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Campaigns of World War One:
Naval Actions  1915-1916


1915


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German ships sent to raid the English coast in January were intercepted by a larger British squadron while out at sea near Dodger Bank. The Germans fled but the British overtook them inflicting serious damage, which included the sinking of the battlecruiser Blucher. In fear of losing more ships, Germany ended its naval raids on Britain.

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At the beginning of February, Germany instituted a policy of unrestricted warfare against merchant vessels in response to the British blockade. The waters around Great Britain were declared a War Zone in which every enemy merchant vessel became a legitimate target. As long as Great Britain held naval supremacy, Germany could only carry out this policy through the use of U-boats. With most of the Belgian coast securely in German hands, most of their U-boats would now be based in Ostend.

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With the Western Front stalled, the Allies focused their attentions on knocking Turkey out of the War and opening up a supply route to Russia by way of the Black Sea. In February the Allies began their preliminary assault on the Dardanelles by clearing belts of sea mines and further reducing the outer fortifications of the Canakkale Zone with a naval bombardment. By March this flotilla, which included 16 dreadnoughts, attacked the main Turkish fortifications in the narrows; the lower batteries having been abandoned. Just as their big guns expended the last of their ammunition three battleships were sunk and three more were disabled by mines, causing the Allied fleet to withdrew in a panic. Subsequent use of submarines would inflict losses on both Allied and Ottoman fleets though the summer, but since there was an option of a land campaign, the admirals plaid it safe and decided not to put their ships at further risk in taking the Dardanelles.

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The Allies had put high hopes in the attack on the Dardanelles believing their powerful fleet alone would be enough to win a quick victory without substantial cost. The failure of this mission was represented on numerous postcards from the Central Powers, but French publishers found a way to publicize the defeat to their advantage. By focusing on details rather than the outcome of the campaign, they could emphasized individual acts of bravery whose validity was hard to question. The Allies may have lost the battle but they could still be represented as victors because they proved their worth and valor. This would become the model for the remainder of the campaign.

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In February Germany launched its campaign of unlimited submarine warfare against the ships of all nations aiding Great Britain. In May they had sunk the passenger liner Lusitania with the loss of many American lives. This loss was represented on many German postcards as another victory before they realized that the incident was also being used against them in the propaganda war. Despite it fueling calls for war in America, President Wilson was adamant that he would not go to war over the loss of a ship. After more Americans died in the sinking of the Arabic that August, Germany became more fearful that the United States might enter the war against them, and so they ceased their program of unlimited warfare. Their U-boats however continued to prey on enemy shipping.

There was much controversy during the War years over whether this ship was armed, what the U-boat captain saw, and the cargo the Lusitania was carrying. A lot of this centered on whether there was one explosion ow two before the ship sunk and if there was a second explosion, was it caused by a torpedo or something in the hold. While these arguments still continue, much has been resolved. The ship was apparently fitted for guns but they were not mounted. Many now agree that the mysterious second explosion was most likely from steam pipes but that does not rule out the possibility that there more weapons aboard than were on record.

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While the sinking of the Lusitania is the best known event to affect the Cunard Steamship Line, all its ships were used during the Great War to transport troops and military supplies. Cunard had a long history of producing artist drawn posters and postcards to help advertise its international routes, and this tradition continued during the War years to highlight the role it was playing in the conflict.

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Shortages of coal and engine problems kept the cruiser Koenigsberg from playing as active a role as the Germans would have liked. These problems were not totally unforeseen, and hiding places were scouted out before hand in East Africa’s Rufiji Delta. The British not knowing she could navigate these shallow waters did not discovered her location until October 1914 but all their efforts to sink her failed. After refitting monitors that could more easily navigate the shallow delta waters, the British finally destroyed the Koenigsberg while at anchor still awaiting repairs in March 1915.

