The First World War marked the true dawn of submarine warfare. Germany soon saw the potential of her submarines – the dreaded U-boats – and tasked them with destroying British merchant ships. Yet Germany’s campaign aroused the ire of the United States. In 1915, the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania–with the loss of 128 American lives–caused international outrage and prompted the U-Boats to revise their tactics.
But by early 1917, Germany needed to turn the tide of war and planned to unleash the ‘grey wolves’ to savage Allied shipping and starve Britain into submission. But to do so was a grave gamble. An all-out attack on shipping would enrage the United States and bring her into the war. German planners calculated that this was a risk worth taking. They believed the U-boats could starve Britain before the United States could muster its full military might. Throughout 1917 and 1918, Allied merchantmen and escort ships would battle against U-Boats in a gruelling war of attrition. The campaign would reshape the entire First World War.
In this lecture, Professor Jones will explore the bitter undersea war between 1914-18. He will consider the technical capabilities and limitations of U-Boats, examine the early efforts to blockade Britain in 1915, and focus on the intense battle for control of the sea in 1917-18.
The Great War at Sea: A Naval History of the First World War, by Lawrence Sondhaus
War Beneath the Waves: U-Boat Flotilla Flandern 1915-1918, by Tomas Termote
Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars 1916-1945, by John Terraine
The Kaiser’s U-Boat Assault on America: Germany’s Great War Gamble in the First World War, by Hans Joachim Koerver
- Why did the Royal Navy face such difficulties against U-Boats?
- Why was the U-Boat campaign such an emotive issue in the United States?
- How close did the U-Boats come to winning the war for Germany?
- What lessons were learned from the conflict and how did they influence the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War?