tv Sea Power During World War I CSPAN September 1, 2016 8:00pm-8:28pm EDT
and the city fathers at that point decided that a mint they could be proud of was going to be part of that process. >> the c-span cities tour of denver, colorado, saturday at 9:00 eastern on c-span2's book tv. and sunday afternoon at 2:00 on american history tv on c-span3. working with our cable affiliates and visiting cities across the country. u.s. air force academy professor chuck steele teaches a class on the role of sea power during world war i. he talks about the state of the british grand fleet and the activity of german submarines prior to the u.s. entering the war. he also argues that the actions of u.s. admiral william simms helped keep the allied naval forces united. his class just over 50 minutes. >> go ahead and take your seats.
okay. so we're going to close out world war i talking about the american contribution and close out the lesson today by talking about william sims, one of the more neglected figures in military history as per the article i sent you, kind of comes off, you know, a distant second to pershing if that and when we think about americans and the first world war. so today this is a sea power class, we'll talk about the significance of simms, and possibly get into arguments as to who really made the more relevant contribution. that is simms, as you guys know from looking at the article. the painting is "the return of the mayflower." that shows the first group of american destroyers after we had entered the war arriving in
ireland to begin operations against the german submarines. so it's sort of the most important figure for us in terms of getting those ships in to place. of course, unlike the other figures that we've discussed, simms isn't actually going to operate operational control. he's going to hand that off to admiral bailey, the royal navy, which is, again, something that's at odds with the way that the army would be operated for the most part in the war. but he had a good deal of confidence in the british and their abilities to serve as effective commanders. so anyway, let's move on and talk about what we're going to go through. we want to talk a little bit about why the contributions of american naval forces are central to allied victory in the war. to get there we'll do a little bit of review, talking once again what do the oceans mean to the various combatants. and then what are the
limitations of british sea power because it seems rather impressive, all the things that the british were able to do. and then we'll talk about sims and what his contributions are specifically and then if we have some time, we'll talk about the significance of the american experience in world war i and what that means going forward as we set up the next few lessons. all right. so just as a matter of review, unlike the war on land, not so many engagements, right? most of the readings that you had dealt with jutland because it's definitely the biggest and most significant of the engagements. but you had the grand fleet involved and smaller vessels from both fleets, in engagement in august 15th. coronado in the pacific cost about 1500 plus casualties for the british, a disaster for the british.
but then that same fleet, the asiatic squadron makes its way into the south atlantic in an area around the falkland islands. they come into contact with the british force. the battle cruisers, a battle built around battle cruisers and billion built around heavy cruisers and the germans get mauled and lose close to 2,000 people. so after that, dogger bank in 1915 and then jutland in 1916. that's pretty much it. and if we look at jutland, what do we think of jutland? is it -- the germans like to hail it as a tactical success. you're laughing, mr. ryan. why are you laughing? >> tactical success doesn't matter so much in the bigger picture as outcome. >> if you're the germans, what makes you think that you succeeded in this fight?
>> didn't get destroyed by the royal navy? >> you weren't completely destroyed? >> you actually scored some victories on a few british ships and some were lost even. makes you look pretty good. >> the death toll stands in favor of the germans. the destruction and damage to ships stands in favor of the germans. was -- but did they achieve the operational results that they were looking for? where do they end up at the end of the battle? >> same place they started. >> so is the strategic situation changed? >> not at all. >> no. >> all right. and that kind of brings us to in terms of reviews, we think about the dimensions and traditionally -- traditionally, throughout this course at this point, where does war at sea occur?
are there alternatives to that if you can't fight effectively on the surface at this point? >> right now in world war i they haven't really moved into air, air assets as much because we haven't really started developing carriers or anything like that. but germany obviously uses heavy emphasis on u-boat, especially when they're trying to just choke out the british commerce. and so that's really their alternative to having to go out and engage the grand fleet. >> yeah. what's the purpose of the grand fleet? what are they trying to achieve? what kind of operations are they engaged in? >> basically, trying to limit what the germans are capable of. it's a reactionary, more defensive mind-set. also protect shipping. >> all right. but essentially the british are doing what with the grand fleet? >> it's a deterrent containing the german fleet in the north sea. >> a term specifically designed for this, blockade.
