that in this way England will be forced to make peace, partly because of the many difficulties of carrying out a U-boat campaign with such a limitation of its specific activities, and the consequent greatly increased possibilities of defence, but especially because, judging by last year's experience, the effect of terrorising shipping is to all intents and purposes lost.
- But if a new unlimited U-boat campaign is inaugurated on the principle that all shipping in the War Zone may be destroyed, then there is a definite prospect that within a short time, at most six months, England will be forced to make peace, for the shortage of transport and the consequent reduction of exports and imports will become intolerable, since prices will rise still more, and in addition to this England's financial position will be seriously threatened. Any other end to the war would mean grave danger for Germany's future economic life when we consider the war on German trade that England has planned and from which she could be deterred only bj such a defeat as the U-boats could inflict.
- The United States are not in a position to lend England effective aid against a new U-boat campaign by providing her with tonnage. In view of the ever-increasing burdens imposed by the war, it is not to be supposed that the United States will afford England financial support for an indefinite period. Such support would, moreover, be of no avail in an unrestricted U-boat campaign against English trade, as it could not prevent a scarcity of essential goods or make it possible for the English to carry on their export trade.
The proposal made by the Chief of the Naval Staff in January, 1916, to start an unrestricted U-boat campaign was based on the following estimates of success:
- (a). From the beginning of the U-boat war in 1915 till the end of October of that year in the War Zone round England one or two steamers, averaging 4,085 tons, were sunk daily by each U-boat; this does not include steamers of less than 1,000 tons. It could, therefore, be assumed that in the future each U-boat would sink ships amounting to at least 4,000 tons daily. If it is reckoned that in a month only four stations are continuously occupied - a very low estimate in view of the increase in the number of U-boats during 1915 - then you get a total of 16,000 tons a day, or 480,000 tons a month, in the War Zone round England.
- (b). In the Mediterranean in the second half of the year 1915 an average of 125,000 tons of shipping was sunk every month. Assuming that traffic did not materially fall off, as a result of the U-boat campaign, and that in the course of the summer of 1916 the number of stations in the Mediterranean would be further increased, the same result might be counted on; that is, 125,000 tons per month.
- (c). The amount of tonnage destroyed by mines had averaged 26,640 tons a month. The same number could be assumed for the future. This would bring the total result per month up to 631,640 tons, which would mean a complete loss of 3,789,840 tons in six months. But the effect of this loss upon English trade and economic conditions must be measured by a multiple of this figure, because every lost ship would affect imports and exports, and would, moreover, have made several journeys in six months. The total tonnage of the English Mercantile Fleet at the outbreak of war amounted to 20 million tons in round numbers. Judging by the rise in prices which became manifest a few weeks after the opening of the U-boat campaign, an idea can be formed of what the effect would be if more than a third of England's total tonnage were completely lost, when it is considered that England is dependent on it to supply her manifold wants and keep up her widely extended business connections. There could then be no question of "business as usual."
But the Imperial Government rejected the admiral's suggestion. So the Chief of the Naval Staff resolved to content himself with a kind of payment on account, which consisted in treating all armed enemy merchantmen as warships. But he did not give up all hope of soon being able to take up the U-boat campaign in its intensest form.
When in January, 1916, I took over the command of the Fleet I considered it my first task to ascertain what weapons against England lay at my disposal, and especially to make sure whether, and in what way, the U-boat campaign against English trade was intended to be carried out. On February 1 the Chief of the Naval Staff assured me that the unrestricted U-boat campaign would be inaugurated on March 1. All preparatory work for the operations of the Fleet were based on this assumption. As early as February n the officers in command of the Fleet received the order as to the treatment of armed merchant vessels. According to this order enemy merchantmen armed with guns were to be looked upon as warships, and to be destroyed by all possible means. The commanders were to keep in mind that mistakes would lead to a break with neutral Powers, and therefore the sinking of a merchant vessel on account of its being armed might only be proceeded with when the fact that it carried a gun had been positively ascertained. In view of the warning to neutrals, which was to be conveyed through diplomatic channels, this order was not to come into force until February 29.
The Government again issued a memorandum about the treatment of armed merchantmen. In this they explained at length that in view of the instructions issued by the British Government, and of the consequent conduct of English merchantmen, enemy merchant ships that were armed no longer had the right to be regarded as peaceful trading vessels. The German Government notified neutral Powers of this state of affairs, so that they might warn their people in future not to entrust their persons or their fortunes to armed merchantmen belonging to any of the Powers at war with the German Empire. After this explanation no neutral State could demand that its citizens should be entitled to protection if they travelled on armed enemy steamers into the War Zone.
We expected that in these circumstances there would be fewer difficulties in carrying out the U-boat campaign, while paying due consideration to neutral shipping. But if, as the Chief of the Naval Staff had told me, it had been decided to open the unrestricted U-boat campaign on March 1, it was not clear why this declaration relative to the treatment of armed steamers should have preceded it. My suspicion that the date of March 1 would not be adhered to was confirmed on the occasion of H.M. the Emperor's visit on February 23, of which I have given an account in an earlier chapter. The Emperor shared the political doubts which the Government had advanced, and wished to avoid a break with America. This announcement of the Government had received the assent of the Naval Staff, which was responsible for the war at sea, and so of course those in command of the Fleet had to submit to the order to resume the campaign against English trade with a few U-boats.
