A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XII THE BRITISH BLOCKADE AND THE FIRST GERMAN SUBMARINE CAMPAIGN

THE Napoleonic struggle had familiarized the world with a war against trade rivalling and sometimes even transcending in importance the purely military happenings. A century later the duel was refought by Great Britain against another continental antagonist, who used even more ruthless weapons in reply to the slowly growing pressure of an economic strangulation ever more scientifically employed.

It is difficult to over-value the importance of this long- drawn secret conflict, which knit the war so inextricably into the fabric of national life. For, without the blockade, it is at least doubtful whether the Allies could have forced Germany to a military defeat. On the other hand, the final reluctant assent of the German Government to use its submarines without limit or pity rendered that defeat inevitable. For, though the war on commerce in 1917 brought Great Britain within measurable sight of capitulation, it also raised up a fresh and unconquerable adversary in America to sustain the weariness of the Allies.

It is obvious that naval, in comparison with land warfare, gives almost unlimited opportunities for interference with a belligerent's trade with neutrals and consequently for the seizure of private property. As Great Britain had been the dominant naval power for at least two hundred years, it was inevitable that her conception of the law at sea should have been generally imposed in time of war both upon belligerents and neutrals, who for their part seldom ceased to complain of the maritime rights thus asserted. And the result in the Great War proved to be the same.

In fact there existed no comprehensive code of international law at sea, comparable with the Hague Conventions to regulate warfare on land. Great Britain had

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