Over the course of the next eight blogs we will be examining Britain’s early strategy of a war time naval blockade of Germany. A carefully planned and well executed blockade would have led to a quick victory, but the ruling oligarchy in London were not interested in a speedy conclusion to the war. We ask you to consider here a concept that is totally at odds with mainstream history, and difficult to grasp. It forms the central theme of our book, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War. The First World War was caused by a small clique of British conspirators who deliberately lengthened the war by supplying Germany during the conflict. The complete and utter destruction of Germany as an industrial, economic and imperial competitor was their goal, and they knew that it would require a prolonged miserable war of attrition to achieve that. They also knew, however, that Germany, virtually surrounded as she was with her enemies, could not sustain a long conflict without help.

naval ships 1913During the war, Britain and France had free access to the global markets and throughout 1914-18 imported huge amounts of foodstuffs, weapons, chemicals essential for armaments production, oil and much else. Germany, on the other hand, was cut off from those markets by the proverbial ring of steel, and her entire merchant fleet confined to port by the might of the Royal Navy. By 1914 Germany had been almost self-sufficient in food production but home grown food rapidly declined because large numbers of farm workers and horses were called up for the war effort, and the chemicals used in artificial fertilizer production were used instead for the manufacture of armaments. Paradoxically, to ensure Germany’s total destruction she had to be provided with the means to import food, oil, chemicals and all other essential materials that would enable her to continue in the war.

In previous blogs we have seen how the iron ore and smelters of the Briey basin were surrendered to Germany without a bullet being fired and allowed to continue in full production throughout the war. In this next series we reveal how the British naval blockade of Germany between 1914-1916 was a mere charade that was never intended to succeed. It had to appear that a blockade was in operation. It was deemed to be such an essential weapon of war that had a blockade not been implemented, the public would have seen it as a gross dereliction of duty. The London cabal was faced with the difficult problem of running a ‘blockade’ which appeared to be effective, but in reality was a sham.

map of distant blockade of the North Sea

A blockade by one nation against another has been a strategy of war throughout history. In different epochs, different tactics have been employed to achieve similar ends, namely, defeat of the enemy by stopping its trade in necessary foodstuffs and resources, excluding it from the benefits of international exchange, and bringing about its ruin and defeat.[1] The physical capacity of the Royal Navy to cut off the sea trade routes between Germany and her markets throughout the world was unquestioned. [2] It was taken as an axiom of truth by the British public that after war began, a blockade would seal Germany off, prevent food and war materiel from entering, and swiftly bring her to her knees. As The Times put it some seven months into the war, the nation retained ‘supreme and unquestioning confidence in the Royal Navy.’ [3] Given the huge percentage of Gross Domestic Product spent on warships and dreadnoughts, anything other than full confidence in the fleet would have been extremely demoralising.

On 23 August 1911, it had been evident to a small coterie of trusted ministers who attended a special meeting of the Committee for Imperial Defence that the Royal Navy’s plans for the coming war with Germany were, compared to the army, ill considered. Equally worrying was the fact that no strategic plan had been agreed between the two wings of the armed forces. [4] Part of the fall-out from that particularly disturbing meeting was the appointment of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. He brought the rigour of his own certainty to the position and, inspired largely by Admiral Lord John (Jacky) Fisher, the recently retired First Sea Lord, he introduced a more modern approach to that bastion of tradition, including building more oil powered warships. He did not, however, share Admiral Fisher’s views on how and where to operate a naval blockade.

Fisher advocated an aggressive close blockade of the German coast by destroyers in order to bring matters quickly to a head. In addition to putting a stop to German importation of food and essential war materiel via the Atlantic trade routes, close blockade would also prevent imports via local coastal shipping from the Scandinavian countries or neutral Spain. In Fisher’s plan, the British Grand Fleet of dreadnoughts and cruisers would be ever on standby to protect the destroyers from German warships should the need arise. An additional benefit of a close blockade of ports on the Jade and Elbe estuaries would be the hemming in of the German fleet, hence the threat of a German invasion of Britain, or possibility of a German attack on British trade routes, would be removed. [5]

Admiral_John_FisherFaced with imminent maritime strangulation, the Imperial German Fleet might have been forced out of its safe harbours and into action, but Fisher was adamant that it would then be crushed by the overwhelming power of the Royal Navy’s capital ships. On the other hand, those who argued against a close blockade claimed that while the enemy’s warships might well be hemmed in, Germany could use mines, torpedoes and submarines to destroy the blockading vessels. Fisher said that this was a spurious argument because submarines would have insufficient depth of water in which to operate and, in any case, would not attempt to attack destroyers. [6]

Destroyers were specifically adapted to deal with the U-boat menace. They had the speed to intercept them, strengthened bows to ram them, and the fire power and torpedoes to sink them. They carried hydrophones for identifying them and depth charges to destroy them. Destroyers were perhaps the submariner’s greatest fear. In any case, at the start of the war Germany had only 29 submarines to Britain’s 73, and so a close blockade could deal with that small number.

