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; an interesting article.........................
DIE FORMEN DES UBOOTKRIEGES. [Types of submarine warfare.] Admiral Spindler, Retired
The German blockade announcement of 4 February 1915 and the accompanying note of the German government clearly indicated that submarine attacks were only planned against hostile vessels, and that "German naval forces have been instructed to avoid any violation of neutral shipping, in so far as it can be recognized as such." The German admiralty was convinced at that time that the merchantmen of the Entente would in a very short time be-sailing under neutral colors, and that neutral and hostile ships would be difficult to tell apart. Furthermore, it was not believed that submarines should be expected to carry out careful search in order to determine the proper or improper use of neutral flags, inasmuch as it was definitely expected that these merchantmen would be armed and capable of offensive action and other resistance against submarine control. The erroneous sinking of neutral merchant ships would therefore appear inevitable. But intentional destruction of neutral shipping-this characteristic-of unrestricted submarine warfare-was never even considered throughout the conferences between the Navy Department, the Foreign Office, and the Chancellor (November 1914-February 1915). When the government launched itself into the unknown sea of submarine warfare it did so with the understanding that everything possible would be done from a naval viewpoint to prevent the sinking of neutral shipping except as an unavoidable accident. If Admiral Bauer, who at that time was in command of submarine activities, had other ideas as to the intent of the governmental policy, then such a mistaken conception is the fault of the Admiralty itself. But all these details, including the attitude of Admiral von Pohl, are fully explained in the work of the Naval Archives, and there should be no question as to facts. In 1915, unrestricted submarine warfare was not planned, but on the other hand it was planned to sink hostile merchant ships without warning, and to proceed against neutral ones in accord with existing international law.
As previously indicated, the opening phases of the submarine campaign in 1915 were groping into an unknown sphere. There were certain suppositions as to what the enemy might do. Only the actual course of events would indicate what he really would do, and how to proceed further.
Immediately upon the very first venture, the initial experience, corroborated as time went on again and again, and more and more emphatically, the fact that all these suppositions had been erroneous. A misuse of flags was practically non-existant. Hostile merchantmen were readily discernible by the fact that they carried no flags, had painted over all names, and when challenged, always sought safety in flight. Neutral ships were recognized by the fact that they carried their national flag, bore other plain markings, and usually complied readily with the orders of the submarine commanders. Furthermore, hostile steamers were not armed for several months.
The result of these unexpected developments was that submarine commanders began to use their guns more and more, that is, to operate on the surface, and to avoid using the difficult underwater torpedo. The gun was far more effective in the campaign against merchant ships, much quicker, and the risks connected therewith were far less than had been assumed at least for several months. Also the danger of submarine traps, which were quickly recognized after their initial surprise effect, had been exaggerated.
Therefore, the methods of submarine warfare were adapted to the situation. This was not the situation anticipated, and throughout the summer of 1915 it developed smoothly into submarine warfare in accordance with international law.
All that was necessary at that time was to confirm this status by means of an official order. The diplomatic advantages of such an order can hardly be overestimated. This type of submarine warfare complied with the laws of seizure and search; there was no sinking of ships without warning, and it complied with all diplomatic demands. Even the fundamental understanding with the United States would have been possible. The last "Lusitania Note" of 21 July 1915, indicated unmistakably such a solution. A great opportunity was permitted to pass by. It was so because the German government at that time lacked understanding, unity, and strength necessary to coordinate the military and diplomatic features and to guide them both with a strong and determined hand.
Instead there was only internal conflict. Submarine warfare was entirely suspended in English waters for almost a whole year, with the exception of a short period of activity in the spring of 1916.
The results in sinkings between October 1916 and January, 1917, at which time the German submarines operated in accordance with international law, by Navy Department orders, and by which time the situation with regard to the arming of merchantmen had been completely altered, indicate that very decisive results could have been obtained after the summer of 1915, if the submarine campaign would have been continued, and conducted in accordance with international law.
After the merchant ships of the Entente had been armed, that is in general around 1 January 1916, the effectiveness of submarine warfare was considerably reduced as long as they complied with the laws as to seizure and search. The German government announced in February 1916 that armed merchant ships would thereafter be treated the same as war vessels, that is, attacked without warning.
Source: DIE FORMEN DES UBOOTKRIEGES. [Types of submarine warfare.] Admiral Spindler, Retired.Periodical Articles-Catalog. RML Nº 66. Sep1937.
Cheers. Raúl M
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