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World War 1 at Sea

 

NAVAL OPERATIONS, Volume 4, June 1916 to April 1917 (Part 2 of 2)


by Henry Newbolt


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CONTENTS

(continued)

(Part 2 of 2)

 

VII. German Naval Policy, 1916‑1917 ... 229

 

VIII. The Mediterranean, January To August 1917 ... 276

   1. Submarine Warfare, January to May 1917 ... 276

2. Attack on the Otranto barrage ‑ Action in the Adriatic ... 297

3. Submarine Warfare, May to August 1917 ... 306

 

IX. Unrestricted Submarine Warfare ... 323

   1. February to April 1917 ... 323

   2. The Admiralty's Appreciation ... 325

   3. The Problems of Submarine Warfare ... 333

   4. The German Estimate of British Endurance at Sea ... 341

   5. The Achievements of Submarine Warfare, 1914-1917 ... 346

   6. Unrestricted Submarine Warfare begins ‑ Attacks on the Dover Straits ... 352

   7. Further Attacks on the Dover Straits ... 360

   8. The Submarine Campaign, April 1917 ... 379

 

APPENDICES

 

A ‑ Precautions Against Raiders During 1916 ... 386

B ‑ Submarine Organisation In Home Waters ... 388

 

 

Index (not included you can use Search)

 

 

PLANS IN VOLUME

(continued)

 

The Patrol Zones in the Mediterranean ... 276

The British and German Dispositions in the Dover Straits, February 25‑26, 1917 ... 353

The British and German Dispositions in the Dover Straits, March 17‑18, 1917 ... 361

Dover Straits Dispositions ... 366

The British and German Dispositions in the Dover Straits, April 20‑21, 1917 ... 371

Diagram Showing the Progress of the Submarine Campaign, June 1916 To April 1917 ... 382

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII

 

GERMAN NAVAL POLICY, 1916‑1917

 

1

 

Although the concessions to America in April 1916 had been much criticised in Germany, the nation had, on the whole, thought it wise to make them. (See Vol. III, p. 312.) Less than a year later, the country was resounding with a clamour for unrestricted warfare so violent and unanimous that no Government could have resisted it. Ministers of State changed their opinions as radically as the populace: those who, at the beginning, had favoured concession and restraint, were quite ready, at the close, to support the policy of attacking the commerce of all nations, whether neutral or belligerent. The group of public men who remained unconvinced of anything but the risks involved was very small; they took little trouble to put forward their views in public, and when they did so, their voices were lost in the cry for unrestricted submarine warfare which rose from every part of Germany.

 

This change of opinion sprang, no doubt, from many causes, some of which are too subtle and deeply hidden to be traced here; but among them we can certainly name four of importance. First, there was the unswerving conviction of the Naval Staff that the submarine fleet could end the war in a German victory; second, the reinstating, during 1916, of a campaign against commerce so successful that it seemed very difficult to refuse those who directed it the additional freedom for which they asked; third, the failure of the peace negotiations; and fourth, the indefinite and hesitating way in which the few political opponents of submarine war expressed themselves.

 

The decision to accede to America's demands in April 1916 had only been taken after an acute struggle behind the scenes in which the Chancellor and the military leaders were sharply opposed. When the crisis passed, the difference of outlook between the two groups only became more marked, and the divisions of the German Government more sharply thrown up against the darkening horizon.

 

The Chancellor and his assistant, Karl Helfferich, were avowedly the heads of a peace party. (Erzberger, Erlebnisse im Weltkriege, p. 219.) They were supported by Jagow, a strenuous opponent of submarine warfare, and by Count Bernstorff, who knew, from his residence in Washington, that the American nation could make war effectively if ever it chose to do so, a point which the professional soldiers of Germany, the most highly trained in Europe, could never grasp. These four, then, Bethmann Hollweg, Helfferich, Jagow and Bernstorff, were convinced that Germany's interests would be best served by negotiating an early peace on a fairly conciliatory basis, and foresaw that a renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare would defeat their policy, because it would turn America from a probable mediator into a certain enemy.

 

General von Falkenhayn was, at the time, the Chancellor's chief opponent. He was still Chief of the General Staff, and had a position equal to the Chancellor's in the Imperial Council; but the campaign against Verdun was bringing his reputation to shipwreck. It followed, therefore, that although he continued to advocate unrestricted submarine warfare as the only measure likely to break down the military deadlock, he could only throw the weight of a declining influence into the controversy, and his attitude can hardly have affected the Government's decision.

 

The German public had not yet definitely made up its mind about the submarine campaign. Certain very powerful private associations, such as the Bund der Landwirte (League of Landowners) and the Zentral Verband Deutscher Industrieller (Central Association of German Industrialists), supported the clamour for resuming submarine war without restraint or concession. Prince Salm, the President of the Navy League, was proclaiming that it would be very greatly to Germany's advantage if America did enter the war against her; and Admiral von Tirpitz, now out of office, was striving to bring the Press and the public to his own way of thinking. His authority with the general public was very great; Erzberger likens his influence over the German masses to the fatal charm of the piper of Hamelin's music. (Erzberger, pp. 210‑11.) This, however, is a bitter reflection from a man who had been persistently overruled and misinformed. The vigorous campaign of propaganda undertaken by the navy throughout the year proves that large sections of the nation had still to be convinced, and that, in the meantime, they were content that the Government should hold their hand.

 

1915-1916

THE CHANCELLOR'S DIFFICULTIES

 

The two sides of the question were never fairly presented to the unpersuaded mass of Germans. The naval censorship was originally in the hands of the Admiralty, and not of the Naval Staff. So long as this arrangement continued, Admiral von Tirpitz and his assistants were free to spread their views, and to suppress all contrary opinions; and they appear to have used their advantage. During 1915, secret and official memoranda, prepared by Tirpitz, were frequently communicated to private persons; whilst a paper written in good faith by an industrial magnate, who wished to warn the nation about the dangers of submarine war, was held up until the first declaration had been issued. (Verhandlungen des Untersuchungsaussehusses, pp. 362‑3.)

 

The Chancellor succeeded in transferring the naval censorship from the Admiralty to the Naval Staff; but it was just as unfairly exercised by its new controllers as it had been by the old. If there was anybody in the German Empire which ought to have been informed of both sides of the controversy, it was the Bundesrat (The Bundesrat is described by a German constitutional lawyer as the "body which carries the sovereign power of the Empire"; another describes it as a "congress of ambassadors of the federal kingdoms" (Gebhardt, Verfassung des Deutsches Reichs, p. 94). Prussia sent to it seventeen representatives; Bavaria six; Baden and Alsace Lorraine three; Mecklenburg and Brunswick two; other principalities one), or Federal Council ‑ the connecting link between the Imperial Government and the States of the Union; yet the Naval Staff injected their convictions into every crevice of the public structure with such ruthlessness that the naval representative who reported on the position to the Bundesrat, during the summer of 1916, produced figures so inaccurate that the Chancellor had to send telegrams to every part of Germany to contradict the information supplied. (Bethmann Hollweg, Betrachtungen zum Weltkriege, Vol. II., p.123.)

 

It was the Chancellor's peculiar misfortune that the controversy seemed to be straining and shaking into incoherence all that was loosely knit in the construction of Imperial Germany. Parliamentary opinion was quite uncertain, for in February 1916 the Prussian Lower House had passed a resolution in favour of unrestricted submarine warfare without consulting or warning the Government; and the Reichstag was equally capable of springing a surprise motion beneath the feet of the Executive. Apart from this, the coming debate could not fail to set up the strain of an acute constitutional quarrel. Was the resumption of submarine war a political or a military question? In the first case the responsibility of advising lay with the Chancellor; in the second with the Chief of the Staff. But human affairs do not always arrange themselves according to the departments of the German administration, and it so happened that the submarine question was both political and military. The result was a deadlock: the military leaders claimed that the question was exclusively theirs, and Bethmann Hollweg firmly insisted that a matter affecting the Empire's international relations could not be decided without the Chancellor. It was obviously impossible to strike a compromise between opinions which were so radically opposed; the deadlock could only be ended by a personal decision of the Emperor, and we shall see presently by what desperate device this constitutional necessity was evaded.

 

The naval officers of the High Command were agreed on the general principle of re‑starting the submarine campaign as soon as they could; but they by no means saw eye to eye about the best means of making their views prevail.

 

As he sailed to raid Lowestoft (April 24, 1916), Admiral Scheer recalled all submarines from the trade routes, and refused, from then onwards, to allow them to carry on commerce warfare according to the rules of international law; yet those rules only were sanctioned by the promise which had been made to Washington.

 

A month later Jutland was fought. The German Commander‑in‑Chief at once used the increased prestige which his leadership had gained for him to press his views on the Emperor. His "idea" was that "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."

 

No more characteristic judgment was pronounced during the war ‑ it is an extreme perversion of the Bismarckian theory of imponderabilia. The atmosphere created by the first reports of the Battle of Jutland was not only imponderable, it was evanescent. When it vanished, the true result of the battle became as clear as a well‑drawn balance sheet. The High Seas Fleet had inflicted loss on a battle cruiser squadron and had escaped with its life from the Grand Fleet; but the great experiment was over, and it had proved that the control of the sea was irrevocably in British hands. No moral impression ‑ least of all a temporary one ‑ could be of any value in face of a reality like this, a reality which became every day plainer to neutrals as well as to enemies. Tirpitz showed almost as faulty a judgment: he notes that "that engagement, victorious, though not fought to a finish, was unable, after nearly two years of the war, to achieve any lasting political result, in spite of our advantages in the battle itself; for in

 

June 1916  

CONFLICTING OPINIONS

 

the time that had elapsed, the general position had changed and settled too much in England's favour, and the countries that were still neutral had lost their belief in our ultimate victory." This estimate is more correct than Scheer's, for it marks the political result of the German account of Jutland as temporary and ineffectual; but it shows the Grand Admiral to be equally unable to distinguish words from the realities of war. Nothing in the two years had done more to change and settle the position in England's favour than the Battle of Jutland; for a superiority which had before been only demonstrable was there actually demonstrated.

 

The Naval Staff, however, had a better reason for demanding a renewal of the U‑boat campaign, and this, too, was a reason based upon the result of Jutland. The failure of the High Seas Fleet left them no other weapon but the submarine. If the unrestricted campaign could not be risked, then they begged to be allowed a milder form of war, so as to inflict at least some injury on England. Admiral Scheer objected to any milder form, and the Chief of the Naval Cabinet, Mueller, remonstrated with him in a letter dated June 23, 1916, arguing against his "everything or nothing" point of view. "I can fully sympathise with you, but the matter is, unfortunately, 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  .... still possible 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." What is necessary is "a compromise between the harsh professional conception of the U‑boat weapon and the general, political and military demands which the Chief of the Staff has to satisfy." The words "the harsh professional conception" are here strikingly apt, but they are not to be taken in a sympathetic sense, for the use of the weapon in question is only given up "with rage in our hearts."

 

This letter was followed a week later by a visit to Admiral Scheer from the Imperial Chancellor, who informed him that he was personally against an unrestricted U‑boat campaign, because it would give rise to fresh troublesome incidents and "would place the fate of the German Empire in the hands of a U‑boat commander." This made the Admiral extremely bitter: "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." The people did not know that the campaign was only big talk and pretence; while "America laughed because she knew that it lay with her to determine how far we might go."

 

But Admiral Scheer, though short‑sighted and violent, was shrewd enough to realise that he could not well remain in conflict with the civilian and naval elements of the Government at one and the same time. As he was divided from his naval colleagues only on a professional question, but from the Chancellor on a matter of policy, it was natural that he should yield to Holtzendorff and Mueller. He denies in his book that he ever did yield. Admiral von Holtzendorff's plan of restricted submarine warfare was none the less put into force in the autumn of the year, and we hear no more of Admiral Scheer's opposition to it.

 

2

 

The Chancellor decided that the best issue from the difficulties which were encompassing both his country and himself was to press for American mediation. The decision was in a sense a wise one. He knew quite well that the Naval Staff and the High Command were only temporarily silenced; and he foresaw that the pressure they had already exerted upon him would be renewed before the year was out. If the temporary barrier which he had put up against a decision in favour of submarine war were blown down ‑ he knew the structure of it was none too solid ‑ he foresaw disaster and ruin. He did not believe that a "peace of victory" was any longer possible; but he did believe that a renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare would be the first move towards a peace made between a beaten Germany and an enormous coalition of victorious enemies; to secure American mediation was to secure the road to a compounded peace and to block the road to a new submarine campaign against neutral commerce. His decision to press the American Government to make a regular diplomatic move was thus outwardly a wise one; but had he known to what lengths the American Government was prepared to go to support the Allies, had he guessed what offers President Wilson had already made to the principal Allied Governments, Bethmann Hollweg would have hesitated to invite America's intervention, and would probably have withdrawn his opposition to unrestricted submarine warfare altogether; he might even have advised the military leaders that nothing but a crushing victory could end the war satisfactorily. This statement requires a little explanation.

 

1915‑1916 

AMERICAN POLICY

 

During the year 1915, President Wilson had apparently realised that the war in Europe which had already involved rnany American interests would do so in an increasing degree, and that he would not be able to keep his country neutral if the struggle were much protracted. He had grounds of complaint against both groups of belligerents, but he seems to have made up his mind that his difficulties with Great Britain and the Entente were not comparable to his differences with the Central Powers, and that if America ever intervened it rnust be on the Allied side. These, however, were only his personal convictions and those of his most trusted adviser, Colonel House: he felt it his duty to keep them out of all his public and most of his private utterances, and to set an example of that neutral way of thinking and acting which he had invited his countrymen to follow. Probably most of the American nation hoped that the President would follow no settled plan but that of maintaining neutrality and of dealing with difficulties as they arose; but President Wilson, who had a more intimate knowledge of what those difficulties were likely to be, and of the passions they might arouse, could not adopt such a policy as this. Its great and, to him, decisive disadvantage was that sooner or later it would probably bring him face to face with a difficulty which could only be settled by intervention; and that if he had previously made neutrality the sole object of his policy, America would be taken by surprise and be forced to enter the war for no more inspiring object than the settlement of a diplomatic quarrel.

 

After considerable hesitations and misgivings, therefore, he decided to try to strike an arrangement with the Entente Powers, and sent Colonel House to Europe on a special mission. The Colonel was instructed to prepare both belligerent groups for an American invitation to a peace conference; but the invitation was to be presented to each group in very different colours. The Allies were to be informed that if the Germans refused reasonable terms of peace, and so broke up the conference to which they would be invited, America would at once enter the war on the Allied side and force the Central Powers to agree.

 

The reasonable terms were to include the restoration of Belgium and Serbia, the cession of Alsace‑Lorraine to France, of Constantinople to Russia, of the Italian‑speaking section of Austria‑Hungary to Italy, and the creation of an independent Polish State. Germany was to be compensated for loss of territory by concessions outside Europe, and both groups of belligerents were to give guarantees against undertaking aggressive war by disarming, and were also to join a general league for enforcing peace. This offer, which in Colonel House's view was practically an offer of American help to the Allies, was communicated to British and French Ministers in January 1916. Sir Edward Grey and several other Ministers received it well, Monsieur Briand more guardedly; and no answer was given.

 

This proposed mediation could obviously only be put before the German Ministers in a careful disguise. When Colonel House was in Berlin ‑ which he visited at the end of January ‑ he probably gave the German Government to understand that both groups of belligerents would be invited by America to meet in conference and then left to discuss territorial questions and indemnities between themselves, and that the American Government would stand aside and concern itself merely with a conference upon disarmament and the creation of a league for enforcing peace. This, at all events, is what Count Bernstorff understood by American mediation.

 

Upon this proposal the German Ministers did not commit themselves to any very definite expression of opinion; but the Chancellor does not seem to have suspected what the American intentions really were, and he discussed the question of American mediation with Colonel House in a friendly way. On the other hand, Bethmann Hollweg, Zimmermann and Jagow satisfied Colonel House that there was not the slightest hope of the Central Empires agreeing to the terms of peace which he and the President considered reasonable. The Colonel therefore returned to London in February quite convinced that American mediation must be followed by American intervention.

 

He was back in America early in March, and after consulting with the President, he seems to have asked Sir Edward Grey whether the Allies were ready to invite America to mediate on the conditions which he had recently offered. Sir Edward Grey replied that the British Government could not take the initiative in asking the French to attend a peace conference; and both Colonel House and President Wilson took this answer to mean that the American offer had been refused. Anglo‑American relations, thereupon, became much less cordial; Count Bernstorff was quick to perceive this, but he never suspected the real reason.

 

Such then was the position when the German Foreign Minister instructed the Ambassador to press for American mediation. In a long telegram, sent on May 27, Count Bernstorff was instructed in the tangled and deceptive system he was to follow.

 

July 1916  

TORTUOUS INSTRUCTIONS

 

It was taken for granted that the President would strive to arrange for a peace on a status quo ante basis. As this would not be acceptable to Germany, the Ambassador was to prevent the American Government from making a positive proposal to the Central Powers; but to do so in a way which would "attain the object without endangering the relations between America and Germany." (Bernstorff, My Three Years in America, p. 237.) The telegram shows the confusion which still reigned in high places in Germany and the extraordinary difficulties with which the Chancellor was faced. We have his own assurance, and that of his assistant, Karl Helfferich, that he would have been willing to accept a peace on a status quo ante basis (Helfferich, Der Weltkrieg, Vol. II., p. 299.); but, as he did not dare to express his views openly, he was committing the Ambassador to a policy opposed to the one which he really desired to pursue.

 

Count Bernstorff answered at once that it was quite impossible for him to prevent the President from mediating when and how he liked; but his reply went further. (Bernstorff, p. 240.) He was quick to see that some unrevealed purpose lay behind instructions so badly drawn and contradictory, and he warned his Government in the clearest possible language against hoping to get America's consent to a renewal of the submarine campaign if the Entente Powers declined the President's mediation (July 13, 1916).

 

The Chancellor's tortuous instructions were evidence of the very great difficulties of his position. Count Bernstorff realised, at an early period of the controversy, that the whole matter was, as he put it, a race between peace negotiations and unrestricted submarine war. This was a frank view and a clear‑sighted one; it was, no doubt, a view which would be shared by the Chancellor. His last instructions to Bernstorff were thus, in a sense, a step forward. He might have made other such steps had not an event occurred which seriously weakened his'position.

 

3

 

On August 27, Rumania entered the war against the Central Powers. The appearance of a new opponent caused a deep sensation in Germany. Austria had already very nearly succumbed under the onslaughts of Brusilof's armies in Galicia, and now a new enemy was on her flank. It was obvious that the danger was pressing and that a tremendous effort was necessary to avert it. The Government acted promptly. Within two days Field‑Marshall von Hindenburg was appointed Chief of the Great General Staff, with his assistant, Ludendorff, as Quartermaster‑General; and within a few weeks steps were being taken to roll back the Rumanian invasion of Hungary.

 

We shall see later the real significance and importance of this appointment. Marshall von Hindenburg was not made a "military dictator," for the duties of his office were unchanged; nor did his appointment imply a victory for the conservative parties in the Reichstag or the Prussian Landtag. Nevertheless, the consequences of his assuming office did, in the end, paralyse the civil advisers of the Emperor and reduce even the Head of the State himself to the mere function of proclaiming the decisions of his Chief of Staff.

 

The explanation of this astonishing development lies deep in the history and character of the German people. Their traditions and their laws all tended to make them believe that salvation from great danger can only come from the effort of one great man; and now everything combined to point out Hindenburg as the man in whose power it was to save the country from the final danger. His military talents might not be greater than Mackensen's or Falkenhayn's, but it had fallen to him to turn back the tide of Russian invasion in 1914; and the utter defeat of the Russian armies in the year following was generally attributed to him. He had thus freed his countrymen from a nightmare which had been haunting them for a whole generation, and, rightly or wrongly, the German people regarded him as their only possible deliverer from the traditional Cossack terror.

 

Bethmann Hollweg fully understood the significance of Hindenburg's arrival at Great Headquarters. It was not, he said, that any new powers were granted to the new Chief of the General Staff; but simply that no Government which was known to be opposing the views of the new military chief could have withstood the popular indignation. (Verhandlungen des Untersuchungsaussehusses, pp. 144, 148.)

 

The effects of the appointment upon parliamentary opinion were equally deep. Throughout the war, the Government had relied largely for support upon the influence of the Centre Party in the Reichstag. Its help had always been loyally given. When the submarine controversy had raged at the time of the Sussex crisis, the party chiefs had seen to it that there should be no majority in favour of submarine war.

 

Aug. 1916 

AN IMPERIAL CONFERENCE

 

Since then, they had never committed themselves to a hard-and‑fast statement. But when the new Chief of Staff took office, the Chancellor realised that their attitude was no longer so reliable: "The Centre Party now renounced their old tradition and claimed a free hand."

 

As soon as Hindenburg had taken up his appointment, a general conference of ministers, army and navy leaders assembled at Pless. The first and, as far as we know, the only item on the agenda was the question of resuming unrestricted submarine warfare. Should the German navy, in fact, be allowed to assist by every means in its power in the impending effort to avert the new danger? There were present Hindenburg; Ludendorff, who was now Quartermaster‑General; General Wild von Hobenborn, War Minister; Admirals von Capelle (Secretary of the Navy), von Holtzendorff (Chief of the Admiralty Staff), and Koch; Bethmann Hollweg, Imperial Chancellor; Helfferich, Minister of the Interior; and Jagow, Minister for Foreign Affairs; with Baron von Gruenau as Secretary.

 

Admiral von Holtzendorff opened the discussion, and read from a carefully prepared paper. His main argument was directed against those who opposed unrestricted submarine war on the grounds that it would involve war with the United States. The Government at Washington might indeed declare war; but what could they do as a belligerent? They would have no spare tonnage with which to assist the Entente, and their attitude could hardly affect other neutrals. Holland would declare war against the first Power that violated her territory, Denmark would remain neutral; the South American States could do nothing against U‑boat warfare, for they had not enough shipping to carry away their grain harvests. In a few months, the last vestiges of German international commerce would be gone. Could Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria‑Hungary bear another winter of war? "I do not see a finis Germaniae in the use of the weapon which cripples Great Britain's capacity to support her Allies; but rather in the neglect to employ it."

 

The Foreign Minister, Jagow, strove to prove the wrongness of the Admiral's political outlook. If the United States entered the war, the effect on neutrals would be incalculable. "Germany will be treated like a mad dog against which everybody combines." When unrestricted submarine war had first been started, neutrals had been thoroughly disturbed. There was no comparison possible between English and German pressure upon neutral States. Great Britain did not touch individuals: she worked upon associations and trading combines, who served her purposes by freely electing to do so, in return for special advantages. The German method destroyed ships and took human life.

