German Limits on U-boat Ops Satisfies Americans.
Under Siege in Iraq, British Desperate for American Support
Special to The Great War Project
(3-6 February) It is now completely obvious that, at this stage in the war a century ago, without American support in munitions and loans, Britain and France will lose the war.
Writes historian Arthur Link….
“The Allies were now completely dependent upon American raw materials and munitions…
…There were, moreover, signs that they would soon become dependent upon American credit as well.”
British leaders, like Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, understand that Britain is rapidly depleting its supply of gold and foreign currency, fundamental to maintaining the allied war effort.
In Link’s view, “Any action meanwhile by the American government, no matter how seemingly trivial on the American side, impairing the flow of credit to the United Kingdom, or any change in the American opinion that would affect the willingness of bankers to lend, could be fatal to the Allied cause.”
Moreover, the British fear that the American stance “was part of a broad new understanding between Germany and the United States on the conduct of submarine warfare.”
At this time, the British ambassador in Washington, Cecil Spring Rice, cables Grey in London that “the Germans are now praising the President, [the Secretary of State Robert] Lansing and Congress.” This is the result of German negotiations over the issue of restrictions on submarine warfare.
As a result of American pressure, reports Link, “the Germans had conducted virtually no submarine operations in British waters” since September of 1915.
However, German U-boats continue to mount attacks without warning on armed merchant ships in open waters.
Around this time, the German chancellor concludes Germany can get away with continued attacks on merchant ships in international waters. The chancellor issues these orders in early February nearly a century ago:
Enemy merchantmen carrying guns should be regarded as warships and destroyed by all means.
Commanders should not, however, forget that errors which they might commit could lead to a rupture with neutral powers and that one should destroy a ship on account of its armament only if he is absolutely certain of the existence of this armament.
Vienna and Berlin announce these orders will go into effect on February 29.
It appears the Americans are willing to tolerate these orders for a new submarine campaign.
But the British are alarmed and enraged.
The plight of the British is especially drastic in the Middle East.
The British, along with a contingent of troops from colonial India, are trying desperately to avoid disaster a half a world away in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).
They are under siege in the town of Kut, on the Tigris River, south of Baghdad.
Between the British and Indian forces defending Kut, and the civilian population, the town is rapidly running out of food.
The British commander there has already issued a drastic cut in rations.
“The besieging Turks fired on any civilians who tried to flee Kut,”
…writes historian Eugen Rogan. “The Ottomans had only one use for the townspeople: as mouths hastening the depletion of the British army’s finite provisions.”
The Turks are also seeking to exploit racial differences against the British. Thousands of leaflets appear in Kut urging Indian troops to kill their British officers, “mutiny, and come over to the Turks and be under the protection of Allah, telling them they would be far better treated and have more pay.”
At about this time a century ago, the Turkish side launches aircraft that circle over Kut, and drop bombs. “This was the first time,” reports Rogan, “the people in Kut had witnessed an aerial bombardment…From that day forward, monoplanes…made regular air raids on Kut, dropping high-explosive bombs of up to one hundred pounds in weight.”