With the outbreak of war in 1914 Britain had the most powerful navy. The only 2 other considerable navies in the war at the time were France and Germany. But both of them were still inferior to the Royal British Navy. The British upheld this superiority until America joined in mid-1917. The waterways proved to be a very important type of warfare and with German U-boats sinking any ship carrying a flag of one of its enemies , it was apparent that a new age of warfare had begun. Several important battles occurred between large fleets of ships, along with small skirmishes between four or five ships. Also the seas proved to be important trade roots. With huge convoys sailing across the Atlantic, the Germans constantly trying to blockade them and Britain and the US trying to keep them going. The sea was definitely crucial to the war effort and victory for the Allies.
First suggested by Admiral John Fisher, the battlecruiser was designed to have the speed of a cruiser and the power of a battleship. The theory went that if a battlecruiser could not sink the battle ship it was attacking then it would have the speed to escape. In 1908 the Royal Navy completed construction on the Invincible , Indormitable and the Inflexible their first three battlecruisers. The Big Cats (Lion , Queen Mary and the Princess Royal) were completed in 1912. The Queen Mary with her 13.5" guns was the largest in the Royal Navy. Germany followed Britain's example and started to produce its own battlecruisers. Most impressive was the Hood. Started in 1916 and completed in August 1918 she was Britain's most notorious and feared battlecruiser. She toted eight 15" guns on four turrets , twelve 5.5" guns , four 4" antiaircraft guns and six 21" torpedo tubes (two underwater and four surface). Her max. speed was an impressive 31 knots (or roughly 36mph) and a crew of 1,341 men.
Battleships were made to carry large naval guns. The first battleship, the British Minotaur, was completed in1863. It was armed with a 9-inch muzzle-loading gun. Armored battleships came about in the 1900s and carried breech-loading artillery that was mounted on revolting turrets. They could fire over 100,000 meters. By the time the Dreadnought was created, in late 1906, battleships were obsolete.
Cruisers were first built around 1880, and were smaller but faster than battleships. They could go around 30 knots (or 35mph) and had a crew of 600 men. The two main types of cruisers were armored cruisers and protected cruisers. Armored cruisers weighed about 10,000 tons with strong side armor. They were made to be assistants to the bigger battleships. About 42 armored cruisers were built between 1885 and 1907. After that armored cruisers were slowly replaced with battlecruisers. Protected cruisers weighed anywhere from 2,000 to 14,000 tons. Although they had extremely heavy deck armor they had no side armor, which meant that sea battles were generally avoided. Their main task was to guard trade routes, troop-ships, and outposts. Between 1885 and 1907 the Royal Navy built 101 protected cruisers. Wartime-designed cruisers were created lighter and faster than other cruisers and were mainly used for scouting. Both sides created many, and they played an important role in North Sea battles during World War I. Old cruisers were used as protection against German surface raiders. Old passenger liners that had been changed into armed merchant cruisers assisted them. Later, the British used them as long-range escorts for convoys.
Admiral John Fisher pushed the development of the Dreadnought. This ship was the most heavily armed ship in history and was built at Portsmouth Dockyard between October 1905 and December 1906. It had ten 12-inch guns that were placed higher than usual to fire more accurately and farther. It also had twenty-four 3-inch guns and five underwater torpedo tubes. At the water line, armor was twenty-eight centimeters thick. It was the first major ship driven by steam turbines and could reach a speed of twenty-one knots with this new revolutionary propulsion system. Over 800 men manned this 526-foot long ship.The Dreadnought's design was so remarkable and revolutionary that all ships with a similar design were called Dreadnoughts. By 1914 the British had nineteen (13 under construction) Dreadnoughts, Germany had thirteen (7 under construction), the United States had eight, France had eight, Japan had four, Austria-Hungary had two, and Italy had one. The Queen Elizabeth was the first Super-Dreadnought produced in 1915 by Britain. It had eight 15-inch guns capable of firing a 1,920-pound projectile 35,000 yards (or 16 miles). Four other Super-Dreadnoughts, the Warspite, Barham, Valiant, and Malaya, were created. After surviving World War I they were heavily modified, and later served in World War II.
John P. Holland created the first submarine for the Royal Navy in 1902. After 1905 Germany began to develop submarines with real fighting abilities. In 1913 Germany created the first Unterseeboot, or U-boat. By World War I Germany had 10 U-boats and 30 submarines. Britain had 55 subs, and France had 77. These underwater ships posed a very serious treat even thought they were fragile and could only dive for a few hours. Submarines had five to six torpedo tubes, 16 cm guns, and mine laying capability. They could dive up to 70 meters and could go up to 18 knots. Underwater they cold only go up to 8.5 knots and had a crew of about 20 to 40. On the 8th of August 1914 a German U-Boat attacked the British ship Monarch. The attack however was unsuccessful. By the end of the war Britain had lost 54 submarines, but still had 137 in service and 78 under construction. Germany had around 134 U-boats that had sunk 192 boats and killed over 4,000 people.
Developed at the end of the 19th century torpedo boats were fast, light, and were armed with torpedoes. Torpedoes were strategically important to ocean warfare, since even a non-direct hit could prove fatal in slowing a ship down to snail speed. The British Navy created strategies to deal with attacking swarms of these small ships. They added many medium cannon and machine guns to battleships and cruisers. Fast destroyers were created to protect large ships from torpedo boats.
