Merchant Seafaring Through World War 1 - 1914-1918, Peter Lyon

Merchant Seafaring Through World War 1 - 1914-1918, Peter Lyon

The First World War saw the First Battle of the Atlantic. At its worst this came close to cutting Britain's supply lines, but the U-boat war wasn't pursued consistently, and the eventually use of the convoy system greatly reduced losses. This book focuses on the fate of the British merchant seaman during this conflict.

In some respects this is a somewhat old fashioned book, in that the author clearly takes sides. In some ways this is understandable, if you spend any amount of time reading accounts by seaman who's ships were lost. The Germans didn't help themselves with their tendency to get angry if anyone dares to fight back - it was apparently Ok to sink a merchant ship without warning, but not OK for a merchant ship to attempt to defend itself. One British captain who attempted to ram a U-boat was later captured, taken to Germany and executed!

The downside of this is that there is no examination of the interplay between the aggressive defence of merchant ships and the U-boat actions. The cruiser rules rather assumed that merchant ships were undefended and might attempt to run, but that was about it. If merchant ships were going to ram their attackers, or fire back with defensive guns, then did that negate the cruiser rules? At the same time it is clear that the U-boat commanders were often somewhat out of control, ignoring the rules set down by their political leadership. There is also a clear difference between the behaviour of the surface raiders, which gained an impressive reputation and the U-boat commanders.

The main focus is on individual attacks on ships and their aftermath, so we get quite a few accounts of survival against the odds. There is also good material on the internal German political debates on the U-boat war. There is also a section on the dreadful fate of U-boat crews if their vessel was sunk. A nice idea is to follow the fate of individual U-boat commanders after the incidents being described, and in some case on to their post-war lives.

1 - The Pre-War Mercantile Marine
2 - Ready to Go?
3 - Setting the Scene
4 - The Early Days
5 - The Submarine Menace
6 - The End of Chivalry
7 - A Dangerous Game
8 - A Breathing Space?
9 - A Mediterranean Adventure
10 - The Sussex Pledge
11 - There was too much sea to sail
12 - The Dead are left to the Sea
13 - Something must be Done
14 - RMS Ausoni
15 - Know your Enemy
16 - The Reckoning

Author: Peter Lyon
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 270
Publisher: Book Guild
Year: 2016

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