 

Karl Helfferich, the Minister of the Interior, continued the argument, and attacked the statistics upon which Holtzendorff had based his conclusions. Great Britain had 12 1/2 million tons of shipping at her disposal; she employed a part of it to supply herself, and the remainder was engaged in the world's trade. Supposing that German submarines succeeded in reducing the 12 1/2 million tons available, Great Britain would then simply withdraw some of her surplus shipping from general trade; and her destruction would be as far off as ever. Had Holtzendorff reflected, he asked, that Germany had supplied herself, and absorbed a considerable fraction of the world's carrying trade, with only 5 million tons of shipping? Why should not England, by foresight and economy, make a far smaller tonnage than she had hitherto disposed of suffice for her needs? The argument that America could do no harm even if she declared war was utterly unsound. "Up to the present, the Entente has borrowed 1,250 million dollars from the United States. If she declares war, America, with all her reserves, will be at the disposal of the Allies, for their cause will be hers." And finally, "I can see in the employment of the U‑boat weapon nothing but catastrophe." Admiral von Capelle, on the other hand, proclaimed the conviction of the navy that nothing but the unredricted U‑boat war would lead to peace, and added some weaker remarks to the effect that in any event it could do no harm, even " failing full success."

 

The Imperial Chancellor now intervened. He had had a preliminary discussion with Hindenburg, and he agreed with him that a decision was not possible on this question while the military position was so uncertain. Also, he could not promise that a sudden declaration would not cause a breach between Denmark and the Central Powers: unrestricted U‑boat war would be stamped from the start as "an act of desperation." He further proved his superiority in judgment over his naval colleagues by affirming that the expected result ‑ the breaking of England ‑ was merely an assumption, which nobody could prove. " We cannot lay an iron ring round England. Also our blockade can be broken by warships accompanying the transports." It seemed to him, therefore, that they could decide nothing "till the military situation had been cleared."

 

Holtzendorff replied ‑ it sounds an impulsive reply: "I am convinced ‑ I cannot adduce any proof ‑ that a fortnight's

 

Aug. 1916 

DECISION POSTPONED

 

unrestricted U‑boat war will have this effect, that the neutrals will keep aloof from England." In this matter the Norwegians were to teach him a lesson in psychology.

 

Capelle spoke of the powers of the large U‑boats, whose number had been doubled. Helfferich argued that the only result would be extreme exertion and perfected organisation in England. Holtzendorff retorted: "We find ourselves in a tight position, to get out of which we must act. We need not threaten the neutrals, but we can invite them to behave towards us as they behaved towards England" ‑ a line of thought adopted already, as we have seen, by Scheer and Tirpitz, but controverted by Jagow and unintelligible to any reasonable mind.

 

The Chancellor's warning that Denmark and other neutrals were unsteady, weighed heavily with Hindenburg and his Quartermaster‑General. "South of the Carpathians," said Ludendorff, "the Rumanians are on the march. They are bad soldiers; but the Austrians are even worse. The last man available from the east or west must be sent to Rumania. If Holland and Denmark declare war against us, we shall not be able to oppose them." Hindenburg, too, was of opinion that this risk must not be run till the military position had been settled. "A decision is not possible at present," he pronounced autocratically, "I shall make the time for it known." For the moment, then, Bethmann Hollweg had succeeded in directing the discussion. He was quite clear that no decision could be or ought to be taken until the military position had cleared and the other members of the Alliance had been consulted. When Austria was menaced with a danger which seemed likely to break her power of resistance, it was hardly reasonable to involve her in a war with new enemies. In a few weeks the Reichstag would meet; he proposed then to tell the political leaders that "the decision (with regard to submarine warfare) had been postponed; and that Field‑Marshall von Hindenburg had stated that he must wait for the issue of the Rumanian campaign before he could form a definite opinion."

 

The outcome of the conference was, therefore, that the question was postponed. The Chancellor had shown that he was inclined to accept Helfferich's conclusions rather than Holtzendorff's upon the technical side of the problem; but he had been quite silent upon the general principle of submarine war. Only Jagow had used language which showed once more that the thinking power of Germany lay with her civilians rather than with her militarists. The neutrals, he said, could not be conciliated: they showed tremendous unrest during the previous U‑boat campaign, and naturally so. "The difference between our method and England's is, above all, to be found in the fact that we should be destroying ships and human life in order to exert pressure, whereas by the English method the neutrals are only restricted in the free exercise of their activity." This simple discovery is significant, as having been made by each nation in its own way. To the Dutch and Scandinavian traders it came as a practical matter of business; to the Latin mind it was laid bare by the clear, quick light of reason; to the Anglo‑Saxon by the equally swift flash of humour. The German statesman reached it by the long and serious groping of a methodic mind; the German Admirals could never see it at all, even when it was pointed out to them.

 

4

 

The conference left Admiral von Holtzendorff's existing plan of submarine warfare untouched: he was still free to carry on a restricted campaign, and he carried it on with great energy and persistence. His submarine commanders did not pay any great attention to the promises made by the German Government, for ships were frequently torpedoed without warning; but the German naval leaders were quite right in assuming that the American President would find it difficult to champion "the sacred rights of humanity" unless American lives and property were destroyed. They were thus able to keep their submarine fleet fairly active; and the following table of British losses, after the Sussex crisis, gives an outline picture of their activities; and it must be added that the attack, in August, fell even more heavily on Allied shipping.

 

    

1916

Mined or Torpedoed.

Losses in European waters and the Atlantic.

Losses in the Mediterranean.

June 

5

10

July  

9

19

August

11

12

 

It is noteworthy that the losses in Home Waters shows a steady increase; and this suggests a point which became very important later on. It had generally been supposed that the concessions made to America would make it impossible to carry on effective submarine warfare except in the Mediterranean. Holtzendorff had now proved that this

 

Sept. 10, 1916

LUDENDORFF'S VIEWS

 

was not so, and that there was still a means of attacking British commerce at its points of concentration near home. His next step was to try to bring the new military chiefs to his own point of view, and on September 10, rather more than a week after the conference at Pless, Captain von Buelow visited General Ludendorff at Great Headquarters on behalf of the Naval Staff. (Ludendorff, Urkunden des obersten Heeresleitung, p. 302.)

 

He began the conversation by saying that the Naval Staff's information about neutrals contradicted the Chancellor's recent statement, and added that to renew the submarine war would give an impression of strength which would act as a deterrent to small neutrals contemplating a rupture with Germany. Ludendorff answered that he must accept the Chancellor's view on political questions, and that he had not enough men to hold the Danish and Dutch frontiers, but added significantly an expression of his regret that a question which was "purely military" should have been given a political treatment. When the interview ended, the naval representative gave the Quartermaster‑General one of the memoranda which were then being prepared at naval headquarters by a group of bankers and scientists, and the conversation was reopened a few days later. Ludendorff then admitted outright that he was in favour of beginning unrestricted submarine warfare as soon as the military position on the continent was secure. (Several years later, a bitter controversy raged round these memoranda. Several of the witnesses at the Untersuchungsausschuss accused the Naval Staff of collecting a number of men who had no authority to speak on economics, industry or trade, and getting them to prepare statistical arguments in favour of unrestricted submarine war (pp. 407‑412). Erzberger makes the same charge (214). There seems to have been a great deal of force in the accusation. Ballin, the greatest shipping magnate in Germany, was never asked for his opinion on submarine warfare during the war.)

 

Captain von Buelow drew up a record of his interview in duplicate, and sent one copy to General Ludendorff. To his own copy he added some notes, which were intended only for himself and Holtzendorff. (Beilagen zu den stenographischen Berichten des Untersuchungsaussehusses, Teil IV., p. 181.) "General Ludendorff believes in a successful issue to submarine war  .... he has no faith in being able to force a favourable decision by means of war on land alone. On the authority of the Chancellor, he believes in the Danish danger. The Chancellor stands firm on this point, and he will continue to do so because he opposes submarine war and can terrify General Ludendorff with this Danish spectre and cause delay.  ...

 

"We must, therefore (daher Zweckmuessig)

 

"1. With regard to General Ludendorff:

(a) energetically represent the disadvantage of delay;

(b) endeavour, by means of reports from our Attaches and so on, to weaken (the belief) in this Danish and Dutch danger.

 

"2. With regard to the Chancellor:

Strive to make him soften down his verdict about the Danish danger. I think that the Kalkmann memorandum might have effect upon the Chancellor and such people as Ballin: possibly it might work upon the former through the latter." (Ludendorff, p. 305.)

 

The Chancellor did not wait to feel the effect of these subtle influences. Realising that the resolutions taken at Pless gave him only a limited time in which to thwart the movement in favour of unrestricted submarine war, he took the only step which was still open to him, and laid the real points at issue before the Emperor for decision.

 

His memorandum went straight to the point: the war might be ended by an unrestricted submarine campaign or by diplomacy. As the first method ought not to be resorted to until the second had failed, the Chancellor asked that Count Bernstorff might be allowed to reopen the question with the American President, and urge upon him the need of making an early move. Hoping, doubtless, that when the Emperor gave his decision upon the points now submitted to him, the naval leaders would co‑operate in the policy adopted, the Chancellor was careful to say that the memorandum had been written with Holtzendorff's full concurrence.

 

The Emperor approved the Chancellor's proposals, and the necessary instructions were sent to Washington. Bethmann Hollweg was thus still in nominal charge of the Empire's policy. Had he been seconded by the officers of State from whom he looked for support, his efforts to open negotiations, backed by American diplomacy, might have been successful. But in spite of the appointment of Hindenburg to an overriding command, there was still no unity of purpose in the Government, and the heads of the departments of State and the commanders in the field continued to pursue their own objects, regardless of the general policy to which the Chancellor was committed.

 

Admiral Scheer was the first to set the example. At a

 

Sept.‑Nov. 1916 

OPPOSING PURPOSES

 

date between September 8 and November 22 which cannot be fixed exactly, he sent his Chief of Staff, Trotha, to Great Headquarters to see General Ludendorff. (Scheer, p. 247.) If the outcome of this second interview between the naval and military leaders has been correctly reported, no conclusion is possible except one: that the military leaders and the naval command were determined to obstruct the Chancellor's diplomatic action by every means in their power. Several points were agreed upon: first, that there was no possibility of ending the war well (zum guten Ende) except by unrestricted submarine war; secondly, that "a half U‑boat war" should in no circumstances be adopted; thirdly, that all special agreements with the northern Powers ‑ Sweden, Norway and Denmark should be cancelled as soon as possible, in order that there should be no "gaps" in the submarine operations; and, lastly, that there should be no "turning back."

 

Each one of these conclusions was a direct challenge to the Chancellor's negotiations: if only submarine warfare could end the war "well," it was obvious that diplomacy would end it badly; "a half U‑boat warfare" was exactly what the Chancellor's concessions were obliging the navy to practise; and the only result of cancelling diplomatic agreements with foreign Powers, in order to give submarines a wider target, would be to reduce the Chancellor's department and the Foreign Office to sub‑sections of the General Staff. These remarkable resolutions could not, of course, alter the policy which the Government had now adopted; but they throw a vivid light upon the fierce dissensions which were making co‑ordinated action between its various departments impossible.

 

The Chancellor's instructions to Count Bernstorff were too late. When they arrived, there was no longer any hope that the American Government would approach the belligerents before the winter; for, after much hesitation, President Wilson had decided not to make any move until he had been re‑elected. A brief retrospect of what had taken place during the summer in the American capital is necessary if the reasons for this postponement are to be understood. In July 1916, the President had ordered his Ambassador in London to return to Washington. The message did not explain why his presence was desired, but Sir Edward Grey grasped that it must be connected with the diplomatic intervention which Colonel House had offered earlier in the year. Since Sir Edward Grey had replied to the American Proposals, several public utterances by the President had made Sir Edward Grey extremely doubtful whether he intended to intervene on conditions as friendly to the Allies as those which he had offered in January, possibly, indeed, doubtful whether he had ever intended to assist us on the very points which we considered essential to a well‑regulated peace treaty. (See Grey, Twenty‑five Years, Vol. II., pp. 128‑30.)

 

On May 27, 1916, President Wilson had addressed the American League of Peace at its first annual meeting. He knew that he had to speak to an audience which expected him to mediate in Europe, but which did not realise that he had already attempted to do so and failed; and he knew that those foreign statesmen with whom he had attempted to negotiate at the beginning of the year would scrutinise his utterance critically. All this made him extremely cautious; but his speech, analysed by those who shared, or at least thought they shared, his most intimate thoughts, seemed to go beyond what mere caution demanded. In his opening sentences the President proclaimed that the United States was not concerned with the causes or origins of the war. "The obscure fountains," he said emphatically, "from which its stupendous flood has burst forth we are not interested to search for or explore." Was this a mere form of words deliberately chosen to disguise the offer of help which he had given to the Allies earlier in the year, or did the passage mean that the offer had lapsed and would not again be renewed on such favourable terms?

 

Sir Edward Grey, at all events, thought the utterance was suspicious: he interviewed Mr. Page before his departure for Washington, and was much stiffer and more unyielding on the question of American mediation than he had been, earlier in the year, to Colonel House. In the first place, we knew the catch words "Freedom of the Seas" to be nothing but the outer wrapping to a policy which we had opposed for a long time past: that of endeavouring to make all naval supremacy useless. Secondly, Sir Edward Grey made it quite clear that the phrase in the President's speech about the obscure, untraceable origins of the war, seemed very unfair to us. In conclusion, he warned Mr. Page that we should never agree to mediation unless the French also consented: "Least of all could the English make or receive any suggestion, at least until her great new army had done its best." In other words, we were hopeful of final victory, and did not intend to be turned aside from our purpose so long as our confidence in being able to achieve it was unshaken.

 

This last remark must have shown the American Ambassador

 

May, 1916 

DIVERGENT POLICIES

 

how wide a gulf there was between the President's outlook and ours, and how easily the difference between us might grow into an open antagonism. We were hoping for a final, decisive victory, and were ready to make any effort within our strength to get it: the American Government were convinced that neither side would be able to force a military decision; and were basing their own hopes of mediating successfully on the assumption that all the Powers at war would very soon admit the deadlock. Obviously, then, Great Britain's resolute hopes were standing in the way of an early settlement. This, however, was not all: Sir Edward Grey's caveat about maritime warfare and naval power cut at the very roots of the American policy; for it was President Wilson's avowed wish to mediate between the warring Powers in such a way that they would be left to settle their territorial claims between themselves, whilst he presided over an International Congress to prevent future wars and to ensure that the "Freedom of the Seas" should be so enforced that navies could "only be used against each other, and no longer against commerce and for purposes of blockade." (Bernstorff, p. 249.)

 

The President's detachment from what were for us the practical issues of the war worked directly against us. So long as the German armies held Belgian and French territories, it would be very difficult for us to get them back by mere diplomatic bargaining; practically impossible to oblige the enemy Powers to compensate our Allies for the damage they had done; and totally impossible to arrange for the return of Alsace‑Lorraine to France. Yet these were, to us, the three absolutely essential conditions for peace; without them the balance of power in Europe would be so upset that a league to enforce peace would be impossible. It is quite true that the President had empowered Colonel House to inform the Allies that, in the last resort, the United States would be willing to enforce most of our peace conditions by armed intervention; and that, in consequence, we knew that the President had more concern and interest in the political frontiers of Europe than he pretended. There was, none the less, a general apprehension that he was half‑hearted on these points, and that his only real concerns were a general disarmament and a league to enforce peace‑measures which we could not consider until the territorial readjustment of Europe was complete. Even Sir Edward Grey, who had been most concerned with the secret negotiations at the beginning of the year, and was probably better informed of President Wilson's intentions than any other European statesman, seems to have feared that the American peace plan could not be ours, simply because points which we thought essential the American President seemed to treat as secondary.

 

It was, perhaps, because the President realised this, that he was so distant and depressed when Mr. Page went to visit him. (Page, Life and Letters, p. 188.) And if this realisation was, in fact, weighing upon him, it must certainly have inclined him to postpone his mediation; for no American President could lightly view the prospect of entering a peace conference in which his principal antagonists would be the democratic Powers of western Europe. The reason he gave to Bernstorff involved a temporary abandonment of the theory of stalemate: it was that Rumania had entered the war, and that the state of military equilibrium on which he had based his hopes of an early peace had been broken. (Bernstorff, p. 243.)

 

The reasons for the postponement are, however, less important than its consequences, for in two months the diplomatic advantages which Bethmann Hollweg and Bernstorff had so laboriously acquired were all lost.

 

American public opinion had undoubtedly for the moment turned against us; but the President saw, clearly enough, that the friendly and even cordial relations which had sprung up between the United States and Germany rested on a very insecure basis; and in his Address on being renominated to the Presidency, he used language which was little else than a warning to the German Government against presuming too much upon the new state of things. (President Wilson was renominated by the democratic convention in September 1916, and re‑elected on November 7, 1916.) "The rights of our own citizens became involved: that was inevitable. Where they did, this was our guiding principle; that property rights can be vindicated by claims for damages when the war is over, and no modern nation can decline to arbitrate such claims; but the fundamental rights of humanity cannot be so vindicated. The loss of life is irreparable. Neither can direct violations of a nation's sovereignty await vindication in suits for damages. The nation that violates these essential rights must expect to be checked and called to account by direct challenge and resistance." (Scott, President Wilson's Foreign Policy, pp. 227‑8.)

 

Words like these would have warned Admiral von Holtzendorff of the folly of what he was proposing to do if he had been capable of thinking about anything but submarines and their radius of action. Intent upon his plan of reinstating unrestricted warfare, he had kept his U‑boats busy during September; but they had not attacked commerce outside their usual

 

Oct. 1916  

AN ACT OF FOLLY

 

areas. Nineteen British vessels had been sunk in the Mediterranean, eleven in the North Sea, and twelve in the Western approaches, in the Bay of Biscay and off the coast of Portugal. And, as in the previous month, the neutrals suffered still more heavily ‑ Norway alone lost twenty‑six vessels of 45,000 tons aggregate; while in the Arctic Ocean seven Norwegian ships and one Russian were sunk, as well as one British vessel. In October the zone of operations was much extended: six vessels were sunk in the White Sea; and on October 9 the citizens of the Eastern States of America received the sensational news that a German submarine was operating off Nantucket light‑vessel. This boat was U.53; she had crossed the Atlantic under the command of Hans Rose, and he had been courteously received, on the day before the announcement in the Press, by the naval commandant at Newport. Then, after a brief exchange of visits, the submarine left her American harbour, and, having sunk five vessels off the outer light‑vessel, returned home to Germany.

 

The exasperation caused by the visit spread like a prairie fire. Ever since the war began, the Americans had been exceptionally touchy about the exercise of belligerent rights within their waters. In 1914 our watching cruisers had shadowed certain steamers on their way to New York and Boston; the American Government had at once protested, notwithstanding that our action was admittedly legitimate. During the election campaign the same apprehensive and angry feeling about the integrity of American coastal waters again made itself evident; and our Admiral was warned that he had better relax his watch on New York and the Chesapeake until the agitation in the Press had died down. It can, therefore, be imagined what feelings were aroused when it was reported that U.53 had actually carried submarine war to the American coasts, and was sinking vessels with the assistance of American navigational marks and under the eyes of American light‑keepers. The proceeding was defended on the plea that the sinkings had been made outside territorial waters and according to the rules of cruiser warfare; but popular indignation is not easily subdued by quotations from books of maritime law. The agitation continued, and took a threatening shape. The President himself took note of it, and warned the German Ambassador that the incident must not be repeated. (Bernstorff, p. 227.)

 

That such an act  of folly and so tactless an insistence on bare legal right should have been perpetrated by a Government with a high reputation for unity and cohesion, was surprising enough; and it was natural to ask how it could have been allowed. If Holtzendorff was so reckless as to wish for the experiment, was there no one in Germany with the sense and the power to forbid it? The answer is, no doubt, to be found in the rigid departmental divisions of the German Government. So long as the submarines carried out their operations according to the rules of cruiser warfare, as the Emperor had commanded them to do, the choice of the theatre for displaying their exploits was a "purely military" question. It is, therefore, very doubtful whether Admiral von Holtzendorff ever consulted the political heads of the Government about the cruise of the U.53; and she was probably sent out to give effect to the crude, illusory notion which Captain von Buelow had urged on General Ludendorff a month before: that the more harshly Germany acts at sea, the more will neutrals respect her.

 

This clumsy attempt to be impressive had, however, less permanent ill effects than might have been expected. Indignation was sharp, but short‑lived. In a few days those sections of the American Press which had always advocated the German cause were expressing admiration for the exploit , and an event now occurred which diverted public attention to another matter.

 

On October 12, the British Ambassador presented a Note replying to the American protest about our treatment of mails. The contents of our Note were soon published throughout the American Press, and their reception was decidedly bad. A very large number of Americans believed, quite honestly, that we were using belligerent measures as a cover for seizing unfair advantages over American traders; and when it was seen that we did not mean to yield on the point, which was one of importance to us, feeling began to run high. The New York World, a paper which was supposed to be closely in touch with the Government, described our Note as evasive and impudent.

 

Fortunately for the Allies, we too were saved by a diversion. The fight for the Presidency was now in full blast, and Americans gave it their undivided attention. The two antagonists, Wilson and Hughes, were equally matched; each represented a powerful group of interests; and in the turmoil foreign relations were temporarily forgotten. President Wilson was returned to office on November 7; and when the American public turned back once more to the insistent questions of peace by mediation, and of British and German acts of war, several events of great importance took place in quick succession.

 

Oct.‑Nov. 1916

PROMISES DISREGARDED

 

just before the Presidential campaign began, Mr. Grew, the American Charge d'Affaires in Berlin, had reported that the German Government intended shortly to seize a large number of Belgian workmen and carry them by force to Germany to work in the mines and factories. (U.S. Government publication, European War, No. 4, pp. 357‑9.) The rest of the month passed in efforts to obtain further information, and, finally, Mr. Grew was handed a written memorandum stating that the German Government intended "to adopt compulsory measures against Belgian unemployed, who are a burden to charity, so that friction arising therefrom may be avoided." As the "charity" which was thus to be relieved of its burdens was the "Commission d'alimentation et de secours" ‑ a purely American concern ‑ the excuse was clumsy in the extreme. Mr. Grew answered at once that the German Government's action was a breach of International Law; and on November 29 he was instructed by his Government to hand in a strongly worded note verbale. A wave of resentment at the German deportation laws swept the United States. Count Bernstorff wired to his Government saying that opinion had "been poisoned" against Germany; and he stated that, but for this unhappy measure, President Wilson would have mediated between the nations at war as soon as he was re‑elected. (Bernstorff, p. 258.)

 

The German Ambassador's views on such a subject are necessarily weighty. Count Bernstorff had much to explain to the German nation. He had to find a reason why President Wilson should have altered his views so completely in rather less than three months; and, looking back over the events of the autumn of 1916, it seemed to him that the Belgian deportations had caused the change. The explanation is not a sufficient one: it is not difficult to see that the President had other and graver reasons for mistrusting the German Government. The fact was that the submarine war was becoming more dangerous every day. Admiral von Holtzendorff was spreading his submarines over a wider and wider area, and they were showing an increasing disregard for the promises upon which American neutrality depended.

