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Q-SHIP VS U-BOAT 1914-18

Q-Ship vs U-Boat 1914-18

Author(s)                 David Greentree
Publisher Osprey
Date 2014
Pages 82
Format pdf
Size 5.2 Mb

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   In 1914 Britain's Royal Navy was completely unprepared to tackle Germany's U-boats. Thanks to their ability to submerge and stalk their adversary unseen, submarines represented a new and particularly potent threat. Before the war Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty (the politician in charge of the Royal Navy) and Admiral of the Fleet John 'Jacky' Fisher, the former First Sea Lord (the Royal Navy's professional head) had both warned of the danger posed by the submarine. Although Churchill spoke of it in 1912 as a characteristic weapon for the defence', he also noted that the Germans were building 'larger classes which would be capable of sudden operation at great distance from their base' (quoted in Lake 2006: 32—33)- Indeed, the submarine's ability to defeat surface vessels was starkly illustrated on 22 September 1914, when three British cruisers — Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy — were sunk in quick succession by one U-boat, U 9. While aware of the threat to warships, Churchill thought using torpedoes or even gunfire without warning to sink merchantmen crewed by civilian seamen would never be done by a civilised power' (quoted in Lake 2006: 33)- The Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith, concurred. There were others, including Fisher, who had a different view and in July 1914 the retired Royal Navy officer Admiral Percy Scott warned the British public that the U-boat 'introduced a new method of attacking [our] supplies' (quoted in Botting 1979: 19)-But they were in a minority. Overall, there was a lack of foresight about how Germany could use U-boats in a war on commerce, in part because of the presumption about their adversary's moral stance, but also because there was no appreciation of how long the conflict would last and how important attacking commerce would become.

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