Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, April 12, 2021

A German Admiral Evaluates the Prospect of America Joining the War

Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff

The Memorandum of  Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff

Announcing unlimited submarine warfare will once again force the government of the United States to answer the question of whether or not it wants to experience the consequences of the position it has taken on submarine warfare up until now. I am very much of the opinion that war with America is such a serious matter that everything must be done to avoid it. In my opinion, however, the aversion to this break must not lead us to shrink from using, in the decisive moment, the weapon that promises us victory.

In any case, one should plan for the worst and make clear to ourselves what influence America joining our enemies would have on the course of the war. In regard to shipping capacity, this influence can only be very small. It is not to be expected that more than a small percentage of the tonnage of Germany and its allies in American or other neutral harbors could be quickly put into service for the trip to England. By far the largest part could be damaged in such a way that it would not be able to travel in the first months. The preparations for this have been taken. There would also be no crews for these ships at first. Just as little decisive impact can be attached to American troops–who, on account of limited freight capacity, cannot be brought over in considerable numbers–and American money, which cannot make up for insufficient technical supplies and tonnage.

The only remaining question is how America would respond to a peace such as England would be required to make. It is unlikely that America will then decide to continue to fight us alone, as America will have no means with which to harm us significantly, whereas its ocean traffic will be damaged by our submarines. On the contrary, it is to be expected that America will become a member of a peace treaty with England, in order to arrive at a healthy economic situation once again.

German U-boat Resupply at Sea

I, therefore, conclude that an unrestricted submarine warfare initiated soon enough to bring about peace before the world harvest in summer 1917–that is, before August 1–must hazard the consequences of a break with America, for no other choice remains to us. Despite the danger of a break with America, unlimited submarine warfare, begun soon, is the right means for ending the war successfully. It is also the only means to reach this goal.

Since the fall of 1916, when I declared that the moment had arrived to strike against England, our situation has fundamentally improved. The shortage in the world’s harvest, combined with the effect of the war on England, has once again given us the opportunity to bring about a decision in our favor before the next harvest. If we do not use this opportunity, which according to my calculations will be our last, then I do not see any possibility other than that of mutual exhaustion.

In order to achieve the necessary effect in time, it is necessary for unlimited submarine warfare to begin on February 1st at the latest. From Your Excellency I request a statement explaining whether the military situation on the continent, especially vis-à-vis those nations which are still neutral, will allow this. I need three weeks for the necessary preparations.

Source: Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff to Field Marshal von Hindenburg (22 December 1916)

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