The former German submarine UB 148 at sea, after having been surrendered to the Allies. UB-148, a small coastal submarine, was laid down during the winter of 1917 and 1918 at Bremen, Germany, but never commissioned in the Imperial German Navy. She was completing preparations for commissioning when the armistice of November 11 ended hostilities. On November 26, UB-148 was surrendered to the British at Harwich, England. Later, when the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several former U-boats to use in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive, UB-148 was one of the six boats allocated for that purpose.

The former German submarine UB 148 at sea, after having been surrendered to the Allies. UB-148, a small coastal submarine, was laid down during the winter of 1917 and 1918 at Bremen, Germany, but never commissioned in the Imperial German Navy. She was completing preparations for commissioning when the armistice of November 11 ended hostilities. On November 26, UB-148 was surrendered to the British at Harwich, England. Later, when the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several former U-boats to use in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive, UB-148 was one of the six boats allocated for that purpose.

In the years leading up to the First World War Britain and Germany engaged in a naval arms race. Britain had peaceably enjoyed its status as the world’s dominant naval force since the Napoleonic Wars but Germany now sought to contest that dominance. A new generation of ships became central to the naval race: the dreadnoughts. Named after the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, these ‘castles of steel’ came to symbolise naval power in the early 20th century.

The dreadnoughts represented a revolution in warship design and yet their construction was based on the centuries-old definition of the purpose of naval campaigning as being the head-on confrontation of two opposing battle fleets. During the First World War, not only did senior naval officers trained in the days of sail learn to command brand new ships and weaponry untested in wartime; they also witnessed a transformation in warfare that turned the war at sea from a traditional surface encounter into a complex balancing act of defensive strategies and covert tactics involving two new and unforeseen dimensions: under water and in the air.

Interior view of a British Navy submarine under construction, Clyde and Newcastle.

Interior view of a British Navy submarine under construction, Clyde and Newcastle.

Britain was quick to capitalise on its enduring naval supremacy and geographical position by establishing a trade blockade of Germany and its allies as soon as war began. The Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet patrolled the North Sea, laid mines and cut off access to the Channel, curtailing the movements of the German High Seas Fleet and preventing merchant ships from supplying Germany with raw materials and food. The North Sea became ‘a marine no man’s land, with the British Fleet bottling up the exits’, as Richard Hough describes it in The Great War at Sea 1914-1918.

The effect of the blockade on Germany’s civilians after four years of war was noted by British Army MajorGeneral Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston in December 1918 during a visit to Germany: “the food situation is very serious indeed…The Germans are living entirely on their food capital now – they have eaten all their laying hens and are eating all their milch [sic] cows… [there is a] real scarcity”.

Evacuation of Suvla Bay, Dardanelles, Gallipoli Peninsula, on January 1916. The Gallipoli campaign was part of an Allied effort to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). After eight bloody months on the peninsula, Allied troops withdrew in defeat, under cover of fire from the sea.

Evacuation of Suvla Bay, Dardanelles, Gallipoli Peninsula, on January 1916. The Gallipoli campaign was part of an Allied effort to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). After eight bloody months on the peninsula, Allied troops withdrew in defeat, under cover of fire from the sea.

The simultaneous torpedoing of HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy by a single German submarine in September 1914 shocked the Royal Navy and forced the Admiralty to recognise the threat that the U-Boats, as they became known, posed to the surface fleet.

Although the Allies had their own submarines, which were active in the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Dardanelles over the course of the war, defences against submarines were slow to be developed. The British Navy appealed both to its own personnel and to the wider public for ideas. Minefields, net barrages, depth charges and patrols were introduced but more often than not these defences could be evaded. U-Boats could roam virtually undetected, since the sighting of a periscope was the most reliable method of location at a time when sonar technology was still in its infancy.

In the Dardanelles, the allied fleet blows up a disabled ship that interfered with navigation.

In the Dardanelles, the allied fleet blows up a disabled ship that interfered with navigation.

