(Memorandum of the Imperial German Government on the treatment of armed merchantmen, 8 February 1916)
Berlin, February 13, 1916.
I have the honor to submit to your Excellency in all respect, the enclosed memorial. It includes in the form of a general survey the answers submitted by me to the latest inquiries of your Excellency
Can England be forced to sue for peace by means of a U-boat war?
I. The most important and surest means which can be adopted to bring England to her knees is the use of our U-boats at the present time. We shall not be able to defeat England by a war on land alone. The unrestricted carrying out of the U-boat war, supported by our other naval craft and by our air fleet – all under a unified and determined leadership – is of the most decisive importance in obtaining the desired result England will be cut to the heart by the destruction by U-boats of every ship which approaches the English coast. The ocean’s commerce is the very elixir of life for England, its interruption for any length of time a deadly danger, its permanent interruption absolutely fatal within a short time. Every attack upon England’s transoceanic communication is therefore a blow in the direction of the termination of the war. The more the losses take place with merciless regularity at the very gates of the island kingdom, the more powerful will be the material and moral effect on the English people. In spite of its former resources, England will not be able to make a successful defense against the attacks of submarines directed against its transoceanic commerce, provided they are well planned. That is precisely why a timely U-boat war is the most dangerous and, if vigorously carried on, the form of warfare which will unconditionally decide the war to England’s disadvantage.
II. The prerequisites of a successful carrying out of an unrestricted U-boat war are military and economic in both respects they are noticeably more favorable than in February, 1915.
III. In order to get the correct view of America’s attitude in the U-boat question, it is necessary to go back over its development during the course of the war.
From the very beginning, the attitude of the United States toward us has not been a friendly one. The close racial feeling which bound the greater part of the population to England, together with the combinations of English and American economic forces which have constantly resulted in more and more intimate relations in this direction, necessarily resulted in the antagonism referred to. In spite of this, there existed in the
beginning, at least so far as the government was concerned, a certain objection against openly taking sides with either party. If from the date of the February note onward, we could have afforded to pay no attention at all to the objections urged by the United States against the U-boat war, the unrestricted conduct of this war would not, in my opinion, have led to a break with the United States. In view of the restrictions imposed upon the conduct of the U-boat war and of the enormous deliveries of ammunition and war material of every kind which was made possible thereby, the whole economic life of the United States, and the American policy as well, came to be connected with the British cause in a manner quite different from that existing at the beginning of the war. America is directly interested in the fate of England’s economic existence, and, as a logical consequence, in England’s intention to crush Germany. As a result, the conviction on the part of Americans of the growing dangers involved in Japan’s hostile attitude, and that sooner or later differences with Japan will be bound to ensue, has become stronger as the war has run its course. Understandings unquestionably exist today, if not between the two governments, at least, in any case, between the leaders of the trusts in England and America, whose purpose is to give Japan a very definite setback by means of the combined forces of England and the United States after the war. But this is possible only if England can be absolutely secured against any danger emanating from Europe, that is, if Germany is overpowered. It follows that the United States, whether they desire to be so or not, are directly interested in our defeat, and have become a direct enemy of Germany.
If the United States intends to push this position to its logical conclusion and to let matters come to a break with us, the resulting circumstances would suffer no material change, provided this break were limited to a refusal to maintain diplomatic relations. But if the United States should go as far as to declare war against us, then the problem of shipping space would occupy a prominent place among those questions on which we would have to pass in connection with the then newly created situation. The assistance in men and material with which the United States would then be in a position to provide England and our other opponents would, as a practical proposition, be measured by the amount of tonnage for commercial purposes actually at their disposal.
The attempt on the part of the United States to increase this tonnage to any appreciable extent through a retaliatory seizure of the German commercial tonnage within their reach would, in the first place, be confronted with quite substantial obstacles and, in the second place, be useless in any case.
The gross tonnage of German steamers now in the United States [interned by the war] amounts to 440,000 tons, according to my estimate. There are about 116,850 gross tons in the American colonies.
But assuming that, in spite of all this, the United States should succeed in placing the German merchant ships in their service, the personal interests of the country would make it necessary for these ships to be held for their own purposes. So that an advantage to England or a lightening of England’s burdens would not result from this situation.
Were America, after a break with us, to provide financial support in ever-increasing volume to England and our opponents, the only result for the latter would be that they would become more and more dependent upon the United States. And moreover, the practical effect of such financial support would, for the most part, take the form of possibly providing them with increased shipments of war material of all kinds which were not obtainable in their own country, and of supplying them with those articles essential to their economic life. But this possibility can only become an established fact if the shipments in question can actually be delivered. For instance, an increase in Italy s financial resources for the purpose of obtaining coal does not actually bring coal to the country. And so an increased financial support of our opponents by America would, in the last analysis, for its effective working out, be inseparably and mainly dependent upon the problem of tonnage.
V. With regard to supplementing the tremendous results of the war on land, we have the following:
1. The entrance of America into the list of our opponents would be of no definite assistance to England.
2. It is only by making the fullest use of all of our instrumentalities adapted to warfare on the sea, amongst which the U-boats will play an important part by shutting England off from all intercourse by sea, that it will be possible to bring about England’s defeat.
Berlin, Februari 8, 1916.