During World War I, German submarines, or U-boats, waged a highly destructive campaign against British shipping. One of the German aims was to prevent food imports and raw materials for the war effort from reaching Britain. In the course of the war, U-boats sank around 5,000 British vessels but lost 178 boats and some 5,000 submariners in the process. Now, 100 years after it sank, one of those U-boats has been found off the Belgian coast.
The submarine’s terrifying potential as a weapon of war first became apparent in 1915 with the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. The liner had left New York for Liverpool, England, with a total of 1,962 passengers and crew on board. German submarine U-20 sunk the ship with a single torpedo, and 1,198 people died, mostly from hypothermia or drowning.
As it became apparent that World War I was to be a long and attritional affair, both the Germans and the British hardened their attitudes. The British increased their stranglehold over German maritime commerce by tightening their blockade of German ports. In November 1914 the Royal Navy stated that any shipping in the North Sea was fair game.