World War One: The first use of Submarines in wartime

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What did the Submarine Service do in World War One?

Although British submarines formed a very small part of the Royal Navy overall, Britain possessed the world's largest submarine service and they were among the first vessel put to sea when war broke out in 1914. The majority of its submarine fleet was composed of local coastal craft, but in addition, there were some submarines, mainly D and E class boats, which were able to travel further. These long distance craft were involved in actions as far away as the Baltic and eastern Mediterranean.

British E-class torpedo calculator
British E-class torpedo calculator (RNSM)

World War One proved the military value of the submarine to both sides involved in the conflict. Various operations involving the boats demonstrated their ability to enter and operate effectively in waters that were inaccessible to surface ships. In turn, submarines were also recognised as having the potential to deny enemy shipping the freedom to go wherever it wanted.

Even so, World War One also justified every fear that the Royal Navy had expressed over the value of submarines to an inferior naval power. Germany's U boat campaign against British merchant shipping demonstrated that even the world's premier maritime nation now risked defeat.

Follow the links to find more about...

North Sea Campaign

The Baltic Campaign

Dardanelles Campaign


Developments in design

Battle of May Island


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