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Campaigns of World War One:
After the Russian Navy was decimated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the world learned that the size of a nation’s navy is not as important as the caliber of its ship’s guns. By 1906 this led to efforts to build larger ships with heavier firepower. While a number of nations embarked on a shipbuilding program, it developed into an arms race between Great Britain and Germany. Germany felt that it needed to match Britain’s navy to ensure access to trade while the British saw this move as a threat to its hegemony over the seas. It can be argued that this arms race is what prompted Britain to ally itself with France, its traditional enemy, and is really why Britain was so eager to enter the Great War when it could have sat out the conflict.
Many of these new dreadnoughts were completed when the Great War broke out, but they became so essential for each nation’s defense that they were used sparingly in offensive actions in fear of losing them. Even so there were a number of confrontations in which they were engaged. Many smaller ships were just used in the unglamorous task of escort or blockade duty, so they received far less attention on postcards with the notable exception of Raiders and U-boats. That said, images of warships were so popular with collectors that efforts were made to turn out at least some representations of every ship.
Publishers began placing images of ships on postcards fairly early on to attract men into the hobby of collecting. It was a successful move and it seems as if every naval vessel in the world had been captured on a postcard by the time the Great War opened. Naval engagements remained a very popular topic for collectors throughout the war, and many cards were made to satisfy this demand. While all card producing nations created naval cards, most seem to come from Great Britain, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. While looking back on the events captured on them, some remain well known while other were so minor that they have faded into obscurity. Publishers back then did not have the benefit of retrospect and were just trying to attract an audience to their product. In this regard events are listed here if they were significant to postcard publishers and not necessarily to historians.
After a series of conflicts, the Danish port of Kiel was officially annexed by Prussia in 1867; and once the German Empire was formed in 1871, this port became an Imperial War Harbor for their Baltic Fleet. Kiel became even more important in 1895 once a 61 mile long canal connected it to Brunsbuttel near the mouth of the Elbe. This allowed the German Navy to easily shift vessels between the Baltic and North Seas as necessity dictated without risking a long passage around Jutland. The Kiel Canal was deepened just before the Great War to ensure the passage of Germany’s largest dreadnoughts. Protecting the canal from an invasion from Denmark was a key concern, and fortified line began being built. Many view-cards of the harbor and the canal were published in the years leading up to the War, and they are not always so distinguishable from those produced in the War years. While they all tend to display warships, those from World War One often focus more on the ships than the harbor.
Prior to World War One, the Austria-Hungary had built the Imperial and Royal War Navy (Kaiserliche un Konlgliche Kriegsmarine) on the Adriatic Sea to counter Italian interests. At that time it had the clear advantage as the eastern coast had the best natural ports and protected waterways. The main Austrian naval base was situated at Pola, though Trieste was another important port with naval facilities. The main Hungarian base was at Fiume. While Austria Hungary only had one navy in theory, command may have been divided between Austria and Hungary to eliminate language problems aboard ships.
In 1913 Great Britain began withdrawing Mediterranean based vessels of the Royal Navy to deal with the potential threat of German warships to English waters. To fill this power vacuum, France abandoned the defense of its Atlantic coast, shifting all of its warships to Mediterranean bases. Without formalizing a treaty, this arrangement knowingly created a situation in which Britain would be obliged to come to France’s aid should her unguarded coast be threatened by Germany.
The events in this section are listed chronologically without regard to geography.
In mid-July Great Britain called up its naval reserve for a giant exercise off its naval base at Spithead. The Royal Navy had never assembled an armada of this size (180 ships) in one place before. With tensions growing on the Continent, the reservists were kept on active duty and the fleet sailed north to Scotland where it was better protected in the waters of the Scapa Flow. Many postcards were produced depicting this massed fleet at Spithead during the Coronation review by King George V.
After Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia she found herself unready to invade. The opening move of World War One would not be a land battle but a naval action. On the night of July 28th, 1914 Austria dispatched three gunboats of the Danube River flotilla downstream, where they inflicted heavy damage on the Serbian fortress of Kalimegdan. They would also subsequently bombard Belgrade, Gradiste, and Smederevo.
Great Britain was the main shipbuilder for the Ottoman Navy, and prior to the Great War they were constructing two dreadnoughts for them, the Sultan Osman I and the Reshadieh. Funds to build these ships were primarily raised through the donations of ordinary people so that Turkey would not have to fear Russian naval threats from the Black Sea. At the beginning of August the Turkish crews arrived to take control of the dreadnoughts, but as soon as they placed down their final payment they were informed that the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill was requisitioning the ships for the Royal Navy without compensation. They were renamed the Agincourt and the Erin.
In early August a British patrol caught up with the Konigan Luise, a former German ferryboat which was now laying untethered mines off the Thames estuary. The minelayer fled but her captain scuttled the ship when he realized he could not outrun the accurate British fire landing near her. As the patrol returned home, the light cruiser Amphion struck two of the mines the Konigan Luise just laid and sank. These were the first war losses for the German and British navies.
