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Saturday 23 September 2017

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

With the recent find of an intact World War 1 German U-boat with the bodies of the twenty-three man crew still inside, I am reminded again of the reasons why Germany resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, which ostensibly brought the United States into the war.

The following extract is taken from my book, "The Innocence of Kaiser Wilhelm II":

"...following the establishment of the ‘starvation blockade’, Admiral Tirpitz and his fellow commanders saw no alternative but to retaliate in kind by preventing supply ships from carrying goods to Britain. U-boat captains were ordered to stop and search British merchant vessels, and, after giving due warning to enable to crews to escape into lifeboats, to sink them with torpedoes. Initially, this was carried out in a genteel fashion, for, as one American commentator wrote:

“The submarines…not only gave time to lower boats but frequently took them in tow and brought them to safety. When the German auxiliary cruisers took aboard the crews and passengers of vessels, they treated them with kindness and humanity. This is proof against the theory of barbarity and cruelty attaching itself to her maritime warfare.”[i]

Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, unhappy with this gentlemanly arrangement, which allowed for the loss of so many merchant ships, issued orders that the crews were not permitted to abandon their vessels, but rather should ram the flimsy submarines or – since much of the merchant fleet had been secretly armed – should open fire upon them. This policy made it impossible for the U-boat commanders to continue to assist the enemy crews without risking the lives of their own men, leaving them no alternative but to sink without warning any British ship that they encountered.

Churchill then issued another illegal order that the merchant marines should paint over the names of their vessels and fly the flags of neutral countries to avoid torpedo attacks. Moreover, he manned some of the merchant fleet with Royal Naval officers disguised as foreign fishermen or civilian sailors, so that, whenever a submarine surfaced, the seemingly innocent trading boat was instantly transformed into a lethal warship.

Due to this deceit, and contrary to his own wishes, in February 1915 the Kaiser was persuaded to sign an order declaring unrestricted submarine warfare, meaning that any vessel sailing in British waters, including the English Channel, would be deemed a legitimate target for the U-boat commanders. Wilhelm’s reluctance to authorise this policy stemmed partly ‘from feelings of humanity’[ii], and partly from his fear that it would alienate neutral countries – particularly the United States.(copyright Christina Croft 2015)


[i] ‘Historicus Junior’ The ‘Lusitania Case’ (Hugh H. Masterson, June 1915)
[ii] Blucher, Princess Evelyn An English Wife in Berlin (E. Dutton & Co. 1921)

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Tragedy of Napoleon III

It's impossible not to admire the way in which Napoleon III held fast to a dream in the face of mockery, failure and disappointment. From his earliest years, he dreamed of emulating his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, and for the first four decades of his life he continued to hold fast to the ambition despite revolution, exile and imprisonment.

Humiliated by the government of Louis Philippe, he embarked on several hare-brained schemes to bring his plans to fruition, but they ended in failure, ultimately resulting in his being confined in the prison of Ham for almost six years. Rather than bewailing his fate, he nurtured his ambition for the future of France, studying and writing extensively, and preparing schemes for the betterment of the country when he eventually achieved his aim.

Later, following his escape from Ham, he settled for a while in England where one statesman commented, "Did you ever know such a fool as that fellow is? Why, he really believes he will yet be Emperor of France!"
Even his friend, the Duke of Cambridge, remarked, "...I think he has not enough to carry him through so vast an undertaking, and that he will consequently break down in the attempt of making himself Emperor…which he is evidently driving at."

Ultimately, though, he proved his critics wrong when, in December 1851, he staged a coup d'etat and had himself declared Emperor.

The tragedy was that, while he worked tirelessly for the good of his people, ill-health plagued him and power gradually slipped through his hands, as his ministers rejected his attempts at to maintain an autocracy; and his final defeat at Sedan owed almost as much to his debilitating illness as it did to the superiority of the Prussian forces.

My new book, "Queen Victoria & The French Royal Families" (available in paperback and Kindle formats) includes his story as well as that of his predecessor, King Louis Philippe, and their relationship with the British Royal Family.