Today's guest blog was written by Dr Richard Dunley from The National Archives. He joins our Maritime Lecture Series tomorrow to explore how the war at sea revolutionised Anglo-American relations between 1914 and 1917.
Think about the First World War and images of mud, blood and trenches probably come to mind. This was a war which, after all, was won by massive pitched battles in France and Flanders right? Well I am going to suggest that there is a lot more to the conflict than that; and specifically I am going to talk about trade. The First World War was a globalised conflict in which the Allies in particular mobilised men and raw materials from across globe in order to feed the massive war machines they created. As part of this process they also attempted to strangle the Central Powers by cutting them off from crucial resources. This economic warfare was fundamentally what the war at sea was all about. The dreadnoughts may have been impressive, but it was the trade that really counted. Allied success here was also the bedrock on which eventual victory was based. In the end the Allies could draw on more men, more money and more supplies and in a conflict of attrition this was the crucial factor.
In this economic war between Britain and Germany the neutral United States found itself caught in the middle. Much of the country had strong ties with the Allies, and American industry and finance grew wealthy on the war demands of Britain and France. At the same time the Allied blockade of Germany caused serious damage to certain parts of the US economy. Relations between Britain and the United States were fraught as the British government attempted to walk a tight rope between maximising the effectiveness of the blockade and limiting the impact on the Americans.
It is in this context that the sinking of the Lusitania takes on its full significance. No single factor had a greater impact in turning the US Government and the US people against the Germans. In doing so it helped the Allies gradually tighten the stranglehold they had over the German economy and was an important step towards US entry into the war on the Allied side.
If you are interested I will be talking about this in considerably more detail at the National Maritime Museum on Thursday 11 June.