politician who kissed babies, passed out cigars, and had a flow of pleasing
palaver for every possible audience, is threatened with dangerous
competition. Women have invaded his sacred preserves.
Women’s campaign committees are springing up all over the
country. The suffragists are bubbling over with excitement. They are jubilant
over approaching victory.
These women will likely go in for political parades, brass bands, red
lights, and all the trimmings. During the war they made a pleasing spectacle in every
demonstration—Red Cross, Emergency Aid, Salvation Army, and what not. Parading
will not be a new thing for them.
Years of patient effort in behalf of “Votes for Women" have
given them a wealth of experience in public speaking. They will pull door-bells
just like men and will labor indefatigably to get out every last vote in their wards.’
A shortened version of an article published after WW1 in The Reader Digest –
“Now Comes the Feminine Spellbinder” – Photo taken in 1920 at the New
York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. These ladies are campaigning for women’s
St. Benoit there was a good French piano in a German officer’s abandoned shack.
As I started to play the “Stars and Stripes Forever” the Germans
began shelling the vicinity. Though unable to compete adequately against the
noise, I finished the piece!”
Admiral Reinhard Scheer (1863-1928), Chief of the German Naval Staff from August 1918; he had previously commanded the High Seas Fleet, including at Jutland.
October 22 1918, Wilhelmshaven–The German army may have been quickly running out of men and losing the war on land, but the navy was still very much intact. After Prince Max ended unrestricted submarine warfare, which navy leaders had long held as the best hope of victory against the Allies (despite mounting evidence to the contrary), Scheer decided to make use of his “fleet in being” one last time, sortieing from Wilhelmshaven for a final confrontation with the Grand Fleet. He had obliquely mentioned this possibility to the Kaiser during the cabinet meeting on the 17th, saying that the end of submarine warfare meant that the High Seas Fleet would again have “complete freedom of action.” The Kaiser did not react to this, which Scheer interpreted as tacit approval, and he did not mention his plans to the Chancellor.
Scheer would later state that “I did not regard it necessary to obtain a repetition of the Kaiser’s approval. In addition, I feared that this could cause further delay and was thus prepared to act on my own responsibility.”
On October 22, one of Scheer’s subordinates arrived in Wilhelmshaven in person and gave the following order to Admiral Hipper: “The High Seas Fleet is directed to attack the English fleet as soon as possible.” There was no written order, all part of Scheer’s effort to hide the plan not just from the British, but from his own government as well. Scheer hoped that “a tactical success might reverse the military position and avert surrender,” and even if it did not, “an honorable battle by the fleet–even if it should be a fight to the death–will sow the seed for a new German fleet of the future.”
Hipper came up with the details of the plan over the next two days. It was similar to other German sorties in the past, hoping to draw the Grand Fleet over German U-boats and mines before the surface fleet attacked. The lure was to be a bombardment of the recently-abandoned Belgian coast, along with raids deep into the Thames estuary. If the submarines did not find their targets, Scheer and Hipper were determined to engage the British anyway, even if heavily outnumbered. If the two fleets somehow missed each other (as they had before), every destroyer would be sent towards the Firth of Forth and, upon finding the Grand Fleet, would launch their torpedoes at least three at a time. The plan had a reasonable chance of dealing considerable damage to the Royal Navy–though whether the High Seas Fleet’s sailors would be willing to carry out the plan remained to be seen.
“Sunday October 20 1918 – It is the opening of
the new loan and Paris is en fete. There are hundreds of Boche cannon in
the Place and on the terraces of the Tuileries dozens of Hun airplanes. The Tuileries
are also full of guns; and flags are being raised everywhere. Athletic exercises and parade took place this
afternoon There is a wonderful
feeling of confidence in the air. The people seem so be happy and free from
care. It is a marvelous change from six weeks ago when it looked as though the
war might drag on for months.
You would have enjoyed today’s enthusiasm and
American reporter and volunteer in Paris – Paris Days and London Nights –Photo: Sunday October 20 1918 in Paris – La Contemporaine – See more photos of that day here
‘Sunday October 20 1918 – The
shells do not bother me the least bit. One evening they sent me to a certain
place to see if there were any wounded Americans. The town was under heavy
shell fire. The French guard stopped me and didn’t want me to go, but I went
any way. Got to my destination and started back. I would hit the first about
every three minutes. It was lots of fun. Finally, I was standing
watching them hit one two and three—that’s the one that knocked me cold. When I
came to myself I was lying in a ditch. I got up and found that nothing was hit
but my helmet—it had two big dents in it. I said to my good old helmet “Well,
it was the concussion that knocked me down.” Well, I was lucky.’