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The important Russian Latvian port of Leipaja came under Zeppelin attack in January, and it was bombarded in early May by the German cruiser Augsburg as part of a general offensive against the Russian coast. Soon afterwards the German army marching up from East Prussia took the city. With so few naval actions taking place on the Baltic Sea, this attack seems to have gotten more attention on German cards than its significance might indicate.

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After Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary in May, the Austro-Hungarian Navy immediately began raiding the Italian coast along the Adriatic. The following day a large fleet that included three dreadnoughts left their base at Pula to bombard the Italian coast causing severe damage to Ancona. This marked the beginning of many large sorties that would plague the Italian coast.

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In an agreement with Great Britain, the British took charge over security in the Atlantic while the French would secure the Mediterranean. While negotiating with the Italians over blockading the Adriatic, the French Navy established their headquarters at Malta and began patrolling the Ionian Sea. German U-boats operating in the area were temporarily commissioned into the Austrian Navy since Italy had only declared war on Austro-Hungary. In April the sub U-5 crossed paths with the French Cruiser Leon Gambetta while it was on patrol and sunk her. German U-boats began to operate under their own flag in August when they went to war with Italy.

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With the French fleet now reserved for blockading duties, the Allied naval war in the Adriatic would be carried out by the Italians. By July Italy responded to the raids on their coast with raids of their own against Austrian ports. They would also attack the Hungarians holding the Island of Lagosta. The presence of Austro-Hungarian and German submarines in the Adriatic made both raids and blockading dangerous work. When the Italian cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi ventured out to bombard the coast at Ragusa, she was struck by a torpedo and sunk.

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When the Great War broke out the size of each nations navy was no secret, types, names, and armament were all commonly known. The location of these vessels were another matter, which provided constant work for naval intelligence. Information received was not always correct and sometimes ships of the same class were confused with one another. This sometimes led to false news reports that inspired postcards with incorrect information on them. In June an Austro-Hungarian U-boat torpedoed the Cruiser HMS Dublin off of San Giovanni di Medua. Though badly damages the ship escaped to the port of Brindisi. The report that came through was that the Cruiser HMS Liverpool was hit when this ship was deployed off of West Africa at the time. Postcards based on news reports of their time were always subject to error.

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While capitol ships largely remained in port for most of the war, there were an endless series of raids on cities and naval bases in the Adriatic as well as many small encounters between ships and submarines. None of these engagements seen to have been too minor for them not to be captured on Italian, German, and especially Austrian postcards.

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In Early August the Germans began reinforcing the eastern Baltic with more powerful vessels from the High Seas Fleet in preparation for an attack on the islands protecting the Gulf of Riga. The German army in Courland was headed north to take Riga, and the German navy wanted to destroy the Russian Baltic Fleet that was stationed there beforehand. While the Germans managed to clear their way through the extensive Russian minefields, casualties and the presence of enemy submarines eventually forced their withdrawal.

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Since the beginning of the War, Russian and Turkish ships laid mines and raided each other’s coast on the Black Sea. The Turks however had the edge since the power and speed of their warships Yavuz and Midilli made them difficult to confront in this confined theater. Ottoman raids only began to be curtailed when the Russians launched some new destroyers and the dreadnaught Imperatritsa Maria in July. German U-boats were also now operating in the Black Sea making the sea lanes even more dangerous.

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Remnants of the retreating Serb army began concentrating around the Albanian port of San Giovanni di Medua. This increased activity drew the Interest of the Austrian navy and they began sending out reconnaissance missions off the Albanian coast. In December one of these missions crossed paths with Italian supply ships and a picket boat headed for San Giovani di Medua and sunk all.



1916


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As the year began the first and last battle between dreadnoughts on the Black Sea took place when the Russian Imperatritsa Maria caught up with the Turkish warship Yavuz off of Zonguldak. The battle was brief and inconclusive but it demonstrated to the Turks that they could no longer launch surface raids with impunity. From this point on more effort began to be placed on U-boat warfare. In October the Imperatritsa Maria suddenly sank in Sevastopol from an explosion of unknown cause.