We would try this first and await the result. Judging by the assurance given me, I took it for granted that the Government had learnt a lesson from the events of 1915, and that it would not again give way if objections were raised, but would on the contrary then proceed with the intensified form of U-boat warfare. We had far greater means at our disposal now to give emphasis to our threats.
I should like to point out here that those in command of the Fleet had no right to exercise a decisive influence on the conduct of the war, but the Chief of the Fleet, being responsible for the execution of orders, could make representations if he found the conditions imposed on him too disadvantageous. Added to this, the Fleet had only some - about half - of the U-boats at its disposal; the rest were in part attached to the Naval Corps, and in part under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic; those in the Mediterranean took their orders direct from the Naval Staff. But the problem of the U-boat campaign was so closely connected with the combating of the English Fleet - our own Fleet's main task - that it became a matter of the greatest importance in its effect on the decisions of the Navy. I therefore thought it my duty to point out the difficulties which would arise in our conduct of the war in every sphere, if the U-boat campaign were prosecuted on principles that were militarily unsound; all the more so as I was accountable to the U-boats under my orders, if they were assigned to tasks which would in the long run entail their destruction without their having achieved the success which they promised to do if rightly wielded as a weapon.
From this point of view I endeavoured to combat the tendency to give way, which the Chief of the Naval Staff betrayed when dealing with political objections, although in a long and well-thought-out memorandum he, as the proper representative of the naval fighting forces, had shown that unrestricted U-boat warfare was the best and safest means we possessed to subdue England and generally to bring the war to a successful close.
On March 4 the decisive session at General Headquarters took place, and the Chief of the Naval Staff informed me of the result as follows:
"For military reasons, the unrestricted U-boat campaign against England, which alone promises full success, must begin without fail on April 1. Till then the Imperial Chancellor must set in motion all political and diplomatic machinery to make America clearly understand our position, with the aim and object of securing our freedom of action. Up to that date the U-boat campaign shall be carried on against England as effectively" as possible in conformity with the orders issued on March 1."
The following considerations were the means of bringing about this decision at the discussion on March 4:
"The general military situation is good. East and west we hold the territory that we have victoriously won. No serious danger is to be apprehended from America so long as our U-boats and Fleet remain afloat. Austria is effectively repulsing Italy's attempts at attack; Bulgaria has a firm hold on Serbian territory; the Salonika campaign is doomed to come to a standstill; the Russian offensive against Turkey has come to a stand on the Erzerum - Trebizond line; the English expedition in Mesopotamia has ended in a heavy defeat; Egypt is threatened from the direction of Syria and by the Senussi, which means that a considerable British army of defence must be kept there. Latterly, too, military forces have had to be sent to Ireland. No essential change in the favourable general military situation is to be expected, nor on the other hand is there any prospect of a decisive victory of all our forces.
"From the economic point of view the fact that we are cut off from all imports from overseas and neutral countries becomes increasingly apparent; even a good harvest cannot bring security for the future, as long as England's policy of violence, whose object is to starve us out, is not stopped. Thus the economic conditions are very different from the military. Our opponents can hold out longer than we can. We must, therefore, aim at bringing the war to an end. We shall not be mistaken in assuming that an injury inflicted on England, which induces her to regard the conclusion of peace as better business, can force the others to peace as well. England can only be injured by war on her trade. The only means to inflict this injury is a ruthless U-boat campaign, the effects of which England will not be able to withstand for more than six or eight months if she. cannot get assistance from others than her present Allies. Ruthless U-boat warfare will not only inflict damage on England; neutral shipping will also feel the full brunt of it, and cargoes and lives will be imperilled. The small neutral States must give in and are willing to do so: that is, to stop trade with England. America opposes this manner of waging the U-boat campaign, and threatens us with war. From a military point of view, and especially from the standpoint of the Fleet, we might well risk this war. But economically it would fatally aggravate our situation. Such a rich and distant country could stand the war for ten years or more. But it would afford our flagging opponents very considerable moral and material support which would enable them, including England, to hold out for a longer period. Our aim, which is to bring the war to an end within a short time, would be farther than ever from realisation, and Germany would be exposed to exhaustion.
"As the present military situation is not such as to force us to stake everything on one throw of the dice, our superiority in the field must be maintained, and at the same time our diplomatists must do all in their power, first to prevent us from making new, dangerous enemies, and then to find ways and means of sowing discord among our present enemies and thereby open a prospect for a separate peace. If we succeed in keeping friends with America, and at the same time, by concessions in our manner of conducting the U-boat campaign, can induce her to exert strong and effective pressure on England, so that the legitimate trade of neutrals with the belligerents is re-established then we shall obtain the economic aid which will enable us to maintain our favourable military situation permanently, and so to win the war. A break with America certainly affords us the tactical advantage of ruthless U-boat warfare against England, but only under conditions that will prolong the war, and will certainly bring neither relief nor amelioration to the economic situation. Should the attempt to keep America out of the war fail, it will still be our lot to face these conditions. We cannot take the responsibility of neglecting to make this attempt, for the sake of a few hundred thousand tons of enemy shipping that we might sink during the time the attempt is being made."