In January 1916, in reply to an enquiry from former Prime Minister and then First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour, Commander-in-Chief of The Grand Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe stressed the importance of playing to the Navy’s main strength – its size – to retain control of the North Sea: “…as to a possible naval offensive… I have long arrived at the conclusion that it would be suicidal to divide our main fleet…”. For the first two years of the war the Allies accordingly concentrated their naval efforts on a defensive strategy of protecting trade routes, developing anti-submarine devices and maintaining the blockade rather than actively seeking direct confrontation.

Defence was a vital strategy but it was also gruelling, repetitive and unglamorous. Many in the navy longed for decisive action and a great naval victory to recall the Battle of Trafalgar and gratify the general public. The minor battles of the Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank and the disastrous Dardanelles campaign did little to ease the tension. First Sea Lord Admiral H B Jackson commented to Jellicoe “I fancy you must look out for staleness [sic] with your important commanders, just as much as general health. I do wish you could get a change in your monotonous work”.

he British Aircraft Carrier HMS Argus. Converted from an ocean liner, the Argus could carry 15-18 aircraft. Commissioned at the very end of WWI, the Argus did not see any combat. The ship's hull is painted in Dazzle camouflage. Dazzle camouflage was widely used during the war years, designed to make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the range, heading, or speed of a ship, and make it a harder target - especially as seen from a submarine's periscope.

he British Aircraft Carrier HMS Argus. Converted from an ocean liner, the Argus could carry 15-18 aircraft. Commissioned at the very end of WWI, the Argus did not see any combat. The ship’s hull is painted in Dazzle camouflage. Dazzle camouflage was widely used during the war years, designed to make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the range, heading, or speed of a ship, and make it a harder target – especially as seen from a submarine’s periscope.

Jackson’s wish was granted on 31 May-1 June 1916 when The Grand Fleet finally met the High Seas Fleet in direct combat off the coast of Denmark. The Battle of Jutland was to be the only major naval battle of the First World War, and the most significant encounter between warships of the dreadnought era.

With fewer ships, Germany’s plan was to divide and conquer. A German advance force led by Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper engaged Vice-Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruisers, hoping to cut them off from the main fleet. A fire fight ensued as Beatty chased Hipper, Hipper leading Beatty towards the rest of the High Seas Fleet. The Allies suffered early casualties in the loss of HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary before Beatty turned to re-join the Grand Fleet. The High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet clashed throughout the afternoon until darkness descended. During the night the High Seas Fleet made its escape and by the early hours of 1 June the battle was over.

United States Marines and Sailors posing on unidentified ship (likely either the USS Pennsylvania or USS Arizona), in 1918.

United States Marines and Sailors posing on unidentified ship (likely either the USS Pennsylvania or USS Arizona), in 1918.

Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. Germany had inflicted greater losses on the Allies than it had suffered itself and yet the High Seas Fleet was incapacitated while the Grand Fleet remained the dominant naval factor. However, controversy over Jellicoe’s and Beatty’s actions quickly followed the battle and deprived both the Royal Navy and the British public of the outright triumph that years of frustration had called for. It is telling that Jellicoe’s parting words to his navy colleagues on leaving the Grand Fleet a few months later read ‘may your arduous work be crowned with a glorious victory’.

After the Battle of Jutland the High Seas Fleet never again attempted to engage the entire Grand Fleet, and German naval strategy refocused on covert underwater operations.

A mine is dragged ashore on Heligoland, in the North Sea, on October 29, 1918.

A mine is dragged ashore on Heligoland, in the North Sea, on October 29, 1918.

Submarine historian Richard Compton-Hall suggests that the starvation of the German population due to the Allied blockade had a decisive influence on U-Boat crews’ increasingly ruthless attacks, culminating in the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare on 1 February 1917. U-Boats attacked merchant vessels, hoping to disrupt Allied trade and similarly weaken Britain, an island nation dependent on its imports.

The result was huge loss of life in the Merchant Navy and a shortage of British shipping with which shipbuilders could not keep pace. Neutral ships were not immune and neither were passenger liners. RMS Lusitania had been sunk by a U-Boat in 1915, killing American passengers and prompting some to call for US entry into the war. The renewed threat to civilians caused the USA to declare war in April 1917, a month in which 869,000 tons of Allied shipping was sunk.

