World War 1

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War in the Atlantic Theatre

World War 1 - Atlantic Sea Battles

Atlantic (European) Theatre of WW1

Because of the dominance of the British and French navies, only limited fighting took place in the seas around Europe. The German U-boat fleet tried to sink British merchant ships, with some success early in the war. German U-boats had only moderate cruising range in this war and operated mostly in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and in the Mediterranean. The German U-boat threat was drastically reduced when the British finally adopted a convoy system in early 1917.

German U-Boat CampaignThe U-boat Campaign from 1914 to 1918 was the World War I naval campaign fought by German U-boats against the trade routes of the Allies. It took place largely in the seas around the British Isles and in the Mediterranean. The German Empire relied on imports for food and domestic food production (especially fertilizer) and the United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed its population, and both required raw materials to supply their war industry; the powers aimed, therefore, to blockade one another. The British had the Royal Navy which was superior in numbers and could operate on most of the world’s oceans because of the British Empire, whereas the Imperial German Navy surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere.

In the course of events in the Atlantic alone, German U-boats sank almost 5,000 ships with nearly 13 million gross register tonnage, losing 178 boats and about 5,000 men in combat.[4] Other naval theatres saw U-boats operating in both the Far East and South East Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean and North Seas.

Sinking of the RMS Lusitania is often viewed as one of the most significant events of WW1.  It was a passenger liner belonging to Great Britain and carried many passengers including U.S. Citizens.  German U-Boats were also sinking U.S. Cargo ships bringing supplies to Europe. These sinkings were the primary reason that the U.S. entered the First World War on April 6, 1917.

There was one great battle in the waters near Europe: the Battle of Jutland 31 May 1916 – 1 June 1916 between the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet. This was one of the largest sea battles in world history though, in some respects, the battle was inconclusive.

In the Adriatic, some very limited sea combat took place between the navy of Austria-Hungary and the Allied navies of France, Britain, and Italy. The strategy of the Allies was to blockade the Adriatic and monitor the movements of the Austrian fleet. In general, this strategy was successful but the Germans and the Austrians were able to send submarines out into the Mediterranean where they did some damage. The main sea base for the Austrian and German fleet in the Adriatic was Pola (modern day Pula in Croatia).

Japan, an ally of the United Kingdom, sent some destroyers to the Mediterranean and they were very effective in patrol and anti-submarine activity. By contrast the Italian Navy was “languid and apathetic” (Cyril Falls “The Great War” p. 295). The only significant naval battle occurred on 15 May 1917 when three Austrian cruisers under Captain Miklós Horthy staged a raid on some Italian and British transports near Valona Albania. The raid was a partial success but the raiders were nearly destroyed by shell fire from Italian ships that chased them back to Pola.

In the Black Sea, the Russian fleet was dominant and it was led by two skilled commanders, Admiral Eberhart and then Admiral Kolchak (who took over in 1916). By the end of 1915, the Russian fleet had nearly complete control of the sea. The Black Sea fleet was used mainly to support General Yudenich in his Caucasus Campaign.

In the Baltic Sea, the Russian fleet was essentially inactive, hiding behind the belts of mines which stretched across the entry into the Gulf of Finland. So the German Baltic fleet dominated the sea and was of occasional use to the German army on the Eastern front.

The Battle of Coronel was a First World War Imperial German Navy victory over the Royal Navy on 1 November 1914, off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. The East Asia Squadron (Ostasiengeschwader or Kreuzergeschwader) of the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) led by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee met and overpowered a British squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock.

The engagement probably took place as a result of misunderstandings. Neither admiral expected to meet the other in full force. Once the two met, Cradock understood his orders were to fight to the end, despite the odds being heavily against him. Although Spee had an easy victory, destroying two enemy armoured cruisers for just three men injured, the engagement also cost him almost half his supply of ammunition, which was irreplaceable. Shock at the British losses led the Admiralty to send more ships, including two modern battlecruisers, which in turn destroyed Spee and the majority of his squadron on 8 December at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.