 

During the previous month, the steamship Marina of the Donaldson line had been torpedoed, without warning off Cork. (European War, No. 4, p. 258, et seq.) A heavy sea was running at the time; and of fifty‑one Americans on board, six were drowned. Investigation showed that the vessel was "on her owner's service, running on her ordinary berth, and entirely under the orders of her owners." She would, on her return from America, have carried a number of horses for use in the British army. This would, admittedly, have made the Government the consignees of part of the cargo; but it could not properly be alleged, as the German Foreign Office did, that the Marina was a "horse transport ship in the service of the British Government." Nor was this all. Two days earlier, the Rowanmore, with American citizens on board, had been shelled off the Irish coast whilst lowering her boats; on the very day that the Marina was sunk, the American steamer Lanao was sunk off Cape Vincent, in spite of the fact that the cargo was innocent; and on November 8, the large British liner Arabia was sunk without warning in the Mediterranean. As had happened when the Marina was torpedoed, the German Government excused their action by stating that the Arabia was in British Government service. We had no difficulty in proving that the statement was false; and when he took stock of the position on returning to office, President Wilson must have been painfully conscious that the pledges which the German Government had given him in April were being deliberately violated.

 

But more than a month was needed to examine each case and to receive the German answers to the questions raised; so that it was not until the middle of December that all the facts were known. By then very important negotiations of another kind were in progress, and these cases, flagrant as they were, did not receive much attention. The American Government did not press their protests, and Count Bernstorff concluded, in consequence, that what had occurred was without importance; but this was a very hazardous assumption. (Bernstorff, p. 262.) If the President, in the interests of his impending effort at mediation, decided to draw as little attention as he could to the incidents, it by no means followed that he was not deeply and painfully impressed by the unscrupulous policy which had caused them.

 

The steady spread of the submarine campaign and its increasing successes had now brought on a fresh internal struggle in the German Government; and the taking of American lives in violation of promises given was as much the outcome of confusion, uncertainty and diversity of aim as of deliberate bad faith.

 

Oct. 1‑4, 1916

THE CHANCELLOR'S PROTEST

 

On October 1, only a week after Bethmann Hollweg had presented his memorandum upon American mediation to the tinperor, he received a " very confidential " report from Holtzendorff. (Beilagen, Teil IV., pp. 183, 184.) It was to the effect that the Great General Staff had advised him to begin unrestricted submarine warfare on October 18, and to issue the necessary orders on the 10th. The news amazed him; and his reply went much further than a mere protest against a breach of procedure. After explaining the lamentable effects of withdrawing all diplomatic undertakings without warning or explanation, he attacked the principle of submarine war itself. It consisted in striving for results based on the merest guesswork, at the cost of a certain and definite evil. "The effect of submarine warfare upon England is purely speculative  .... it is impossible to impose an unbreakable blockade upon her." Apart from this, Great Britain would certainly not face the danger passively. If she introduced an effective convoy system, the whole basis upon which the Naval Staff had built up its arguments would be withdrawn. Doubtless intensified submarine war would injure Great Britain, but that was a very different thing from compelling her to make peace, when that same act of war would rally America, Holland, Denmark and Spain to her assistance. "The perspective which all this opens up is so wide, and of such general import, that, quite apart from American action, no final decision can possibly be come to until His Majesty has had the matter set before him in all its aspects."

 

This energetic protest was presented to the Field‑Marshall by Baron von Gruenau, the Chancellor's representative at Headquarters. His report shows how completely the military and civil departments of Government mistrusted one another. Hindenburg and Ludendorff wished him to tell the Chancellor how much they deplored the mistake. Nothing was further from their thoughts than to take separate action. "Both these gentlemen assured me, several times over, that no discord must be allowed to disturb their local co‑operation with you." But having thus discharged his duty, Gruenau continued that he had very good reason for thinking that " General Ludendorff is counting upon an early beginning to the line of action mentioned " [intensified submarine warfare].

 

Two days later, however (October 4), the General Staff realised that their manoeuvre had been premature. On that day Holtzendorff, whose obstinate energy no consideration seems ever to have restrained, went to press his views upon the Emperor. He was told curtly "that there could be no question of re‑starting intensified submarine warfare for the moment." (Beilagen, Teil IV., p. 185.)

 

This ended the attempt to force the Government's hand; but it only set on foot the Great General Staff's campaign against the Chancellor's authority. We may doubt whether Hindenburg and Ludendorff shared Holtzendorff's anxiety to re‑start an autumn campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare; but it is absolutely certain that they had determined to constitute themselves the deciding authority on the whole question. What they desired and aimed at was that they might be in a position to settle the matter themselves, without these interminable discussions, in which the Chancellor's considerations of policy had the same weight as their own views on the military position. For this it was needful to set up a new fence round the Chancellor's field of authority. The first move in the new game was made by Hindenburg. His letter was written only a day after the Emperor had conveyed his decision to Admiral von Holtzendorff. It was not sent through Gruenau, although it appears, from previous communications, that he was the official intermediary; it was addressed direct to Bethmann Hollweg, and ran thus:

 

"At the meeting in Pless, at the end of August or the beginning of September ‑ I cannot fix the date more closely ‑ I recollect that Your Excellency said that the decision whether submarine warfare should be intensified rested with the High Military Command. Your Excellency only stipulated that you might consult the Allies and announce certain friendly settlements with other nations. Your Excellency has also emphasised the responsibility of the High Command on the submarine question to members of the Reichstag, although the actual expressions used have not been communicated to me. From numerous statements that have come into my possession, I am of the opinion (which is shared by wide political circles) that responsibility for the submarine war rests solely with the High Command. From the telegram quoted above, I conceive that Your Excellency's views on the question are not what I had supposed. I understand your point, but in order that we may be quite clear (tatsachlich festzustellen) how far responsibility for a sharpened submarine war rests with the High Command, I should be grateful for an expression of your opinion."

 

It is difficult, at first sight, to understand how Hindenburg found it possible to put the Chancellor's words in question. The discussion at Pless had been very carefully recorded by

 

Oct. 1916

MILITARY PRESSURE

 

Gruenau, and a copy of his minutes was doubtless available at Headquarters. They contain no syllable which suggests, even remotely, that the Chancellor resigned any part of his responsibility for deciding whether intensified submarine warfare should, or should not, be re‑started. How then could the Field‑Marshall risk the statement that he had done so? The answer is, no doubt, that the statement was merely a brief and convenient expression of what he regarded as the result of the debate. As for the risk of contradiction, he was not likely to make much of that. The minutes of the Pless conference, however accurate, could only be a summary of the proceedings, and not a verbatim report of them. It was, therefore, always open to any person present to maintain that more had actually been said than appeared on the documents.

 

The Chancellor answered sharply that he had never said anything of the kind attributed to him; but he was less firm on the challenge to state his opinion with regard to responsibility. If the Emperor ordered intensified submarine warfare, doubtless he did it by virtue of his authority as military Commander‑in‑Chief. This, however, did not dispose of the question. The decision itself could not be taken without first examining the foreign affairs of the Empire. "I hope, therefore, Your Excellency agrees with my opinion that, apart from the immediate participation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a measure of such importance as that of unrestricted submarine warfare ought not to be decided on without consultation with the Imperial Chancellor."

 

The strength of the answer lay in the reminder that only the Emperor could issue the necessary orders; but it is clear that the Chancellor felt his own position to be shaken. The Field‑Marshall was openly interfering with the politics of the Empire and using the Reichstag parties for his own ends. Almost simultaneously with Hindenburg's letter, the Centre Party passed a resolution about the constitutional position of the Imperial Chancellor in war, and the connection between the two was patent. (Bethmann Hollweg pp. 127‑8.) On October 14, therefore, Bethmann Hollweg telegraphed to Washington, urging that the President should be asked to hasten his first peace move, as the demand for unrestricted submarine warfare was rising. (Bernstorff, p. 254.)

 

Four days later, an Imperial Council met at Pless. A proclamation of Polish independence was agreed to; but beyond this we know practically nothing of what occurred. (Bethmann Hollweg, p. 95.) If submarine warfare were discussed, evidently nothing was done to bind the Government to a consistent line of action; for after the meeting, as before it, Holtzendorff continued to press for wider powers, regardless of the diplomatic situation and of the Emperor's ruling. Whether the Chancellor could have held the military party in check much longer may be doubted. In any case, he shortly became party to a move which dominated everything on the international chess‑board.

 

6

 

Ever since the summer, Baron Burian, the Foreign Minister of the Austro‑Hungarian Empire, had been warning Berlin that Austria's war machinery was running down; and now, as the winter was coming on, bringing with it a terrible prospect of want and suffering, he renewed his representations and urged that every neutral State in Europe should be asked to make a joint move in favour of peace. (German Official Documents relating to the World War published by the Carnegie Endowment, p. 1053.) A plan of the kind had the advantage that it in no way obstructed President Wilson; but rather assisted him. On the other hand, joint action between Norway, Sweden, Holland, Switzerland and Spain would not be easily or quickly arranged; so that, if speed was what was wanted, it was doubtful if anything would be gained.

 

Bethmann Hollweg has never given his whole opinion on the plan of making an independent peace move. As far as one can judge from his very guarded answers when he appeared before the Reichstag Committee of Inquiry, years later, he was not averse to it, though he did not approve of the method finally adopted. He was absolutely certain that there was a peace party in the British Cabinet; and he thought, by some misreading of diplomatic events, that Great Britain had made a "peace feeler" during the year. He was entirely mistaken, but it was a misunderstanding which was quite widely shared; for the same assertion is to be found in Count Bernstorff's evidence before the Committee of Inquiry and in Hildebrand's Life of Ballin. The Chancellor had thus some reason to think that the Entente would not reject peace proposals outright, if made to them; and probably on this ground seconded Baron Burian's proposal. It seems strange, at first sight, that the High Military Command should have been in favour of making peace proposals, yet they undoubtedly were; and their motives, though complex and disingenuous, were not inconsistent. In the first place, they thought that a peace which put their victories on record might

 

Oct. 20, 1916

PEACE PROPOSALS

 

possibly be arranged. The German army had defended itself successfully on the Western Front, and overpowered our latest Ally, Rumania. If the German negotiators could come to the conference table with such good cards in their hands, it seemed inconceivable that they should not leave it with most of the tricks to their score. Behind this there was another and more powerful motive. They completely mistrusted American mediation. The assurances that the President would leave the belligerents to settle their claims against one another, and preside over an international congress for preventing war, had not persuaded them. To Hindenburg and Ludendorff, President Wilson seemed the man who, before all others, was likely to rob them of the fruit of their victories.

 

Thirdly, there was the alternative and much stronger hope that a breakdown of the negotiations would put the Entente Powers in the wrong and clear away the last remaining argument against unrestricted submarine war. To this hope the Emperor himself, as we shall see presently, was a party.

 

These were roughly the sources out of which the German peace proposals sprang; and by October 20 the matter was settled; for on that day the Emperor sent Bethmann Hollweg a highly sanctimonious letter telling him to propose peace to the Entente Powers.

 

It now remained to settle what conditions of peace the negotiators should insist on. This was a very difficult matter. The terms desired by the Austrian and German Governments were compatible; but the demands of the German Generals were very heavy, and their attitude was extremely threatening. (German official documents, p. 1053, et seq.) Their conditions included a control of the Belgian railway and heavy indemnities both from Belgium and France; and, in order to show the Chancellor that they really intended to see these terms enforced, Hindenburg asked him, by letter, to state what minimum conditions he would insist on at the conference, even at the cost of continuing the war. In the end, agreement was only reached by leaving out all mention of the very large number of points in dispute and drawing up the rest in the vaguest possible language. Bethmann Hollweg stated, years later, that he always looked upon this list of conditions as a compromise between the conflicting views and ambitions of the parties in Germany, and that he never attached any great importance to them. This agrees with his answer to Hindenburg's challenge, Which he met by saying that the best terms to be obtained at a future conference depended upon the progress of the negotiations, and nothing was to be gained by binding the Govern. ment to a particular set of clauses.

 

When finally settled, the compromise ran thus: Belgium was to be evacuated, and was, in return, to give certain undefined securities to Germany; France would be given back her invaded provinces, but was to pay an indemnity, in addition to which the Briey basin was to be annexed as a "frontier rectification." The greater part of Serbia was to be given as spoil to Bulgaria, and the nucleus which remained was to be bound by close economic ties to Austria‑Hungary. Montenegro was to disappear, and be divided between the dual monarchy and an independent Albania. Rumania was apparently to be treated less harshly; for no demands against her are mentioned except frontier rectifications at the Iron Gates and in the Bistritza valley. Russia was to cede all provinces occupied by the German armies, which were either to be annexed or set up as independent States, bound closely to Germany; the limits of the autonomous Poland, which were to be set up, were not defined even approximately. The captured German colonies were to be returned, with the exception of Kiao‑chao and the Japanese acquisitions in the Pacific. In order to compensate Germany for these losses, Belgium was to cede her the Congo. All capitulations in the Turkish Empire were to terminate, and Russia was to be given free passage through the Straits. Nothing was settled about the Russian conquests south of the Caucasus.

 

It was decided that these conditions should be rigidly kept secret, and that not a syllable of them should be divulged until a peace conference had actually been assembled.

 

November was almost out when the German Note had been examined and approved by Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey. Even then Bethmann Hollweg still kept it back, and waited for the moment when German victories should have seemed to reach their zenith. All through the month the Rumanian armies retreated before the Austro‑Germans, and on December 6 Bucharest fell. Two days later Bethmann Hollweg received a letter from Field‑Marshall von Hindenburg telling him that there was no longer any objection to issuing the Peace Note; always providing that the war was continued without respite by land and sea; that unrestricted submarine warfare was to be begun at the end of January; and that the political leaders could reckon on negotiating the kind of "peace that Germany needed." This was all fairly sweeping, but the condition about submarine warfare was positively staggering. The Chancellor was to negotiate a peace, with American and neutral co‑operation, whilst the

 

Nov.‑Dec. 1916  

A LIMITED VIEW

 

Navy and army commanders were preparing for the sinking of peaceful merchant ships in violation of the most solemn diplomatic engagements; and finally, at a moment when every effort had been ostensibly made to insinuate a conciliatory feeling into the affairs of nations, the Naval High Command was to be given a free hand to provoke universal exasperation and bitterness. The fact was that Hindenburg saw no reason to delay unrestricted submarine war now that he had enough troops to overrun Holland and Denmark if they protested against it. To him the United States was simply a country without an army; and the enormous assistance that she could give the Entente, without even landing a soldier in Europe, was outside the limits of his vision. He had made up is mind that the High Command was to decide the question, and his letter was a fresh reminder of their determination to take the matter out of the Chancellor's hands. Bethmann Hollweg understood it so, and answered more firmly than he had done before. "Unrestricted submarine war can only be started by withdrawing our undertakings to America, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. Whether such a withdrawal is possible in January 1917 can only be settled after reviewing the whole situation as it then stands; no final decision can be taken now. If, however, our peace proposal is rejected, our attitude on the question of armed merchant vessels will be presented with the greatest energy.

 

"I should have been grateful had the High Military Command presented their proposals to the Emperor after consultation with the political sections of the Government."

 

The implication of these words is clear: the military leaders were simply pressing their views on the Emperor when they could get him by himself, and were doing their utmost to supersede the old system of general discussions in which every section of the Government was represented.

 

The militarists had to wait until early in December before the politicians put forward "peace proposals." But when the time came they could not complain of the methods adopted. Bethnann Hollweg in his speech to the Reichstag, in which he announced the opening of negotiations, took the magnanimous, imperial, innocent and minatory tone which was as like his master as it was unlike himself. In the Note to the neutral intermediaries he dwelt on the indestructible strength of Germany and her Allies, and their unswerving "conviction that respect for the rights of other nations is not in any degree incompatible with their own rights and legitimate interests"; he added that "they feel sure that the propositions which they would bring forward, and which would aim at assuring the existence, honour and free development of their peoples, would be such as to serve as a basis for the restoration of a lasting peace."

 

In the Reichstag he repeated these points, and added two more, evidently for the sake of their effect at home. "In August 1914 our enemies challenged the superiority of power in a world war; to‑day we raise the question of peace, which is a question of humanity. The answer which will be given by our enemies we await with that sereneness of mind which is guaranteed to us by our external and internal strength, and by our clear conscience. If our enemies decline and wish to take upon themselves the world's heavy burden of all those terrors which will follow thereupon, then, even in the least and humblest homes, every German heart will burn in sacred wrath against our enemies, who are unwilling to stop human slaughter because they desire to continue their plans of conquest and annihilation. In a fateful hour we took a fateful decision. God will be our judge."

 

This voice of the "clear conscience" is not the voice of Bethmann Hollweg, certainly not the voice of that Bethmann Hollweg who in August 1914 spoke candidly of "the wrong that we have done in neutral Belgium." Nor could it be considered a tactful utterance, suited to its ostensible purpose. It invited the question whether it was in any way sincere, or only a move in the game. In England there were a few who asserted that it was a genuine offer, and that we were bound both by religion and by our hopeless military position to accept it. But here, as in every country of the Entente, the opposite view was held by the great majority. It was, of course, at that time a matter of opinion, or of instinct and the fighting spirit: it can now be examined as a matter of fact. We know now that the German generals had pronounced the military position hopeless and the national position desperate; the admirals had declared that Germany could only be saved by a ruthless U‑boat campaign, which the politicians, on the other hand, maintained to mean "nothing but catastrophe." We know also that the naval and military chiefs had agreed to force on the U‑boat campaign and in no circumstances to admit any yielding. Was Bethmann Hollweg sincere, though inconsistent? Was he trying ‑ was he allowed to try ‑ by a real offer of peace, to save Germany from the deadly dilemma which he had so clearly explained to the Kaiser and his less capable advisers?

 

To begin with the offer itself: we have already seen that neither note nor speech gave any real offer; what the proposals were to be was not stated, nor even hinted at. The

 

Dec. 1916

DOUBTFUL INTENTIONS

 

Entente by responding would accept the German claims as to the origin of the war and the indestructible strength of the Central Powers, and they would be exposed to the risks involved in refusing the terms when offered, however impossible they proved to be. We know, however, that Bethmann Hollweg did think the bait might take. He telegraphed, on December 19, to Hindenburg: "I do not consider it impossible that our adversaries may express their readiness to enter into peace negotiations with certain reservations." He goes on to ask "whether it is thinkable to make our consent to an armistice dependent on such conditions that the disadvantage should not be ours but our enemies'." It is extraordinary that such a bait should have seemed to him sufficiently attractive; on the contrary, there was the remarkable assertion that the Germans had never swerved from the conviction that the rights of other nations were not in any degree incompatible with their own rights and legitimate interests: to the friends of Belgium and Serbia surely not a convincing statement.

 

The explanation is that Bethmann Hollweg was only considering possibilities: it was necessary for him to be ready to meet any answer, but the answer for which he had been commanded to scheme was, beyond doubt, a refusal, and his object, or the object of the All‑Highest whom he obeyed, was the resumption of the U‑boat war. This statement may appear to assume an astonishing inconsistency in the Kaiser and his Chancellor, but its truth is not to be questioned. In a telegram dated October 1, 1916, Bethmann Hollweg protested to Gruenau against a decision reported to have been taken without an agreement with himself and the sanction of His Majesty, and set out the existing situation. "We have, as everybody knows, promised Arnerica to wage the U‑boat war only in accordance with the Prize Regulations. By personal command of His Majesty, Count Bernstorff has been instructed to induce President Wilson to issue an appeal for peace. Provided that Wilson can be so induced, the probable rejection of the appeal by England and her Allies, while we accept it, is intended to afford us a basis upon which we can morally justify the withdrawal of our promise to America before all the world, and above all before the European neutrals, and thus influence their probable attitude in the future." He adds that "before the situation has been cleared in that respect," and His Majesty's commands received, no U‑boat campaign can be announced.

 

In the face of this document, can it be doubted that the German peace offer, as well as the American one to be procured by Bernstorff, was deliberately planned as a preliminary to the ruthless U‑boat campaign?

 

We have other evidence, and it all points in the same direction. On December 19 Mr. Gerard, the American Ambassador, arrived in Copenhagen and saw the Austrian Ambassador. Gerard foreshadowed a peace move from the American President, the Pope, and possibly the King of Spain. He then ‑ and this must clearly have been in answer to a question or hint from the Austrian Ambassador ‑ "laid stress on his apprehension at the possible resumption of the unrestricted submarine war. In his opinion even the unconditional rejection of the peace offer on the part of the Entente would not be sufficient ground for disregarding on principle the fundamental international laws as hitherto recognised." The United States, if provoked, would enter the war. At the moment when Mr. Gerard spoke, President Wilson's Note had already been received by the British Government. It was "in no way prompted by the recent overtures of the Central Powers"; indeed, it could not have been expressed better if it had been designed to show up their principal defect. The President "is not proposing peace: he is not even offering mediation": he is seeking "to call out from all the nations now at war an avowal of their respective views as to the terms upon which the war might be concluded."

 

Such an avowal could well be made by the Entente Powers: they had only to ask for restitution (including Alsace‑Lorraine), reparation and guarantees. But Germany could not avow her aims, for either they were incompatible with these and proved her guilt, or they were not incompatible, and therefore admitted her guilt. This dilemma had been perceived by the Germans as soon as they received from the Papal Nuncio the first news of President Wilson's action. On December 18 Count Wedel, the Ambassador at Vienna, telegraphed to the Berlin Foreign Office: "Baron Burian agrees with Your Excellency, and considers it probable that we shall be compelled to reject. Our reply should, in his opinion, be so worded that our tactical position shall not become worse, and that the possibility shall not be precluded of continuing to spin the thread." It is quite clear that what Germany will be compelled to reject is the statement of any proposed terms, the only thing which the Pope or the President had suggested, and the conclusion is therefore unavoidable that such a statement of terms being impossible for Germany, her peace offer could not have been intended to bring peace - in other words, it was a tactical move, an offer made to clear the situation for the militarists. The action

 

Dec. 1916 

THE ALLIES UNANIMOUS

 

of the naval and military chiefs irresistibly enforces this view.

 

7

 

Whilst the German Note was being drawn up and settled, Great Britain had passed through a political crisis. On December 4 Mr. Asquith's Government had fallen, and Mr. Lloyd George had formed a new Cabinet. The "War Cominittee" (formed on November 3, 1915) had held their last meeting on December 1, 1916; and the new "War Cabinet" met for the first time on December 9. It consisted of the new premier, Lord Curzon, Lord Milner, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Bonar Law, and was given the powers of an executive council for prosecuting the war. It was by this body that Bethmann Hollweg's Peace Note was discussed.

 

Nobody could guess what concrete proposals lay behind the Note; but it was obvious that the German Government had no intention of agreeing to the terms which we still hoped to enforce. The War Cabinet was, indeed, so unanimous for rejecting the peace offer that no suggestion of any other procedure was even uttered. The only point upon which opinion was divided was the method of rejection. As it was thought that the Note was a mere manoeuvre to influence neutrals, and to throw the responsibility for continuing the war upon the Entente Powers, the Foreign Office had been very busy in obtaining opinions from the neutral chancelleries during the week preceding the discussion in the War Cabinet.