so if you're the germans, yeah, you're vulnerable to the british because they have a bigger fleet, a much bigger fleet. is britain vulnerable? what is the ocean as per the questions we went over before. does the ocean offer any possibilities to the germans as far as dealing with the british, or do they have to play the same game that the british are playing? >> the best option for getting out of war. >> why is that? what is the ocean to britain? >> britain's an island. that's their livelihood. that's what they've invested most of their military spending in is their sea power. so if you're the germans, you essentially take britain out of the war with a decisive battle if that ever happened. >> i think the other aspect, adding on to that, is sea is really britain's lifeline. we know it has been for a long time because they don't sustain
themselves based on just the resources and things on their island alone. so if you can start constricting their shipping through u-boat warfare or whatever, if you come up the means to do that, you're going to hurt them pretty badly. >> it's a source of strength. you have the grand fleet and definitely superior to the high seas fleet. and you can impose an effective blockade but your command to the seas is, in a sense, limited to the surface and really to the area of the north sea because we talked about this before, i mean, you have to go with the distant blockade. there's too many risks, threats. close in to shore. so you don't control the baltic. you don't have direct access to the russians through the baltic. there are some limitations. there are some limitations on british sea power. but the other thing is that there's now another dimension to be considered and that is
submarines. it's operating beneath the surface. and so talk about it being the consequences of british dominance. you had the germans were recognizing early on this is indeed a problem, that they are the second most powerful navy in the world or have the second most powerful navy in the world and that's by some distance. but you do have submarines and it's a stealthy weapon. especially at this point. there aren't so many countermeasures out there. the germans are going to launch three large submarine campaigns as per the reading -- i believe i sent that out to you from colonel abatelo. but there are some consequences associated with this as well. i mean, the germans meet with some success in setting up their own blockade. i mean, it's not the same sort of blockade but you're trying to accomplish the same objectives. cut the british off from
commerce on the seas. but there are consequences. what's the big deal about the lusitania and the arabic? >> mainly it was a straight passenger liner and it killed 120 americans. the americans were really angry about it and threatened to cut diplomatic ties with the germans. >> you follow through this, i mean, why are the germans doing this? it seems so evil. why does this become an issue? >> it's similar to the war of the weaker. you have to go asymmetric if you're the underdog when it comes to warfare. >> but what do we find particularly distasteful or displeasing about this? you're killing civilians. you're killing american civilians. >> submarine warfare flies in
the face of a lot of naval tradition, which put a high emphasis on being brave and aggressive and going out and meeting the enemy in open battle. and here you have a boat full of guys who can sink ships full of civilian, military members, whatever, without ever facing that danger in the same way. it's not really that same sense of honor, i guess. >> perhaps. and part of the issue is, you know, again, as per what i sent you folks, you know, there were expectations, right? i mean, what was supposed to happen? >> the u-boats were supposed to surface, confirm, like, the target. but one of the officers looking on the u looking at the manifest and then decide whether they were going to sink it afterward. and the british ended up just arming their merchant men with small guns to shoot at the u-boats when it surfaced.
>> it's kind of risky. if you're going to use these things as we come to sea, i think probably everybody is a bit more familiar with what happens in world war ii, but certainly a pattern is set. if you're going to try and do damage, you need to minimize the risks to your own people, right? so this causes some problems. because, again, you issue warnings but it's still going to be -- for the united states, what does this look like to us? >> it just looks like germans are gunning down civilians. >> because we also value neutrality of the seas highly. so that's a direct threat on being able to be a neutral belligerent in this war, really. >> which is kind of interesting because britain is definitely restricting our freedom of the seas. but this is restriction on freedom of the seas and doing material harm. and so what was the result of this submarine campaign? the germans continue?
