Blockade of Germany

The Blockade of Germany, or the Blockade of Europe, occurred from 1914 to 1919. It was a prolonged naval operation conducted by the Allied Powers during and after World War I[1] in an effort to restrict the maritime supply of goods to the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. It is considered one of the key elements in the eventual Allied victory in the war. The German Board of Public Health in December 1918 claimed that 763,000 German civilians died from starvation and disease caused by the blockade up until the end of December 1918.[2][3] An academic study done in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000.[4]

Both the German Empire and the United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed their population and supply their war industry. Imports of foodstuffs and war material of all European belligerents came primarily from the Americas and had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, thus Britain and Germany both aimed to blockade each other. The British had the Royal Navy which was superior in numbers and could operate throughout the British Empire, while the German Kaiserliche Marine surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight, and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere.

Background

Prior to World War I, a series of conferences were held at Whitehall in 1905–1906 concerning military cooperation with France in the event of a war with Germany. The Director of Naval IntelligenceCharles Ottley—asserted that two of the Royal Navy′s functions in such a war would be the capture of German commercial shipping and the blockade of German ports. A blockade was considered useful for two reasons: it could force the enemy′s fleet to fight and it could also act as an economic weapon to destroy German commerce. It was not until 1908, however, that a blockade of Germany formally appeared in the Navy′s war plans and even then some officials were divided over how feasible it was. The plans remained in a state of constant change and revision until 1914, the Navy undecided over how best to operate such a blockade.

Meanwhile, Germany had made no plans to manage her wartime food supplies since in peacetime, she was able to produce some 80% of her total consumption. Furthermore, overland imports from the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Romania would be unaffected by any naval blockade. However, the combined issues of conscription of farm labourers, the requisition of horses, poor weather, and the diversion of nitrogen from fertiliser manufacture into military explosives, all combined to cause a considerable drop in agricultural output.[5]