 

The inquiries showed that there was a very general feeling in neutral countries against rejecting the German offer outright. The Swedish Foreign Minister and Cardinal Gasparri of the Vatican were specially emphatic that Germany ought, at least, to be asked to state her terms. In the end it was decided that a common Allied Note should be drawn up and issued from Paris. It was thought best that France, who had suffered so terribly, should be, in some sort, the Allied spokesman. Nothing but rejection was possible; for since December 12, when Bethmann Hollweg had made his announcement in the Reichstag, Allied opinion had been expressing itself in a very decided fashion. On December 13 Monsieur Briand had been cheered loudly in the French Chamber when he denounced the German Peace Note as a subtle, cunning manoeuvre to divide the Allies; two days later M. Pokrovsky, the Russian Foreign Minister, made a speech to the Duma announcing the Tsar's determination to fight on and remain faithful to his Allies; and apart from these official declarations, public feeling was very decided. One has only to glance at the daily papers of that date to realise the torrent of indignation which would have overwhelmed any attempt to compromise and give the German offer a further hearing.

 

If Bethmann Hollweg had been sincere when he said that he had only agreed to issue a separate Peace Note because he distrusted President Wilson's procrastinating methods, he must have regretted his own impatience. It was exactly a week after he had made his speech in the Reichstag, and only three days after the British War Cabinet had seriously discussed the German Peace Offer, that the American proposals were handed in. For this trivial anticipation the Imperial Chancellor had sacrificed the active collaboration of the greatest neutral Power in the world, and had bitterly disappointed its President. (Bernstorff, p. 270.)

 

His regret at the bad manceuvring into which he had been forced by his master must have been the keener in that, at home, these same violent influences were passing out of his control. Some days after the German Peace Note had been sent out, and almost simultaneously with the American offer to mediate, the military authorities decided to force the Chancellor's hand finally, and re‑start unrestricted submarine warfare regardless of every other consideration. What prompted their decision has never been ascertained. It may very possibly have been the shortage of food in Germany and even of rations at the front caused by our blockade, and the dread of the terrible winter which lay before them. But when afterwards cross‑questioned by the Reichstag Committee, Ludendorff said that it was the French attack at Verdun on December 15 which decided him. (German official domments, p. 887.)

 

The statement does not stand examination. The documents now published show quite clearly that the High Command decided, early in December, to press for unrestricted submarine war regardless of peace notes and diplomatic negotiations. Now the second battle of Verdun, which Ludendorff alleges was the deciding factor, began on October 24, and ended on December 18. Its results were quite clear before December began; so that Ludendorff's explanation may be an explanation, but the dates by which he strove to support it are wrong. In order to cover himself he stated that the French attack at Verdun began on December 15, which was practically the date on which it ended.

 

The available documents throw no light upon the question; but they do show that some exceptionally severe shock took effect upon General Headquarters in the first

 

Dec. 1916 

CIVILIAN MINISTERS YIELDING

 

part of December. During the previous month Hindenburg and Ludendorff had discussed conditions of peace in a way which showed a complete confidence in the army's power to enforce the harsh terms they desired to see imposed. In January the Field‑Marshall stated that the military position could "hardly be worse than it is now." (German official documents, p. 1319.) The French victory at Verdun is no explanation for such a change of outlook. Doubtless it came as a painful blow to German Headquarters to see their troops hurled in confusion from the heights which they had gained at such awful cost in the earlier part of the year; but they must have known perfectly well that the French victory was local and without any large strategical significance. It does not explain the FieldMarshall's new attitude; and nobody can read through the mass of materials now published without getting a strong impression that some set of facts, probably the facts of our blockade and the rapidly growing destitution of the central nations, came before Ludendorff's notice in the early part of December with a force which impressed upon him the urgent conviction that he must lose no time.

 

On December 20, when the Imperial Chancellor was carefully watching the effects of his Peace Note upon neutral opinion and waiting for the next move in the diplomatic game, the Foreign Office representative at Pless, Lersner, transmitted a telegram from Ludendorff to Zimmermann and Bethmann Hollweg. The message was singularly brief, and stated simply that the Quartermaster‑General considered that Mr. Lloyd George's speech in the House of Commons was equivalent to a rejection of the German proposals, and that "as a result of the impressions I have received on the Western Front, I am of opinion that submarine warfare should now be launched with the greatest vigour." (Ibid., p. 1199, et seq.) Zimmermann saw that the message was serious, and answered it at once. He begged Lersner to keep a "steady pulse and a cool head," and to inform Ludendorff that the whole question must stand over until a formal answer to the German peace proposals had been received. It was clear, however, that the civilian ministers were giving way; for, as a sop to the military leaders, a promise was given that the American Government was shortly to be told that armed merchantmen would be torpedoed at sight. The undertaking must have caused the utmost misgiving to Zimmermann and Bethmann Hollweg, for Count Bernstorff had already told his Government that such a measure would be almost fatal; and when he got the message, he repeated his warning.

 

Lersner strove conscientiously to do his duty . He pointed out "the extraordinary responsibility which the Supreme Command was taking upon itself with regard to the Emperor, the people and the Army, by this precipitate insistence"; and made a last effort to show what war with America would mean. No compromise or concession satisfied the generals; they were determined now to give the Entente no time to reply to the Peace Note in either sense. On December 22 Holtzendorff had once more, in a detailed memorandum to Hindenburg, given urgent reasons for adopting the unrestricted U‑boat campaign. Without this method, he said, England would not be effectively starved, and, "further, the psychological elements of fear and panic would be lacking." Hindenburg accordingly telegraphed next day to the Chancellor. "The diplomatic and military reparations for the unrestricted submarine war should be begun now, so that it may for certain set in at the end of January."

 

Bethmann Hollweg himself replied to this, pointing out once more that the position must first be made clear with regard to America. This could not be done until the Entente had given a formal reply to the German peace offer. "At present nobody can foresee what it will be. In all probability it will be negative, but might nevertheless leave a loophole. We must not close this. This would happen should we begin action  .... before the receipt of the reply. Thereby the political success we have achieved through our peace offer  .... would be seriously impaired. Even now, we meet with the assumption that we got up the whole peace action mala fide and merely as a way of working up to the unrestricted submarine war." A bad impression had also been produced by the German Press, which, like Ludendorff, had replied to Lloyd George's speech and Wilson's Note with an immediate "cry for the submarines."

 

On December 26, after Ludendorfl had revived the old falsehood about the decision come to on August 31, Hindenburg sent Bethmann Hollweg his ultimatum. It was simply to let the Chancellor know that he intended to get his own way. Bethmann Hollweg probably saw that the end had come; but as the necessary orders could only be sent out by the Emperor, the final step could not be taken until a conference had been assembled. He therefore promised to go to Pless in a few days.

 

In the meantime, he had received two urgent communlcations. One was a memorandum from Falkenhayn, which

 

Dec. 26, 1916-Jan. 7, 1917

REAL GERMAN AIMS

 

throws a glaring light on the untrustworthiness of the German peace terms as drawn up, but not even yet divulged. England, it is argued, is as much bound as Germany to carry on the war to the bitter end: the fear that she will be "driven to extremes" lacks all substance. "Just as for us the war must be declared lost if the entry of Belgium into our 'concern' is not enforced, England loses it if she has to allow such a transfer." This point is made doubly plain. "No doubt can exist that the country must remain at our disposal as a strategical area for protection of the most important German industrial district and as Hinterland for our position on the Flanders coast, which is indispensable to our maritime importance." The Kaiser was of the same opinion, but for a different and very characteristic reason. On January 2 he declared to Gruenau that "after rejecting our efforts for the third time, King Albert could not be allowed to return to Belgium; the coast of Flanders must become ours."

 

The other correspondent was Admiral von Holtzendorff, who at Hindenburg's request had circulated a written statement of his views, to which he attached a memorandum showing the facts upon which they were based. It may be said that this document was drawn up by persons not competent to judge of the matter; but it was in form a closely reasoned statement, based on an enormous array of statistics. Bethmann Hollweg, it would seem, had not read it before, and the time at his disposal was too short to allow him to have it thoroughly examined by experts. He did what he could to get an independent opinion, by passing it on to Helfferich; but it was not until January 9 that the Minister of the Interior gave his views. They were a repetition of what he had said at Pless in August: Admiral von Holtzendorff's forecast about bringing Great Britain to her knees by destroying four million tons of shipping in five months was pure speculation, and any method of calculation which left American resources out of the reckoning was radically unsound.

 

Between December 26, when the Chancellor promised to come to Pless, and the date of the final decision, the German Government received a formal notification that the Entente Powers had rejected their Peace Note. The Austrian Government now made a desperate effort to keep the negotiations alive, and on January 2 the Emperor Karl sent a personal appeal to his Ally. The reply to it was not encouraging; but the Austrian Government persevered; and, four days later, Count Czernin had a conference with Prince Hohenlohe, Bethmann Hollweg, Zimmermann and the Under-Secretary of State, von Stumm. (Baron Burian resigned his post as Minister for Foreign Affairs on December 22, 1916, and Count Czernin was appointed in his stead.)

 

He probably saw that it was useless to press for fresh negotiations, and so, beyond recording his opinion that the war must end in a compromise, he confined himself to the matter immediately in debate, which was simply how the Entente's last Note could best be answered. It was agreed that a reply should be sent to the United States and to all the neutral Powers of Europe, and a draft was accordingly drawn up. There the matter rested; and three days later, on January 8, the Chancellor travelled to Pless for the final discussion on the future conduct of the war. Just before he arrived, the military leaders and Admiral von Holtzendorff met for a preliminary conference. Determined as they had always been to have their own way, they seem to have been appalled at what they now intended to do. The notes of the meeting, rough and laconic as they are, read like the records of a conspiracy. Those present had made up their minds; but they were deeply moved. Holtzendorff read out the orders to the submarine fleet and the notification to the American Government, and went on to say that the Emperor had "no real conception of the position." The meeting then came to the real point: would the Chancellor agree? The minutes of proceedings show best how the discussion proceeded: (German official documents, p. 1317.)

 

Holtzendorff: The Chancellor arrives here to‑morrow.

 

Hindenburg: What are his troubles?

 

Holtzendorff: The Chancellor wishes to keep in his own hands the diplomatic preparation of the unrestricted U‑boat war in order to keep the United States out of it. The Chancellor had characterised the Note with regard to armed steamships as a U‑boat trap which would bring on the conflict with the United States.

 

Ludendorff: But the Chancellor knew all that.

 

Holtzendorff: The Foreign Office thinks that if the United States came in, South America would come into the war too. And, besides this, they are thinking about the times which will follow the conclusion of peace.

 

Hindenburg: We must conquer first.

 

Ludendorff: To characterise the Note concerning firing on armed steamers as a U‑boat trap is just another attempt to put the matter off.

 

Holtzendorff: What shall we do if the Chancellor does not join us?

 

Hindenburg: That is just what I am racking my brain about.

 

Jan. 8‑9, 1917

THE LAST CONFERENCE

 

Holtzendorff: Then you must become Chancellor.

 

Hindenburg: No, I cannot do that and I will not do it; cannot deal with the Reichstag.

 

Holtzendorff: In my opinion, Buelow and Tirpitz are out of the question on account of their relations with the Emperor.

 

Ludendorff: I would not try to persuade Hindenburg.

 

Hindenburg: I cannot talk in the Reichstag. I refuse. What about Dallwitz?

 

Ludendorff: You mean whether he wants the U‑boat war at all?

 

Holtzendorff: The Chancellor has the confidence of foreign nations to a great extent.

 

Hindenburg: Well, we shall hold together, anyway. It simply must be. We are counting on the possibility of war with the United States, and have made all preparations to meet it. Things cannot be worse than they are now. The war must be brought to an end by the use of all means as soon as possible.

 

Holtzendorff: Again, His Majesty has no real conception of the situation or of the feeling among his own people.

 

Ludendorff: That is true.

 

Holtzendorff: People and the army are crying for the unrestricted U‑boat war.

 

Ludendorff: That is true.

 

Holtzendorff: Secretary of State Helfferich said to me: "Your method leads to ruin." I answered him: "You are letting us run headlong into ruin."

 

Early next day the Chancellor arrived. What happened is best told in his own words. (Bethmann Hollweg, Vol. II., p. 137.) "With all these thoughts in my mind, I came to the general conference. It was held in the Emperor's presence on the evening of the 9th, and the atmosphere was just as charged as it had been during the forenoon when I discussed the matter, by myself, with the High Command. I felt that I was dealing with men who no longer intended to discuss the decisions they had made. I certainly thought the help which America could give to our enemies was higher than the High Command imagined it to be; but after the Entente's answer to our Peace Note, I could not suggest fresh negotiations  .... I thought of resigning; but that would have altered nothing. The Supreme Command were now my political and personal opponents  .... and within his heart the Emperor was on their side. Had I opposed the decision, the crisis of July 1917 would have occurred six months earlier. A submarine war‑chancellor would have been found all the earlier, in that he would have taken office at the desire of the great majority of the nation, of its representatives, of the army and the navy. I had no thought of saving myself; my only duty was not to obstruct a decision which could not be avoided; It was just because I feared to do so by resigning on January 9, that I remained In office." These words sound like the man himself, and they agree with what the reporter to the conference noted down:

 

"Chancellor: The prospects for unrestricted submarine warfare are, doubtless, very favourable  .... but it must be admitted that they cannot be demonstrated by proof. Submarine warfare is the last card. We are making a very serious‑decision; but if the military authorities consider it essential, I am not in a position to contradict them." In this manner the last step was taken. Fatal as the decision was, it had been inevitable from the very beginning of the debate. This is made clear by every document now available. By December 26 the last hope of common sense had disappeared. Hindenburg had changed his tactics: he no longer asserted that the Chancellor agreed with him, he simply accepted his disagreement and telegraphed his intention of disregarding it. "I must state that although Your Excellency in your capacity as Imperial Chancellor certainly claims the exclusive responsibility, in full consciousness of my responsibility for a victorious issue of the war, I shall naturally use all my endeavour to see that all I consider proper will be done from the military side."

 

He followed this on December 31 with a rebuke on the subject of the peace terms. "Your Excellency's statement on the 29th that it might not be possible for us to retain the mining districts of Briey has filled me with doubt as to Your Excellency's fundamental standpoint." This latter and the reasonable reply which it drew from the Chancellor confirm the view that Bethmann Hollweg stood contrasted with the imperators real or titular as the one mind whose lines of thought were such as to be intelligible to those of non-Germanic birth and education.

 

But he, a mere civilian, could not face army, navy and Kaiser acting in concert. Admiral Scheer was now moving: in great anxiety lest the same concession as before should be made to America, he was sending a representative ‑ Captain von Leventzow ‑ to Berlin to convey an urgent warning against "such a middle course." This emissary saw Bethmann Hollweg on January 8, and the same date stands at the head of a telegram to the Chancellor from Hindenburg at

 

Jan. 1917   

A STRANGE PROCEEDING

 

Pless. "I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that, according to the military situation, the intensified submarine war can and therefore should, begin on February 1." Next day Holtzendorff, Admiral Scheer tells us, convinced His Majesty also. This formality covered the actual decision which had been made by Hindenburg: the procedure was completed by a telegraphic order "sent by the All‑Highest to the Chief of the Naval Staff " ‑ who either had or had not just left his presence. "I command that the unrestricted U‑boat campaign shall begin on February 1, in full force  .... the fundamental plans of operation are to be submitted to me."

 

It is more than probable that the Kaiser's histrionic powers enabled him to believe in this command as the issue of his own will; and there can be no doubt that it was in no way discordant with his own wishes. But the method of staging is illuminated by the following telegram sent by Lersner, the Secretary at Pless (Headquarters), and marked as "only for the Imperial Chancellor and the Secretary of State! "

 

"His Majesty has received a large number of telegrams of assent and devotion in reply to his proclamation, to the German people. In strict confidence, I hear that Field-Marshall von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff are responsible for a great number of these, in order to show the world how unanimous all Germany is in its loyalty to the Emperor. His Majesty has expressed himself highly pleased at these marks of homage. Their widest publication in the Press would, in my humble opinion, cause His Majesty much pleasure."

 

On the very day when the decision was taken at Pless, the British Government replied to the American Peace Note.

 

President Wilson had not offered his mediation in the way that Colonel House had foreshadowed at the beginning of the year; indeed, he had not offered mediation at all, but had simply suggested that both parties at war should let him know what terms of peace they would be ready to accept, and left it to be understood that he would see whether the conditions of each side could not, after all, be reconciled. (Note Communicated by the United States Ambassador, December 20, 1916. [Cd. 8431.] MiscelIaneous. No. 39 (1916).)

 

The War Cabinet were evidently quite convinced that President Wilson's real intentions had completely changed since Colonel House's visit in January. The President had then offered his assistance on conditions; in December the British Cabinet's chief anxiety was to decide whether, if the Allied Powers declined the invitation and said that the time to publish their peace terms had not arrived, the President would then undertake to coerce us, and, if so, what measures would h etake? It was a very serious question. The Federal Reserve Board had recently stepped in and stopped the raising of a further Allied Loan, and the President had been given powers to retaliate against those blockade measures which had caused most irritation. By virtue of a resolution passed by Congress early in the year, he could refuse clearance to Allied vessels in American ports as a reprisal against our "Black List" measures. Similar measures with regard to munitions and materials for our munition factories would leave us in a very serious position. So far as we could tell, the American public would support the President if he decided to compel us to come to terms with the Central Powers. The danger was, if anything, greater than we knew. For whilst the British Government were discussing the Note, Mr. Gerard, the American Ambassador at Berlin, was assuring Baron Burian, in an official interview, that the United States Government were quite prepared to "force the peace" by preventing the Entente Powers from obtaining munitions and food, if their terms of peace obstructed the President's negotiations. (German official documents, p. 1084.)

 

Lord Robert Cecil laid his views before the Government in a written memorandum. As Minister of Blockade he had exceptional facilities for gauging neutral opinion. He advised complying with the American Note and giving the President no excuse at all for applying compulsion. Whether he would take the drastic steps which Congress had authorised was doubtful; but, if he was disappointed in our reply, he might quite well combine with other neutrals in questioning the legality of our blockade. "Very little encouragement from America would make the Governments of Sweden and Holland impossible to deal with. When an atmosphere of irritation had been caused by measures of this description, the President would feel himself strong enough to proceed to much more drastic measures." Lord Robert Cecil's views prevailed; but the details of our answer still remained to be settled. How should our war aims be defined? To draw up a list of the conditions of peace which each of the Entente Powers desired was obviously undesirable, and it would require very skilful draughtsmanship to state them definitely enough to meet the President's request, and, at the same time, to avoid any controversial details which might possibly excite disagreement

 

Jan. 10, 1917 

THE ALLIED REPLY

 

between the Allies. This very difficult task was under taken by Monsieur Briand, the French Premier, Mr. Balfour, the British Foreign Minister under the new Government, and by Monsieur Berthelot, a high permanent official at the Quai d'Orsay. It was not until January 10 that the answer was delivered. (Reply of the Allied Governments to the Note communicated by the United States Ambassador on December 20, 1916. [Cd. 8486.] Miscellaneous. No. 5 (1917), and Despatch to His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington respecting the Allied Note of January 10, 1917. [Col. 8439.] Miscellaneous. No. 3 (1917).) After expressing gratitude for the President's good offices, the Allied Governments objected, with some energy, to the sentences in the American Note which stated that "the objects which the Statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind in this war are virtually the same," and then stated their terms. Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro were to be returned; France was to receive back her invaded districts; and "provinces formerly won from the Allies by force, against the wishes of the inhabitants," were to be restored; Italians, Czechs, Rumanians, and Slavs under foreign domination were to be freed from it; and the "bloody tyranny" of the Turks expelled from Europe.

 

In order to make our standpoint perfectly clear, our official answer was supplemented by a special note from Mr. Balfour to the American President. With striking lucidity and power the British Foreign Minister explained the real difference between the American attitude and ours. To us the territorial rearrangements foreshadowed in our Note were the essential basis of peace, and President Wilson's scheme of general pacification must come after they had been imposed on the Central Powers. The weakness of both Notes was that nothing in the actual military situation suggested that the Entente would be able to enforce such terms within a calculable time. The position in Russia was getting steadily worse. Transport was breaking down, large masses of the army were starving, and provisions in the capital were becoming as scarce as though the town were besieged. Similar signs of weakness were showing themselves in Italy. If, with the Alliance at its full strength, we had failed to protect France, Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro and Rumania from invasion, it was hardly likely that we should succeed in extending their frontiers when our military strength was declining. If it was hoped that our answer would impress America with our confidence in the justice of our cause and our determination to fight the war to a victorious finish, the Note failed. Colonel House told Count Bernstorff that President Wilson called it "a piece of bluff" which he did not take seriously. (Bernstorff, p. 319.)

 

It had been decided, at Pless, that unrestricted submarine war was to begin on February 1; there were thus three weeks left to clear the board for the last phase of the game. On January 16 Count Bernstorff received his instructions. He was to keep silent about what the German Government intended to do until January 31, and then announce that unrestricted submarine warfare was to begin on the following day. The German Ambassador knew that the President did not think that the Entente's Note debarred him from continuing his attempt at mediation; he therefore strove to mitigate what he could no longer prevent, and urged that neutral vessels should be given a month to get out of the danger zone without fear of being attacked. (German official documents, pp. 1108, et seq.) He proposed also that the submarine campaign should be postponed until the President's negotiations had gone a little further. Both his suggestions were rejected without discussion.

 

During the whole month President Wilson strove untiringly to clear away the obstacles which still obstructed his mediation. As the Entente had announced their peace conditions, and the German Government had kept theirs secret, he endeavoured to clear the matter up, and pressed for the German terms to be communicated. The authorities at Berlin were very reluctant to comply with this request, for they feared that by doing so they would give him an opportunity of acting as a sort of arbitrator between the belligerents. Realising, however, that this was rather a fine point, as they reckoned to be at war with America in a few weeks, the terms were eventually sent to Count Bernstorff, with instructions to communicate them to the President confidentially. (Ibid., P. 1048.) The concession had no effect, for the telegram was only sent to Washington two days before the German Ambassador announced that the new submarine campaign was going to begin at once.

 

On January 22 President Wilson addressed the Senate about his peace negotiations. (Scott, President Wilson's Foreign Policy, p. 250.) He still hoped that they could be continued, and spoke in his vague, guarded way about guarantees for future peace, whilst, at the same time, disclaiming any wish to intervene directly between the Powers at war. Certain passages were much discussed in Germany at a later time, but the points in debate seem of no importance at all in view of what actually happened a week

  

Feb.- April 1917

AMERICA AT WAR

 

later. At five o'clock in the afternoon of January 31 Count Bernstorff carried out his orders. The announcement was received so quietly by Mr. Lansing, the Secretary of State, that it is almost certain he had guessed what was coming. On February 3 President Wilson told Congress that he had severed diplomatic relations with Germany, and on the evening of the same day, Count Bernstorff received his passports. (Bernstorff, p. 324.) The American President was at the time uncertain whether public opinion required more of him than this; he still hoped to get out of declaring war by proclaiming an "armed neutrality which we shall know how to maintain, and for which there is abundant precedent." (Scott, President Wilson's Foreign Policy, p. 260, et seq.) On April 3, when he saw from the progress of the submarine campaign that what he proposed was quite inadequate, he asked Congress to declare war.

