Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Importance Of Submarines In World War I

German U-boat U-14
      The submarine  made its debut as a successful addition to the navy and became fully implemented in World War I.  No other war up until this point had been able to use the submarine to its best capacity and to as great a deal of success as it was in World War I.  The Civil War in America had been one of the first to use something like submarines, but it was to little if any advantage and these submarines were very primitive and quite dangerous.  During World War I, the submarine was a viable tool, and the Germans were the first to use it to their advantage starting in 1914. The German "U-boat" as it was called, shortened from the word Unterseeboot, was the finest example of submarines during this time and their primary use was to transport cargo. At the beginning of the war submarines were largely used near the shoreline, but the U-boat set the bar for submarines in warfare.  The U-boat was able to chart 12 knot speeds when surfaced and 7 knot speeds underwater, (close to 12 and 7 mph respectively). Submarines during this time operated by diesel when surfaced, and ran on electricity when submerged.

Germany had about 20 operational U-boats in 1914, and while submarines were seen simply as a cargo transport tool at the onset of the war, submarines were making their mark as an essential and permanent component to any well rounded navy.  During World War I, more than 5,000 allied ships were sunk by German U-boats and Germany also developed technology that enabled U-boats to lay mines on the ocean floor. At the outset of the war America was neutral but sending supplies to Great Britain.  When the Germans learned of this, their first reaction was sabotage; to completely disable their enemy, and this meant torpedoing any ship that was sending food, basic supplies, or arms equipment.  The bombing of American convoys to Great Britain by German submarines was one of the major factors, among others, that led to America joining the allied powers in World War I.   Germany declared unrestricted Submarine Warfare on January 9th, 1917. The English Channel and the Irish Sea were declared a month later to be a war zone. This declaration ensured America’s entrance into the war, and Germany knew that American entrance was likely to happen.  Prior to the declaration of 1917, America made it clear that Germany was responsible for any American casualties.  German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg persuaded German generals to not sink any neutral ships. The sinking of any civilian passenger ships was also off limits.  This rule was followed unless neutral ships were carrying supplies to aid the Allies.  But the sinking of the British ships the Lusitania and the Arabic both in 1915, which carried American passengers, threatened American-German diplomacy.  It was the final straw when in 1916 the passenger ferry Sussex was torpedoed by a U-boat and outright unrestricted submarine warfare was declared by Germany in 1917 that America joined the Allied Forces. 

It is somewhat lost upon the general population the importance of  submarines in warfare other than for stealth, but the submarine did make a substantial mark upon the nature, and overall outcome of World War I.  We can conclude that the two most marked attributes of World War I were the introduction of trench warfare, and submarines.  As cliche as it sounds, the constitution of war was never the same after

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