At the outset of the War most of the German High Sea Fleet was stationed in the North Sea behind the protection of the heavy gun batteries on the island of Helgoland. Though the British were more interested in using their navy to protect trade routes than engage in offensive action, a squadron invaded these waters luring the Germans away from their coastal support and sunk four of their ships in the Battle of Helgoland Bight.
Helgoland is a small archipelago off the northwest coast of Germany in the North Sea. Perfectly located to shelter a fishing fleet, it was coveted by many and changed hands several times. For most of the 18th century it was held by Denmark, but she lost it to Great Britain in 1814 as punishment for being on the losing side of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1890 Britain exchanged these islands for German claims over Zanzibar in East Africa. Germany then turned Helgoland into a major naval base and installed coastal batteries to protect it and access to the Kiel Canal. The heavy guns situated on the islands towering heights gave them the advantage of greater range and plunging fire that no ship could match. During the Great War the civilian population was evacuated to the mainland, and Helgoland became the center for High Sea Fleet operations.
The German Light Cruiser Karlsruhe arrived for duty in the Caribbean just before the outbreak of the war. She managed to escape capture by slower British warships and began a career as a commerce raider off the Brazilian coast. She eventually headed back north to attack British shipping plying the waters between Barbados and Trinidad. She sunk in November after an explosion aboard ship but the British remained unaware and would continue to search for the Karlsruhe for four more months. Her story became an early wartime adventure and was played up on postcards.
In August an expeditionary force from New Zealand captured German Samoa with its wireless station, which was crucial for naval communication. Part of the German Far East Fleet had been dispatched for the islandŐs protection but it did not oppose the occupation when it came. The Japanese Navy also captured GermanyŐs Pacific colonies consisting of the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands. These islands were only defended by German police.
Having underestimated the German U-boat threat, three British cruisers, the Aboukir, the Hogue and the Cressy were all sunk in the same encounter with the German submarine U9 while out on patrol in the North Sea in late September. This coup caused the U-boat and its captain to become instant celebrities in Germany, and many German postcard publishers tried to cash in on the publicity. While a great number of cards depicting the U-boat war were already being produced, no other single naval incident was represented with as much output.
In August a British-French fleet left their base in Malta to begin operations against the Austrians in the Adriatic Sea. They surprised the Austrian blockading squadron off of Montenegro and sunk the SMS Zenta near Bar. Though the French had the largest fleet in the Mediterranean, it still was not strong enough to directly take the fortified Austro-Hungarian naval bases on the Adriatic or even maintain a constant presence there. A blockade to contain enemy ships was set up at the Strait of Otranto instead.
The light cruiser SMS Emden, attached to the German Far East Squadron, left its base at Tsingtao before it came under Japanese attack. Acting as a raider it moved into the Indian Ocean where it caused severe damage to Allied shipping. In September it attacked the Indian port of Madras and in October Penang in Malaysia. A number of British and Japanese cruisers were sent out in search of her but she remained elusive. After sailing for the Cocos Islands, the British wireless station there managed to send off a brief distress signal before the Germans had a chance to destroy it. The message was picked up by the Australian Cruiser Sydney that was on nearby convoy escort duty. The Australians sunk the Emden while its crew was raiding the island, but the German landing party still managed to escape by appropriating a schooner and sailing to the Dutch East Indies.
The surviving crew of the Emden and their captain, Karl von Muller would eventually make it all the way back to Germany where they were celebrated as heroes. Though the Germans lost the ship, the adventurous narrative surrounding the Emden was so compelling that it attracted a large audience. Their saga became a popular story line that was well depicted on postcards; even outliving the Great War to become part of German war mythology. Postcards capturing the ships likeness in many forms were published long after the war was over.
The German warships Goeben and Breslau found themselves in the Mediterranean Sea at the outbreak of the War but managed to outrun the British pursuit and eventually took refugee under Turkish guns in the Dardanelles. There they were added to the Turkish fleet under the names Yavuz and Midilli though they continued to be manned by Germans. These powerful ships helped make up for the loss of two Turkish dreadnoughts under construction in Britain that had been seized in August. Many postcards continued to use the German names for these ships throughout the War.
The German cruiser SMS Koenigsberg arrived in the East African port of Dar es Salaam shortly before the War started. Once hostilities arose she was poised to begin raiding duties on Indian Ocean trade routes. This mission however was hampered by the presence of the British Cape of Good Hope Squadron. Afraid of being bottled in port, the Koenigsberg was forced to secretly anchor in the Rufiji River so she could load coal in safety. While there she learned that the British cruiser HMS Pegasus arrived at Zanzibar for repairs, and the Germans set out to destroy her. In September the Koenigsberg sank the Pegasus right in Zanzibar Harbor, but she then had to return to the Rufiji Delta for repairs.
In October the Turks sent the Yavuz and Midilli plus other vessels across the Black Sea under the guise of staging maneuvers, but when they reached the Russian port of Odessa they began laying mines and opened a bombardment to announce their new military alliance with the Central Powers. They returned two days later to attack Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, and Feodosia. Both sides would continue to raid each other’s Black Sea coast through September of 1917.