 

 

 


 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

THE MEDITERRANEAN. JANUARY TO AUGUST 1917

 

 

1

Submarine Warfare, January to May 1917

 

THE difficulties and disadvantages which beset a mixed command at sea have been repeatedly exemplified in Naval History: it was not likely that they could be altogether eliminated from our campaign against the German submarines in the Mediterranean. Three Allies were necessarily involved, and by the system adopted the whole sea was divided between them in zones of control, co‑ordinated but independent. Around the coasts of Algeria and Tunis was a French zone, and the patrol of the areas west and south of Greece was also under French orders; for the protection of the routes between Malta and Egypt and in the whole of the Aegean Great Britain was in command; in the waters east, west and south of Italy the Italians were responsible.

 

  

Plan - The Patrol Zones in the Mediterranean

  

The hazards involved in this arrangement were not overlooked. Even in Home Waters the division of the coast patrol into separate commands had already in some cases led to difficulties; in the Mediterranean the differences of nationality, language and outlook would all interfere with a perfect co‑operation, but the protection of each part of the coastal lines of traffic could not be easily managed otherwise than by the nation to whom that portion of the coast belonged, and gaps in such protection should occur, if at all, only at the frontier between one country and another. For the wide stretches of sea which vessels on ocean voyages must cross ‑ such, for instance, as those between Messina and Egypt or between Marseilles and Salonica ‑ protection could be afforded only by patrolling a fixed route or attaching a direct escort, provided by the countries through whose zones the vessel passed. Here another difficulty must be faced. The number of patrol craft capable of accompanying merchant vessels on long ocean voyages was manifestly too small to provide an escort for every steamer, and all that

 

Feb. 1917  

DANTON TORPEDOED

 

could be done would be to make such use of them as seemed fron, time to time most advantageous.

 

In the result, vessels of the highest importance, such as troop transports and ammunition ships, were directly escorted by destroyers for their whole voyage when arrangements could be made; but occasionally, when such vessels crossed from one zone to another, the arrangements broke down. In February an Italian troop transport, the Minas, proceeding from Italy for Salonica, was lost as the result of an international misunderstanding. She was escorted by an Italian destroyer as far as the limit of the British zone; there, in the expectation that the transport would be met by British destroyers sent out from Malta, her escort turned back. But Admiral Ballard at Malta had not been given to understand that she would need British escort; he sent none, and the transport went on alone, to be torpedoed and sunk by a submarine, with the loss of 870 lives.

 

This disastrous failure in co‑operation brought to a head the feeling that the arrangements for escort and patrol throughout the Mediterranean should be centralised under one command. This could only be done by consent of the three Powers concerned, and steps were taken to secure an international conference of the naval authorities in the Mediterranean which should discuss this and the other related questions of routes and anti‑submarine measures. To fix the time and place for a meeting of men so strenuously occupied as the Allied Admirals was naturally a long affair; but ultimately it was arranged that the conference should take place at Corfu at the end of April.

 

Meanwhile, the sinkings of Allied shipping in the Mediterranean continued to be heavy. In February fifty ships, amounting to a total of 101,000 tons, were lost. In March the destruction was a little less ‑ thirty‑six ships of 72,000 tons; but among them was the French battleship Danton, sunk by U.64, under Commander Morath. The Danton was zigzagging and was under escort of one destroyer; nevertheless, the submarine was able to put two torpedoes into her, and the great battleship sank in three‑quarters of an hour. The escorting destroyer caught sight of U.64's periscope, gave chase and dropped depth charges; but the submarine dived deeply and escaped unhurt. For the remainder of her fortnight's cruise U.64 passed to the western basin of the Mediterranean, where, close to the shores of Sicily, she sank two defensively armed British merchantmen and three Italian sailing vessels before returning to Cattaro.

 

Apart from the question of zones, the actual method of traffic protection in force in the Mediterranean ‑ a fixed patrolled route between the major ports ‑ had early in the year been discredited by the Admiralty, and they had approached the French Ministry of Marine with a view to substituting for it the principle of dispersal where wide stretches of open sea must unavoidably be crossed. By the scheme now proposed each vessel would have a track of its own, which would not be patrolled, and the patrols would be concentrated in those narrow waters where focal points could not be avoided. While the matter was still under consideration by the French, the Admiralty decided to make trial of the scheme by putting it into force with British ships in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. From January 15 onward our ships did not follow the fixed patrolled routes between Egypt and Salonica or Malta, but sailed independently each on a track prescribed for it by the British naval authorities. The fixed route was still patrolled by British forces, though it was used only by non‑British vessels. Dispersal on unpatrolled routes was not followed by large losses; in fact, in the first six weeks of its adoption only four British vessels were lost in the Mediterranean east of Malta, all of them torpedoed without warning, a fate from which the presence of the patrols would probably have been unable to save them.

 

In the latter half of February and the first few days of March losses had been particularly heavy on the route along the coast of Algeria, which was patrolled by French small craft; in fact, it was only on that route that any steamships were lost in the western basin. The principle at that time was for vessels, not defensively armed, to navigate close to the shore; and, if a submarine was known to be on the route, they were to be under way at night only, anchoring in some port of refuge from dawn till dusk. The rule was certainly effective in saving unarmed ships, but between February 20 and March 3 seven defensively armed vessels were torpedoed without warning while under way in the daytime. The six successful encounters between submarines and armed merchant vessels which took place on the same route during that interval were also fought in daylight.

 

The Admiralty now decided to abandon the Algerian coast route and to try the system of routes dispersed over the whole Mediterranean. From March 7 onward British merchant vessels leaving Gibraltar for Malta Channel hugged the Spanish coast in daylight as far as Cape San Antonio, whence, making their offing at dusk, they proceeded on

 

Feb.‑Apr. 1917

DISPERSING TRAFFIC

 

varying courses prescribed for them by the naval authorities at Gibraltar. The same principle was enforced by the Senior Naval Officer, Malta, on west‑bound traffic. Each ship had its own track, and each track was a large zigzag. so arranged that the ship was never less than thirty miles from the African coast till south of Sardinia. The object of giving each ship a different zigzag track was that if one were met by a submarine the enemy would have to wait a long time before another vessel came up to him. Formerly, when all ships followed the same track, a submarine had often several vessels in sight, and the finding of one endangered all on the route. The new method, although it applied to British armed vessels only, seemed to be proving effective, and no more of them were sunk in the western basin during March. That there were still submarines on the Algerian coast route was proved by the loss of a tug, three encounters between French patrol vessels and submarines, and a duel in which a French armed merchantman drove her assailant off.

 

On the dispersed routes east of Malta three British vessels were sunk in March, all torpedoed without warning, and there were other losses in the focal area off Alexandria, which after a peaceful interval of sixty‑eight days was once more raided by the enemy. The submarine was U.63. From Cattaro she seems to have gone directly south to communicate with the disaffected tribes on the west border of Egypt, and she was sighted off Alexandria first on March 24. In the course of the following week she torpedoed without warning two British ships within fifteen miles of Alexandria, and destroyed an Egyptian sailing vessel by gunfire. The second of the two British ships was a collier on passage from Alexandria for Port Said, and was under escort of four auxiliary patrol vessels. Neither she nor they saw anything of the submarine. The other patrol vessels based on Alexandria were engaged in guarding the French fixed route between Alexandria and the east point of Crete.

 

Whatever effort the German submarine service had made in February and March, it was intensified in April, when every boat that could be got to sea went out to the attack. At least twenty‑four separate cruises can be traced in the Mediterranean, amounting altogether to twice as many hours as in March. Whereas in Home Waters the number of steamers destroyed in April was practically the same as in March, (One hundred and fifteen in March, 119 in April.) in the Mediterranean it was increased threefold, and the tonnage sunk in that sea represented a quarter of the losses for the month throughout the whole world.

 

Two cruises are worth examining in some detail. Lieut.-Commander Walter Hans in U.52 proceeded from Cattaro at the end of March for Germany. To the westward of Malta he destroyed two Italian sailing vessels, and then on April 4 appeared off Genoa. The Italian liner Ravenna, with 180 passengers on board, found herself torpedoed without warning, and a few hours later the United States steamship Missourian saw and avoided the track of an approaching torpedo. The submarine came to the surface and fired a round, whereupon the Missourian was surrendered, to be sunk by a few shells at close range.

 

Proceeding westward along the coast route, Lieut.‑Commander Hans shortly before midnight observed a large vessel steaming towards Marseilles: she had all lights out, but was clearly visible in the light of the full moon. She was the Ellerman liner City of Paris with a general cargo from India and thirteen passengers on board, and she had been following the prescribed route along the Italian coast. In accordance with the regulations for navigation in the Mediterranean, any vessel sighting a submarine made a wireless report, with the code word "Allo" as a prefix; the message was repeated by all shore stations near, and any vessel taking it in had to sheer out to sea so as to avoid the area in which the submarine had been seen. The City of Paris took in several "Allo" messages, and by successive alterations of course was now some fifty miles south of Nice. Unfortunately, her manoeuvres, instead of saving her, had brought her to the enemy, who stopped her with a torpedo. The crew and passengers boarded the boats in good order. The submarine then came up to them, and Lieut.‑Commander Hans demanded the captain as his prisoner. Unable to find him, he fired four shells into the still floating steamer, and finally sank her with another torpedo. The City of Paris several times before sinking had signalled her position; but no help came for thirty‑six hours. The French patrols at last found three boats; in them were twenty‑nine of the crew, lascars, dead from cold. Another boat, with twelve on board, all dead, drifted ashore after four days, and two more boats were never found. Out of the crew and passengers in the City of Paris 122 perished.

 

Meanwhile, Lieut.‑Commander Hans had gone in towards Cannes; there in the offing he sank an Italian sailing vessel. Continuing westward along the coast, he cruised between April 7 and 10 off the shores of Catalonia. Here he sank three steamers ‑ one American, one Italian, one French ‑

 

March‑April, 1917  

CRUISE OF U.35

 

stopped and released a Greek steamer, was fired on by a French patrol boat, and missed with a torpedo a British armed merchant vessel. On the 11th he made a wireless signal which enabled the direction‑finding stations to fix his position at that moment. He did not remain off Catalonia, but proceeded southward on his journey towards Gibraltar. Before he reached the Straits on the 13th he sank two more steamers, one Danish, and one a defensively armed British vessel, torpedoed without warning. One other of this class engaged the submarine; but the ancient gun with which she was armed broke down at the first round, and she escaped only under cover of the screen formed by the smoke‑producing boxes with which merchant vessels were now frequently supplied. U.52 passed the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of April 13‑14, and was back in Germany a fortnight later. Outside Lisbon she sank a Greek steamer, and off Finisterre torpedoed a british armed merchant vessel without warning. These with some sailing vessels gave her a total for the voyage of 33,172 tons destroyed in the Mediterranean and 7,792 tons in the Atlantic.

 

The other cruise to be examined is that of Lieut.-Commander von Arnauld in U.35. He also left Cattaro at the end of March, and his voyage was to prove the longest and most successful yet undertaken by a Mediterranean submarine solely for commerce destruction. He first appeared close to the south coast of Sicily, where he sank a British defensively armed steamer without warning. Proceeding westward to the south of Sardinia, he engaged another British steamer with gunfire, and though she replied with her gun and used her smoke‑producing apparatus, she was forced to surrender and give up her captain as prisoner. A cinematograph operator on board the submarine took a record of the scene. Next evening U.35 sank an American sailing ship; and two days later, in the same district, engaged for three hours the British armed steamer Maplewood, securing her surrender after the expenditure of over one hundred rounds. The steamer's gun was never within range, and though she fired two hundred shells, none of them reached the submarine. Her captain also was made prisoner.

 

Lieut.-Commander von Arnauld now crossed to the Algerian coast route. There he would not find any British armed vessels, since by the latest orders they were spread on dispersed routes in the open sea. Off Algiers he attempted to torpedo a French steamer, but missed; and another French vessel on which he opened fire escaped, in spite of sixty shells, by stopping and starting again, thus throwing out the range of the German gunner. Though U.35 followed the Algiers route westward she found no more prey on it, but in the open sea she sank a British sailing vessel and a Greek steamer. Late on April 12 she passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, not, like U.52, to go home, but to cruise in the western approach to the Mediterranean, an area which had so far been unvisited except by submarines definitely on passage to or from Germany.

 

For the passage through the Mediterranean British ships were defensively armed; but there were still not enough guns for all vessels approaching the United Kingdom, and on the very day that Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld passed unseen out through the Straits an Admiralty order came to Gibraltar to the effect that any armed vessel bound for the United States or Canada was to dismount her gun at Gibraltar for transference to a ship proceeding to England or Egypt. The order took effect next morning on the steamer Patagonier, bound for America. She gave up her gun and proceeded west.

 

Arnauld's first three victims in his new cruising area were all from America, bound for Mediterranean ports ‑ two Italians and a Greek. One of the Italian steamers was armed; but such defence as she put up was useless, and she was soon surrendered. The two others could not resist, being unarmed. So also was now the Patagonier, which unfortunately met the submarine early next morning 105 miles west of Cape Spartel. She made a fruitless effort to escape, which Arnauld punished by taking prisoner the Patagonier's master. He then crossed over to the Spanish side of the Mediterranean entrance. By that time the crews of the sunken ships had landed, and their reports led to the issue of a wireless warning from Gibraltar that a submarine was active near Cape Spartel. It was, however, from the Spanish shore that the next message came, reporting that a Portuguese vessel had been sunk off Huelva. This was not the work of Arnauld, but of Lieut.‑Commander Hans of U.52, who had passed the Straits of Gibraltar the evening after U.35 and was taking the direct route for Germany.

 

For protection of shipping in the area west of Gibraltar the French Morocco Division was nominally responsible. The division consisted only of two or three old light cruisers, more dangerous than useful to employ in submarine‑hunting, which, in fact, they had never attempted. But seeing that submarines ‑ it was not known how many ‑ were certainly operating in this rich and unprotected area, the Admiralty ordered Admiral Currey at Gibraltar to use his light craft to

 

April 15‑20, 1917

CRUISE OF U.52

 

drive them away, and also asked the French to assist. They were setting Admiral Currey no easy task. The force at his disposal consisted of four armed boarding steamers, ten torpedo boats, five sloops, nine trawlers, and seven armed yachts ‑ a total of thirty‑five small craft, of which a third were always under repair. With this force he had to maintain the patrol of Gibraltar Straits and of Mediterranean Zone 1, which extended eastward to the meridian of Cape Palos and contained trade routes each 250 miles in length, along the shores of Spain and Africa. His sloops were almost always engaged in the close escort of transports or other important ships bound for Salonica or Egypt. One of these sloops, the Acacia, returned from escort at this juncture and was sent to patrol towards Huelva; all other armed vessels available at Gibraltar also went out to the westward.

 

For patrolling the area west of the Straits, the French kept some submarines at Gibraltar. A German submarine had been expected to arrive off Gibraltar on the 15th from the west, and arrangements were made for three French submarines to lie in wait across its probable track. But at the last moment these orders were cancelled by the French Senior Naval Officer, and the submarines for the patrol were still in harbour, when the undoubted presence of an enemy boat on their patrol line became known. One French submarine left at once with a trawler.

 

The Acacia soon found evidence of the work of a submarine: she picked up boats containing the crew of a Greek steamer, bound from Huelva to the United States and sunk by Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld on the 15th; but although the sloop remained out till the 17th, she saw no more of the submarine. Arnauld was back again on the route due west from Gibraltar. There on the 17th he sank a Russian and three British steamers. One of them was bound to Genoa from the United States, and was therefore unarmed; the two others, in ballast from Mediterranean Ports for Baltimore, had given up their guns at Gibraltar under the new order. In the early dawn of the 18th the submarine opened fire on another British steamer, the Hurst; but this one was armed, and replied, though all she could see of her assailant was the flash of its gun. Her resistance seemed effectual, for after a short time the enemy abandoned the pursuit of the Hurst in favour of a steamer to the westward, which she torpedoed without warning, taking prisoner the captain to add to the five masters she already had on board. This was the furthest westerly point of her cruise -180 miles from Cape Spartel. Next day, April 20, she attacked five ships.

 

One was a British collier for Tunis and another was on her way from Dakar to Gibraltar; both of these were unarmed and were sunk by gunfire. Another, armed, escaped after half an hour's engagement. Still another, this time a French vessel, escaped by forcing the submarine to chase head on to the heavy seas. A British transport, the Leasowe Castle, was now approaching Gibraltar, and Admiral Currey had been ordered to escort her in. Before her escort had made contact with her, the transport, still 100 miles from Gibraltar, reported that she had been torpedoed in the rudder. She had been firing on the submarine which attacked her; but the explosion of the torpedo dismounted her gun and she was left defenceless. Luckily the submarine commander did not press his attack; he disappeared to westward; and since the Leasowe Castle's propeller had not been damaged, she was able to complete her voyage to Gibraltar without further incident.

 

On April 22 the order as to disarming ships bound from Gibraltar to America was rescinded on a representation from Admiral Currey. To meet the danger to shipping, he now began diverting west‑bound traffic along the coast of Africa well to the southward, and for a day or two he suspended the sailing of British and Allied ships as a temporary measure. All he could manage in the way of patrol was to send out an armed boarding steamer and three trawlers along the British track, and four torpedo boats to the coast of Spain. Even these patrols could not be relieved and were only supplied by depleting the forces in the Mediterranean zone under his charge. He asked for destroyers, since the French could supply no fast craft; but he received the usual answer that he must do his best with his present resources, there being no possibility of reinforcement.

 

Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld had therefore little to fear in the western approach to Gibraltar. He remained there till the 24th, sinking in his last three days two Italians, a Dane and two Norwegians, the last four of these vessels all close to Sagres Point. Two French vessels, both armed, succeeded in discouraging him from close attack, and a British steamer used her smoke‑producing apparatus to such good effect that she also escaped. Arnauld passed Gibraltar on April 25, having sunk to the westward of the Straits seventeen vessels totalling 46,854 tons. His operations on the Atlantic side of Gibraltar, disturbing enough at any time, were doubly so at the period he chose. It had just then been decided to experiment with a convoy homeward from Gibraltar. For the safety of the first part

 

April 25‑30, 1917   

U.35 AGAIN AT WORK

 

of the voyage Admiral Currey was to be responsible; and, since with such resources as he had he could not hope to protect the Mediterranean part of his station as well, he was given permission on the 26th to abandon the patrol of Zone I temporarily, sending ships along the Spanish coast in territorial waters where they should be exempt from submarine attack.

 

Arnauld, when once again he was in the Mediterranean, at first followed the track of shipping along the coast of Spain; but by April 30 he was back on the southern coast route by Algeria. After a month's trial of the system of dispersed routes for British armed vessels the Admiralty had reverted to the former arrangement, and ships now crossed over to Algeria from near Cape Palos. The U‑boat commander made no further attempts on armed vessels; probably his ammunition was nearly exhausted. His one victim on his return journey was a Greek steamer on passage from Tunis to England. When he opened fire on her the noise attracted a French patrol boat, which engaged the submarine at long range, causing it to submerge. But Arnauld had one torpedo left; with this he sank the unfortunate Greek. It was his last exploit on that cruise. A patrolling seaplane attempted to bomb him a few hours later; but he made good his return to Cattaro. In his five weeks' cruise he had sunk altogether nearly 65,000 tons of shipping; he had raided the hitherto comparatively safe area west of Gibraltar; and, as a further disquieting innovation, he had engaged armed merchant vessels with gunfire and in some cases had compelled them to surrender after long resistance. Not only, it would seem, did the armament of the steamers expose them to be torpedoed without warning, but it could not be relied on to save them from a determined assailant.

 

Even a destroyer escort could not guarantee a ship against disaster. Of all the mercantile vessels at sea those for which the greatest anxiety was felt were the transports carrying troop; these, therefore, in addition to being armed with the the best guns available, had always a direct escort of destroyers. Yet on April 15 two of them were lost. The Arcadian, carrying over 1,000 troops in addition to a crew of 200 or more, was in the southern Aegean on the way from Salonica to Alexandria when she was torpedoed by an unseen submarine, and sank in six minutes. Only a quarter of an hour before she was struck the men on board had completed boat drill, which circumstance contributed to the perfect discipline which prevailed and to the saving of 1,050 men by the boats and the escorting destroyer. Unfortunately, as the transport was sinking she turned over, carrying down wreckage and spars, which, when released, shot up like arrows and mortally injured men swimming in the water. From this cause and from the sudden capsizing of the ship 277 men were found to be missing when the roll was called. The transport was in the French zone round the south of Greece, and, three hours after she had sunk, a French destroyer and some French trawlers arrived to assist in the work of rescue. While the Arcadian was sinking, a still larger transport, the Cameronia, carrying 2,630 officers and men from Marseilles to Egypt, was struck by a torpedo when half‑way between Sicily and Greece. There were two destroyers escorting the Cameronia; though they had not preserved her from submarine attack, they and some destroyers and other craft sent out from Malta were able to save all but 200 of the crew and troops.

 

The destruction in one hour of these two large vessels, with the loss of so many lives, was the heaviest blow struck by the U‑boats at the transport service since the sinking of the Royal Edward in the Aegean in the autumn of 1915. (see Vol. III., p. 112.) It was a vivid demonstration of what had already been clearly perceived ‑ the menace of the submarine to the expeditions overseas. The First Sea Lord felt compelled to inform the Cabinet that the Admiralty was no longer able to safeguard adequately the communications of the armies in Salonica and Egypt, and he strongly urged that the British contingent at Salonica should be entirely withdrawn. But the Allied policy in force at the time did not permit such a solution of the difficulty, and the base at Salonica continued to be a serious drain on our naval and merchant shipping resources.

 

There was one feature of the submarine campaign in the Mediterranean which differentiated it from that in Home Waters. The wide spaces and great depths of the Mediterranean were not favourable to minelaying by submarines, and it is not surprising that losses by mines were but a small proportion of the whole. In March two fields were laid off Naples, but neither secured a victim. In April a field laid off Alexandria by U.73, shortly after U.63 had withdrawn from that area, was discovered and avoided without loss. Attempts were made to foul the track along the north coast of Africa, and six separate fields were deposited between Cape Bon and Oran. Four large vessels were sunk by these mines. A curious phase of submarine activity at this tiffle was the bombardment of two villages on the Tripolitan coast,

 

April‑June, 1917

BRITISH MINEFIELDS

 

possibly with the intention of affecting the native mind in sorne way.

 

Although most of the submarines came from and returned to the Adriatic, it was known that there were some at Constantinople, whence they could pass out through the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean. After the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula a series of shallow minefields was laid to blockade the exit and to catch submarines and other ships attempting to emerge. In December, 1916, UB.46, while endeavouring to return through the Dardanelles, had struck one of these mines and sunk; but this was the only certain success of the fields. By the end of the year the winter gales had set most of the mines adrift; others had been swept up by the Turks; and early in 1917 it was decided that the mined area must be reinforced. In the Mediterranean command there was an opinion that large nets, if moored, would prove a sufficient obstacle to the passage of submarines. But in the Admiralty this form of barrier was already discredited; submarines were known to carry a cutter by the action of which they could easily pass through heavy nets; these, therefore, unless studded with mines, were practically useless. Moreover, it was impossible at the time to supply the quantity of nets that would be required.