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In response to the sinking of the Lusitania, a number of nations, including the United States began fitting its merchant vessels with guns. In February German U-boats began attacking these types of ships, but after more American lives were lost in the sinking of the Sussex, Germany ended this policy by May. Warships and U-boats always walked a tightrope when confronting neutral vessels for it had become more of a political issue than a military one. A number of postcards represent German resentment and frustration concerning enemy ships carrying war material while pretending to be vessels of neutral nations.

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In April, August, and October the Germans conducted minor raids against BritainŐs east coast. Just as before these raids were captured on postcards for their propaganda value; but as these raids became more common, German publishers began producing generic scenes displaying U-boats and unidentifiable naval craft. While the vessels are generic and sometimes even fanciful, the White Cliffs of Dover often appear as a backdrop to make it clear whose coast is being attacked.

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At the end of May Germany sent out their entire High Seas Fleet of 99 ships on a mission to destroy Britain’s smaller blockading squadron. The British navy, having learned of their plans sent out their entire fleet of 151 ships to meet them. Both sides had committed all their dreadnoughts to battle. The British caught up with the German sortie off the coast of Jutland resulting in the largest sea battle of the War. Britain lost more ships and sailors but the Germans were unable to break the blockade, which allowed both sides to claim victory. This would be the last large close range battle between capital ships. Their presence alone served as a deterrent against attack while they remained a potential threat that neither side could ignore. Losing them would be a disaster, so as both sides grew more fearful, the less these ships left port. Many postcards depict the Battle of Jutland (Skagerrak), but they tend to be generic scenes of combat more than a record of events.

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After evading the British blockade, the German U-boat Deutschland arrived in Baltimore in July. Her mission was to covertly transfer desperately needed raw materials back to Germany that had been stockpiled by German sympathizers. Its hull was built extra wide for the purpose of carrying large quantities of goods. The boats arrival inspired many pro-German publishers in America to produce cards of her. Before the Americans could decide what to do with her, the Deutschland suddenly left undetected. When she safely returned home many German publishers also picked up on this theme turning Captain Koenig, commander of this sub, into a hero.

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The U-boat Deutschland only made two trips to America; first to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to New Haven, Connecticut in November 1916. While most postcards of American and German origin present the facts, some cards are more fanciful. A number of German publishers unaware of the particulars, only knew the sub had reached the United States; which in their minds was represented by New York City. A number of postcards were born from this stereotype that show the Deutschland alongside the Statue of Liberty. Once the United States entered the War, American illustrators would depict fantasies of German U-boats attacking Lady Liberty.

(See Black Tom dated August 30, 2010, in the archive of the website’s Blog section for more information on this subject)

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In mid-September two Hungarian seaplanes spotted the submerged French submarine Foucault operating in the Adriatic. After being hit by falling bombs, the damaged craft was forced to the surface where it was then scuttled once the crew abandoned ship. It was the first successful attack on a submarine by aircraft.

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In October the German sub U-53 paid a surprise visit to Newport, Rhode Island but its stay was kept short due to fears of internment. On its way back to sea it sunk five steamships in international waters near the Nantucket Shoals. While American destroyers were dispatched to the scene, they only picked up survivors since the two nations were not at war. British attempts to intercept the U-boat from Canada failed. This event was captured on a number of German postcards; not only to praise the U-boats Captain, but to instill fear by showing the wide reach of their underwater fleet.

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The French Fleet assigned to protect shipping in the Mediterranean Sea was plagued by the presence of German and Austrian Submarines. To help aid their efforts, a a squadron of Japanese warships were dispatched to the naval base at Malta upon the request of the British. On the way they were also able to escort convoys of Anzac troops headed across the Indian Ocean. The presence of Japanese ships in the Mediterranean increased public interest in the European war back in home. While this encouraged the further production of military postcards in Japan, few publishers of any nation produced cards of Japanese ships or sailors stationed in Europe.




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