Is a submarine a ship

The submarine war

International law, however, viewed submarines as cruisers. They were not allowed to simply sink enemy merchant ships, but had to stop them, search them and then, if necessary, capture or sink them according to the “price order” after the crew had been taken care of. Their technical equipment looked accordingly: with a diesel or petroleum machine for the overwater journey and a weaker electric motor for the short sections underwater. They were actually diving boats, not submarines, because the fighting took place over water. An unarmored submarine was actually too sensitive for that, and it also lost its surprise effect. The main weapon was artillery, which with a "shot in front of the bow" - a warning shot that was supposed to prevent the enemy ship from continuing - could be better used over water against merchant ships for maritime law reasons than underwater torpedoes, which were reserved for surprise attacks on warships.

On September 22nd, 1914, the boat U9 under Lieutenant Otto Weddigen sank three British cruisers in one fell swoop in the North Sea. Suddenly the submarine was a weapon to be taken seriously, which appeared suitable to counter British superiority on all oceans from the depths. The population was also enthusiastic about the new weapon after the initial successes. With numerous propaganda-supported donation campaigns, money was raised to expand the submarine fleet. Among other things, the renowned marine painter Willy Stöwer provided poster designs such as this one from 1917, on which the submarine, which looks like a nutshell, drives alone towards the enemy in wind and weather.

On November 2, 1914, Great Britain declared the North Sea a war zone and started a blockade that cut off Germany from world trade. Thereupon the German Reich declared the sea area around Great Britain a war zone and on February 22, 1915 ordered the submarine war according to the Prize Ordinance against merchant ships of allied and neutral states within these waters. In exceptional cases, every ship was fired at full speed and without warning, even without a previous "shot in front of the bow". When in May 1915 over 100 US citizens lost their lives when the "Lusitania", which was mistakenly regarded as an auxiliary cruiser, was sunk, the neutral USA protested and threatened to enter the war for the first time. The submarine war began to influence the diplomatic climate to the detriment of Germany. Thereupon Wilhelm II immediately ordered the sparing of neutral ships and enemy passenger steamers, and finally the restriction of submarine warfare to the Mediterranean. The Allies reacted by arming merchant ships that could endanger the unprotected submarines over water. As the political and military situation for Germany became increasingly difficult, the supporters of the unrestricted, i.e. warning-free submarine war prevailed on February 1, 1917, after heavy domestic political battles, which resulted in the United States declaring war on April 6, 1917 .

Even if the sinking numbers shot up dramatically after February 1, 1917 and aroused great concern among the Allies, the unrestricted submarine war was nowhere near the German expectations of a rapid collapse of Great Britain. Improved defense methods contributed to this. Merchant ships were now accompanied by warships in convoy. The transport of American troops across the Atlantic was not even remotely disturbed. The unrestricted submarine war could not influence the course of the war and remained a disappointment for the German Reich. Even before the end of the war, he was given up in October 1918 in response to Woodrow Wilson's 14-point program. A total of 380 German submarines put into service sank in addition to many warships at least 5554 allied and neutral merchant ships. The Imperial Navy lost 187 submarines with more than 5000 men.