Torpedoes in tubes
Designed for long-range trade protection and operations with battle fleets, about 20 cruisers were named for towns or cities. These cruisers were called Town cruisers. The first five town cruisers had two 6" and ten 4" guns. Later secondary armament was replaced with more guns. Town cruisers had a top speed of 28 knots (or 32mph) by 1914. Only two town cruisers were lost during World War I. The Falmouth and Nottingham were both sunk by torpedoes in 1916.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada), there is a natural deep harbor. It is ice free and naturally deep. This is an ideal spot to assemble convoys to send to Europe, for the war effort. The inner harbor of this port was called Bedford Basin. On the evening of December the 5th 1917 the Basin was full of assembling merchant ships. The Harbor was also open to neutral ships (however their crews were not allowed onshore for security reasons). One of these was a Norwegian ship the SS IMO, she was alone, and was on her way to New York to load relief supplies for Belgium. She was behind schedule because of having to wait for coal. By the time she was loaded and ready to go the anti-sub nets guarding the port had already been closed. Meanwhile the French ship, SS Mont Blanc, was steaming in full to try to make the harbor before the anti-sub nets were closed. The Mont Blanc was loaded with a cache of explosives and volatile material. The Mont Blanc was late leaving New York Harbor so she was forced to stay outside the nets for the night. The next morning the IMO lifted anchor and started to head out of the harbor. Since she was practically empty she was probably traveling faster than usual. The Mont Blanc sailed in with a dangerous cargo of 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid (used in artillery shells), 200 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT), 10 tons of gun cotton, with drums of Bezol (high octane fuel) stacked on her decks. They collided in the bottleneck part of the harbor know as the narrows. The Mont Blank caught fire and due to the intensity of the fire and volatile cargo Captain Le Medec ordered all hands to abandon ship. As she burned the Mont Blanc drifted to rest up against pier 6. At about 9:05 am the Mont Blanc exploded, the ship was disintegrated. Two square miles around the ship was flattened and most of the windows in Halifax blow out from the pressure of the blast. A mushroom shaped cloud raised a couple of miles into the sky. The Narrow was rained with around 3,000 tons of shrapnel and rocks (believed to have been sucked up from the harbor bed). Also causing destruction was the pressure wave. A part of the ship's anchor landed in the wood nearly 3 miles away. Also the ship's gun landed near Alboro Lake 2km away. Nearby ships were rocked and small ships (tugs, trawlers, etc.) were overwhelmed and sunk. This man made 'tsunami' was funneled up Tufts cove to an encampment of the Micmac (local native American tribe)which was completely destroyed. A small hill rose up opposite the narrows. Being in a highly populated area there was naturally a large crowd assembled. The crowd members experience many cases of blindness and eye injuries because of the explosion flash and glass shatters. It seemed as if this was all a plague because next came the fires. The blast turned homes into kindle wood. The shock wave had overturned coal stoves and cars, which were in widespread use because of the season. An hour after the initial explosion a rumor spread that the magazine at Wellington was on fire. That fire was contained. After that the final factor that contributed to the final death toll arrived near nightfall, the worst blizzard in over a decade. This explosion killed over 1,600 people just in the initial blast. It was the largest explosion ever recorded and kept that title until the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during WWII.
Neutral SS IMO (held responsible)
Aircraft carriers were prominently used by the Royal Navy in WWI. The US started experimenting with aviation in the navy in 1910. On Nov. 14 1910, a 24 year old civilian pilot in a 50-hp Curtiss plane took off from a wooden platform atop the USS Birmingham. Later that month Glenn H Curtiss, the US's most prominent aviation expert, offered flight instructions to one Navy officer for assisting "in developing the adaptability of the aeroplane to military purposes." In Dec, Lieut. T. Gordon Ellyson was ordered to report to the Glenn Curtiss Aviation Camp at North Island, San Diego, Calif. He Completed his training on April 12, 1911, making him Naval Aviator #1. During that time, on Jan 18, 1911, Eugene Ely landed and took off, in a Curtiss Pusher, from a specially built platform on the USS Pennsylvania. In 1919 plans were made to convert the USS Jupiter into a full aircraftcarrier
In May 1916, both the British and German fleets sent out scout ships to find their enemy's fleet. They found each other, then went back to lead the rest of the fleet to their position. Admiral Sir David Beatty was on his way to join the rest of the British fleet commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, when he encountered a German fleet. They then began to open fire. Many ships were sunk during this battle. Then Beatty encountered the German High Seas Fleet, further complicating his situation. Jellicoe and the rest of the Grand Fleet were on its way to assist Beatty. When he arrived, Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer and the German fleet retreated to the north. Jellicoe feared that Scheer was leading them into a trap and turned south to intercept Scheer on his journey home. Later, they engaged in battle, and again, Scheer retreated. Still unwilling to follow the German fleet, Jellicoe took a different path, and later intercepted them again. Many British ships were damaged before the British decided not to follow the retreating Germans again. The British lost 3 battle cruisers, 3 cruisers, 8 destroyers, and 6,100 total men. The Germans lost 1 battleship, 1 battle cruiser, 4 light cruisers, 3 destroyers, and 2,550 men.
Gray = Allied Powers
Black = Central Powers