World War 1 - Atlantic Island Battles

The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a First World War naval action between the British Royal Navy and Imperial German Navy on 8 December 1914 in the South Atlantic. The British, after their defeat at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sent a large force to track down and destroy the German cruiser squadron. The battle is commemorated every year on 8 December in the Falkland Islands as a public holiday.

Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee commanding the German squadron of two armoured cruisersSMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the light cruisers SMS NürnbergDresden and Leipzig, and the colliers SS Baden, SS Santa Isabel, and SS Seydlitz[3][4] attempted to raid the British supply base at Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The British squadron consisting of the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible, the armoured cruisers HMS CarnarvonCornwall and Kent, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Macedonia and the light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow had arrived in the port the day before. 

Casualties and damage were extremely disproportionate; the British suffered only very lightly. Admiral Spee and his two sons were among the German dead. Rescued German survivors, 215 total, became prisoners on the British ships. Most were from the Gneisenau, nine were from Nürnberg and 18 were from LeipzigScharnhorst was lost with all hands. One of Gneisenau‘s officers who lived had been the sole survivor on three different guns on the battered cruiser. He was pulled from the water saying he was a first cousin of the British commander (Stoddart).[17]

Of the known German force of eight ships, two escaped: the auxiliary Seydlitz and the light cruiser Dresden, which roamed at large for a further three months before her captain was cornered by a British squadron (KentGlasgow and Orama) off the Juan Fernández Islands on 14 March 1915. After fighting a short battleDresden’s captain evacuated his ship and scuttled her by detonating the main ammunition magazine.

As a consequence of the battle, the German East Asia Squadron, Germany’s only permanent overseas naval formation, effectively ceased to exist. Commerce raiding on the high seas by regular warships of the Kaiserliche Marine was brought to an end. However, Germany put several armed merchant vessels into service as commerce raiders until the end of the war.

German Type 23 Torpedo Boat
SMS Cormoran
German Dreadnaught - Bayern
German SMS Kaiser
German U-Boat
German U-Boat

WW1 - Pacific Theater

War is the Pacific Theatre

World War 1 - Pacific - Sea Warfare

German Samoa was a German protectorate from 1900 to 1919, consisting of the islands of UpoluSavai’iApolima and Manono, now wholly within the independent state of Samoa, formerly Western Samoa. Samoa was the last German colonial acquisition in the Pacific basin, received following the Tripartite Convention signed at Washington on 2 December 1899.  It was the only German colony in the Pacific, aside from the Kiautschou Bay concession in China, that was administered separately from German New Guineat the behest of the United Kingdom the colony was invaded unopposed on the morning of 29 August 1914 by troops of the Samoa Expeditionary Force. The campaign to take Samoa ended without bloodshed after over 1,000 New Zealanders landed on the German colony, supported by an Australian and French naval squadron. Vice Admiral Count Maximilian von Spee of the German East Asia Squadron gained knowledge of the occupation and hastened to Samoa with the armored cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau, arriving off Apia on 14 September 1914. He determined however that a landing would only be of temporary advantage in an Allied dominated sea and the cruisers departed. New Zealand occupied the German colony through to 1920, then governed the islands until independence in 1962.

 German New Guinea

Australian forces attacked German New Guinea in September 1914: 500 Australians encountered 300 Germans and native policemen at the Battle of Bita Paka; the Allies won the day and the Germans retreated to Toma. A company of Australians and a British warship besieged the Germans and their colonial subjects, ending with German Governor Eduard Haber‘s surrender of the entire colony.  Despite Haber’s capitulation order, a variety of isolated German units in New Guinea continued to resist after the fall of Toma. These small German forces generally capitulated without bloodshed once confronted by Australian units. On 11 October 1914, the German armed yacht Komet and her 57 crew surrendered after their ship was boarded taken by surprise at Talasea. In December 1914, a German officer near Angorum attempted to resist the Allied occupation with thirty native police but his force deserted him after they fired on an Australian scouting party and he was subsequently captured. By 1915, the only uncapitulated German force was a small expedition under the command of Hermann Detzner which managed to elude Australian patrols and hold out in the interior of the island until the end of the war.




The cruise of the Emden.