These attempts met with no success whatever; certainly not within the period set aside up to April i. Neither was the assumption fulfilled that we might exert pressure upon England through the agency of America, so as to re-establish legitimate trade with neutrals, and thereby obtain the economic aid which would enable us to maintain our favourable military situation permanently. As soon as this was recognised we were confronted with the necessity of drawing the inevitable conclusions, and of beginning the economic war against England in its intensest form. Otherwise the dreaded state of affairs spoken of at the session of March 4 would become a reality, and our opponents Would be able to hold out longer than we could if no change occurred in the economic situation. The dullest must have been forced into some recognition of this, when on April 20, in connection with the Sussex incident, America presented her threatening Note.
The date of April i had passed, and still the unrestricted U-boat campaign had not been started. But the leaders of the Fleet had no special reason for urging an early start, as the U-boats then at sea had not gathered sufficient experience on the basis of which we might make counter proposals.
On March 24, 1916, the steamer Sussex, with 300 passengers on board, among them being a number of American citizens, was torpedoed in the Channel while crossing from Folkestone to Dieppe. So far as German observation went, it was not made clear at first whether the steamer had been hit by a U-boat, or had struck a mine. Certainly a ship had been torpedoed on that day and in that neighbourhood, but the German commander, judging by the circumstances and the appearance of the ship, took it for a mine-layer of the new "Arabis" class. The American Government took occasion, in consequence of this incident, to send a very sharp Note to the German Government, protesting against the wrongfulness of the submarine campaign against commerce. It threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Germany if the German Government did not declare the abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and merchant vessels, and see that it was carried out.
As a result of this Note, presented on April 20, 1916, our Government decided to give in and sent orders to the Naval Staff to the effect that submarine warfare was henceforward to be carried on in accordance with Prize Law. This order reached the Fleet by wireless telegraphy when it was on the way to bombard Lowestoft. As war waged according to Prize Law by U-boats in the waters around England could not possibly have any success, but, on the contrary, must expose the boats to the greatest dangers, I recalled all the U-boats by wireless, and announced that the U-boat campaign against British commerce had ceased.
On April 30 I was informed by the Naval Staff that His Majesty approved of the interruption of the U-boat campaign against commerce ordered by the Commander of the Fleet, and he directed that the U-boat weapon should meanwhile be vigorously used for military purposes. The order to resume the U-boat campaign against trade would be given when the political and military situation should demand it.
Having U-boats at my disposal for military purposes gave me the desired opportunity of extending the operations of the Fleet, and it was owing to this circumstance that the Fleet had occasion on May 31 to meet the English Fleet in battle near the Skagerrak. To my idea the moral impression which this battle left on the neutral nations created a most favourable atmosphere for us to carry on the war against England by all possible means, and to resume the U-boat campaign in all its intensity. I took the opportunity of submitting this view to H.M. the Emperor, when he visited the Fleet at Wilhelmshaven on June 5.
In May the Naval Staff had again begun to try to persuade the leaders of the Fleet to change their mind and resume the U-boat campaign in accordance with Prize Law, so as to be able to inflict at least some injury on England. But as even the regulations as to the treatment of armed steamers had been rescinded, I refused to contemplate a resumption.
In June, soon after the battle, the Naval Staff again returned to this subject, and on June 20 invited me to state my point of view in order to incorporate it in a memorandum to be presented to the Emperor. I replied that in view of the situation I was in favour of the unrestricted U-5oat campaign against commerce, in the form of a blockade of the British coast, that I objected to any milder form, and I suggested that, if owing to the political situation we could not make use of this, our sharpest weapon, there was nothing for it but to use the U-boats for military purposes. A few days later the Chief of the Naval Cabinet thought to persuade me to change my attitude. He wrote me the following letter on the subject, dated June 23, from General Headquarters:
"The Chief of the Naval Staff has given me your letter to read on this subject; its conclusions may be summed up in the words, 'Either everything or nothing.' I can fully sympathise with you in your point of view, but unfortunately the matter is not so simple. We were forced, though with rage in our hearts, to make concessions to America, and in so doing to the neutrals in general, but, on the other hand, we cannot wholly renounce the small interruptions of trade that it is still possible for us to carry out, which are proving of considerable value, too, in the Mediterranean. It is the thankless task of the Chief of the Naval Staff to try and find some way of making this possible in British waters as well. And it is my opinion that the Chief of the Fleet should assist him in this as far as in him lies, by bringing about a compromise between the harsh professional conception of the U-boat weapon and the general, political and military demands which the Chief of the Naval Staff has to satisfy. Of course, to that end it is necessary that the Chief of the Fleet should unreservedly acknowledge the decisions of the All Highest with regard to the limitation of the U-boat campaign, as the result of the most serious deliberation upon the military, political and economic situation. This is, of course, merely what is to be expected of him as a soldier. And further, that he should pledge himself to make use of the U-boat as a weapon, despite the limitations imposed, in order in the first place to injure, or at least continually to threaten, the import trade of England. I do not take it upon myself to offer any suggestions on the way in which such use can be made of the U-boats, especially as I know it is a far more difficult matter near the English coast than it is in the Mediterranean.