 

The decision taken was for another series of minefields, some shallow to catch vessels navigating on the surface, others deep to strike submarines submerged. The first of the 1917 fields was laid off Suvla Bay during the night of April 18, mainly at a depth of 60 feet, though some of the mines were intentionally set to be nearer the surface. Early in May a fresh supply of mines arrived from England, and the reinforcement of the Dardanelles barrage was vigorously continued. Fields were laid on eight nights in May and six nights in June. The enemy appeared to be unaware of what was being done; at any rate, there were no signs of any attempt to prevent the minelayers from reaching their objectives or to sweep up the mines when laid. During the summer months the minelayers were employed elsewhere; but two motor launches had been fitted to lay four mines each, and on several occasions they went close in to the shore, to complete the barrier; they, like the other minelayers, met with no interference frorn the Turks. In the autumn the large minelayers resumed work and by the end of 1917 as many as 2,500 mines had been placed in a barrage extending round the exit from the Dardanelles from Suvla Bay on the north shore of the Gallipoli peninsula to Bashika Bay in Asia Minor.

 

Though this considerable effort was made to prevent submarines from entering the Mediterranean by way of the Dardanelles, little or nothing was done to blockade the far more important submarine base at Cattaro. This was in the Italian zone, where the authorities were content to rely on the British drifter flotilla as the principal means of hindering the almost daily passages of submarines in and out of the Adriatic. The flotilla consisted of thirty motor launches and 120 net drifters, supplied with depth charges for dropping on submarines which might run into the nets. Each vessel mounted a gun drawn from the reserves of one or other of the Allies, but in no case was the weapon of sufficient size to permit reply to the fire of a submarine which might prefer to fight at the range of its own gun. The flotilla was based at Taranto and had for parent ship the battleship Queen, sole remnant of the battle squadron formerly lent to the Italian Government. The rest of the squadron had gone home to be paid off, so that the crews hitherto employed in the ships might be released for service in the rapidly increasing anti‑submarine forces in Home Waters. Even the Queen's crew had gone home, leaving her in charge of a care and maintenance party. The empty ship formed an excellent depot for the personnel of the net barrage.

 

The flotilla was under the general orders of the Italian Commander‑in‑Chief, though directly in charge of Captain A. W. Heneage, who was Commodore of the Adriatic Patrols. By the instructions in force during April the drifters maintained a line of nets from the Italian shore to Fano Island, a distance of forty‑four miles, leaving by day a passage ten miles wide along the Otranto coast for ordinary mercantile traffic. At first the motor launches had not been permitted by the Italian authorities to be out at night, owing to their resemblance to submarines on the surface; so that the drifters had to do without protection in the dark hours. But now a scheme of grey‑and‑white diagonal painting had been adopted for the motor launches; it made them sufficiently unlike submarines to save them from attack by any Italian patrols which might happen to be at sea, but it had the disadvantage of making them conspicuous and robbing them of any chance of surprising submarines. To the north of the net line there was from time to time a group of Italian submarines operating in the middle section of the Strait, and to the southward a few French boats from Corfu patrolled across the Strait. In England, wherever a net line had been operated it was considered that an integral part of the barrage must consist of destroyers constantly present with the double object of forcing submarines to dive and of engaging

 

Jan.‑May 1917   

THE OTRANTO NET

 

them if they should be caught in the nets. But the Italian destroyers nominally appropriated to the Otranto net remained, as a rule, at anchor in harbour, the idea being that if signals for assistance should be received from the drifters the destroyers would then get up their anchors and proceed to sea.

 

In spite of these arrangements, submarines going from and to Cattaro, which lay some 150 miles north of the net line, seemed to find little difficulty in passing through its area without revealing their presence. During 1916 there had been nine occasions when disturbances in the nets indicated the presence of submarines. The action then taken accounted for certainly two submarines and in all probability two more. The first was the Austrian submarine U.6, which on May 13 fouled the nets of the two drifters Calistoga and Dulcie Doris and, coming to the surface, was sunk by their gunfire; the second was a German boat, UB.44, sunk on July 30 by depth charges while still struggling in the net. Two other Austrian submarines were thought at the time to have been sunk by the depth charges dropped on July 8 and 10 over disturbances in the nets, though in neither of these cases did any part of a submarine or its crew come to the surface. Thus the net drifters of the Otranto barrage succeeded in getting rid of at least two submarines before the end of July 1916. From that time onward the enemy became more wary, and the nets caught nothing till December; even then the chase, whatever it was, got away.

 

The first three months of 1917 passed without any sign that the submarines based in the Adriatic found the Otranto net an obstacle. On April 10, however, something fouled the nets of two drifters in the centre of the Straits; yet, although five depth charges were dropped, nothing came to the surface which could support the idea that a submarine had been destroyed.

 

Just outside the Straits of Otranto was Corfu, the headquarters of the French fleet. This was to be the meeting place of the Allied admirals who were to discuss in conference the Measures to be adopted to secure a more efficient protection for shipping in the Mediterranean. By April 27 all the admirals and officers called to the conference had assembled at Corfu, and the first meeting took place next morning on board the French flagship Provence.

 

Admiral Gauchet, the French Commander‑in‑Chief, who presided, reminded those present that the Malta Conference of March 1916 had adopted the system of patrolled routes, whereas the London Conference of January 1917 had proposed a simultaneous trial of the fixed patrolled routes and of the unpatrolled dispersed routes for separate ships; the object of the present conference at Corfu was to compare the two methods and recommend a system for the future. The discussion showed a sharp divergence of opinion, French authorities inclining towards fixed routes, while the British thought more of the dispersing system. The final decision was a compromise. Where coastal routes could be used, ships were to follow them, navigating only at night and anchoring at dawn in one or other of the series of protected harbours; the coast routes and narrow channels elsewhere would be patrolled. Whenever it was necessary to cross the open sea ‑ for example, between Malta and Alexandria, vessels were to be dispersed on individual routes. Important ships were to be escorted for their whole voyage, and advantage of the escort could be taken to the extent of sending with it two additional vessels, but the protection of a convoy of more than three was considered beyond the power of a single escort. Only those craft incapable of acting as escorts were to be used for patrolling, and so little value was attached by the British to the patrolled routes that Admiral Thursby obtained assent to a proposal that troop transports should not approach the coast, but should rely for protection solely on their escorts.

 

To reduce the number of vessels traversing the Mediterranean the conference recommended that all traffic between the Atlantic and ports east of Aden should go by the Cape of Good Hope, except where military operations would be hampered by the enforcing of the longer voyage. Material and troops for Salonica and Egypt were to come by rail to Taranto and be embarked there.

 

The recommendations implied an alteration in the method of using the flotillas. This was next discussed. Admiral Mark Kerr, commanding the British Adriatic Squadron, proposed a drastic experiment. He pointed out that the three systems in force ‑ the net barrage, the escorts and the patrols ‑ were each too weak in numbers to be efficient. There were 120 net drifters at Taranto, of which seventy were at sea at a time. Each drifter covered half a mile, and therefore the maximum barrage that could be maintained was a single line of nets over thirty‑five out of the forty‑four miles of the Strait. His proposal was that for a definite time the whole of the 120 net drifters of the barrage should be withdrawn from the Straits of Otranto and distributed on the patrolled lines. At the end of that time, should the experiment be deemed a failure, the drifters could be sent

 

April 27, 1917    

THE NAVAL CONFERENCE

 

back to Otranto, reinforced with vessels from the patrols to rnake a barrage which would have more hope of efficiency. in effect, his suggestion was to try first a patrol made efficient at the expense of the barrage, and, if that failed to stem the tide of destruction, then to try a barrage made efficient at the expense of the patrolled routes. The proposal was too drastic for the conference, and a majority of the members voted against it.

 

For a month or more the French and Italian authorities had been examining the question of the erection of a fixed barrage across the Straits of Otranto. This was now brought forward for discussion, and was debated so hopefully that the actual site of the obstruction was settled, and recommendations were even passed for similar barrages off the Dardanelles, in the Gulf of Smyrna and at Gibraltar. In fact, all that was left to be done was the building; and this, as our own experience with the Folkestone‑Gris Nez boom had shown, was easier to project than to complete.

 

Offensive measures in the Adriatic had not been actively pushed, and the conference proceeded to consider what might be done. Operations by large ships had already been dismissed as impracticable while the Austrian fleet remained in harbour; but something could be attempted by other forces. Submarines, for instance, could be constantly on watch in those places where enemy boats were known to pass; off Saseno at the east end of the net line seemed a specially favourable place. It appeared that the Italians had refrained from air raids on the submarine bases and torpedo factory in expectation of the arrival of a fast seaplane carrier; as, however, the enemy bases were within striking distance of the Italian coast, the carrier was not indispensable, and the conference recommended that air raids should be carried out as frequently as possible.

 

It was obvious that unless the conference could devise some method of improvement, the situation was extremely grave, for the Italians had already announced that, owing to their peculiar dependence upon imports, unless their demands for shippig could be satisfied they must cease offensive action from March 1, and even their defensive operations would be very seriously embarrassed. Using this as a text the Italian representative urged the special need of Italy for protection on her routes for merchant traffic and, in fact, demanded the allocation of more patrol vessels to the routes to and from Italy. This was scarcely possible. By pooling the total resources of the Allies in the Mediterranean, including eight Japanese destroyers which had just arrived, and deducting the vessels necessary for blockade, sweeping, and guarding bases, it was found possible to keep at sea 112 escorts and eighty‑nine patrols. These numbers included the Italian navy. It was difficult to arrive at an accurate estimate of the number of merchant vessels in the Mediterranean; but it was considered that the figure 300 would be approximately correct. Of these 100 would be on the coastal routes and 200 on the high seas. If the vessels on the high seas sailed in convoys of three, a total of 140 escorts would be required against the 112 actually maintainable.

 

The shortage was even more apparent on the coastal routes. They were 2,030 miles long, and as it was necessary to have an armed vessel for every ten miles of route, to obtain an effective patrol, 203 boats would be required. But only eighty‑nine were available, and even these were not always employed to the best advantage, owing to the variations in command in the different zones. The conference therefore decided to recommend the creation of a central authority at Malta to have charge of all arrangements regarding routes, escorts, and patrols throughout the whole Mediterranean. With this final decision the conference concluded its work.

 

During the four days it had lasted, April 28 to May 1, the movements of eight different submarines could be traced in various parts of the Mediterranean. Between them they sank six large steamers and eight Italian sailing vessels, a total destruction of 27,000 tons of shipping. One of these submarines remained throughout the daylight hours of April 28 off Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily. She began by blowing in half the British armed steamer Karonga and taking prisoner her captain. During the rest of that day she raided the fishing fleet, sinking five of the little craft within sight of the shore. She appears to have been left unmolested by the Italian patrol service, although she was close to the important trade route focus at Messina. On the same day the British armed steamer Pontiac, on passage from Port Said to Spezzia with maize, was torpedoed without warning and sunk when half‑way between Egypt and Sicily; and the British steamer Teakwood, also armed, was torpedoed in the dusk without warning about thirty miles west of Cape Matapan. A small Italian sailing vessel was destroyed west of Corsica by U.33, which concluded with this success her three weeks' cruise in the Gulf of Lyons. In the western Mediterranean a Spanish steamer was stopped and released by Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld who had by this date re-entered the Mediterranean after his destructive operations

 

April 29‑30, 1917

MINELAYING SUBMARINES

 

west of Gibraltar, and within sight of the houses on the northern shore of Malta an Italian sailing vessel was sunk by the gunfire of the minelaying submarine UC.37. Thus o nApril 28 there were enemy boats at work in six different districts - Taormina, south of Crete, west of Cape Matapan, west of Corsica, north of Malta and off Andalusia. Further, mines were discovered by the blowing up of a French fishing‑boat off Mostaganem, with the result that that port and Arzeu had to be closed to navigation till they could be swept.

 

The second day of the conference, April 29, was marked by rather better news. One of the Adriatic drifters dropped depth charges on a submarine entangled in the nets and claimed success. Off Marsala at the western point of Sicily one of our submarines, E.2, which had been patrolling the south coast of Sicily for three days, sighted an enemy boat engaged in inspecting an Italian sailing vessel which she had fired on and caused to be abandoned. E.2 approached within 400 yards and fired a torpedo. After wavering a little in its course it passed right under the enemy's conning‑tower, but unfortunately too deep to hit. It was some time before E.2 was again in a position to fire. Strangely enough, the enemy did not move. The reason was soon apparent; just as E.2 was about to fire her second torpedo, two naked men could be seen to swarm up the conning‑tower and disappear into the German boat; presumably they were two of the crew who had swum over to examine the Italian sailing ship. As soon as she had recovered her men the enemy dived, and E.2's second torpedo had no better luck than her first. The Q‑ship Saros was cruising in the neighbourhood of Pantellaria hoping to be accosted; but the enemy made no further appearance and returned safely to the Adriatic. Another Italian sailing vessel was sunk by the minelayer UC.37, which had reached the vicinity of Cape Bon. In the course of the night she laid a minefield off Cape Rosa, the eastern headland of the Gulf of Bona.

 

After finishing her minelaying, UC.37, early on April 30, torpedoed the French transport Colbert, which was proceeding from Marseilles to Salonica with 150 troops and 950 mules on board and was then passing fifteen miles from Cape Rosa. The transport was in convoy with another armed steamer, but was not under escort. No one on board saw anything of her assailant till the submarine broke surface half an hour after the vessel sank. The enemy was then fired on by a French trawler, and disappeared. The only other loss on this day was a Greek steamer, in the French coal trade, returning from Tunis to the Tees. She was stopped by Arnauld and attacked with gunfire. She was only two miles from the Algerian shore, and a French patrol boat was soon on the scene. She did not succeed in saving the Greek, for though Arnauld dived out of danger, he expended his last torpedo in sinking the merchant ship. A little later a French seaplane saw him come to the surface and dropped some bombs in his neighbourhood; they did him no harm, and he regained Cattaro without further incident.

 

The discovery of UC.37's mines off Cape Rosa on May 1 caused the suspension of all navigation between Algiers and Bizerta for a whole day. Several minefields were now known to exist on the French African coast. They were proving none too easy to sweep, and Admiral Ballard obtained Admiralty permission to abandon at his discretion the Algerian coast route for merchant ships bound to Gibraltar and to disperse them as before. Yet even in the open sea under escort they could not be considered safe. The British Sun, with 7,000 tons of oil on board, was on passage from Port Said to Malta and, as befitted so important a vessel, she had an escort of three trawlers, stationed one ahead and one on each beam. Unfortunately they were slow, and the speed of the escorted vessel had to be reduced to 6 1/2 knots to enable her protectors to keep up with her. Though they saw no submarine, a torpedo struck the oiler on the port quarter, and set part of her cargo on fire. A quarter of an hour later one of the escorting trawlers saw a periscope, gave chase and dropped a depth charge, with no ascertainable result. By this time all hope of saving the oiler was gone; she was fiercely ablaze aft, and her captain decided to abandon her. All her crew boarded their boats in good order, taking with them the Japanese quarter‑master, who could not be persuaded to surrender the wheel except by force. They transhipped to the trawlers and watched their vessel sink. The oil spread over the sea in a burning sheet, and her last plunge sent up a volcanic eruption of flames.

 

Some idea of the immensity of the Mediterranean and of the difficulties of protecting ships over its enormous stretches of sea may be gathered from the fact that this lurid scene was being enacted 210 miles from Malta, 660 miles from Alexandria, and 282 miles from Corfu, where the Allied Admirals were debating the methods of overcoming those difficulties. As we have seen, they had just decided to put all the arrangements for merchant ship routes and all the escort and patrol services under one supreme authority.

 

The Admiralty concurred in all the conclusions of the conference, and requested the Allied Ministries of Marine to

 

May 1917  

PROBLEMS OF COMMAND

 

put them into force at once. Although opinion in Whitehall was inclined to doubt the possibility of erecting successful fixed barrages in any of the places suggested, it was decided that technical officers should visit the proposed sites and report on the feasibility of carrying out the work, on the material required, and on the order of precedence in which the barrages should be begun.

 

As regards the appointment of an officer who should have supreme control of the direction of the routes of merchant vessels and of the escorting and patrol forces, there was some divergence of opinion. The French Commander‑in‑Chief naturally wished that the new director should be of his own nationality and under his general control in the matter of principles and the main outlines of the scheme of direction. But as the large majority of merchant ships and of patrol and escort vessels were British, the Admiralty could not consent to the appointment over them of a French officer, nor did they feel inclined to agree to the limitations of the initiative of the new officer which seemed to be implied by the insistence of the French Commander‑in‑Chief on the ultimate control of the work of the office. When, however, Admiral Gauchet urged that at times of emergency he must be in a position to dispose of the whole of the patrol force as required for operations without having to negotiate with a co‑equal authority, the Admiralty saw the reasonableness of his demand and gave way on that point. The French made a corresponding concession, and it was agreed that a British Vice‑Admiral should be appointed as Commander‑in‑Chief of the British Naval Forces in the Mediterranean and head of the organisation at Malta for the general direction of routes, which should be entrusted with initiative of every kind. But in order that there should be no doubt as to the supremacy of Admiral Gauchet in the conduct of operations, it was decreed by the Admiralty that the British Commander‑in‑Chief should fly his flag ashore.

 

Scarcely had the officers who had assembled at Corfu returned to their stations than the submarines struck down another important ship in circumstances which threw further doubt on the possibility of securing safety even when the maximum of protection was given. The large transport Transylvania, with 3,000 soldiers on board, left Marseilles for Alexandria in the evening of May 3. In accordance with the usual routine, she was accompanied by two destroyers; they were both Japanese vessels, the Matsu and Sakaki.

 

When the Japanese Government decided in February to send eight destroyers to work in the Mediterranean, they specially arranged that the boats should not be under British or French orders, and despatched with them Rear‑Admiral K. Sato, flying his flag in the light cruiser Akashi, to take command of them. Though he was not to take orders from any of the Admirals in the Mediterranean, he was instructed to work in co‑operation with the British authorities and to help in any way desirable. The most obvious need was for more escorts; and convoy work, since it seemed to offer the best chance of contact with enemy submarines, naturally commended itself to the Japanese naval officers. Since the arrival of Admiral Sato's destroyers in mid‑April they had been acting as escorts, the Transylvania being so far the most important vessel of which they had taken charge.

 

She followed the coast route south of France, and in the evening of May 3 passed the Franco‑Italian border line. About a day ahead of her was a convoy of four ships bound for Italy, under the escort of an Italian cruiser. The cruiser went in to Genoa in the afternoon of May 8 with one of the ships, leaving the others to continue their voyage unescorted. One of them, the British steamer Washington, was shortly afterwards torpedoed and sunk by an unseen submarine. This disturbing fact was presumably reported to the Transylvania, which was steaming towards the same area.

 

The transport was zigzagging at 14 knots, and was about forty miles from the position of the loss of the Washington, when she also was struck by a torpedo, which holed her in the port engine‑room. She was immediately headed for the land, little more than two miles distant. One of the Japanese destroyers, the Matsu, went alongside to take off the people on board, while the other circled round to look for the submarine. Twenty minutes later a torpedo was observed approaching the Matsu. She backed at full speed, and the torpedo struck the Transylvania, which now began to sink. In less than an hour she was gone. Of her passengers and crew all but 270 were saved by her own boats, the Japanese destroyers, and Italian patrol vessels which arrived on the scene as she sank.

 

Before leaving the neighbourhood of Genoa this submarine torpedoed three more vessels, all British and all armed. Luckily they were all close inshore, and managed to beach themselves. She appears to have gone south on the 8th. Her raid had the effect of stopping all departures from Genoa for several days. Among the vessels held up there was a transport with Australian troops.

 

March‑May 1917

THE OTRANTO BARRAGE

 

 

2

Attack on the Otranto barrage. Action in the Adriatic

 

One of the points discussed at the Corfu Conference had been the possibility of further Allied operations in the Adriatic, and it had been decided that little more could be done until the Austrians showed more activity with their surface ships. This, as it happened, was what the enemy were actually contemplating, and a fortnight later the barrage and the Italian communications across the Straits of Otranto had to endure the first serious attack of the war.

 

The drifter barrage had now become a serious embarrassment to the submarines passing in and out of the Adriatic. By the end of April seven submarines had reported themselves incommoded by either the motor launches, the drifters or the aircraft acting in connection with it. Already four small attempts to damage it had been made: on March 11 four Austrian destroyers came out to explore it, but were seen only by a French submarine on watch; a reconnaissance on April 21 ended in the sinking of an Italian steamer outside Valona Bay; and two other destroyer cruises were made on April 25 and May 5, but failed to find any craft to attack. At last the inconvenience to the submarines decided the Austrian Commander‑in‑Chief, Admiral Njegovan, to make an expedition in greater force, and deliver a double attack, on the drifter line and on the Italian transports which were now passing every night between Italy and Valona.

 

As both the proposed objectives lay to the south of Brindisi, the forces employed would run the obvious risk of being cut off from Cattaro by an Anglo‑ltalian counter‑attack. The Austrian admiral therefore took every precaution that could ensure their return. On May 14 he sent out three submarines ‑ U.4 to lie off Valona, UC 25 to mine the exits from Brindisi, and U.27 to cruise on the line between Brindisi and Cattaro. These were to strike at any forces which might be drawn out from Brindisi by the main attack. The raid on the drifter line was to be made by the three cruisers Novara, Saida, and Helgoland (3444 tons, 9‑3.9" guns, 27 knots.) under the command of Captain Horthy of the Novara, and that on the transports near Valona by the destroyers Czepel and Balaton. The two attacks were to be approximately simultaneous. Afterwards, the raiding forces were to return to Cattaro, the destroyers leading by about twenty miles. By this time it would be light, and aircraft from Durazzo and Cattaro, were to scout for and attack any forces coming out from Brindisi.

 

By the ordinary routine in force, the drifters had no protection, and the only regular patrols were carried out by submarines. On the night of May 14 there were two of them on watch‑the Italian F.10, south of Cattaro, and the French Bernouilli, north of Durazzo. Admiral Alfredo Acton, the Italian Commander‑in‑Chief, knew or guessed that a move by the Austrians was imminent, but he does not appear to have been sure of their objective. He had therefore to make such dispositions as would cover the unprotected coastline and its exposed railway near Brindisi, and would also meet a blow aimed at Valona or at the barrage. To do this, so far as it could be done, he sent out at 9.0 p.m. on May 14 a group of four French destroyers, the Commandant Riviere, the Bisson, the Cimeterre, and the Boutefeu, under the command of Captain Vicuna in the Italian flotilla‑leader the Mirabello. Their orders were to steam south‑east at about ten miles from the coast, and to cross the Straits at midnight; when eight miles to west‑south‑west of Cape Linguetta they were to turn north and make for Cape Rodoni, which they should reach at about half‑past four; then to come south again and reach a point on the latitude of Valona at about seven in the morning. This position proved, in the event, to be ten miles to the north‑east of the actual rendezvous for the Austrian light cruisers, so that the Admiral's dispositions were successful in ensuring that contact should be made with the enemy early in the morning, and that the bulk of his own forces should be placed between the enemy and their base by daylight.

