Seeking A Knockout Blow Against Britain; Close Eye on America.
A Poet in No-Man’s-Land.
Special to The Great War Project.
(7-12 January) On these days a century ago, the Germans make a fateful decision. On January 9th the German Kaiser,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “presided over a Crown Council at which the long-debated question of unrestricted submarine warfare was to be resolved.”
The first to speak is Germany’s chief of the naval staff, Baron Conrad Von Hotzendorf. He assures the Kaiser, reports Gilbert, that……
if Germany takes this step, “England would sue for peace in six months.”
The Kaiser has the United States in mind. He asks, what will be the effect of this step on the actions of the United States?
The response? “I will give your Majesty my word as an officer, that not one American will land on the Continent.”
Another top general who favors unrestricted attacks on ships tells the Kaiser, our naval operations hav been effective. There’s been a sharp decrease “in supplies of munitions going to the Allies.”
The Kaiser is impressed.
One senior member of the German war council does oppose unrestricted submarine warfare. He is the German Chancellor, the highest civilian authority in Germany, and he opposes widening the war at sea.
As an opponent of this step, he tells the Kaiser, it risks bringing the United States into the war, especially if there is significant loss of life as a result of German submarine attacks on American ships.
But the hawks carry the day.
“The Kaiser hesitated no longer,” writes Gilbert. “Unrestricted German submarine warfare against all shipping, whatever flag it flew and whatever cargoes it carried, would begin with the utmost energy from February 1.”
It is one of the great gambles of the war, writes history Adam Hochschild.