why do we have these -- are there pauses between these campaigns? >> they are afraid of larger action at sea by the allies. >> you have the potential to bring the united states in this war. the united states protests, right? and so this is something that the consequences -- as this thing is becoming a war of attrition, you've lost your chance for annihilation in 1914. this is become aguiar of attrition. the last thing you think you'd want to do is involve an asian with the industrial capacity of the united states, although nothing like what it would be in world war ii but you still don't need any more enemies. campaign of 1916, the united states is going to get upset again and so he's supposed to play by the rules as per discussion and so this isn't really going to go anywhere either. all right. so what are the consequences for -- and why do the germans, if you can remember back to
history 100, why are the germans going to change their minds in 1917? what's the big deal? what's going on by the time you get to 1917? >> there's starvation in germany. it's sort of reaching the breaking point of their supply lines need to be reopened to some degree. they need to break this blockade, regain access to the sea. >> if you're the germans, you're probably suffering more than anybody else, right? you're fighting a two-front war, britain when we start this war without a doubt the greatest expression of british power is the grand fleet. but over time, i mean, you've got the population of the british empire to draw from. again, being in a war of attrition, you know, that's not really a good thing. on top of which -- you know, france is still burying the biggest brunt -- or bearing the brunt of all of this on the western front. and france is a formidable power.
and so these things, in combination, if you're the germans, it's a very tough situation. and you are running out of resources. and so this has become a war of attrition. and, you know, the charts, if you look at resources and manpower, they don't favor you in a war of attrition. if you remember, in the standard 100 class, or the standard military history class, the core class, we talk about the big changes the germans are making at the end of 1917, all right. move to an emphasis on destruction of the russians. kind of a combination of military action and political action. getting lenin back into russia so he would agitate for revolution. but going along the defense on the western front, the elastic defense, they also, in a sense, go on the offensive again. okay?
they go back to waging unrestricted submarine warfare. so what's the calculus here? what do you have to consider? what are the consequences of a third submarine campaign? >> at this point in time, they are getting desperate. so the benefits of this are possibly driving someone out of the war, whether that be the united states or britain. >> well, we're not in yet, right? >> uh-huh. but possibly keeping the united states out but more likely forcing britain out of the war at this point but then the opposite side of that is we could definitely encourage the united states. they could encourage the united states to come in to the war. >> well, isn't that -- >> if you could sink enough british goods coming across the channel in to europe with your u-boats or moving around europe, you could cause economic
problems for them. and then that pulls britain out of the war and would open up the seas to your fleet. >> but don't you kind of know that if you go this route, you're going to pull the united states in? i mean, the warnings have been made. the united states is standing pretty strong on this. the oceans are important to us. right? so, you know, any return to unrestricted submarine warfare is going to have consequences. uit's not likely to keep us out. the germans pretty much know, it's going to pull us in. but are you that afraid of the americans? if you're running out of resources, what kind of timetable do you give yourself? >> is german intel fully aware of how long it's going to take the u.s. to mobilize? it really took us a while. and i think they're probably aware of that. >> mobilization goes -- it happens quickly. i think what they are aware of, more than anything else, is how small the united states army is.
>> okay. >> if you look, before world war i, what is the last major military expedition mounted by the united states army? yeah. and how did that go? >> terribly. >> you can't track down and bring a villain to justice and you're going to go over and fight in the biggest war against -- you know, the biggest war that anybody has seen against soldiers who were battle-hardened and this isn't pancho villa you're talking about. this is hindenburg and ludendorf. >> i would say for the germans, i would say it's definitely a risk worth taking because if you can get britain out of the war, you remove the biggest, best fleet in the world and now all of a sudden you're the biggest, best fleet in the world. >> right. which doesn't -- i mean, the
thing about that, though, if you think, the u-boats aren't going to be used so much to strike against british sea power, british naval assets. well, not in the strictest sense. they are not going after the grand fleet. they are going after the merchant ships. but -- if you get britain as a nation to surrender, the fleet -- >> the fleet doesn't matter anymore. >> and the fleet is a strength and it's a liability. and -- you know what i'm talking about? by saying it's a liability? why is the grand fleet a liability as well? >> because they have to put resources towards it. >> specifically what? >> steel. >> beyond steel. >> people. also oil. >> what's effective -- what's the most effective means for the navy? in terms of technology, what's the most effective technology for combatting these u-boats?
