Submarines

1917 poster - reserve

1775 - David BushnellÕs Turtle, the first American submarine.

1800 - Robert Fulton's Nautilus

1864 - Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, the first to sink a warship in combat.

1870 - U.S. Navy bought The Intelligent Whale, a man-powered submarine.

1885 - Nordenfeldt I

1898 - Simon Lake's Argonaut I and the French Gustav Zede

1899 - Maxime Laubeuf's Narval had a diesel engine.

1900 - USS Holland. By October, the British had five Hollands on order.

1902 - Simon Lake launched Protector and challenged Electric Boat for Navy sub contracts, won contract in 1909 for the Seal but was not delivered until 1911.

1904 - British A-1 was first of a new class of improved Hollands.

1906 - U-1, the first German submarine, or U-Boat, was a modified Karp, 139 feet long, 239 tons, surface speed of 11 knots, submerged speed of 9 knots, range of 2000 miles. It was joined in 1908 by its twin, the U-2. As Germany began to build subs, the French already had 60, the British over 100.

1908 - British launched new D class subs.

1909 - the U.S. submarine C-1 conducted the first tests of snorkel masts.

1911 - U.S. sub Skipjack began the switch from gasoline to diesels, due to efforts of 26-year old Navy Lt. Chester Nimitz.

1912 - Germany launched advanced 30 series, U-31 to U-41. These diesel-powered boats had a range of 7,800 miles at 8 knots, carried six torpedoes and one 88mm deck gun, displaced 685 tons.

1914 - At the start of the war, Great Britain had 74 boats in its sub fleet, France 62, Russia 48, U.S. 30, Italy 21, Japan 13, Austria 6, and Germany had 28 with 17 under construction, would grow to 127 in 1917, but only 1/3 at sea at any one time.

1914 - On September 5, the German U-21 sank the British cruiser Pathfinder, killing 259. On Sept. 12, the British E-9 sank the German light cruiser Hela. On September 22, the German U-9 sank three British cruisers. In Oct., the German U-17 became the first U-boat to sink a merchant ship. In Nov., the German U-18 entered Scapa Flow and demonstrated the vulnerability of the British Home Fleet.

1915 Feb. 4 - Germany proclaimed unrestricted submarine warfare, and war zone around Great Britain, and began zeppelin attacks on London by air. Over the next 2 months Germany sank 25 merchant ships, yet 8000 ships sailed in and out of British ports unharmed. On Mar. 11, Britain proclaimed a total blockade of Germany, and would destroy any ship on sight in the blockade zone.

1915 Mar. 28 - British passenger ship Falaba sunk, 104 killed including 1 American, Leon Thrasher.

1915 May 7 - British passenger liner Lusitania sunk by one torpedo from German Capt. Walter Schwieger's U-20; 1198 killed, including 128 Americans.

1915 May 25 - German U-21 of Capt. Otto Hersing sank the British battleship Triumph, and two days later, the Majestic, in the Mediterranean.

1915 June 1 - Canadian-built H class submarines cross Atlantic to join British Navy, built with steel from U. S. Bethlehem Steel Company.

1915 July 1 - British began testing of depth charges and by Jan. 1916 ready to use them in the fleet but only 2 per ship until more produced by 1917. The battleship Henderson was equipped with the Henderson stabilizing gun director.

1915 Aug. 19 - British passenger ship Arabic sunk by U-24 without warning, 40 killed including 2 Americans; Bernstorff paid indemnity and made pledge not to sink without warning. On Sept. 20, Germany withdrew its subs from British waters, focusing on the Mediterranean. However, German UC class boats continued to lay mines in the North Sea from Belgian ports of Brugge and Zeebrugge that sunk 94 Allied ships.

1915 Aug. 19 - German sub U-27 was found on the surface by the British decoy Q-ship Baralong flying an American flag. The sub was waiting for the crew of a real freighter to get into lifeboats when the Baralong opened fire and sunk the sub and machine-gunned survivors in the water who were trying to surrender. The atrocity shocked Wilson.

1915 Oct. 23 - British sub E8 sank German cruiser Prinz Adalbert in the Baltic.

1916 Mar. 1 - British sub B3 equipped with new hydrophones. In 1916, British Hawkcraig Experimental Station under Capt. C. P. Ryan developed 11 types of directional and nondiretional hydrophones. By end 1917, over 5000 phones had been deployed. In 1918, 199 fish outboard phones deployed. ASDIC developed after June 1917 but not used until after the end of the war.

1916 Mar.15 - German coastal sub UB-13 sank the Dutch steamer Tubantia with its cargo of German gold.

1916 Mar. 24 - French cross-Channel ferry Sussex torpedoed by UB-29, with 80 killed including 25 Americans; Wilson demanded Germany must follow cruiser rules or U.S. would sever diplomatic relations.