A Curtiss Model AB-2 airplane catapulted off the deck of the USS North Carolina on July 12, 1916. The first time an aircraft was ever launched by catapult from a warship while underway was from the North Carolina on November 5, 1915.

A Curtiss Model AB-2 airplane catapulted off the deck of the USS North Carolina on July 12, 1916. The first time an aircraft was ever launched by catapult from a warship while underway was from the North Carolina on November 5, 1915.

A letter from the Board of Trade to the Cabinet in April 1916 had predicted that “…the shortage of shipping will place this country in more serious peril than can any calamity short of the defeat of the Navy…”. With The Grand Fleet undefeated it became clear that the war would be won or lost not in a traditional sea battle but by the Allies’ response to the so-called ‘submarine menace’.

The Allied response was a system of convoys. Warships escorted merchant and passenger vessels, protecting them from U-Boat attack by virtue of strength in numbers. The concentration of shipping into small clusters in vast seas made ships harder rather than easier to find; evasive zigzag courses made it difficult for U-Boats to predict convoy routes and target torpedoes; and the accompanying warships were able to counter-attack using depth charges. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the US Naval Air Service provided cover, spotting submerged U-Boats and thereby deterring them from surfacing and accurately targeting the convoy. Shipping losses dropped and by the time of the Armistice in 1918, the loss rate in the convoys was less than 0.5 per cent.

The USS Fulton (AS-1), an American submarine tender painted in Dazzle camouflage, in the Charleston South Carolina Navy Yard on November 1, 1918.

The USS Fulton (AS-1), an American submarine tender painted in Dazzle camouflage, in the Charleston South Carolina Navy Yard on November 1, 1918.

The war at sea was not characterised by monumental battles, glorious victories and haunting landscapes as was the war on land. The Battle of Jutland was the only full-scale direct action to occur between opposing navies and even this was indecisive. Yet the blockade of supplies to Germany weakened the country, directly contributing to the end of the war, as indeed the U-Boat campaign would have done in reverse had the convoy system not eventually succeeded in saving Britain from starvation. Control of the North Sea meant no less than the difference between independence and invasion.

The war at sea was a test of nerves and ingenuity. Both sides had to master technologies and ways of fighting unimaginable just a few years earlier. It was a marathon of endurance and persistence, often thankless but always critically important.

Men on deck of a ship removing ice. Original caption:

Men on deck of a ship removing ice. Original caption: “On a winters morning returning from France”.

The Rocks of Andromeda, Jaffa, and transports laden with war supplies headed out to sea in 1918. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography.

The Rocks of Andromeda, Jaffa, and transports laden with war supplies headed out to sea in 1918. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography.

Landing a 155 mm gun at Sedd-el Bahr. Warships near the Gallipoli Penninsula, Turkey during the Gallipoli Campaign.

Landing a 155 mm gun at Sedd-el Bahr. Warships near the Gallipoli Penninsula, Turkey during the Gallipoli Campaign.

Sailors aboard the French cruiser Amiral Aube pose for a photograph at an anvil attached to the deck.

Sailors aboard the French cruiser Amiral Aube pose for a photograph at an anvil attached to the deck.

The German battleship SMS Kaiser on parade for Kaiser Wilhelm II at Kiel, Germany, circa 1911-14.

The German battleship SMS Kaiser on parade for Kaiser Wilhelm II at Kiel, Germany, circa 1911-14.

British submarine HMS A5. The A5 was part of the first British A-class of submarines, used in World War I for harbor defense. The A5, however, suffered an explosion only days after its commissioning in 1905, and did not participate in the war.

British submarine HMS A5. The A5 was part of the first British A-class of submarines, used in World War I for harbor defense. The A5, however, suffered an explosion only days after its commissioning in 1905, and did not participate in the war.

U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., the Big Gun section of the shops, in 1917.