In mid-October the Russian cruiser Palleda was attacked by a German U-boat while on patrol in the Gulf of Finland. A torpedo hit managed to ignite her magazine, and she blew up and sank with her entire crew. This was the first Russian Naval loss in the War.
After France entered the War they decided to strengthen their position in the Adriatic by capturing the southernmost Austro-Hungarian naval base at Bocche di Cattaro. This attack was to be supported with heavy guns hauled up to the Montenegrin fortress atop Mount Lovcen where they could bombard the neighboring port. When these guns went into service in October, the Austro-hungarian warships that were already bombarding the coast of Montenegro were reinforced by the dreadnaught SMS Radetsky from Pola. This Austro-Hungarian flotilla then set out to end to this threat by bombarding Mount Lovcen. After a number of guns were destroyed, the French withdrew.
After engaging in some minor hostilities with Japanese warships in August, the five ships of Germany’s Far East Squadron left their Chinese base at Tsingtao in September. They left five smaller boats behind to help defend the base along with the Austrian cruiser Keiserine Elisabeth. These vessels found themselves trapped in the harbor when the British China squadron and additional Japanese ships arrived. After making a failed attempt to escape through the blockade, the heavy guns from the Keiserine Elisabeth were removed and added to the land defenses. All naval craft were lost when their base fell to the Japanese in November after a long siege.
Early in the war Germany converted a number of commercial ships like the ocean liner Berlin into auxiliary mine-layers that covertly dropped their deadly cargo into the shipping lanes and harbors around Great Britain. Toward the end of October the British super-dreadnaught Audacious struck one of these mines while out on target practice in the Irish Sea and sank. The ocean liner Olympic and other naval vessels managed to save the entire crew, but the sinking of such a modern ship was a severe loss to the Royal Navy. An attempt was made by the War Office to hide this incident despite the hundreds of civilians aboard the Olympic that witnessed the ship’s sinking. After news of the loss reached America’s shore, it quickly spread everywhere except to Great Britain. Even though many real photo postcards depicting the sinking of the Audacious began to appear in the still neutral United States, Britain refused to acknowledged the incident ever happened until after the War ended.
The five warships of Germany’s Far East Squadron left their base at Tsingtao in September to raid Allied shipping off the west coast of South America. Though the Allies made an effort to search the Pacific for their whereabouts, they did not encounter the fleet until it finally arrived off the coast of Chile in November. A British squadron dispatched from the Falklands then fell upon them in the Battle of Coronel, but after suffering serious losses their surviving ships retreated, leaving the Germans free to roam.
After their victory at Coronel, the German Far East Squadron sailed for the South Atlantic to raid the British facilities at Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. The battle had also inspired the British to send out more powerful British ships to hunt for them and they were already at the Falklands when the German fleet arrived in December. In the ensuing battle all the German ships were sunk except for the light cruiser Dresden. Unable to find supplies, the ship was scuttled off the Juan Fernandez Islands in March. This ended the war against Allied shipping by German commerce raiders.
In September nine British submarines managed to sneak into the Baltic Sea through the back straits of Denmark. After establishing a base at the Russian Estonia port at Tallinn in May 1915, they began harassing the vital sea lanes between Germany and Sweden. Even though the Baltic Sea was not a good environment to operate submarines in; fear of their presences was enough to bring trade to a halt until the Germans started protecting Swedish merchant ships with convoys in 1916.
In December the British picked up German transmissions that they were planing a large raid with their cruises against the coast at Scarborough, and they set a trap for them. What they did not know was that the Germans were using the raid as bait, having their High Seas Fleet waiting off Dogger Bank to descend on the British responders . It almost worked but in the confusion of battle the German fleet thought itself outnumbered and decided to retreat. This action however left the German raiders free to batter the coast of England and they escaped unharmed.
German cruisers had beed raiding the east coast of Britain since November and their U-boats were now inflicting serious damage on shipping. Since the Hague conventions prohibited the bombardment of defenseless towns, the German raids crossed another line. After the Scarborough raid in December, exceptional efforts were made to portray these events as acts of German barbarity and public outrage was funneled into recruitment efforts. Many postcards were published to depict these events. Some cards present specific details while others show generic naval actions, but all served a larger propaganda war.
To help keep the Royal Navy from operating off the German coast or entering the Baltic Sea, Germany had laid down extensive bands of minefields. While careful maps were kept as to their whereabouts, they remained an unseen hazard. When the German cruiser Yorck strayed off course while returning from a raid on Yarmouth in early November, she inadvertently ran into one of these minefields and sunk.
At the Beginning of November, Great Britain began using the Royal Navy to blockade Germany. The North Sea was declared a War Zone, and goods of all kinds, including food, headed for Germany would be seized. The Germans imported a great deal of their food, and this policy would come to cause great hardships on civilians. Germany would later use this as an excuse for implementing air raids against England and expanding the U-boat campaign.
On Christmas Day the British mounted an attack on the German Zeppelin base at the port of Cuxhaven using seaplanes launched from ships. The pilots however did not have a clear idea of where their targets where and so they inflicted little serious damage. The Germans counterattacked with their land based aircraft. This was the first use of sea-borne airpower in combat.