I’ve been interested in submarine warfare 0f the Second World War since I was in middle school. There are a lot of books written in English about the German U-boat campaign targeting Allied ships in the Atlantic and also the American submarine war against Japanese merchant shipping in the Pacific. Relatively little has been written in recent times, though, about submarine operations of any nation during the First World War.
That’s why I was happy to discover a copy of Edwyn Gray’s book, The U-boat War: 1914-1918 (which was originally published in the 1970s as The Killing Time) in Manhattan’s mecca for rare books: the Strand Book Store. I’m really glad I bought this book, because after reading it, I disabused myself of several erroneous notions about these early German submarine operations.
For example, I previously believed that German submarines during WWI in comparison to their counterparts in WWII
- were generally smaller, slower, and carried less fuel, crew, and torpedoes,
- exclusively operated in the coastal waters of Western Europe, and
- did not wage as large or effective of a campaign against merchant shipping.
All of these preconceptions turned out to be false. By way of comparing the U-boat campaigns of the First and Second World War, I turned to some data from uboat.net, an ongoing research project by an amateur historian which I’ve enjoyed visiting since I first started using the internet in the mid-1990s.
Just looking at how many ships U-boats attacked during each war, it’s evident that the number of ships hit by submarines in the 1910s surpasses the totals of the 1940s: (more…)