U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., the Big Gun section of the shops, in 1917.

A cat, the mascot of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, walks along the barrel of a 15-inch gun on deck, in 1915.

A cat, the mascot of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, walks along the barrel of a 15-inch gun on deck, in 1915.

The USS Pocahontas, a U.S. Navy transport ship, photographed in Dazzle camouflage, in 1918. The ship was originally a German passenger liner named the Prinzess Irene. She was docked in New York at the start of the war, and seized by the U.S. when it entered the conflict in April 1917, and re-christened Pocahontas.

The USS Pocahontas, a U.S. Navy transport ship, photographed in Dazzle camouflage, in 1918. The ship was originally a German passenger liner named the Prinzess Irene. She was docked in New York at the start of the war, and seized by the U.S. when it entered the conflict in April 1917, and re-christened Pocahontas.

Last minute escape from a vessel torpedoed by a German sub. The vessel has already sunk its bow into the waves, and her stern is slowly lifting out of the water. Men can be seen sliding down ropes as the last boat is pulling away. Ca. 1917.

Last minute escape from a vessel torpedoed by a German sub. The vessel has already sunk its bow into the waves, and her stern is slowly lifting out of the water. Men can be seen sliding down ropes as the last boat is pulling away. Ca. 1917.

The Burgess Seaplane, a variant of the Dunne D.8, a tailless swept-wing biplane, in New York, being used by the New York Naval Militia, ca 1918.

The Burgess Seaplane, a variant of the Dunne D.8, a tailless swept-wing biplane, in New York, being used by the New York Naval Militia, ca 1918.

German submarines in a harbor, the caption, in German, says

German submarines in a harbor, the caption, in German, says “Our U-Boats in a harbor”. Front row (left to right): U-22, U-20 (the sub that sank the Lusitania), U-19 and U-21. Back row (left to right): U-14, U-10 and U-12.

The USS New Jersey (BB-16), a Virginia-class battleship, in camouflage coat, ca 1918.

The USS New Jersey (BB-16), a Virginia-class battleship, in camouflage coat, ca 1918.

Launching a torpedo, British Royal Navy, 1917.

Launching a torpedo, British Royal Navy, 1917.

British cargo ship SS Maplewood under attack by German submarine SM U-35 on April 7, 1917, 47 nautical miles/87 km southwest of Sardinia. The U-35 participated in the entire war, becoming the most successful U-boat in WWI, sinking 224 ships, killing thousands.

British cargo ship SS Maplewood under attack by German submarine SM U-35 on April 7, 1917, 47 nautical miles/87 km southwest of Sardinia. The U-35 participated in the entire war, becoming the most successful U-boat in WWI, sinking 224 ships, killing thousands.

Crowds on a wharf at Outer Harbour, South Australia, welcoming camouflaged troop ships bringing men home from service overseas, circa 1918.

Crowds on a wharf at Outer Harbour, South Australia, welcoming camouflaged troop ships bringing men home from service overseas, circa 1918.

The German cruiser SMS Emden, beached on Cocos Island in 1914. The Emden, a part of the German East Asia Squadron, attacked and sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer in Penang, Malaysia, in October of 1914. The Emden then set out to destroy a British radio station on Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean. During that raid, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney attacked and damaged the Emden, forcing it to run aground.

The German cruiser SMS Emden, beached on Cocos Island in 1914. The Emden, a part of the German East Asia Squadron, attacked and sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer in Penang, Malaysia, in October of 1914. The Emden then set out to destroy a British radio station on Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean. During that raid, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney attacked and damaged the Emden, forcing it to run aground.

The German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Seydlitz was the flagship of German Vice Admiral von Hipper, who left the ship during the battle. The battle cruiser reached the port of Wilhelmshaven on own power.

The German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Seydlitz was the flagship of German Vice Admiral von Hipper, who left the ship during the battle. The battle cruiser reached the port of Wilhelmshaven on own power.

A German U-boat stranded on the South Coast of England, after surrender.

A German U-boat stranded on the South Coast of England, after surrender.

