The German Submarine Offensive

  • Matthew Hughes
  • William J. Philpott


Although Britain and France had over twice as many submarines as the Germans in 1914, the latter had the advantage that many of their submarines (U-boats — Unterseeboote) had ocean-going capability. Also, rapid advances in submarine technology meant that the submarines of 1914 were very quickly obsolete, giving both sides a level start. Germany won the race to build a new ocean-going submarine fleet. On 22 September 1914, off the Dutch coast, the submarine U-9 torpedoed and sank three old British cruisers, Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, a wake-up call for the British. In fact, submarines were not such a threat to fast ocean-going warships, which could outpace submarines and were protected by smaller vessels. Their danger came in the form of Handelskrieg — counter-blockade trade warfare against Entente and neutral merchant shipping. In retaliation against the British surface blockade of Germany (see Map 13), the Germans decided to use submarines to blockade British ports.


Level Start Merchant Shipping Dutch Coast Merchant Vessel French Army 
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© Matthew Hughes & William J. Philpott 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Hughes
  • William J. Philpott

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