"What I ask of you is merely this: that you should personally try to arrive at some understanding with the Chief of the Naval Staff which will lead to some positive result, and by so doing put an end to a situation in which His Majesty might be forced to issue commands instead of merely approving; as, for instance, if he should order so many more U-boats to be given up for use in the Mediterranean, as offering a more fruitful field for the U-boat campaign against commerce.
"In conclusion, I should like to remark that for my part I still believe in the possibility of a ruthless U-boat campaign. The conflict between America and Mexico, the growing bitterness of the neutrals on account of England's blockade, increasingly good prospects for the harvest, and last but not least our successes on both fronts - all these are matters which tell in favour of such use of our U-boats, without involving us in an uncertain political adventure.
"(Signed) v. Muller."
I replied that nothing more could be expected of me than that I should express my honest conviction, especially as it was in connection with new and far-reaching decisions to be taken by the Emperor that my opinion on the subject was asked.
On his visit on June 30 the Imperial Chancellor gave me the impression that he had not the slightest intention of employing against England all the weapons at our disposal, but also that he would not give his consent to an unrestricted U-boat campaign, so as not to be faced with fresh troublesome incidents. The course of events hitherto had shown that America interfered on England's behalf as soon as the U-boat campaign began to have perceptible results. For ever so long America had systematically prevented us from using our most effective weapon. Our attitude gave our people the false impression that, despite America's objections, we were still going to use our U-boat weapon with all our might. The people did not know that we, pledged to the nation by our big talking, were only pretending to carry on the U-boat campaign, and America laughed because she knew that it lay with her to determine how far we might go. She would not let us win the war by it. So we did not wield our U-boat weapon as a sword which was certain to bring us victory, but, as my Chief of the Staff, Rear-Admiral von Trotha, put it, we used it as a soporific for the feelings of the nation, and presented the blunt edge to the enemy. Gerard was right; he never wanted a war between America and Germany - but he wanted our defeat. That suited his book ever so much better.
If we review the course of development of our policy from January, 1916, we find that it had zigzagged in the following manner:
- On January 13, 1916, the Naval Staff declares: If the U-boat campaign is to achieve the necessary success it must be carried on ruthlessly.
- On March 7, 1916: Decision of His Majesty's, passed on by the Naval Staff: For military reasons the inauguration of the unrestricted U-boat campaign against England, which alone promises full success, is indispensable from April 1 onward.
- On April 25, 1916: We are to carry on the war against trade absolutely according to Prize Law, consequently we are to rise to the surface and stop ships, examine papers, and all passengers and crew to leave the ship before sinking her.
- On June 30, 1916: The Imperial Chancellor informs the Commander of the Fleet that he personally is against any unrestricted form of U-boat campaign," which would place the fate of the German Empire in the hands of a U-boat commander."
- At the same time a proposal from the Chief of the Naval Staff: The war against merchant ships to be carried on in the following manner: They are to be approached under water to see whether they are armed; if they are not armed, the boat is to rise to the surface at a safe distance, examine papers, and sink the ship when the crew is in safety.
All these impressions induced me, when I wrote my report of the Battle of the Skagerrak for the Emperor, to conclude by again pointing out most emphatically the necessity of taking up the unrestricted U-boat campaign at once, unless we wanted to give up all hope of defeating England. Now Admiral von Muller's letter seemed to imply that the Emperor disapproved of my urging this, whereas I was able to ascertain later that His Majesty, far from appending any disparaging remark to the conclusion of my report, had actually appended a note of approval to it, and had acquiesced in my report as a whole.
We should have begun the U-boat campaign in January, 1916, as the Chief of the Naval Staff proposed, or at latest immediately after tihe Battle of the Skagerrak, when, to my idea, the circumstances were particularly favourable. That we failed to do so fatally affected the outcome of the war. Thanks to the number constructed in 1915, we had a sufficiency of U-boats. We lost valuable time that year, when our nation's power of resistance was much greater than in 1917, when we were almost at our last gasp, and we were forced, after all, to seize the weapon which promised to prove our salvation. And in the course of this year England was able systematically to develop her defence.
The remainder of 1916 was taken up with similar discussions between the Naval Staff, Fleet and Government. The Chief of the Naval Staff endeavoured to persuade the Ministry to sanction the unrestricted U-boat campaign, and, on the other hand, urged the Fleet to agree to the boats resuming the war against commerce in a milder form. I was convinced that, if the leaders of the Fleet had given way in this matter, the worst would have happened - just what we most had to try and avoid, viz. that we should really have carried on a sort of pretence campaign to act as a soporific to the feelings of the people, and we should have presented the blunt edge of our weapon to the enemy.
At the beginning of the year 1916 the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, von Falkenhayn, had also strongly advocated our embarking on an unrestricted U-boat campaign, because he had realised that our only hope of future salvation lay in overcoming English resistance. In the autumn of 1916 Field-Marshal von Hindenburg took over the Supreme Command of the Army, to save the serious situation which had arisen in the war on land. At that time there was under discussion a new demand on the part of the Chief of the Naval Staff to resume the U-boat campaign with full intensity. At the meeting of September 3 at General Headquarters in Pless, at which the matter was considered, the following were present: the Imperial Chancellor, the Field-Marshal, General Ludendorff, Admiral von Holtzendorff, Admiral von Capelle, as Secretary of State of the Imperial Ministry of Marine, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, von Jagow, the Secretary of State, Helfferich, and the War Minister, Wild von Hohenborn. The outcome of the proceedings was that, after consulting all who were concerned in the question of the U-boat campaign, they unanimously declared that the decision must for the time being be postponed, because the general situation, and especially the military situation, was by no means clear, and they resolved that the final decision should lie with General Field-Marshal Hindenburg.