Surrender of the German fleet at Harwich, on November 20, 1918.

Surrender of the German fleet at Harwich, on November 20, 1918.

German Submarine

German Submarine “U-10” at full speed.

Imperial German Navy's battle ship SMS Schleswig-Holstein fires a salvo during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916 in the North Sea.

Imperial German Navy’s battle ship SMS Schleswig-Holstein fires a salvo during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916 in the North Sea.

“Life in the Navy”, Fencing aboard a Japanese battleship, ca 1910-15.

The

The “Leviathan”, formerly the German passenger liner “Vaterland”, leaving Hoboken, New Jersey, for France. The hull of the ship is covered in Dazzle camouflage. In the spring and summer of 1918, Leviathan averaged 27 days for the round trip across the Atlantic, carrying 12,000 soldiers at a time.

Portside view of the camouflaged USS K-2 (SS-33), a K-class submarine, off Pensacola, Florida on April 12, 1916.

Portside view of the camouflaged USS K-2 (SS-33), a K-class submarine, off Pensacola, Florida on April 12, 1916.

The complex inner machinery of a U.S. Submarine, amidships, looking aft.

The complex inner machinery of a U.S. Submarine, amidships, looking aft.

The Zeebrugge Raid took place on April 23, 1918. The Royal Navy attempted to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge by sinking older ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. Two ships were successfully sunk in the canal, at the cost of 583 lives. Unfortunately, the ships were sunk in the wrong place, and the canal was re-opened in days. Photograph taken in May of 1918.

The Zeebrugge Raid took place on April 23, 1918. The Royal Navy attempted to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge by sinking older ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. Two ships were successfully sunk in the canal, at the cost of 583 lives. Unfortunately, the ships were sunk in the wrong place, and the canal was re-opened in days. Photograph taken in May of 1918.

Allied warships at sea, a seaplane flyby, 1915.

Allied warships at sea, a seaplane flyby, 1915.

Russian battleship Tsesarevich, a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy, docked, ca. 1915.

Russian battleship Tsesarevich, a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy, docked, ca. 1915.

The British Grand Fleet under admiral John Jellicoe on her way to meet the Imperial German Navy's fleet for the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916.

The British Grand Fleet under admiral John Jellicoe on her way to meet the Imperial German Navy’s fleet for the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916.

HMS Audacious crew board lifeboats to be taken aboard RMS Olympic, October, 1914. The Audacious was a British battleship, sunk by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland.

HMS Audacious crew board lifeboats to be taken aboard RMS Olympic, October, 1914. The Audacious was a British battleship, sunk by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland.

Wreck of the SMS Konigsberg, after the Battle of Rufiji Delta. The German cruiser was scuttled in the Rufiji Delta Tanzania River, navigable for more than 100 km before emptying into the Indian Ocean about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam.

Wreck of the SMS Konigsberg, after the Battle of Rufiji Delta. The German cruiser was scuttled in the Rufiji Delta Tanzania River, navigable for more than 100 km before emptying into the Indian Ocean about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam.

Troop transport Sardinia, in dazzle camouflage, at a wharf during World War I.

Troop transport Sardinia, in dazzle camouflage, at a wharf during World War I.

The Russian flagship Tsarevitch passing HMS Victory, ca. 1915.

The Russian flagship Tsarevitch passing HMS Victory, ca. 1915.

German submarine surrendering to the US Navy.

German submarine surrendering to the US Navy.

Sinking of the German Cruiser SMS Bluecher, in the Battle of Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, between German and British dreadnoughts, on January 24, 1915. The Bluecher sank with the loss of nearly a thousand sailors. This photo was taken from the deck of the British Cruiser Arethusia.

Sinking of the German Cruiser SMS Bluecher, in the Battle of Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, between German and British dreadnoughts, on January 24, 1915. The Bluecher sank with the loss of nearly a thousand sailors. This photo was taken from the deck of the British Cruiser Arethusia.

(Photo credit: U.S. National Archives / Library of Congress / Deutsches Bundesarchiv. Text: Louise Bruton).