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11-08-2015, 16:36


The crisis was solved in the first half of 1917. Several factors contributed to the Allies' hairbreadth escape from mortal peril. First, the issue was so pressing that political leaders, notably David Lloyd George, demanded a quick solution. Second, the chief method to combat the danger was a traditional one; it needed only to be revived (and expanded) as well as updated. Third, some militaryleaders in responsible positions, supported by maverick officers at lower levels, accepted and promoted the new measures. Nonetheless, even Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who took command of the entire British navy in late 1916 primarily to deal with the submarine war, remained committed to patrolling as the basic response to the U-boat. To his credit, he immediately setup an Anti-Submarine Division under Admiral Alexander Duff to plan and coordinate this part of the naval war. Nonetheless, even while losses escalated dangerously in the first part of 1917, he refused to move energetically to adopt convoy tactics. During these bloody months, merchant ships were being sunk faster than they could be replaced. In January, while the submarines still operated with some restrictions, Britain alone lost 49 merchant vessels. In February, with the Germans now uninhibited in their attacks, total British losses amounted to 105; by March the toll rose to 147. The losses of other countries on the Allied side as well as those of neutrals more than doubled these terrifying figures. Allied sea captains saw their friends sail into the open ocean—to disappear without a trace. But the totals were the most disturbing news for those who had access to these figures. In April 1917, German submarines sank almost 900,000 tons of Allied shipping. One of every four merchant ships voyaging to or from Britain was destroyed. Such carnage was beyond the country's ability to sustain. Jellicoe told Admiral William Sims of the United States Navy as much in April; he noted that the submarine threat could not be contained and that the war was being lost. By the summer, at the present rate of loss, supplies to the British Isles would be reduced below the point at which the war could be continued.