“October 18 1918 – I walked down the beach road this morning with Pat. He wagged along
beside me, looking up every few steps with adoring brown eyes and gurgling in his throat when I looked at him. I talk to him a great deal, mostly any nonsense that comes into my head, and
it’s very obvious that he feels flattered. He’s very pretty in
the sunlight. If I sit
down, he clambers into my lap like a great baby, and remains there perfectly
contented. He scarcely ever
leaves me now and I think he is
getting neurotic about me. But all the same I enjoy his ardent attention.”
Pictured – British sailors watch the torpedo-boat destroyer HMS Tempest drop depth charges in the North Sea.
Unlike World War II, the Great War was primarily a ground war. Although the naval arms race between Britain and Germany had been a chief reason for the escalation of tensions in Europe, and theorists like A.T. Mahan believed a nation’s might depended on its control of the oceans, sea power played only a limited role in determining victory and defeat between 1914 and 1918.
That is not to say that navies played no important role in the Great War. True, there were hardly any great fleet actions, with the exception of Jutland in 1916, and even this battle between the world’s two great dreadnought fleets was indecisive. Yet sea power remained vital for the survival of Britain as an island-nation, and by extension for maintaining the supply routes that fed the Entente war machine on the mainland. It was here, in the unglamourous daily work of merchantmen, submarines, and convoys, that navies played their largest role in World War I.
The naval balance in 1914 tipped heavily toward the Allies because of the mighty Royal Navy. By 1915 the British had chased Germany’s few colonial squadrons and merchant raiders from the high seas, and commenced the blockade which steadily reduced the Central Powers to starvation. The blockade stopped all food and supplies from coming into
Germany, even shipping from neutral states, which was perfectly legal
under the laws of maritime war.
Looking aft in the control room of a U-boat. First World War
submarines were primitive, able to submerge for only a few hours at a
Unable to take on the British on the surface, Germany’s High Command
turned to another weapon which they believed could even the odds, the
submarine, or in German, the Unterseeboot: the U-boat. First World War submarines were primitive machines, unable to remain underwater for very long. But they could slip through the blockade into the North Sea and the wider Atlantic, and there sink shipping which Britain depended on. Legally, a submarine could capture merchant shipping if they allowed the crew to leave the vessel, and then towed it to a friendly port. Obviously, this was tactical suicide for U-boat commanders who needed to sink shipping fast and get away before British destroyers responded.
German submariners take advantage of fair weather for a shower on deck.
Therefore the Germans began unrestricted submarine warfare. Merchant shipping was sunk with no warning. Moreover, because most shipping came from the neutral Americas, U-boats destroyed any merchant ships they saw, without worrying if they flew an Allied flag or not. For a time this aggressive strategy turned the Atlantic into a maritime graveyard. In February 1917, for example, U-boats sank 520,000 tons of merchant shipping, in April an incredible 860,000 tons. The British government began emergency rationing as supplies to the island dried up.
A Royal Navy convoy escorts shipping across the Atlantic. Destroyers protect the convoy while an airship keeps watch for a U-boats periscope.
Yet the U-boat campaign cost Germany strategically by provoking the Americans into the war. Unrestricted greatly hurt Germany’s reputation abroad, especially after disasters like the sinking of the Lusitania, an unarmed passenger ship which went down with 1,198 people, over 128 of them Americans. Wilson declared war on Germany in April 1917.
The U-boats also failed tactically. After years of pressure, the Royal Navy began organizing shipping into convoys. Destroyers and airships protected these flocks of merchantmen, herding them away from predatory U-boat wolfpacks. U-boats began to be sunk in large numbers, although the greatest success of the convoy system was merely that it prevented the Germans from being able to find many targets in the great and wide Atlantic. Without individual ships traveling independently, the U-boats’ opportunities dried up.
German U-boats are surrendered after the Armistice. The Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from ever constructing them again.
When the war ended, 15,000 Allied and neutral merchant sailors had died because of the U-boat campaign. About 5,000 German submariners joined them at the bottom of the sea. The U-boat campaign was a crafty attempt by Germany to even the odds with the Entente, but ultimately a failed one which only briefly threatened the Allied war effort. The First Battle of the Atlantic was an important era in the evolution of naval warfare, but perhaps not a decisive part of the First World War, except that it drew the Americans onto the Allied side. In the next world war, the Atlantic battle would be re-fought, but this time on a much more dramatic scale.