Germany Declares War on All Ships, Neutral or Military.

United States Vows to Protect American Ships and Citizens.

Special to The Great War Project

(22 January-10 February) By this time a century ago, the air war is widening as pilots on both sides are becoming more skilled and effective.

“In the skies above the German-occupied North Sea coast,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “British aviators were learning the new art of aerial bombardment. On January 23rd, two young British pilots “each dropped eight bombs from a low altitude on German submarines” at Zeebruge in Belgian.

Early use of  air power  in World War one.

Early use of air power in World War one.

One of the pilots is severely wounded in the attack, but manages to drop his bombs nevertheless.

Equally so, the war at sea is turning more deadly.

The Russians capture a crucial communications code book,

and they turn it over to the British, whose naval forces make good use of it.

The code book permits the British operating in the Dogger Bank in the North Sea to decode crucial German messages there. The British intercept the German Cruiser Squadron, reports Gilbert, “a British victory which gave a boost to national morale.” Fifteen British seamen are killed, but the Germans lose nearly 200 on their flagship, and on another German ship, 782 soldiers are drowned.

Meanwhile the British and the French continue to ponder how they can break the stalemate on the Western Front.

After arduous negotiations they decide on a spring offensive, with the British and French forces together attacking in Flanders and Artois near Ypres, and the French alone in Campagne.

Some additional details from the war in late January and early February 1915.

On the Western Front, a German lieutenant, Irwin Rommel “crawled through the French wire,” reports Gilbert, in a successful bid to lead his platoon to seize a small piece of the French line.

On January 30th  writes Gilbert, “the first British merchant ship to be torpedoed without warning was sunk by a German submarine.” On February 1st, a century ago, the Germans take the fateful decision “to launch submarine warfare against all ships, including neutral ships, that were bringing food or supplies” to the Allied powers.

Germany makes this decision known to the world as a declaration of war in the waters around Great Britain.

Five days later, the United States announces it will take any and all steps to protect its ships and forces.

At the same time, on February 3rd 1915, the Turkish Army completes its march across the Sinai Desert and reaches its objective – the Suez Canal. A crucial strategic objective that could have a significant impact on the British plans for war in the Middle East.


Martin Gilbert died on February 3rd. He was 78. Gilbert’s work as an historian was extraordinary. He was the official biographer of Winston Churchill, and among his more than eighty books, he chronicled the Holocaust with detail that few writers achieve.

Historian Martin Gilbert

Historian Martin Gilbert

His one-volume history of the Great War, titled the The First World War, has provided me with vivid details about the war. His work has vastly enriched the blog I have been writing.

Published in 1994, The First World War benefited from Gilbert’s extensive travels in the war zones of World War One. In his own words, “he stood on the spot where Gavrilo Princip had fired the fatal shot in June 1914.”

Later in his life, he traveled with his father to the war zones of Europe. Still later, he visited the battlegrounds of the war in Russia and Turkey. He visited the conflict zones in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Middle East. And “the towns where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred in the first year of the war.”

These travels have a profound effect on his depiction of the war. His book is essential reading. I am deeply grateful to be able to draw detail and understanding from his work.


  1. David Norton
    February 10, 2015 at 10:05 PM

    Nice to see the blog resuming! Thanks for all the effort it requires to stay on top of this.

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