1916 Apr. 19 - Wilson spoke before a special session of Congress to read his ultimatum on the submarine sent to the German government. "Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of U-boat warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no other choice bu to sever diplomatic relations with the German empire altogether."

1916 Apr. 24 - The Kaiser issued the Sussex pledge not to sink ships without warning. He followed the advice of Chancellor Bethman-Hollweg and Foreign Minister Gottfried von Jagow and Ambassador Johann von Bernstorff who opposed U-boat war because would bring in America.

1916 May 8 - The last sinking of a merchant ship without warning was the Cymric, the 37th passenger liner sunk since the Lusitania. It was sunk by Walther Schwieger, the smae captain who sunk the Lusitania, before he belatedly received the wireless message of the kaiser's new order. Admiral Scheer recalled all high seas U-boats to base, ending the merchantman campaign, intended only to use the U-boat against warships.

1916 May 31 - Battle of Jutland.

1916 July 1 - German subs began to use 4.1-in. deck gun at 8000 yards, replacing 3.5-in gun.

1916 July - The first effective depth charges were produced, the Type D with 300 lbs TNT, and smaller D* with 120 lbs. An early version was used Mar. 22 by the British Q-ship Farnborough to sink the German sub, the U-68, that became the first casualty of this new weapon. By 1917, a new water-pressure-activated pistol could fire the depth charges at 100-200 feet, allowing use of Type D on most ships, but production was slow in 1917, only 140 per week in July, rising to 800 per week in Dec. Also in July began slow deliveries of depth charge throwers for the backs and sides of ships. Only 377 such howitzers were delivered by end of 1917 (the improved version by 1942 was called hedgehog), But the U-boat hull proved to be very strong, and the charge had to be exploded within 14 ft. to break a hull, and within 28 ft. to damage a hull.

1916 July 9 - German commercial long-distance sub Deutschland made first trans-Atlantic crossing, docked in Baltimore July 9. Made 2nd visit in November.

1916 Oct. 7 - The new German U-53 anchored at Newport, visited with Americans, allowed visits to his boat, next day sank 7 foreign merchant ships off Nantucket in international waters while 16 American destroyers stood by, one destroyer was even asked by U-53 Capt Hans Rose to move so he could torpedo a Dutch steamer. The sub had gone 7550 miles without refueling and with only one brief stop in Newport.

1916 Nov. 7 - Election close, Hughes did not concede until Nov. 22, after Wilson narrowly won California by 3806 votes, that gave him electoral victory of 277-254

1916 Nov. 22 - Bernsdorff hoped election victory would allow Wilson to negotiate a peace agreement in the war, urged kaiser to wait for Wilson's diplomacy, but Wilson did nothing. On Nov. 22 Jagow resigned and Arthur Zimmermann became For Min

1916 Dec. 18 - Wilson offered a peace note, asking all powers to declare their war aims to begin the peace process, but Germany declined Dec. 26. By Jan. 10, Allied responses also negative, from the new government of David Lloyd George that had replaced Asquith Dec. 10; Allies believed they were winning the war and did not want to compromise. Wilson more determined to stay out, keep neutral, told House "There will be no war."

1916 Dec. 22 - Admiral von Holzendorff, Chief of Naval Staff, sent 200-page memo to Supreme Command and to kaiser, with statistics that if subs sank 600,000 tons per month, British economy would collapse. The British were becoming desperate, losing oil tankers from America; its six-month reserve of fuel oil was down to two months. Only 160 destroyers available for patrols in the Western Approaches. On Dec. 18, Adm. Alexander Duff became head of new Anti-Submarine Division.

1917 Jan. - Winter of 1916-1917 was the "turnip winter" in Germany, potato harvest had failed, no more pork or eggs, bread made from turnips, coal scarce. The growing food shortage was a reason for unrestricted submarine warfare.

1917 Jan. 8 - Pless conference at castle in Silesia of Prince Hans von Pless, married to Englishwoman Daisy Cornwallis-West whose brother George was in the British army, and George was married to Winston Churchill's mother Jennie after death of Lord Randolph. At this conference, kaiser agreed with the memo and unconditional sub warefare to begin Jan. 31.

1917 Jan. 22 - Wilson made "Peace Without Victory" speech to Senate

1917 Jan. 31 - Bernstorff told Lansing at 4:10 pm. about the new policy of unrestricted submarine warfare to begin at midnight. Wilson said "This Means War." His hands were tied to a diplomatic agreement for freedom of the seas since the Sussex pledge, but this agreement was now broken.

1917 Feb. 1 - Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare. German subs sank 500 ships in first two months, over 1,000,000 tons. The bigger u-boats carred 16 torpedoes vs earlier 6. Germany had 111 u-boats - including smaller UB and UC boats for the Channel, larger Thirties class (U-31-41) including U-35 of Arnaud de la Periere, ace of the U-boat commanders who sank record 54 ships in one 24-day cruise in 1916. Germany also produced bigger U-81 class and U-93 class and U-99 class boats.

