Britain's Economic Blockade of Germany, 1914-1919

Britain's Economic Blockade of Germany, 1914-1919

Britain's Economic Blockade of Germany, 1914-1919

Britain's Economic Blockade of Germany, 1914-1919


After three months of war the British admiralty realised that the Great War would last a long time. The Royal Navy was charged with preventing Germany receiving an enlarged list of goods. Eric Osborne analyses the impact of the British blockade which is nowadays considered to have been a success.


The commercial blockade has been a feature of naval warfare for very many years. According to Alfred Thayer Mahan, writing of the French Revolutionary Wars, it was, indeed, one of a navy's most potent weapons:

Amid all the pomp and circumstance of the war which for ten years to come desolated the Continent, amid all the tramping to and fro over Europe of the French armies and their auxiliary legions, there went on unceasingly that noiseless pressure upon the vitals of France, that compulsion, whose silence, when once noted, becomes to the observer the most striking and awful mark of the working of Sea Power.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1892, Vol. II, p. 184.

His view was based on a set of important economic assumptions about the prospective victims of blockade. Of these, the most important were, first, that industrialised countries were heavily dependent on overseas trade; second, that their military performance depended heavily on their capacity to maintain their economy in times of conflict; and, third, that in many cases their military performance depended critically on strategic materials imported from abroad.

These vulnerabilities mandated a range of blockade strategies aimed against the enemy's war economy and cutting off their sources of external supply. The more ambitious of these aspirations could be to destroy the economy's capacity to sustain the enemy's military effort, the less ambitious to disrupt it and cause dissension at home and a decline in support from abroad. So damaging might be these prospective consequences of a commercial blockade, that its imposition could force the enemy to contest it on the high seas. Such operational considerations were particularly important to British

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