Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

Naval War

Flotillas of sailing vessels had been the strategic basis of naval warfare for many hundreds of years before World War 1 was declared. Prior to 1914 the European nations had done much to enhance their naval superiorities in anticipation of war to come. Battleships were costly to build, maintain and operate. This did not prevent Britain from building thirty dreadnought style battleships and ten of the smaller battlecruisers. The German navy commissioned nineteen battleships and seven battle cruisers. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an avid sailor; he raced in yachts and it was his visits to Portsmouth, England, that inspired him to build a “great” navy for Germany. The Reichstag also funded the widening of the Kiel Canal. This canal connects the Baltic to the North Sea; the battleships were too large to negotiate through the canal before it was widened. Then war was declared.

World War 1:  The First Years

The German fleet posed a real threat to Britain’s dominance at sea. As it turned out from 1914 to 1916 the Allied navies dominated the world. They were able to exercise a “choke hold” on the North Sea and the Mediterranean. Germany’s geographic situation fostered insecurity within its own industrial and military establishment but the tactical use of the Unterseeboot [U-boat] boat became viable during this time.

In the Adriatic the Austria-Hungarian navy was unable to leave their bases but they were able to use just 2 cruisers to hold command from Istanbul (Ottoman Empire) and blockade the Russian navy in the Black Sea. The Russian navy was also trapped in the Baltic and played a defensive role there, defending St. Petersburg and harassing the neutral Swedish merchant shipping which was supplying Germany with much needed supplies like iron ore. The British Empire Forces, aided by the Belgian, French, Japanese and Portuguese overran and occupied the German Territories of Africa and Asia. These armies were transported, deployed and protected by naval ships, thus there were many ensuing naval based skirmishes, but no larger ‘battles’ in the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

World War 1: The Last Few Years

Throughout the four years of World War 1 there was only one “large” engagement between naval fleets. In 1916 the battle of Jutland was fought in the Skagerrak, an arm of the North Sea, about 60 miles off the coast of Denmark. The British and German navies engaged in a battle that lasted just a few days. The more than 250 ships involved was the largest tonnage that had ever been involved in naval warfare. Germany attempted to break the British blockade in the North Sea, in this they were unsuccessful. Both sides claimed a victory—Germany because it had destroyed or damaged many more ships, Britain because it retained control of the North Sea.

Submarines and torpedoes were responsible for much destruction including the demise of the Sussex and the Lusitania in the North Atlantic. Germany had decided that submarine warfare should be unrestricted and overtly so, thus precipitating the entrance of the United States into the war. The United States Navy, in 1917, was the second largest in the world and at the end of the war they had 380 craft stationed overseas. The Americans concentrated on building destroyers and submarine chasers. Their major role in WW1 was in supplementing the British destroyers in the effective defensive convoy system used to protect against the submarine and torpedo attacks in the Atlantic.

World War 1: Post War

It was said that the greatest achievement of the British Navy in the First World War – not particularly glorious – was the logistic feat of transport, escort and protection of the ships that carried troops and supplies across the English Channel.

The transport of the personnel and their “accoutrements” (horses and Kangaroos, etc.) from the fields of war back to their home nations was a major undertaking for all the allied navies, after the armistice.

The German and Central Power navies were reduced to twelve ships such that they could only supply their own countries citizens with necessary survival support. They had to surrender all the rest of their naval fleet vessels and merchant ships, to the Allies. (Treaty of Versailles)