1917 Feb. 3 - The first two merchant ships torpedoed under Germany's new policy were the Housatonic and Lyman M. Law. On Feb. 3, Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany.

1917 Feb. 7 - The first coal ship convoy sailed; at request of French, British provided 30 trawlers as escorts to Brest, Cherbourg, Havre. Lloyd George wanted convoys, but not the Admirality. On Apr. 11, Admirality agreed to a second convoy experiment, for the Scandinavian trade that brought valuable lumber to Britain. British navy transported over 5 million soldiers from the British Empire to France 1914-18 without losing a man or horse or gun to subs because troops ships were escorted. This became the origin of the convoy strategy.

1917 Feb. 23 - British gave Zimmermann Telegram to Ambassador Walter Hines Page who transmitted it to Lansing who told Wilson. The telegram was decoded by Room 40 day after it was sent Jan. 16 from Berlin on American cable in Washington to German minister Eckhardt in Mexico.

1917 Feb. 26 - Wilson appeared before special session of Congress to request arming merchant ships. News arrived during speech of sinking of Laconia and death of 12 civilians including 2 American women, Mrs. Mary Hoy of Chicago and her daughter Elizabeth Hoy.

1917 Feb. 28 - Wilson released the Zimmermann telegram to press during the debate over the merchant ship bill, was front page news next day, March 1, and bill passed House 403-13 but filibuster in Senate by 11 pacifists led by La Follette prevented passage of bill and Congress adjourned March 4. Wilson used own executive authority to arm ships.

1917 Apr. 6 - U. S. declared war.

1917 Apr. - Large America flying boats able to carry out "spider patrols" around the North Hinder Light vessel - Curtiss H-12 flying boat and Felixstowe F-2a had endurance of 6 hours. Since 1915, British hunted subs with the Short Type 184 seaplane carried torpedo, 650 built in the war. In 1917, British NS class nonrigid dirigibles joined ASW.

1917 Apr. - Low point for British in the war. Lenin returned to Russia, battle of Arras and the Aisne, the RFC lost 316 planes, U-boats sunk 395 ships of 881,027 tons, especially during the last fortnight after Apr. 17. The next month began the Gotha raids May 25.

1917 Apr. 1 - Admiral William S. Sims arrived in England on secret mission; as soon as he learned the U.S. was in the war, he made an urgent request for U. S. destroyers for England.

1917 Apr. 19 - Admiral Sims made his first report about his mission to London, was told of real shipping losses, 3 times greater than reported in the press, 630,000 tons lost in March. American support for convoys needed "with utmost dispatch" Sims was told that 6 destroyers would be ready Apr. 24.

1917 Apr. 24 - 6 U. S. destroyers sailed from Boston, the first American military action against Germany in WWI. Destroyer Division 8 commanded by Joseph Taussig in USS Wadsworth, arrived Queenstown, Ireland May 4. British naval commander Lewis Bayly asked "When will you be ready to go to sea?" and Taussig replied "We are ready now, sir." By the end of May, 34 American destroyers were at Queenstown, and by end of 1918 there would be 79 destroyers in European waters. Only one American destroyer in British waters was sunk, the USS Jacob Jones, by the U-53 commanded by Hans Rose.

1917 May 1 - Britain finally adopted the convoy system, starting with ships to Gibraltar. The first Gibraltar convoy of 17 ships arrived in Portsmouth May 20, had sailed in several columns, zigzagged while keeping formation, sailed all darkened at night, convoyed by only 2 Q ships. To Sims, this "marked one of the great turning points in the war". It proved to the British Admiralty that the convoy system worked and would not become simply a big target for the u-boats. Convoys averaged 20-25 ships escorted by a cruiser until reaching war zone, then met by larger number of escorts. Destroyers and escorts all carried depth charges, or "ash cans." By Nov. 1918, 16,693 merchant vessels were escorted in 1,134 convoys, and 99% arrived safely.

1917 May 10 - The first convoy left Gibraltar for England, met on edge of war zone by 6 destroyers and arrived Plymouth May 20.

1917 May 24 - The first North Atlantic convoy left Hampton Roads, 12 merchant chips with one crusier escort to the war zone, then met by 8 destroyers, arrived June 7.

1917 June - In Germany, Andreas Michelsen took over U-boat command from Bauer, fleet of 132 boats (only 61 at sea including 40 in British waters).

1917 June 15-23 - British navy conducted an offensive sweep against subs in the North Sea, made 61 sightings but none sunk.