 

As he could not hope for anything like a decisive action in any other conditions, he felt bound to make this the cardinal point of his policy. The other alternative open to him, that of keeping the Mirabello's division patrolling the drifter line all night, would not have afforded an adequate protection, and would have left open the Austrian line of retreat after their cruisers had struck their blow. It would also have made Admiral Acton dependent upon the scanty and confused reports of a night action when he moved out from Brindisi to cut off the enemy. Whether by chance, or as a result of accurate intelligence, the Austrian Admiral's plan for an attack on the Valona supply ships was equally well designed. A convoy of three Italian steamships escorted by the Italian destroyer Borea had left Gallipoli at ten o'clock in the forenoon of the 14th, and was under orders to be at the entrance to the Valona swept channel at a quarter‑past seven on the following

 

May 15, 1917

THE CONVOY ATTACKED

 

morning. The strait was to be crossed by the usual transport route which made the Albanian coast at Strade Bianche, a conspicuous white patch on the mountains about twenty miles south of the entrance into Valona Bay.

 

The convoy, in line ahead, with the Borea leading, reached this point by 3 a.m. on May 15. (See Map 10.) It was a calm night with scarcely a ripple on the water. As they turned to a north-north‑westerly course the moon, which had just risen above the mountains, was on the convoy's starboard quarter. It was still very dark and shadowy under the land, when suddenly Commander Franceschi in the Borea became aware that there was a considerable volume of smoke on his starboard bow, moving past him at high speed. In reply to his challenge the two enemy destroyers, Czepel and Balaton, switched on searchlights and opened fire. Commander Franceschi swung his ship round to starboard to get between the Austrians and his convoy, but the enemy's first round had severed the Borea's main steam‑pipe, and she could not complete the turn. In a very short time she was disabled and sinking. Of the transports, one carrying munitions caught fire and blew up, another was soon blazing fiercely, and the third had been hit. For some reason the Austrians did not sink her, but steamed away northward. (The fire on the second transport was extinguished, and she was towed in; the third reached Valona under her own power.)

 

By this time the three Austrian cruisers had found and passed through the line of net drifters. Admiral Acton, if indeed he had suspected any immediate raid by the enemy in this direction, had given no warning to the officer in command of the barrage, and the drifters, in consequence, took the Austrian cruisers to be friendly ships. The nets at the moment were being managed by seven groups of drifters, each group averaging seven vessels, the groups evenly spaced between Fano Island and Santa Maria di Leuca. It was not till the sound of the attack on the Italian convoy was heard by the easternmost group that they had any suspicion that the enemy were out. Even then they stubbornly determined to keep their stations and continued to shoot their nets for two hours after the sounds of gunfire had ceased. Then they had their own danger to face. The three cruisers had turned and now began a systematic destruction of the barrage. Each took a third part of the line, and steaming slowly along it called on the crews of the drifters to abandon their ships. In some cases the men, feeling their position to be hopeless, obeyed the order and were taken as prisoners on board the Austrian cruisers, which then sank the empty drifters by gunfire. But others, in spite of the heavy odds, would not give in so tamely.

 

Skipper Joseph Watt of the Gowan Lea had been in action before, on December 22, when his little craft was riddled by an Austrian destroyer. When now the cruiser, which was attacking the western section, loomed up at 100 yards distance and ordered him to surrender, he called on his men to give three cheers and fight to a finish. Putting on full speed, the tiny Gowan Lea charged for the enemy, firing her one small gun (57 mm. (2 1/2 in.)) till a shell disabled it, and her only chance of offence or defence was gone. The gun's crew, continuously under heavy fire, still tried to make it work even after a box of ammunition had exploded and smashed the leg of one of the crew. It never seems to have occurred to Skipper Watt or his men that they should surrender; they applied themselves to the task of getting their gun into action; and when the cruiser passed on, thinking probably that the vessel's crew could not have survived such a fire as she had poured upon them, they were still at work on the dislocated breech‑block.

 

The drifter next to the Gowan Lea was called the Admirable: A shell exploded her boiler and her crew jumped overboard. But one man, seeing her still afloat, scrambled back on board and ran towards the gun. It was clearly his intention to fight the Austrian cruiser single‑handed; but a shell from her struck him dead before he could fire a round. At the other end of the line were similar scenes of gallantry.

 

The Floandi was a group leader, and bound to set a bold example. To the heavy fire of the Novara, Skipper D. J. Nicholls replied with his six‑pounder gun; a wound, a second wound, even a third could not move him from his place of command. His enginemen were as resolute as he; one of them was killed at his post and the other wounded. At last the cruiser moved on, leaving the little Floandi maimed but undefeated. These encounters recall the immortal fight of "the one and the fifty‑three"; but even the odds against Sir Richard Grenville can scarcely have reached such a height as in the action between the Austrian cruiser and Skipper Watt of the Gowan Lea. (Skipper Watt was awarded the V.C.) When the cruisers had finished their work and steamed away northward, of the forty‑seven drifters, fourteen had been sunk; three others, seriously damaged, were still afloat on the calm moonlit sea.

 

The two groups of drifters in the middle of the line suffered little. The cruiser detailed for this central section

 

May 15, 1917

ADMIRAL ACTON SAILS

 

was slow in arriving, and the group commanders, alarmed by the firing to east and west of them, had ordered their drifters to slip nets and scatter. The only vessel caught by the cruiser was one which had steamed off eastward instead of north‑westerly like her consorts. Though the group leaders whose boats carried wireless apparatus sent out warning signals, no one at Brindisi took them in, and Admiral Acton's first news of either part of the double attack came from the lookouts on Saseno Island at the mouth of Valona Bay, who, hearing firing, guessed that the convoy expected at dawn was in danger. Their report reached Brindisi at 3.50 a.m. Italian time, (One hour fast on G.M.T.) and, being in Italian code, was not understood by the British and French officers there. But Admiral Acton, before an hour passed, had ordered the Mirabello to steer southward, as there were enemy ships in Otranto Strait. ("0435. Units nemiche in canals Otranto dirigete per sud.") The Mirabello and her detachment were then north of Durazzo. They turned due south and steamed past Durazzo Bay at about twenty miles distance from the land. There were now only three French destroyers with the Mirabello, since one, the Boutefeu, had been compelled by condenser trouble to return.

    

Of the Brindisi squadron under Admiral Acton the Bristol and four Italian destroyers were at half an hour's notice for sea, and the Dartmouth was to come to the same state of readiness at 5.30. The third British light cruiser, Liverpool, was at six hours' notice, and her engineers were at work on her boilers. The state of the Italian vessels is not known. Admiral Acton embarked with his staff in the Dartmouth, and ordered the readier part of his squadron to sea as soon as possible. The Bristol with the Italian destroyers Mosto and Pilo was first away; she left harbour shortly after five o'clock, the Italian admiral following some twenty minutes later in the Dartmouth, with the Italian destroyers Schiaffino and Giovanni Acerbi. He had ordered his light cruiser Marsala, the two destroyer leaders Aquila and Racchia and the destroyer Insidioso to join him as soon as they were ready. The Aquila left soon after the Admiral sailed. It was now some three hours since the transports had been attacked, but as Brindisi is forty miles nearer to Cattaro than either the drifter line or the spot where the transport had sunk, there was some chance of his being able to bring the enemy to action. By a quarter to seven the Brindisi detachment was concentrated and was steaming to the north eastwards at 24 knots on a roughly formed line abreast. During the concentration Admiral Acton received a message from Captain Vicuna in the Mirabello to say that he was in contact with three ships of the Spaun type.

 

The position at seven o'clock was thus a rather curious one. The Brindisi force under Admiral Acton was on a north‑easterly course between Brindisi and Cape Rodoni; twenty‑five miles to the south‑eastward of him were the Czepel and the Balaton, of whose presence he was still ignorant; and forty‑six miles to the south‑south‑castward were the three Austrian light cruisers with the Mirabello's detachment on their heels. The enemy forces nearest to him were, therefore, those of which he knew least at the moment.

 

Captain Horthy was also still ignorant of the position. His destroyers, having turned south to close him at a quarter-past six, had not seen anything of the Brindisi forces under Admiral Acton; and, though the aeroplanes from Cattaro were rapidly getting a picture of the situation, they had not yet got a signal through to him. So far as he knew, therefore, the Mirabello's detachment was the only Allied force with which he would have to deal. He opened fire on them at ten minutes past seven; but the action never became close, as the Mirabello's captain made a complete circle a few moments later to avoid a submarine. (Probably U.4, which had been watching Valona.) Shortly after half‑past seven Captain Horthy received messages from the Czepel, the Balaton and the Cattaro aeroplanes that there was a force of seven light cruisers and destroyers to the north of him.

 

The two destroyers had at last come into touch with the Brindisi force. It was not, however, till twenty minutes later that Admiral Acton attempted to attack the two Austrians. The Italian destroyers, led by the Aquila, then closed in and opened fire when they were at a range of 12,500 yards.

    

In the action which followed, the Austrians were helped by two aeroplanes from Cattaro, which managed to report the fall of their shot. At half‑past eight the Czepel hit one of the Aquila's boilers and brought her to a standstill. Having inflicted this damage on the Italians and suffered little themselves, the two Austrian destroyers made good their escape into shelter behind the batteries of Durazzo. Admiral Acton did not know that the Austrian destroyers he had just engaged were leading the Novara group of cruisers; the Mirabello, he knew, was in touch with these, and from her signals he thought they would be found to northward of him.

 

The Mirabello's positions as signalled, however, were wrong; the Austrian cruisers were astern of him, and were, in fact, rapidly closing the immobilised Aquila, which he had left

 

May 15, 1917

THE AUSTRIANS SUFFER

 

behind. At nine o'clock the Bristol reported smoke astern, and soon the three cruisers could be made out. Admiral Acton turned at once. By 9.30 he was within range and was covering the Aquila, which also joined in the firing. Captain Horthy had thus two British light cruisers and some Italian destroyers ahead of him, and the Mirabello and three French destroyers following him astern. Seven or eight Austrian aeroplanes were overhead menacing the British ships. One, indeed, dropped two bombs close to the Dartmouth. Italian aeroplanes from Brindisi attacked them obstinately, but appeared to get the worst of the air combat.

 

On the sea the action went against the Austrians. The opening range was about 12,000 yards, and in the first few minutes one of the Dartmouth's six‑inch shells hit the Novara near the fore‑bridge, and killed Commander Szuboritz, the second in command. Captain Horthy, who had formed his cruisers in line ahead and taken the head of the line, at once ordered smoke screens to be sent up, and boldly closed the range in order to use his 3.9‑inch guns with better effect. In this he was partially successful; for the Dartmouth, which was hit three times in all, suffered a certain amount of damage In the first part of the action. Also, the Bristol, whose bottom was very foul, began to drop behind, and the three Austrian cruisers concentrated their fire upon Admiral Acton's flagship. Captain Horthy was, indeed, very near scoring a success; but just as he was getting the Dartmouth's range, he seems to have feared that the French destroyers to the south of him were likely to be dangerous; so he turned back to his north‑westerly course and opened the range again. He need have feared nothing from the division with the Mirabello. She herself had just discovered that water was leaking into her oil tanks, and had been obliged to stop. Almost simultaneously condenser trouble brought another of the French destroyers to a standstill. The remaining two French destroyers stayed behind to guard their consorts against submarine attack; so that the Mirabello's division was out of the reckoning. Admiral Acton felt obliged to leave two of his destroyers with the Aquila; and thus the Dartmouth was left with only two Italian destroyers to continue the action, the Bristol some way astern doing her best to keep up.

 

It was now ten o'clock. Reinforcements were coming out from both Brindisi and Cattaro. At the beginning of the action Captain Horthy had signalled for help, and in less than an hour a heavy cruiser and five torpedo craft were on their way to join him. The Marsala, a flotilla leader and two Italian destroyers had left Brindisi at half‑past eight. They had first steamed towards Valona, but were now steering northward to join Admiral Acton. Further, the French Commander‑in‑Chief at Corfu, though he had received from Brindisi no direct information of the Austrian raid, guessed from intercepted messages that an action was in progress, and sent three French destroyers to assist. These were now north of Valona Bay.

 

During the next quarter of an hour the firing increased in intensity, and at ten minutes past ten Captain Horthy was struck by a splinter; he tried for a few minutes to keep command, but fainted, and Lieutenant Witkorocski took charge. At a quarter‑past ten the Bristol checked her fire, as she had by then fallen some way behind; and for some twenty minutes the Dartmouth continued the engagement alone. When the Bristol began firing again, she was between 14,000 and 12,000 yards from the last ship in the enemy's line, so that throughout the fighting the brunt of it fell upon the Dartmouth.

 

The action seems to have been at its height between half-past ten and eleven o'clock. It was then that Admiral Acton opened out the range and slowed down in order to allow the Bristol to close; and it was then, also, that a shot from the Dartmouth damaged the Novara's engines. Just before eleven the Austrian's speed was rapidly falling off; but Admiral Acton was no longer in a position to press his advantage: in spite of the damage to the Novara the Austrians had drawn ahead, and whilst the Dartmouth had slowed down for the Bristol they had increased their lead. There was, of course, nothing to tell him that the Novara was in serious and increasing difficulties, and he decided that he would gain nothing by continuing a running fight towards Cattaro in which the Austrians had the heels of him. The Saida had trailed behind the other two cruisers and was some way astern; the Marsala's division was to the southward. Admiral Acton therefore turned sharply to port just before eleven o'clock, hoping to cut off the straggler and force her down upon the Marsala and her consorts. He was too far off to succeed in this, but the Dartmouth and Bristol crossed under the Saida's stern at a fairly close range and straddled her. The manoeuvre seemed promising, in that the Saida sent out a distress signal as the two cruisers closed on her; but it does not appear that she was badly hit during the last outburst of rapid fire. Austrian aircraft at this time made a strong attack on the two British cruisers, dropping bombs and sweeping their decks with maxims. No damage was done either by bullets or bombs.

 

May 15, 1917

DARTMOUTH TORPEDOED

 

As Admiral Acton turned to the south‑west he sighted smoke to the northward, and realised that reinforcements had come out of Cattaro and were approaching. He therefore continued southward to close the Marsala's division, and joined up with them at about half‑past eleven. Then turning northward again he followed the Novara.

 

In the meanwhile things had not gone well with the Austrians. The shot from the Dartmouth which had done most damage had put one of the Novara's main feed pumps out of action, and perforated the auxiliary steam‑pipe to the starboard turbine. Some time after eleven she stopped altogether, and Lieutenant Witkorocski had to signal to the Saida to close and take her in tow.

 

This was observed from the British ships. But the heavy cruiser from Cattaro was also in sight, and not wishing to attack a force which included such a formidable vessel, Admiral Acton at noon turned towards Brindisi. To the south of him was the Aquila in tow by the Schiaffino, with the Mosto escorting them. The Mirabello had joined up with one of the Corfu destroyers, and was towing the French destroyer which had broken down. These detachments reached Brindisi without any further accidents; but the cruisers still had to suffer the most serious blow of the day.

 

They were in line abreast with destroyers ahead and on the flanks. Shortly before two o'clock, while still forty miles from Brindisi, the Dartmouth was hit on the port side by a torpedo fired by a submarine, and for a time seemed about to sink. Two of the Corfu destroyers hunted the submarine and kept her down while the other two cruisers steamed on at full speed for Brindisi. The torpedo had come from UC.25. She had seen nothing of the various forces which had come out of Brindisi that day, but found herself by chance on the track of the returning cruisers and made a lucky shot. For a time the water gained in the Dartmouth, and Captain Addison, after putting the crew into the Italian and French destroyers, returned on board with a special party of officers and men, who succeeded in partially righting the ship and re‑raising steam. A tug arrived late in the evening, and the Dartmouth and her escort got into Brindisi at three on the following morning. Even this did not end the list of successes which the Austrians could count to their score: during the afternoon the destroyer Boutefeu, which had been ordered out to assist the Dartmouth, struck one of the mines laid off the harbour by UC.25 and sank rapidly.

 

The raid on the Otranto barrage demonstrated with painful emphasis the defencelessness of the drifters against a night attack from the north. Yet it seemed hardly likely that the raid would be repeated except at night; the light hours could be reckoned as fairly safe; and the drifters continued to maintain the barrage, though until some sort of protection could be arranged for them they were ordered to operate only in the daytime. Not until July were the Italians able to provide any man‑of‑war cover: throughout June the barrage drifters returned at dusk to port either at the east or west ends of the net line.

 

(Note: Newbolt heads one of the pages "The Austrians Suffer", but in the series of actions:

 

Italian destroyer Borea was sunk, one transport blew up, two damaged,

14 British drifters sunk, 3 seriously damaged,

Italian destroyer Aquila damaged.

British cruiser Dartmouth damaged, then torpedoed,

French destroyer Boutefeu mined and sunk.

 

against

 

Austrian cruisers Novara and Saida damaged)

 

 

3

Submarine Warfare, May to August 1917

 

The other attempt to obstruct the emergence of submarines from the Adriatic ‑ the Allied submarine patrol off Cattaro and in other likely places ‑ which had been maintained by the force of Allied submarines based on Brindisi, at last bore fruit. The first success fell to the French submarine, Circe, watching outside Cattaro on May 24. She observed a submarine on passage outwards, escorted by destroyers and aircraft. Being in a good position for firing she sank it by two torpedoes, and managed to escape unseen. The boat she had destroyed proved to be UC.24. This success caused an intensification of the enemy precautions and rendered remote the chance of repeating the stroke. In fact ‑ perhaps in consequence of the raising of the net barrage every night - submarine activity showed some slight increase in June; even so it was possible to doubt whether the nets, when in place, were any real obstacle to the passage of U‑boats. Twenty‑four separate cruises of submarines can be traced in that month; five of them began in May, and seven, commencing late in June, continued into July. Though the number of vessels destroyed, ninety‑four in all, was the same as that for April, less than half were steamers, and the mercantile tonnage sinkings decreased from 218,000 in April, the worst month, to 133,000 in June:

 

Mercantile tonnage destroyed by submarines in the Mediterranean.

 

1917.

No. of Steamers.

No. of Sailing Vessels.

Total Tonnage.

Percentage of World Total.

Jan.

12

2

58,800

22

Feb.

27

21

100,000

21

Mar.

17

18

54,000

11

Apr.

51

43

218,000

26

May

38

43

146,700

26

June

41

53

133,700

21

 

June 4, 1917  

UNBREAKABLE COURAGE

 

Among the innumerable examples of heroism shown by the men of the merchant service the action of the Manchester Trader falls to be recorded here. She was an Admiralty collier on her way home after being cleared at Mudros, and was a few miles from Pantellaria early on June 4 when a submarine began to fire on her from a range of about five miles. The master, Captain F. D. Struss, sent out wireless calls for assistance, and replied to the fire with his own gun, not so much with the idea of hitting his assailant, for he was outranged, but to make the submarine keep its distance. Nevertheless, the German made several hits on the Manchester Trader, till Captain Struss conceived the idea of swerving every time he saw the flash of the enemy's gun. He then found, as he afterwards wrote to his owners, that he "need take on board only one out of three or four shells, the others either just striking sliding blows on her sides or missing altogether."

 

After two and a half hours of this duel he found that he had only seven shells left. One of these was loaded into the gun, and he was waiting for a good chance to fire, when a shot from the submarine burst so close to the gun that it caused the precious shell to explode, killed the leading gunner, and put the gun out of action. The enemy soon discovered that the Manchester Trader was defenceless, and quickly overhauled her, firing rapidly as she approached. All the crew, mostly aliens, were under cover; the only people exposed to this shelling were Captain Struss and an apprentice named Sutcliffe, a lad of seventeen years old, who was at the wheel when the action commenced and remained there throughout the four and a half hours of its duration. At length Captain Struss admitted the hopelessness of his position and abandoned his battered ship. Knowing that submarines made prisoners of the masters of vessels which offered resistance, he had changed into a suit of dungarees. He thus escaped recognition; and further, when the submarine commander came up and asked for the master, the crew all shouted that he had been killed. The answer was so extremely probable that it satisfied the German. He took away instead the second mate, who by silently accepting captivity showed a fine loyalty to his skipper. The submarine then began again to shell the abandoned steamer.

 

At this point help arrived. A trawler, forty miles away when she received the S.O.S. call from the Manchester Trader, reached her while the submarine was still firing. After a few shots from the trawler the enemy drew off at fast speed and eventually disappeared. In spite of what the crew had endured only one man, the gunner, had been killed. Among the awards which so gallant a fight deserved, Sutcliffe, the lad at the wheel, received the medal for Distinguished Service.

 

The most destructive cruise of any submarine in June was one by Lieut.-Commander von Arnauld in U.35. As before, he chose the western approach to the Straits of Gibraltar, where he had had such success in April. Since his return the area had been visited only by UC.73 coming out from Germany for the Adriatic. She spent the last half of May outside Gibraltar, but did not succeed in rivalling Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld's previous cruise, partly because west‑bound shipping was twice held up for periods of several days. A French submarine watching near Cape St Vincent saw UC.73 and discharged two torpedoes; but the circumstances were not entirely favourable, and the German boat was not hit. She entered the Mediterranean at the end of May, and reached Cattaro after a six‑weeks' voyage.

 

Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld passed westward through the Straits a week later. The first notice of his presence on this former cruising ground of his was received at Gibraltar on June 9 from the Tregarthen, which escaped after attack about ninety miles west of Cape Spartel. As soon as this news reached the Admiralty they ordered all west‑bound vessels at Gibraltar to be held up. It soon appeared that the Tregarthen was not the first vessel attacked: early on the 8th Arnauld had sunk a British Vessel, which, though armed, was unable to contend with the submarine's gun, and being without wireless apparatus, could not send out warning signals or calls for assistance. However, the sound of the firing was heard at Cape Spartel, and three sloops and a torpedo boat from Gibraltar went out to investigate. They found much wreckage. Two French submarines accompanied by British trawlers cruised off Cape St Vincent, and armed yachts, torpedo boats, and motor launches patrolled as far to the westward as they could get. These patrols, combined with the warnings sent out to shipping by wireless from Gibraltar and with the fact that all vessels of any size were now defensively armed, may have tended to reduce Arnauld's chances of fruitful attack. His operations in the Mediterranean approach lasted a little more than a fortnight. He sank eleven ships, totalling nearly 31,000 tons; eight armed vessels kept him at a distance till he either broke off the engagement of his own accord or departed on the arrival of a patrol; three others, torpedoed without warning, made their way into port.

 

The Admiralty's instructions that west bound shipping

 

June, 1917 

HOSPITAL SHIPS IN DANGER

 

was to be held up at Gibraltar soon produced congestion. By the evening of June 14 there were forty‑two ships awaiting permission to sail westward, and although there were then only two sloops available to patrol to westward, the traffic had to be released with instructions to reach Cape Spartel at or soon after dusk and follow the African coast as far as the parallel of 35. On the 16th fifteen ships sailed. Only one was attacked. A torpedo passed along her side without exploding. Looking in the direction from which it had come she saw the submarine breaking surface. She fired three rounds at it and thought she hit it; the submarine did not reply, but dived rapidly and made off.