I took occasion after that to send the Chief of the Staff of the High Sea Fleet to General Headquarters, to consult with General Ludendorff, and they agreed upon the following:
- There is no possibility of bringing the war to a satisfactory end without ruthless U-boat warfare.
- On no account must a half-and-half campaign be started, which could not achieve anything of importance, but involved the same military dangers, and would probably result in a new limita- tion for the nation.
- The U-boat campaign should be begun as soon as possible. The Navy is ready.
- The separate treaties with the Northern States, who had re- ceived considerable concessions in the matter of exports to England, must be cancelled with all speed, so that we can act without interference.
- In no circumstances must there be any yielding.
The Chief of the Staff returned from this conference under the impression that the question of the U-boat campaign could not be in better hands than in those of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army. I was able to confirm this view later, when on November 22 I had occasion myself to discuss the question at General Headquarters with the Field-Marshal and with General Ludendorff.
The military situation in the autumn had led to a postponement of U-boat activity, so as to avoid complications in the War Zone round England; the only injury to commerce at the moment was that inflicted on ships in the Mediterranean. That is why the U-boat campaign was extended to Northern waters - to sink supplies which were sent via Archangel to the Russian seat of war.
The refusal of our peace proposals in December brought about a new situation in the U-boat war. Our enemies had given us clearly to understand that they would accept no peace of understanding. This led to the decision to open the unrestricted U-boat campaign on February i, 1917. The Chief of the Naval Staff, with the approval of the General Field-Marshal, succeeded in bringing about this decision, in which the Imperial Chancellor acquiesced. So on that date the most effective period of our war against England actually began. On December 22, 1916, the Chief of the Naval Staff had again, in a detailed memorandum, given explicit reasons for adopting this form of campaign. He summed up his arguments as follows:
"1. A decision must be reached in the war before the autumn of 1917, if it is not to end in the exhaustion of all parties, and consequently disastrously for us. Of our enemies, Italy and France are economically so hard hit that they are only upheld by England's energy and activity. If we can break England's back the war will at once be decided in our favour. Now England's mainstay is her shipping, which brings to the British Isles the necessary supplies of food and materials for war industries, and ensures their solvency abroad.
"2. The present state of the tonnage question, which has already been described in detail, may be summed up as follows: Freights in the case of a large number of important articles have risen tremendously, some of them to ten times and more what they were before. From many other indications we can conclude with certainty that everywhere there is a shortage of tonnage. We may with safety assume that English shipping still amounts at the moment to 20 million tons, gross tonnage. Of this at least 3.6 million tons are requisitioned for military purposes, and half a million tons are occupied in coast traffic; about 1 million tons are under repair or temporarily unfit for use; about 2 million tons are taken up in supplying the needs of England's Allies; so that for her own supplies at most 8 million tons are available. Computations based on statistics of traffic in English ports gives an even smaller result. According to that, from July to September, 1916, English shipping amounting to only 6 3/4 million tons, gross tonnage, was engaged in traffic to England. Other shipping going to England may be estimated at 900,000 tons of enemy - 'non-English' - ships, and a good 3 million tons of neutrals. Taking it all round, the shipping which supplies England amounts to only 10 3/4 million tons, gross registered tonnage, in round figures.
"3. The results achieved hitherto in the war on shipping justify us in assuming that further activities in this direction promise success. But in addition to this, the bad harvests in wheat and produce all over the world offer us a quite unique opportunity of which it would be sinful not to take advantage. North America and Canada will, in all probability, be able to send no more grain to England after February, so the latter will have to draw her grain supplies from the distant Argentine; and as the Argentine can spare very little, owing to a bad harvest, it will have to come all the way from India, and to an even greater extent from Australia. The fact that the grain has to come from such a much greater distance involves the use of 720,000 more tons of shipping for grain carrying purposes. It practically comes to this, that until August, 1917, of the 10 3/4 million tons at their disposal 3/4 million are required for a purpose for which they were never needed before.
"4. Such favourable conditions promise certain success to an energetic blow, dealt with our full force against English shipping. I can only repeat and emphasise what I said on August 27: 'Clearly what we must do is to bring about a decision in our favour by continuing to destroy shipping,' and, further, 'It is absolutely unjustifiable from the military point of view not to make use of the weapon of the U-boat.' I do not hesitate to assert that, as matters now stand, we can force England to make peace in five months by means of the unrestricted U-boat campaign. But this holds good only for a really unrestricted U-boat campaign, not for the cruiser warfare formerly carried on by the U-boats, even if all armed steamers are allowed to be torpedoed.
