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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

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Before I even start, let me say at the outset that this post is an inquiry by someone who simply wishes to know more. I have no ax to grind and I don't want to start a "blame game" or a flame war on the morality of blockades one way or the other. That said, I would like to ask the esteemed members of the forum the following:

1) How did Great Britain justify (to itself and the world) including foodstuffs in things it would prevent Germany from receiving?

2) I understand that Russia was partially blockaded by Germany and Turkey. Was that blockade just as thorough (ie, no ships in or out)?

3) Why did the Allies not lift the blockade once the armistice was signed?

4) Did Germany have plans on the books to unleash a U-boat siege of Britain before the war, or was it entirely a decision borne of the war? If so, was it in response to the blockade or for other motives?

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Hi aiwac i am by no means expert in any of your questions so what i am saying here is opinion.

With regards question 3 the armistice was just that, hostilities did not cease untill july 19 i think so pressure still needed to be applied. Question 1 i dont think Britain had much justifying to do every u-boat sinking of an allied ship or preferably a neutral one helped swing people against Germany.4 I dont think the potential of the U-boat was realised before the war and much of what it was capable of became known as time went by, the sinking of the three light cruisers in sept? 14 was an eye opener. 2 I would imagine it was quite thorough would i be right in saying that part of the hoped for outcome of a sucess at galipoli was the opening of a back door to russia.john

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Britain did not need to justify the blockade as such had been a legitimate tactic of war since well before the Napoleonic period. Initially food stuff were not key as Germany was self sufficient in basics and had stockpiled enough food for a year with no harvest. What was blocked was all those vital metals such as copper, tin, nickel, chrome as well as nitrates and other chemicals.. Thanks to Swedish supplies of high quality iron ore Germany out produced both France and Britain in ordinary steel throughout the war but had difficulties in producing speciality steels needed for machine tools, engine components, artillery,types of armour plate etc Many things initialy made of brass (copper and zic alloy) were eventually made of pure zinc of which Germany had adequate domestic sources but this was not always satisfactory. By 1917 soldiers were being paid substantial sums for salvaging brass from allied sources.The German chemical industry proved adept at producing nitrates to replace imports but this all went to the explosives industry. As a result input of fertilizers to agriculture plummeted and so did agricultural productivity. Germany's basic food stuff was the potato and a lack of copper for fungicides led to a catastrophic outbreak of the Irish potato blight across Germany. Manpower was taken into the army as were horses . Tractors were only available for military use. As a result by the end of the war agricultural production had halved and agricultural productivity did not fully recover until the late 1950s. The short fall could not be made up by imports. The blockade went on after the armistice to put pressure on Germany to accept the peace treaty terms.

The potential of the sub was not realised because under international treaty a ship had to be stopped and checked before being taken prize or sunk. This meant that the U boat had to surface. Only obvious warships could be sunk without warning. Germany eventually adopted unrestricted submarine warfare bringing the USA and Brazil into the war. The latter is important as many of the special metals needed could be sourced from that country and Germany was building a fleet of giant U boat merchant men to bring such material into the country. A few tone of say chrome would go a long way.

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1/ Economic warfare.If the enemy is denied the feedstock material to produce the weapons of war,its ability to wage war will decline.Further, if food imports are denied to the enemy,its ability to feed its troops and very importantly,its civilians go underfed,black market thrives and civil dissent grows which has the danger of adversely affecting production output and ultimately confidence in final victory declines.By 1918,food shortages had resulted in a fall in food consumption from 3000 calories daily in peacetime to 1400 calories a day.Black marketing was the norm and officials increasingly ceased to try and regulate it,accepting that it was the black market which regulated the supply and price of foodstuffs.The position was so bad that industrialists such as RMW company traded on the black market to ensure that their employees were properly fed.

Ersatz coffee,a speciality for the Germans in the Second World War is unlikely to maintain morale and the support for the continuation of the war declined as civilian dissent increased.

2/ Germany blockaded the sea passages in the Baltic to restrict trade and deprive the Russians of essential supplies and so affect their military performance at the front.The overall result contributed to the Russians being short of ammunition and with an ongoing deteriorating military situation, which, with the civilian unrest led to the Treaty of Brest Litovsk and Russia's exit from the war.

Turkey did likewise in the Black Sea which deprived Russia of an outlet to the world sea lines from their Caucasus ports.Additionally Turkey sealed off their land border with Russia's southern Caucasus to enforce a blockade from the west.

3/The blockade was lifted as soon as the German civilian Government signed the treaty but there was prolonged period where the Germans were not happy to accept the treaty which the Allies saw neccessary to win the peace.

The German military leadership dispersed when their military postion became unbearable and civilian unrest reached a stage when there was a danger that the country would collapse internally from revolution.The Kaiser had abdicated and the only leadership left to steer the country was the newly appointed civilians who headed the German Government and who were reluctant to accept the terms of the Armistice....reparations and loss of territory being resented by the normal German citizen.Apart from the Rhineland,the country was not occupied and the German Army had not been defeated in the battlefield which was a postion most Germans thought.The deadline for signing the treaty was amended as the Germans dragged their feet but in the background was the threat from Foch that he would drive into Germany with 42 divisions if the treaty was not signed.Additionally, the British,who had suspended the blockade as Germany appeared to accept the treaty terms threatened to remount the blockade.The Germans had resented this and made representations to the Allies that the post Armistice blockade was the cause of prolonged suffering for the German people and had resulted in considerable deaths from starvation.

4/ The Kaiser had always intended to challenge the strength of the RN at sea and intially saw the expansion of the Imperial Navy as fulfilling this aim by the building of Dreadnoughts from the turn of the century.However a new dimension in naval warfare emerged as the submarine was developed and its utilisation gave distinct advantages over the battleship.It cost less to construct and its seagoing flexibility and ability to sail undetected when submerged meant it could attack naval and merchant shipping far better that a surface vessel.

The Imperial Navy saw the submarine as a weapon to be used against naval vessels but importantly saw it as a means of blockading the British Isles by intercepting merchant shipping engaged to and fro with the seagoing trade and war economy support of the British.For Britain's war economy to be maintained,,the U Boat had to defeated if Britain was proceed satisfactorily in overcoming the German threat to the British Iles.The build up of the US army in France from April 1917 would not have been possible without the Allies being able to secure this vital sea route.

The same threat was posed in the Second Worls War.The U Boat had to be defeated in what became known as The Battle of the Atlantic as a prerequisite to attempting an invasion of the European mainland....success in Normandy would not have been achieved if the Allies had not gained control of the North Atlantic.

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