 

While Lieut.‑Commander von Arnauld's cruise was in progress, the German submarine UC.52, on passage from Germany, put into Cadiz for repairs. Since the damage to her was in the nature of machinery breakdown due to the action of the weather, the Spanish authorities permitted it to be put right on condition that the submarine when she left should refrain from attacking any vessel during her voyage to the Adriatic. The progress of the repair was carefully watched by our agents at Cadiz, and when on the 27th they reported that she was ready to sail, our own submarine E.38 went out and lay off the port to catch her. The U‑boat slipped out two nights later when it was very dark and managed to get past E.38 without being sighted. A sweep by four torpedo boats and four motor launches from Gibraltar also failed to locate her, and she reached the Adriatic safely, having carefully refrained from attacking any merchant ships. After this episode, the Spanish Government announced that any submarine taking refuge in Spanish ports would be interned.

 

At the end of March the Germans had announced their intention to sink hospital ships in the Mediterranean, alleging as their reason for this callous breach of international law that the vessels were being used for the transport of troops and ammunition. The allegation was totally unfounded, but it seemed possible that the threat might be carried out, and the hospital ships were held in harbour till some arrangements for their protection could be made. Four British destroyers had just been allocated to work on the Otranto barrage under Admiral Kerr; they were now kept back to act as escorts for the threatened vessels. By April 15, after the hospital ships had been kept in harbour for a week, they were allowed to resume sailings, each to have an escort of two destroyers when carrying sick and wounded. They were to zigzag and to be darkened at night; in fact, they were to take the same precautions as if they were troop‑ships. Further, they were to take precedence over troop‑ships as regards the supply of escorts, the consequent delay in the movement of troops being accepted as necessary. From that time onwards hospital ships surrendered their immunity from attack.

 

There was no long delay: on May 26 at 7 p.m. the two hospital ships, Dover Castle and Karapara, both clearly painted as such, were steaming in company eastward along the Algerian coast under the escort of the destroyers Cameleon and Nemesis, two of those intended for the Otranto barrage, but allocated, after the German announcement, to the defence of hospital ships. Suddenly there was an explosion; the Dover Castle had been torpedoed by an unseen submarine. She immediately manned and lowered all her boats, and by 8 p.m. all the patients were clear of the ship. The Karapara had been ordered to proceed into Bona, the nearest port, her attendant destroyer putting up a smoke screen which effectively hid the hospital ship from view. Both arrived safely at Bona. Meanwhile the Cameleon picked up the patients from the Dover Castle's boats, went alongside to take on board the remainder, and departed also for Bona, her commander considering the safety of the 950 lives on board his destroyer more important than the possible saving of a damaged ship. There still remained in the Dover Castle her captain and a volunteer party preparing her for being towed if that should prove feasible. Before the Cameleon passed completely out of their sight another torpedo hit the Dover Castle; this one was fatal, and she sank in 2 1/2 minutes. The party boarded a boat, and were picked up six hours later by a French patrol. Owing to the calm and clear weather, and to the perfect discipline which had prevailed throughout, the loss of life was small: out of the 841 on board the hospital ship, patients and crew, only six stokers were killed or drowned, probably at the time of the explosions.

 

There were now so many vessels being torpedoed while under what had been thought was a strong escort that the actual disposition of the destroyers in this instance was specially investigated. The practice adopted by the senior of the two escorting officers was to station a destroyer on each side abaft the beam of the convoy. This arrangement was the result of careful thought and of discussion with other patrol officers. It was generally recognised that a submarine's best chance of hitting a ship was to fire from a position off her bow; and to frustrate this method of attack it had been usual to place the escort ahead of the beam. But it was now known that the transport Transylvania and other ships had been torpedoed by submarines firing from

 

May‑June, 1917 

ESCORT PROBLEMS

 

astern of the escort; and as in such cases the destroyers had to turn before they could get into position for dropping depth charges, the result was that the submarine escaped. The new idea was that, if the escorting destroyers were stationed abaft the beam, an attacking submarine would be ahead of them, and therefore liable to instant attack when sighted. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the enemy was not sighted, and the destroyers had no chance to attack. The Admiralty disapproved the innovation; they considered it was framed to utilise the convoy as a decoy rather than to prevent the submarine from firing from her most favourable position. After this, therefore, the former practice was restored, and escorts were always stationed on the bows of their convoys.

 

The necessity for escorting hospital ships continued for several months in spite of negotiations with the German Government to secure their safety. In June the Berlin Admiralty staff agreed to refrain from attack on hospital ships provided they were under the constant supervision of neutral commissioners who would remain permanently on board; only those ships which carried such commissioners were to wear the Red Cross or special markings, and none of them was to be escorted by armed vessels; a special route was not obligatory. Here the King of Spain lent his assistance, and Spanish officers were appointed to embark as commissioners. Some months elapsed before the new arrangement was in working order; but by undertaking to guarantee to the satisfaction of the German Admiralty the employment of hospital ships for no other purpose than the conveyance of sick and wounded, the Spanish Government ended a particularly revolting phase of submarine war as conducted by Germany, and rendered a memorable service to humanity.

 

The submarine which had sunk the Dover Castle appears to have been a UC‑boat. Coming out of the Adriatic about May 23, she torpedoed and sank the British steamer Elmmoor close to the south point of Sicily, and then, proceeding along the French African coast, where she sank the Dover Castle, mined Algiers about the 27th. The minefield, though it hindered navigation, caused no losses. The submarine continued her cruise until about June 9, and it was most probably this boat which fought the gallant Manchester Trader.

 

The losses in June included two transports, the Cameronian and the Cestrian. Each was accompanied by a pair of escorting ships, and each was torpedoed by an unseen submarine. The Cameronian was on passage to Egypt with mules, and when still some fifty miles short of Alexandria was sunk in the dark hours before dawn on June 2. The soldiers on board her were only those in charge of the mules. She sank five minutes after being struck, but the loss of life would have been small if the explosion had not instantly flooded a deck on which were forty men sleeping in hammocks. The loss in the Cestrian was fortunately lighter still. She was in the Aegean, carrying horses, but had on board also more than 800 soldiers. She was torpedoed at 9.30 a.m. on the 24th, but did not sink till 2 p.m. Perfect discipline was maintained, and the loss of life was confined to three members of the crew killed by the explosion of the torpedo. The torpedoing of the Cestrian was one of the rare successes of the Constantinople submarines, which since the declaration of unrestricted warfare had been operating intermittently in the Aegean. It was the work of UB.42, then commanded by Lieutenant Schwartz. This boat had been out in February and again early in April, and had sunk a few sailing vessels. On her second cruise she had also torpedoed the sloop Veronica not far from Alexandria and had put her out of action for some months. The other Constantinople boat operating in the Aegean was the submarine minelayer UC.23, which in May and June mined the approaches to Salonica, and also on her second cruise had the fortune to sink two steamers (Der Krieg zur See. Die Mittelmeer Division. Kap 25.); but UB.42's destruction of the Cestrian was so far the greatest achievement of the Constantinople flotilla. The loss caused us a good deal of anxiety, for she was taking part in a considerable transference of British troops from Salonica to Egypt.

 

Possibly as a result of the Allied blockade of the mainland of Greece, which had begun in December 1916, (See ante, p. 171.) anti-Royalist feeling had by this time begun to make progress. The islands, one by one, declared for the Provisional Government conducted by M. Venizelos under the aegis of France, and trade from them was permitted to non‑blockaded ports. At Crete, the headquarters of the Provisional Government, a Venizelist army was drilling. Its preparations had so far advanced that from May 17 onwards a division was transferred to Salonica to relieve British troops. These Greek troops were carried in Greek vessels, each being given an escort of two ships provided from the British First Detached Squadron, which was based on Candia and was responsible for all escorts in the Aegean. There were only enough escorts available for two transports a day, but at the actual rate of embarkation this number proved sufficient

 

June, 1917 

PRESSURE ON GREECE

 

to enable the movement of Greek troops to proceed smoothly. Mines were reported off Candia on the 22nd; but a channel was swept in time for the transports to proceed in accordance with their programme. The British troops moved from Salonica to Egypt consisted of the Sixtieth Division and the Seventh and Eighth Mounted Brigades ‑ in all some 21,000 officers and men and 8,500 animals. These were conveyed in sixteen voyages, each transport having an escort of two destroyers and returning for another load as soon as it had disembarked at Alexandria the troops and animals that had come on board at Salonica. The voyage took from three to four days. The move began on June 1, and continued throughout the month, coming to an end on June 30, when the headquarters Staff left Salonica for Alexandria. Throughout the sixteen voyages, the only transport to meet a submarine was the Cestrian, torpedoed and sunk on June 24. It was her third voyage during the move, and she had already safely transported 1,600 men of the Sixtieth Division.

 

The fear of mines at Salonica, aroused by the report that a submarine had been sighted near the harbour, caused all sailings to be suspended from June 7 to 9. When they were resumed, a fresh movement of French troops threw an additional burden on the transport and escort services; the move of the Sixtieth Division went on, but until the French troops had all been despatched to their new destination the Venizelists in Crete were held up for lack of escort. This French force had been ordered to the mainland of Greece to ensure a favourable termination of the political crisis which was rapidly approaching in that country. On June 5 a French plenipotentiary, Monsieur Jonnart, arrived at Athens, with instructions to assume the direction of Allied affairs and policy in Greece. He was also to intimate to King Constantine the desire of the Allies that he should abdicate until the war was over. This demand was to be backed up by a show of force sufficient to overawe any resistance that the Royalist party might wish to offer; and it was for this purpose that French troops were now being moved from Salonica to the Piraeus. A French naval squadron arrived there on the 5th, and in the evening of the 10th a number of transports came in to the Piraeus. During the forenoon of June 12 the troops in them, about 8,000 French and 3,000 Russians, landed, nominally for purposes of health; but they disembarked under the guns of the French squadron, which included the battleships Justice and Verite, the latter flying the flag of Vice‑Admiral de Gueydon.

 

That morning, June 12, King Constantine abdicated in favour of his second son, Prince Alexander. All was quiet in Athens, and Admiral Hayes‑Sadler, who, in the Implacable was watching events, reported that this was "due chiefly to the powerful influence of the King, who proclaimed to the people that his departure was provisional only, and that as it was the only method of saving the dynasty, any attempt to prevent it would have the effect of destroying the monarchy and the nation." Two days later the blockade of Greece was raised. Its enforcement had been carried out mainly by the French, in whose zone western and southern Greece lay, and by the British Third Detached Squadron based on Salonica. Its cessation freed a certain number of small craft for other duties; and the situation rapidly cleared. Before the end of June Monsieur Venizelos became Prime Minister; on June 27 Greece definitely joined the Allies and declared war on the Central Powers. Venizelos then requested France to return the Greek fleet to Greece; he announced his intention of defensively arming Greek shipping, and asked that Greece might be responsible for the defence of one of the patrol zones. (It was not till February 25, 1918, that French opposition to this last request could be overcome. Greece was then permitted to patrol a small zone including the Piraeus.) Thus the political problem in the Mediterranean, the dubious position of Greece, was at last solved, with the Allies, represented by France, in control.

 

There remained, however, the naval problem ‑ the submarine campaign ‑ and no final solution of this was at present in sight, though a favourable change had, in fact, begun. The losses from submarine action certainly showed a marked and progressive reduction after April of this year. In that month fifty‑one steamers were sunk and the total was 218,000 tons; in July the number of steamers sunk was twenty‑two and the total tonnage 85,000. The convoy system was now in full operation in the Eastern Mediterranean for vessels other than those important enough to receive a special escort. But, as has been noted before, this special escort did not always succeed in baffling attack. For instance, the Eloby, on Admiralty charter conveying munitions and some hundreds of soldiers from Marseilles to Salonica, was torpedoed when in convoy with one other ship and under the escort of a French destroyer. The shock of the explosion set off the ammunition, and a terrible destruction of life resulted. There were several other losses in convoys of this type, among them the large P. and O. liner, Mooltan, which with another vessel was under escort by two Japanese destroyers. She had

 

July, 1917

CONVOYS ORGANISED

 

554 souls on board, but by the skilful handling of the destroyers, who promptly put up a smoke screen, all except one were saved.

 

A striking example of the impunity with which subrnarines could attack vessels presumably well protected and in patrolled areas was the fate of the Mongara, a P. and O. liner, on passage from Port Said. In the afternoon of July 3 she was approaching Messina in company with an Italian mail boat, and was escorted by an Italian destroyer ahead and an Italian armed trawler astern. Already, when off Catania, she had seen a torpedo coming for her, and had avoided it by putting her helm over. She had a line of men on the lookout all round the ship, and a particularly keen watcher in the crow's nest. When Messina breakwater came in sight the destroyer went on ahead into port, and in view of the narrowness of the strait and the necessities of navigation, the Mongara ceased zigzagging and steadied on to a course for entering harbour. She was still a mile from the breakwater when a torpedo from an unseen submarine struck her, and she sank in a few minutes. This was presumably the work of a UC‑boat, which, after mining Malta and Syracuse, had penetrated into these narrow waters. The minefield at Malta also cost us a ship. It was not laid in the swept channel maintained by the minesweepers of the port, and no damage could well have been done by it so long as ships followed the prescribed route. But, unfortunately, a hospital ship under escort of the two sloops Aster and Azalea took a wrong course right over the minefield. The hospital ship herself escaped unhurt; but the Aster struck a mine and sank, and the Azalea was so damaged as to need extensive repair.

 

The British type of large convoy, five or six vessels in close formation escorted by four trawlers, came into force on the Malta‑Alexandria route about the end of May. Until then ships had been escorted singly to Suda Bay and taken on from there by a fresh escort, but Admiral Ballard now organised a system of through convoys whereby ships went the whole distance without calling anywhere or changing escorts. The first convoy of this type ‑ four ships with four trawlers escorting ‑ left Malta on May 22, and a similar convoy proceeded from Malta either for Bizerta or Alexandria practically day thenceforward. From Alexandria westbound a similar convoy proceeded every other day with the escort which had brought a convoy from Malta. In the Western Mediterranean between Bizerta and Gibraltar ships followed the coast route under the protection of French patrols, very important vessels being given a special escort and following a devious route in the open sea.

 

The first loss among the Malta convoys occurred oil June 20, when the Ruperra, one of a convoy of six ships for Bizerta, escorted by four trawlers, was torpedoed by an unseen submarine. A month passed before there was another loss. On July 16, a convoy of six vessels in two lines was on its way from Malta to Alexandria with four trawlers escorting, when the Khephren, a large British vessel leading the port line, sighted a periscope close on her starboard beam, between her and the leader of the starboard line. The Khephren turned and opened fire, but at the same time observed a torpedo so close that it was impossible to avoid it. It struck her, and she sank in four minutes. In spite of the rapidity of the accident, every one of her crew was saved, only one man being injured by fragments from the shell of the other convoyed ships, which, being in close order, were within range of the periscope, and instantly opened fire on it. These two, the Khephren and the Ruperra, were the only losses among the 275 vessels escorted in the Malta convoys from their inception on May 22 to the loss of the Khephren on July 16.

 

Although the anti‑submarine forces could not claim a definite success in July, they had certainly succeeded in making the enemy's operations more difficult. Among the numerous comparatively fruitless cruises of submarines was that of a boat which left Cattaro at the end of June. On July I she was sighted by French aircraft from Corfu, and hunted by them and by Italian torpedo boats. Three days later she was seen south of Sicily by a French gunboat, which headed for her and forced her to dive. There was a convoy within sight, but it did not alter course and was not attacked. Proceeding westward, the submarine came upon a pair of ships escorted by another French gunboat. She torpedoed one of the ships, but was at once forced to dive by the gunboat, which had seen her periscope and dropped depth charges on her. These had no fatal effect, for on July 6 she was off the west point of Sicily, and there destroyed a small Italian sailing vessel, the Roma. Since the one boat of this craft was so smashed as to be unseaworthy, the submarine took the Roma's crew on board, while she cruised for two days in the area between Cape Bon and Sicily. During that time she made no attacks. At noon on July 8 the crew of the Roma were called on deck and ordered to embark in the boat of another small Italian sailing vessel which the submarine had arrested and blown up with a bomb. She then apparently cruised in the neighbourhood of

 

July, 1917 

PERIODICAL CONVOYS

 

Cape Bon, for another fruitless three days, after which she was sighted, out of range, by a French destroyer off Bizerta, and again by an armed French merchantman, also out of range next day. On the 13th a P. and O. liner sighted her periscope right astern. The liner fired one round, and the periscope disappeared; it had not been seen by the escorting destroyer. Another steamer was in sight, heading in the opposite direction; this vessel saw nothing of the submarine and was not attacked. The U‑boat continued cruising in the neighbourhood of Bizerta, where on the 14th she was twice seen, once by a French tug and once by a French patrol vessel, which fired on her and made her dive. Still cruising fruitlessly, she was sighted the following evening by a French destroyer escorting a couple of vessels. The French boat had a torpedo at the ready in her tube; she discharged it at once, but the submarine was quicker and dived. When the torpedo reached her she was deep enough for it to pass right over her. The destroyer had followed her torpedo, and passing over the submarine's wake, saw the submarine itself below the surface, outlined in phosphorescent light. She dropped a depth charge on it. When the turmoil due to the explosion had subsided no more could be seen of the enemy boat, and nothing came to the surface to give evidence of a hit. Although the submarine seemed to have escaped damage, she now abandoned the busy area off Bizerta and started for home. On her way she fired on a small Italian sailing vessel and sank a Greek steamer outside the Adriatic. In her three weeks' cruise she had been bombed by aircraft and fired on several times by patrol boats and defensively armed merchantmen; she had twice been depth‑charged and once had narrowly escaped a torpedo. Her cruise, too, from the point of view of warfare on merchant shipping, was ineffective: she had sunk one steamer of 2,358 tons and four sailing vessels whose united tonnage made up an equal amount.

 

Another system of periodical convoys was organised by the Italians for the supply ships coming to Italy from Gibraltar. Vessels with speeds of over 12 knots were allowed to proceed alone; but slower ships were collected in convoys of four, each convoy being escorted by one armed merchant cruiser. By this means an average of 190 ships a month sailed from Gibraltar for Italian ports. Although one cruiser and eleven armed merchant cruisers were allocated by the Italian Admiralty specially to work this convoy system, there was sometimes difficulty in arranging an escort, and some convoys left with no further protection than could be expected from one well‑armed consort. Nevertheless, Admiral Heathcoat Grant, who succeeded Admiral Currey at Gibraltar on July 5, was able to report that the system was successful and showed the advantage of convoy over single ships on passage, Actually, the only steamer lost in July on the coast route between Gibraltar and Naples was an Italian vessel torpedoed without warning at night between Genoa and Spezzia.

 

Towards the end of July the British ocean system of large convoys was introduced for the passage from Gibraltar to England. It did not apply to ships faster than 11 knots, and consequently excluded all the more important vessels, such as liners, transports, and ships with specially valuable Government cargoes; but in the convoys were collected the tramp steamers, returning colliers, iron ore ships, and others without which neither the war nor the trade of the Allies could continue. The most dangerous parts of the voyage for these Gibraltar convoys were the beginning and end. The vessels were met on approaching England by destroyers and screened in; but for the danger zone between Gibraltar and Cape St Vincent they had to rely on such protection as could be provided from Admiral Heathcoat Grant's forces. In addition to his own auxiliary patrol vessels, the Admiral had four French submarines and a few trawlers from the French Morocco Division.

 

To these last he delegated the patrol of the trade route between Cape St. Mary and Cape Trafalgar, a stretch which included Cadiz and the iron‑ore port of Huelva. The British patrol vessels under his command he distributed at four principal stations ‑ one to the westward of Cape Spartel, which was the converging point of all shipping bound in or out of the Mediterranean, one between Cape Spartel and Gibraltar, one across the strait off Gibraltar itself, and one east from Gibraltar along the coast of Spain, which was the route for all east‑bound traffic. When a convoy had to be screened out, these patrols were necessarily depleted, and the Admiral therefore asked for large reinforcements. These, as it happened, had been arranged, and on August 1 he learned that before October the French Morocco Division and a flotilla of United States gunboats would arrive to swell his anti‑submarine forces. But to protect the July convoys he had nothing beyond his original resources, fifty-four armed craft of all kinds for all purposes; even of these he had constantly to employ the best in the escort of important single ships bound to and from Malta.

 

The first of the convoys left Gibraltar at 8 p.m. on July 26, containing thirteen ships of various Allied nationalities, the largest being an Italian of 4,500 tons, bound to Wales for coal. The convoy had an ocean escort of one Q‑ship; from

 

July, 1917 

CONVOY ORGANISATION

 

Gibraltar to the meridian of Cape St Vincent it was accompanied by two sloops, an armed boarding vessel and two torpedo boats, all from Gibraltar. A submarine was known to be operating off Cape Finisterre, but this was not on the route, and when the convoy started, no submarine was known to be in the Gibraltar danger zone. But shortly after its departure a report came in from a French armed trawler that she had engaged a U‑boat about twenty miles north‑west from Cape Spartel, uncomfortably near the track which the convoy would follow. Several more reports of this submarine were received before the convoy was clear of the danger zone, but nothing was seen of the enemy, and the only loss sustained was from a collision in which a French vessel rammed one of the escorting sloops and so badly damaged herself that she sank.

 

As yet, no convoy system for outward‑bound vessels from home had been introduced. One of these, the Manchester Commerce, with 6,000 tons of Welsh coal for Toulon, was the first victim of the submarine waiting off Cape Spartel. The collier was torpedoed before she saw anything of the enemy, the explosion wrecking her wireless and preventing the despatch of an Allo message. But this area off Cape Spartel was patrolled by Gibraltar torpedo-boats, and one of them, hearing the explosion, came up within twenty minutes after the ship had sunk, and rescued the crew in their boats. Three large merchant vessels left Gibraltar that day, July 29; but the second convoy, which should have sailed on the 30th, was held back when news came in that morning of the sinking of two more large east‑bound colliers in the same area. This time the submarine was sighted by a torpedo-boat, which dropped three depth charges on her, but without any apparent effect. The Implacable, the last of the fully commissioned British battleships in the Mediterranean, was then at Gibraltar ready to sail for home, and two destroyers were with her as escort. She was detained until the moon, which was nearly full, should have waned. But although the convoy was kept back, a large Clan liner and a hospital ship sailed from Gibraltar for home on the 30th.

 

The submarine news on July 31 was more reassuring. Oil was still rising from the spot in the Spartel area where the three depth charges had been dropped, and the natural inference was that the U‑boat was there on the bottom disabled; the only enemy reported in the Mediterranean approach was off Cape Trafalgar in the forenoon. The convoy, eight ships, sailed at 8 p.m. with a powerful escort of destroyers and sloops; it would be well clear of the Cape Spartel area before dawn. It was accompanied through the danger zone by five vessels bound for the United States; they were to separate from it at the meridian thirty miles west of Cape St Vincent. Although there was still submarine activity in the waters through which the convoy passed, it was not molested, and it reached England safely. The U‑boat had apparently crossed over to the line of approach from the south to Cape Spartel. There on August 1 she fired a torpedo at and missed a British steamer whose master in return attempted, though unsuccessfully, to ram her. An hour later another British steamer in the same area was fired on until a Gibraltar sloop came up and drove the submarine away.

 

The next convoy was due to leave on August 4. The small numbers in the previous convoys, eight and thirteen respectively, surprised the Admiralty. During the first