"5. Basing our calculations on the former monthly results of 600,000 tons of shipping sunk by unrestricted U-boat warfare, and the expectation that at least two-fifths of neutral sea traffic will at once be terrorised into ceasing their journeys to England, we may reckon that in five months shipping to and from England will be reduced by about 39 per cent. England would not be able to stand that, neither in view of post-war conditions, nor with regard to the possibility of carrying on the war. She is already confronted with a shortage of food which forces her into attempting the same rationing measures that we, as a blockaded country, have had to adopt in the course of the war. The existing conditions with which such an organisation will have to reckon are very different and incomparably less favourable in England than here. The necessary authorities do not exist, and the people in England have not been educated to submit to such coercion.
"For another reason it would not now be possible to institute a uniform reduced bread ration for the large population of England. It was possible in Germany at a moment when the sudden reduction in the bread ration was counterbalanced for the time being by supplies of other food. They have missed that opportunity in England, and nothing can recall it. But with about three-fifths of her former shipping she cannot continue her food supply without a steady and vigorous reduction in the consumption of wheat, while at the same time she has to keep up her war industries. In the accompanying memorandum I have refuted in detail the objection that England might have enough grain and! raw materials in the country to be able to carry on through this period of danger until the next harvest. Added to this, the unlimited U-boat campaign would mean an immediate shortage of fats, since she would be cut off from imports from Holland and Denmark; and one-third of her total imports of butter come from the latter country, while all the margarine comes from the former. Further, it will mean that the lack of wood and iron ore will be intensified, because the import of wood from Scandinavia will be threatened, while at the same time the imports of iron from Spain will be jeopardised. That will mean an immediate reduction in coal production, because the necessary wood will not be forthcoming; the same is true of iron and steel, and consequently of munitions, which are dependent on both. Finally, it will at length give us the desired opportunity of attacking the supply of munitions from neutral countries, and by so doing relieve our army.
"As opposed to this, cruiser warfare waged by U-boats, even if armed steamers were not exempt from sinking, would result in reducing shipping to England by one-fifth of 400,000 tons, or about 18 per cent, of the present monthly traffic, that is less than half of what would result from the unrestricted U-boat campaign. Judging by our experience up to date, we cannot assume that if the armed steamers were not exempt there would be a perceptible increase in the sinking of tonnage, which in the last two months amounted to about 400,000 tons a month. So far as one can see, any such increase would only serve to counterbalance the losses which must be expected to grow in number as the arming of the ships proceeds.
"I am quite clear on the point that the loss of one-fifth of British shipping would have a very serious effect on their supplies. But I think it out of the question that, under the leadership of Lloyd George, who is prepared to go to all lengths, England could thereby be forced to make peace, especially as the above-mentioned effects of the shortage of fats, wood and iron ore, and the continued influence on the supply of munitions would not come into play at all. Further, the psychological effects of panic and fear would be lacking. These, which can only result from unrestricted U-boat warfare, I hold to be indispensable conditions of success. Our experiences at the beginning of the U-boat war in 1915, when the English still believed we were in earnest about continuing it, and even in the short U-boat campaign of March and April, 1916, proved how potent these effects were.
"A further condition is that the declaration and commencement of the unrestricted U-boat war should be simultaneous, so that there is no time for negotiations, especially between England and the neutrals. Only on these conditions will the enemy and the neutrals be inspired with 'holy' terror.
"6. The declaration of unrestricted U-boat warfare will confront the Government of the United States with the question whether they are prepared to draw the logical conclusions from the attitude they have hitherto adopted towards the use of U-boats or not. I am most emphatically of opinion that war with the United States of America is such a serious matter that everything must be done to avoid it. But, in my opinion, fear of a break must not hinder us from using this weapon which promises success. In any case, it is desirable to envisage the consequences least favourable to us and to realise what the effect on the course of the war will be if America joins our enemies. So far as tonnage is concerned this effect can only be very small. It is not probable that more than a small fraction of the tonnage belonging to the Central Powers which is lying in America, and perhaps also in neutral ports, will be quickly available for voyages to England. By far the greater part of it can be damaged to such an extent that it would be useless during the first months, which will be the decisive period. Preparations for this have been made.
"Nor would crews be immediately available for them. Decisive effects need not be anticipated! from the co-operation of American troops, who cannot be brought over in considerable numbers owing to the lack of shipping; similarly, American money cannot make up for the shortage of supplies and tonnage.
"The question is, what attitude America would adopt if England were forced to make peace. It is improbable that she would decide to carry on the war singlehanded, as she lacks the means to make a vigorous attack on us, and her shipping would meanwhile be damaged by our U-boats. On the contrary, it is probable that she would associate herself with the peace concluded by England so as to return to healthy economic conditions as soon as possible.
"I have therefore come to the conclusion that we must have recourse to unrestricted U-boat warfare, even at the risk of war with America, so long as the U-boat campaign is begun early enough to ensure peace before the next harvest, that is, before August 1; we have no alternative. In spite of the danger of a break with America, an unrestricted U-boat campaign, begun soon, is the right means to bring the war to a victorious end for us. Moreover, it is the only means to that end.
"7. The situation has improved materially for us, since in the autumn of 1916 I declared that the time had come to strike a decisive blow against England. The failure of the harvests all over the world, together with the effect of the war on England up to the present time, once more give us a chance of ending the war in our favour before the new harvests are reaped. If we do not make the best of this, the last opportunity as far as man can tell, I see no other possibility than exhaustion on both sides without our being able to end the war so that our future as a World Power is secured. In order to achieve the necessary effect in time the unrestricted U-boat campaign must begin on February 1 at the latest.