It has been suggested recently by Professor Hew Strachan of Oxford University that Fisher’s close blockade plan “rested on an overestimation of the destroyer and an underestimation of the submarine” and would lead to a suicidal over-extension of naval resources. Britain, he states “had fewer destroyers than did Germany: forty-two to eighty-eight in 1914.” Professor Strachan also maintains that “The blockading destroyers would have to return to coal every three three to four days. As the nearest British port was 280 miles from the German coast, the blockading fleet would require three reliefs – one on station, one in port, and one en-route – or twice as many destroyers as Britain possessed.” [7] Professor Strachan’s figures and assertions are wrong on all counts. In reality, by August 1914 the Royal Navy had a strength of 221 destroyers. [8]

Fisher believed that a close blockade was of crucial importance to winning the war quickly. Had that been the true intention a great many more than 42 destroyers could have been allocated to the task. With regard to Strachan’s assertion that two-thirds of the force would be absent at any given time through the need to take on coal, it must be remembered that by then, a large number of destroyers in the Royal Navy were powered by oil. Admiral Fisher had introduced oil fired boilers and steam turbines to all destroyers built after 1905, apart from a temporary reversion to coal in the Beagle class of 1908. In a written parliamentary reply in February 1914 about the numbers of naval ships of all classes which were ‘fitted or to be fitted’ for oil fuel only, Winston Churchill cited 109 destroyers and 252 vessels in total. [9] Had oil-fired destroyers been used in a close blockade, coaling issues would have been irrelevant. In the event such coaling problems gravely limited the efficiency of the antiquated British cruiser fleet sent to perform the distant ‘blockade’ that was finally agreed upon.

hms_tipperary_faulknor_jutlandOil provided twice the thermal content of coal and was a great strategic advantage to warships. While nine hours might be required for a coal-fired ship to reach full power, it would take only minutes with oil. Oil offered increased speed and endurance, with the radius of action of an oil-powered vessel up to four times as great as coal. Crucially, in this case, oil offered the ability to refuel at sea so that all destroyers would have been able to remain on station and effectively maintain a close blockade.

As things stood in early August 1914, had a short sharp defeat of Germany been genuinely desired, a close blockade of North Sea ports at the point when Britain had a large numerical advantage even in submarines, provided the very best chance of bringing it about. That was not what the Secret Elite intended. The utter destruction of Germany required much more than a quick military victory and an armistice. The aim was not merely to destroy the German army, but the country’s entire financial commercial and industrial infrastructure, and that required the long war.

To that end the Secret Elite’s men in the Admiralty and the Foreign Office decided on a distant blockade of the North Sea approaches from the Atlantic Ocean and a similar blockade of the Atlantic approaches south of Ireland. It gave Sir Edward Grey and his fellow Secret Elite members in the Foreign Office far more power to control how a ‘blockade’ would be managed. To the general public it mattered not. They had been assured of a quick, successful and punitive war and initially paid little heed to how the blockade was being run. They trusted Churchill. He personally raised the level of confident expectation across Britain and the Empire that an iron grip would be effectively placed on German sea trade by the Grand Fleet which would slowly but surely strangle her economy and bring the war to a victorious conclusion. He addressed a meeting of bankers, financiers, politicians and senior military personnel at the Guildhall banquet on 9 November, 1914 in the company of prime minister Asquith and minister of war, Lord Kitchener. Churchill loved such high profile occasions, and did not disappoint his audience, definitively assuring them and the nation that an effective naval blockade was in operation. In his accustomed stentorian manner he claimed;

Churchill as First Lord in deep conversation with Lord Fisher

‘The punishment we inflict is very often not seen and even when seen cannot be measured. The economic stringency resulting from a naval blockade requires time to reach its full effectiveness. Now you are only looking at it at the third month. But wait a bit. Examine it at the sixth month, and the ninth month, and the twelfth month, and you will begin to see the results – results which will be gradually achieved and silently achieved, but which will spell the doom of Germany as surely as the approaching winter strikes the leaves from the trees.’ [10]

It was an empty promise full of sound and fury, and it signified deception. That there was no effective blockade in 1914 or 1915 was not down to a failure of the Royal Navy itself, but the masters in London who controlled it. Many British sailors braved the worst storms the North Atlantic could throw at them to try to implement a blockade, but were totally betrayed. While the people of Britain and the Empire believed as fact all of the lies and misleading claims about the enemy’s growing enfeeblement and its lack of war materials and food, what difficulties Germany faced in the early years of the war were not caused by a blockade. Indeed, far from restricting German supplies, evidence presented in the 1920s proved that British commerce and trade continued to assist the German war effort to the extent that the war was prolonged ‘far beyond the limits of necessity’. [11] It is this evidence of a sham first blockade between 1914-1916 that will be examining in close detail in forthcoming blogs.

[1] M Parmalee, Blockade and Sea Power: The Blockade, 1914-199, p. 7.
[2] George F.S. Bowles, The Strength of England, p. 162.
[3] The Times, 16 Feb, 1915.
[4] Winston Churchill, World Crisis, pp. 38-9.
[5] Hew Strachan, The First World War vol.1, pp. 394-5.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] http://www.naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritishDestroyers.htm#1914
[9] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 18 February 1914, vol. 58 cc 961.
[10] The Times, 10 November, 1914.
[11] Rear-Admiral M. W. W. P. Consett, The Triumph of Unarmed Forces (1914-1918), preface, p. vii.