Retaliation for British Blockade of Germany.

In Singapore, Mutiny Against British Fails

Special to The Great War Project

(15-18 February) Germany’s announcement that it intends to sink all Allied and neutral ships approaching the British Isles makes big headlines in the United States.

Front page of the New York Tribune on February 17th, 1915.

Front page of the New York Tribune on February 17th, 1915.

The New York Tribune trumpets that news on its front page on February 16th one hundred years ago: “Germany to Strew Sea with Mines If Allies Insist on Barring Food.” This is in retaliation for Britain’s increasingly effective blockade of Germany.

The Tribune’s subhead reads: “War Zone to be Made Death Trap for All Neutrals.”

The previous day, the German Ambassador to the US delivers a note to the US government in Washington. It reads in part, “Neutral ships are most urgently warned against entering” the waters around the British Isles.

Effectively this is a declaration that German submarines will henceforth regard all merchant ships, no matter what flag they are flying, as hostile.

“Germany has been compelled to resort to this kind of warfare by the murderous ways of British naval warfare,” the note reads, “which aims at the destruction of legitimate neutral trade and at starvation of the German people. Germany will be obliged to adhere to these announced principals until England submits to the recognized rules of warfare.”

Actually it is the people of Poland who are suffering and possibly starving, reports the Tribune on its front page the previous day. The war in Poland has devastated the country far more that it has the people of Germany. So far the devastation of war has not come to the territory and people of Germany.

Lest anyone still believe this war is a purely European affair, the events of mid-February a century ago should put that view to rest.

British execute Singapore  mutineers, February 1915.

British execute Singapore mutineers, February 1915.

The scene is Singapore, an outpost of the British Empire. On February 15th, reports historian Martin Gilbert, Indian troops stationed there mutiny, killing 39 Europeans. “It was the first large-scale mutiny of the war,” writes Gilbert. “It was intended by its organizers as part of a general uprising by Sikh militants against the British in India.”

This is certainly the work of German covert operations, convinced that India is ripe for revolution...

…“just as, two weeks earlier, they had expected the Egyptians to be ready to overthrow the British once the Turks crossed the Suez Canal.”

Believed to be part of the plot are the contents of a German ship seized at the time, Gilbert writes, “and found to be carrying half a million revolvers, 100,000 rifles, and 200,000 cases of ammunition.”

British troops execute 37 ringleaders of the Singapore uprising, as well as eighteen leaders in India, who are hanged.

In fact more Indians volunteer to fight with the British in France, with the approval of Gandhi. He writes later, “If we would approve our status through the help and co-operation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need.”