"I beg your Excellency to inform me whether the military situation on the Continent, particularly as regards the States which are neutral, will permit of this date being fixed. I require a period of three weeks to make the necessary arrangements.
"(Signed) v. Holtzendorff."
There is no doubt that the Chief of the Naval Staff, although we in the Fleet had no special knowledge to that effect, must have made known to the Cabinet the same views which he described in so much detail in his memorandum to General Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, viz., that it was high time to start the unrestricted U-boat campaign. In this quarter, though, he seems to have met with greater difficulties, so that he once more appears to have been inclined to compromise. When the orders regarding the date of the opening of the campaign failed to reach the Fleet in the middle of December, the time for which the admiral had announced them, and when, in reply to my inquiries, I received evasive answers, I feared that a new obstruction had arisen. I therefore sent Captain von Levetzow to Berlin to make inquiries. He was given to understand in an interview with Admiral von Holtzendorff on January 4 that for the moment he could only obtain permission to sink armed liners. A Note on this subject was ready and about to be dispatched to America. Again there was the danger that we should pursue exactly the same course as a year ago, a course which had led to such miserable results. I had commissioned my representative to warn them emphatically against this. He had occasion on January 8 to be received by the Imperial Chancellor and to point out to him the inadequacy of such a middle course which was bound to give offence and would be wrecked if America offered objections. The difficulty of determining whether a steamer were armed or not would seriously compromise the success of the undertaking. The Chancellor went the very same evening to Pless, where the decisive session took place the following day when the Chief of the Naval Staff insisted on the necessity of the step, as explained in his memorandum to the Field-Marshal, and convinced His Majesty as well.
On January 9 the officer commanding the Fleet received two communications at short intervals. The first stated that from February 1 onward all merchant ships as soon as it had been positively ascertained that they were armed were to be attacked forthwith. Up to that date only armed cargo boats were to be sunk without warning. This meant that after February 1 passenger ships also would be subject to submarine attack. The second telegram contained an order sent by the All Highest to the Chief of the Naval Staff to the following effect:
"I command that the unrestricted U-boat campaign shall begin on February 1 in full force. You are to make all necessary preparations without delay, but in such a way that neither the enemy nor neutrals can obtain early information of this intention. The fundamental plans of operation are to be submitted to me."
It struck me as odd that an order to proceed against armed steamers should be issued on February i while the unrestricted U-boat campaign was to start on the same day. The only explanation I could think of was that the aforementioned Note concerning the treatment of armed steamers from February i onwards had already been sent to the American Government, and that it was too late to stop it being delivered. The American Government would certainly be surprised if, after receiving such an announcement in the first half of January, it were informed a few weeks later (February 1) of the intensification of U-boat warfare. But it would make a vast difference to America whether the fundamental right of neutrals to send ships to the blockaded area was conceded, or as unrestricted U-boat war demanded, all shipping in those parts was exposed to destruction. It seems, judging by later communications, there was some idea of asking, the American Government to mediate; if this was so the adoption of two such different attitudes on the U-boat question, one following the other in such quick succession, must have an awkward effect. Nothing was made known to the Naval Staff, nor to the officers commanding the Fleet (who certainly were not directly concerned in such matters), of any negotiations which were in progress at that time and which might have been unfavourably affected by the declaration of the unrestricted U-boat campaign. When later on I took over the duties of Chief of the Naval Staff I found no record that any letter from the Imperial Chancellor had been received before the actual commencement of the unrestricted U-boat campaign on February i asking for a postponement so as to make a last attempt to avoid this extreme measure. I am convinced, too, that if Admiral von Holtzendorff had had any knowledge of the matter he would have told me of it when he handed over affairs to me on our change of office, if not before. Owing to his severe illness in the summer of 1918 he never had an opportunity of making any statement on this question.
"With the unrestricted U-boat campaign we had probably embarked on the most tremendous undertaking that the world-war brought in its long train. Our aim was to break the power of mighty England vested in her sea trade in spite of the protection which her powerful Fleet could afford her. Two and a half years of the world-war had passed before we addressed ourselves to this task, and they had taxed the strength of the Central Powers to the uttermost. But if we did not succeed in overcoming England's will to destroy us then the war of exhaustion must end in Germany's certain defeat. There was no prospect of avoiding such a conclusion by the war on land; nor could we assume that America's definitely un-neutral attitude towards us would change, or that by her mediation any peace could be obtained with satisfactory results for us, since Wilson's proposal to act as mediator in a peace in which there should be neither victors nor vanquished had been so brusquely refused by our enemies.
In such a situation it was not -permissible to sit with folded hands and leave the fate of the German Empire to be decided by chance circumstances. All in a position of responsibility felt it incumbent upon them to suggest any means that offered a prospect of warding off the impending disaster. An opinion from the military point of view as to the chances of success in war upon enemy sea trade had been expressed; it was based on the statistics of tonnage sunk in previous years. In this respect expectations were far surpassed in the coming year. But the effects of this blow dealt to English com- merce could not be. foretold in the same way. It was immediately obvious that a reduction of the English mercantile fleet by a third, or even a half, must have a catastrophic effect on English economic conditions, and make England incline towards peace.