1917 June 23 - The first three U. S. troop transports were met by escorts for arrival in French ports. The convoy system allowed the safe transport of 2,079,880 soldiers to France. Only one troop ship was lost, the Tuscania, sunk Feb. 5, 1918, off Ireland, 166 drowned. Several empty troop ships were lost on the return voyage to America.

1917 July - Room 40 began to play a significant role against sub, intercepting and decoding the positions of German subs.

1917 Aug. 26 - Somerset Calthorpe established British Naval Command at Malta. Cattaro on the Dalmatian coast was the main U-boat base in the Mediterranean. Closing the Otranto Strait was a high priority, only 42 miles wide from Italian heel to Fanos Island, first tried a net, then sub patrols, then the Otranto barrage in 1918, an offensive strategy against the u-boat. Calthorpe proposed several barrage lines across Otranto using the Dardanelles patrol force. This barrage began in April 1918, and by May included 222 ships with some using hydrophones to locate u-boats. By July, there were 280 ships, but few U-boats detected or sunk. Rather, it was the defensive convoy system in the Mediterranean that reduced sinkings, rather than offensive strategies such as the Otranto barrage.

1917 Sept - In first full month of convoys, 18 ships lost from 83 inbound convoys, and 2 ships lost from 55 outbound convoys, losses of less than 1%, compared to 25% losses of the "black fortnight" in April 1917. Yet over 500,000 tons still lost in October 1917. U-boats continued to sink independent ships sailing alone, sank over 200,000 tons per month in 1918 until Sept., and 113,054 in Oct.

1917 Dec - By the end of the year, 5090 ships been convoyed with 63 lost, a rate of 1.23% but U-boats still sinking large numbers of independent ships, Dover and North Sea barrages failed as offensive strategies. Poor quality of British mines and torpedoes existed throughout the war.

1918 - By the end of the war, Capt. Lothar von Arnauld of the U-35 had become the most successful U-boat commander in history, sinking 194 ships of 454,000 tons, most with his 88 mm deck gun according to cruiser rules, firing only 4 torpedoes.

1918 Apr. - Most shipping losses inside of 10 miles of shore. By Apr. 1, new RAF had been created. British and Americans began flying more coastal patrols with DH-6 land planes.

1918 Apr. 18 - U-151 sub cruiser left Kiel for North America, to lay mines, use 4 deck guns, 8 torpedoes; arrived off Cape henry VA may 23, laid 6 mines at entrance of Chesapeake (all later found by Americans), entered Delaware Bay May 26 and laid 4 mines (one hit by oil ship Herbert Pratt June 3, cut two cables off NYC (repaired next month), raided on surface until return to Kiel July 20. In the summer of 1916, Germany sent 7 large minelayer Deutschland-class subs to American East Coast to lay mines. These mines sank 110,000 tons merchant shipping and the cruiser San Diego on July 19.

1918 May 12 - U.S. troopship Olympic rammed U-103, one of 5 U-boats in entrance to St. George's Channel, another sunk by British sub. The convoy system survived an early experiment in wolfpack tactics. During May, 14 U-boats sunk, the largest monthly total in the war.

1918 July - North Sea barrage mine laying began, using new electrical mine with 140-ft vertical antenna. If sub brushed anywhere along the antenna, the mine exploded; was four times more effective than normal mines. By Oct. 26, barrage was completed with 70,263 mines, of which 56,611 were sown by the Americans. This barrage was finished too late to be effective agaiinst the U-boat.

1918 July 11 - German U-117 sub cruiser left Kiel to lay mines off North America, but many mechanical problems, leaking fuel tanks, sunk oil tanker Frederick R. Kellogg Aug. 13 off New jersey, laid mines that later sunk 2 ships, laid mines off Hatteras, sunk petrol tanker Mirlo, but returned to Germany due to bowplanes malfunction, leaking oil, arrived Sept. 22. Five of 9 torpedoes it had fired were duds. U-boat war failed because Germany failed to construct more boats, barely able to replace losses, and construction was of poor quality; air seepage from torpedoes and torpedo tubes revealed position; engines were too slow submerged and on surface.

1918 July 19 - The old cruiser San Diego with crew of 1250 was sunk after hitting a German mine off Fire Island, 6 sailors killed, the only large American warship lost in the war.

1918 Nov. - At end of war, U. S. Navy had 368 ships with 70,000 sailors in European waters. Th navy operated 23 aviation stations along allied coasts from Italy to Ireland with 18,000 men.

1918 Nov. 11 - Under terms of the armistice, Germany turned over to the Allies her fleet of 176 U-boats. Germany had built 390 boats and lost 178 at sea, 30 from depth charges, 19 from ramming, 17 sunk by British subs, 16 sunk by convly escorts. The RAF had 685 planes and 103 airships in 43 squadrons to fight the U-boats.

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revised 11/26/06 by Steven Schoenherr | WWI Timeline | Links | Topics | Maps | Reserve