SMS Emden was left behind by Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee when he began his retreat across the Pacific. The ship won the Battle of Penang, in which the Germans sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer. Emden also harried merchant vessels of the Allies and destroyed over thirty of them. She went on and bombarded Madras, India, causing damage to British oil tanks and sinking an Allied merchant ship. The attack caused widespread panic in the city and thousands of people fled from the coast, fearing that the Germans may have begun an invasion of India as a whole.

After a very successful career as a merchant raider, Emden was engaged by HMAS Sydney at the Battle of Cocos, where the German vessel was destroyed. A group of sailors under the command of Hellmuth von Mücke managed to escape towards the Arabian peninsula which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the German Empire during World War I.






In August 1917 SMS Seeadler was wrecked at the island of Mopelia in French Polynesia so the Germans established a small colony on the island which housed them and several Allied prisoners, most of whom were American. Eventually when starvation proved to be an urgent concern, Luckner and his crew left the prisoners on the uninhabited island, from which they were eventually rescued, and set sail in a lifeboat for Fiji. There, on September 5, Luckner captured a French schooner named Lutece and renamed her FortunaAfter that they headed for Easter Island and again their ship was wrecked when it grounded on a reef. Subsequently, the Germans were interned by the Chileans on October 5, 1917, which ended the journey. During the entire cruise only one man perished, due to an accident

World War 1 - Pacific Island Warfare

The United States was involved in at least one hostile encounter with Germans in the Pacific during World War I. On April 7, 1917, the SMS Cormoran was scuttled in Apra HarborGuam to prevent her capture by the auxiliary cruiser USS Supply. The Americans fired their first shots of the war at the Germans as they attempted to sink their ship. Ultimately the Germans succeeded in scuttling the Cormoran with a loss of nine men dead.Micronesia, the Marianas, the Carolines and the Marshall Islands also fell to Allied forces during the war.  The SMS Cormoran was originally the Russian merchant ship named Ryazan, captured in 1914 and converted into a raider ship.

All other German and Austrian possessions in Asia and the Pacific fell without bloodshed. Naval warfare was common; all of the colonial powers had naval squadrons stationed in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. These fleets operated by supporting the invasions of German-held territories and by destroying the East Asia Squadron of the Imperial German Navy

Following World War 1, the world saw major changes.  Boundaries of nations changed.  New nations were formed, Control of both sea and land areas including islands changed hands.  Technology changes were rapid.  These changes greatly influenced both the start and the conduct of the Second World War.  Forms of governing also changed.

Before and during World War 1, most European nations still had hereditary rulers, Kings and Princes.  Russia with its Czar.  Germany with its Kaiser.  The Austrian Hungarian  or Hapsburg Empire split into two regions, each with its own parliament but with a single Emperor. There were constitutional monarchies and republics.  After World War 1, many nations rebelled and wanted democratic societies.  New nations emerged (or in some cases reemerged) from the Austrian Hungarian Empire –   Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, and Romania.  Alsace-Lorraine returned to France. Republic of Ireland was formed.  Russia gave up claims to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and part of Poland, and Armenia became a country. Australia gained control of New Guinea, Nauru and the Bismark Archipelago.  Japan gained control of most islands of the South Pacific.  Belgium gained Germany’s African territories. The old Ottoman Empire (Turkey) gave up land which became Saudi Arabia and Yemen.   

Technology changes made major changes in the ability to fight war.  Airplanes changed from bi-and tri-winged to single-winged and plane engines become more and more powerful allowing for much longer range and greater speed and also the ability to carry more armament and bomb loads.  Ships became more sophisticated, faster and changed from coal to oil.  Like planes, ships became faster and their range increased.  Ships’ guns became larger and longer-ranged.  Radar and the Norton Bomb Site were invented.  On the ground tanks were larger and faster.  New types of artillery and machine guns were developed.  Rifles and handguns also became longer-ranged and more accurate.  Better ammunition was developed.  

Unfortunately, these changes also made it easier for countries to become more and more belligerent.  Nations wanted more territory and wanted to settle old scores.  The world was ripe for warfare and that brings us to our next section.