The Naval Staff had made a point of carefully examining the economic conditions with the help of experts and had recorded the results of their researches in a number of detailed memoranda, which they had submitted to the responsible Imperial officials. These researches had included the complicated problems of traffic for military purposes as well as for the needs of civilians by land and sea; supplies for the whole country as well as for the troops in the various theatres of war; the food supply of the nation; distribution of goods; home production; stores controlled by the State and rationing. Moreover, all these inquiries and the considerations they gave rise to had to be carried out in unfamiliar circumstances due to the war. Further, an estimate had to be made of the probable direct and indirect effects of all these conditions on the psychological state of the people. The conclusions based on these researches were drawn up in outline so as to give some idea of the probable effects, and they confirmed the general impressions gathered from the beginning of our war on trade that success was certain to crown our efforts if we pursued this course. We had no alternative but to attack our enemy by trying to destroy his economic strength, since all his efforts were directed towards crushing ours. Now, as never before, it depended on which of us could hold out the longer.
In every great effort, if you want to develop it to its fullest strength, you must have the conviction that you can defeat your opponent. That is why the U-boat campaign required the support of all classes that expected the victory of our Fatherland. Every doubt of its success must strengthen the enemy's view that we would soon tire.
But the political leaders had already done all in their power to undermine confidence; and their fear that this kind of warfare might assume forms which would burden us with new enemies had affected timid souls, and it was bound to have a depressing effect if doubts of the final outcome were allowed to appear; should expectations not be fulfilled exactly within the periods mentioned by the Naval Staff. The enemy took full advantage of the discouragement thus aroused, when these people despaired of attaining the desired end; his courage and resolution to hold out were strengthened by it. It is a great pity that the calculations of the Naval Staff were published throughout the country; they had assumed the success of the U-boat campaign within a fixed period of time, and were meant for a narrow circle only. Many who would have held out but for this disappointment lost courage, realising that we had no choice and must bear the privations until success, which could not fail to come ultimately, was achieved. If the calculations of the Naval Staff had fixed too early a date for the effects, and it had taken a much longer time until England could not stand any further destruction of her merchant ships, even then no other choice would have been left us but to make use of these means. The refusal of our peace proposal had so clearly demonstrated the enemy's desire to destroy us that no one would have been prepared, in view of the general situation at the end of the year 1916, to accept a humiliating peace.
The strategic offensive passed definitely to the Navy on February 1, 1917. U-boats and the Fleet supplemented one another to form one weapon, which was to be used in an energetic attack on England's might. Our Fleet became the hilt of the weapon whose sharp blade was the U-boat. The Fleet thus commenced its main activities during the war to maintain and defend the new form of warfare against the English Fleet.
The English defence consisted in combating the U-boats in home waters, and to this we could oppose nothing but the skill of the U-boats in evading the enemy. This skill never failed to the very end, although our losses grew heavy.
Our enemies had to go farther to defend themselves against the danger, and had to try to crush it at its source. Only our Fleet could make such efforts fruitless. It had to be in a constant state of readiness to meet the English Fleet in battle; there was no other way. It expected this battle, and had to maintain its strength as much as possible, so as to be fit to cope with the enemy. That is why our Fleet might not weaken itself in view of this last demand that would in all probability be made upon its strength. It found plenty of continued and exacting occupation in combating the means that England had devised to prevent the U-boats from getting out.
The conduct of the U-boat campaign was less a question of the number of boats than one of their peculiar qualities - their invisibility and their submersibility. The former enables them to attack unexpectedly, the latter to escape the pursuit of the enemy. It goes without saying that more can be achieved with 100 boats than with 20. But when the Naval Staff was considering the prospects of a U-boat campaign the first question was to determine the minimum number of boats that would suffice. Moreover, the U-boat campaign's effect was not confined to that of actual sinkings; it did much by disturbing and scaring away trade. Its results were soon perceptible, as it became necessary to regulate traffic according to the ports and districts threatened by U-boats for the time being. Very considerable disturbances in supply and delivery must have been caused, if it suddenly became necessary to alter all the arrangements for traffic, e.g. if railway transport had to be shifted, when ports on the south or west coast of England received no supplies from abroad, because all the ships had to be taken to ports in the north and east.
The number of boats we were able to use in the war against commerce at the beginning of 1915 was about 24; for the first months the new boats built just about covered the losses. It had also become necessary to provide several boats for the U-boat school, so that crews could be trained for the many new boats that were being built. With these 24 boats it was only possible to occupy permanently three or four stations on the main traffic route of English commerce. The tonnage sunk during the whole year of 1915 equalled the tonnage sunk in only six weeks when the unrestricted U-boat campaign was opened. In view of the attitude of conciliation adopted towards the complaints of neutrals, it was premature to begin the U-boat campaign in 1915. It would have been better to wait until the larger number of boats, resulting from the intensive building of 1915, guaranteed a favourable outcome - and then to have persisted in the face of all objections. Had there been no giving way in 1915, the right moment to start the campaign - the beginning of 1916 - would not have been missed.