>> the destroyer. >> destroyers. >> if you pull destroyers to protect the fleet, you can't protect the commonwealth with the same destroyers. >> the fleet is -- i mean, this is the instrument of -- this is what's getting the job done in the north sea. this keeps the clamps on them. but if you remove the destroyers, now your fleet is vulnerable. and so it's a tough situation. yeah, they've invested more. they have the world's greatest navy. but you still don't have all of the assets that you need to do everything that you want. and so that's one of the reasons why the u.s. entry into this war, it's one of the reasons this is going to be so important. it's one of the reasons i want to bring sims into this picture. the orthodox thing, big ships good. that's sort of the traditional path. if you're a naval officer, the first couple of guys that we read about in world war i are fleet commanders.
that's what really excites us. sims isn't going to be the guy who, you know, spends his time and energy commanding ships to destroy u-boats. he passes that up. but at least he has a pretty solid sight picture when it comes to what the strategic situation calls for. and so with the u.s. entry into the war, it's a pretty big deal, right? we have destroyers. we are going to send battleships, we're going to send a squadron of battleships to the grand fleet but the grand fleet, you know, there's not going to be a second battle of jutland. the germans are going to threaten but nothing ever really materializes. you don't have a 1916 or 1917 version of the battle of trafalgar. they have accomplished their objective. but you still have this threat.
sims is an interesting character and as long as we're emphasizing leadership throughout this course, a little bit different, right? the level of war that he's dealing with is different than what we've seen with these other fellows, maybe with the exception of jellicoe, he certainly has -- one would assume from previous discussions, i think we're in agreement that jelico was a sound, strategic thinker. sims, a pretty interesting character. born in canada to american parents. graduated from the american naval academy in 1880. sort of during that professionalism that starts to develop, the creation of the naval institute and shortly thereafter the creation of the naval war college under the leadership of stephen b. luce, our navy in terms of encouraging thinking, you know, in terms of
developing agile minds is kind of ahead of the game. and sims is certainly one of these guys who benefits from this or at least fits in to this environment. he would go on at the time that the war begins, he's actually serving as president of the naval war college, and then he is going to be sent over to europe and he'll become the commander eventually of what is u.s. naval forces in europe. and that brings us back to this whole thing. the destroyers are kind of important but if we think of the united states just in general, in the broadest sense, what's the most important thing we can do for our allies? >> produce. produce stuff. or is that -- >> we're actually going to be reliant on foreign -- foreign equipment. >> okay. >> foreign tanks, foreign aircraft. but -- and again, this goes back to -- it's in the article that i sent you dealing with sims.
but if you go back to history 100, how are the allies doing in 1917? what's that? >> stalemate still. >> not well. >> why are you saying not well? >> the british and french can't really get any farther on the western front and russia's starting to kind of deteriorate both in their government and their forces on the eastern front. >> yeah. the russians are going to go through two revolutions in 1917. the october revolution is going to kill it. so the germans are successful. the strategic shift to the eastern front, they are successful. but what's going on -- if we look at the allied forces fighting on the western front, how are they doing? are they taking advantage of the germans and their shift to the east? >> no.
at this point, the lines have been pretty much established, and they're not moving anywhere at this point. >> and when they do try, do you remember the nivelle offensive? what does the novel offensive run into? what does novel -- a big hero of verdun. he comes up and gets the choice field command, and he is going to lead them in a big offensive in 1917. what does he run in to? anybody remember from 100? >> gas? >> no. >> maybe one of you. >> gas? >> no, no. >> artillery? >> do you guys remember the elastic defense? anybody remember the elastic defense? >> it's been a long time. >> basically just kind of an evolution of the defense in depth. >> bingo. defense in depth. you're not going to commit everything to protecting the front lines.
you sort of put up the minimum in terms of resistance up front and set up sort of a massive kill zone farther back. and this is what novelle runs in to, or his soldiers. i don't think he was leading any charges. but the effects of 1917 on the french, disastrous. even though the germans aren't on the offensive, the effects are disastrous. they use the term "mutiny." i don't know about mutiny because it's not as if the soldiers were in charge now. but sort of mass disobedience to orders. i remember reading an article. that's a great term. mass disobedience to orders. you want an offensive, go ahead, right behind you, 100% of the way. right behind you and not moving anywhere. if you look at it as far as getting to this war, you're looking at the french, i mean, they are suffering, man. they are just about out of this thing.
if you're the germans and you're looking at it, maybe things aren't so bad. you still have these problems in terms of resources but russia's not going to be a problem going forward. the french are demoralized. and the effects of the submarine campaign against the british, you know, they are producing some solid effects. i can reference the numbers in that article that went out there. the germans are having some real success. jellico, when he meets with sims, hey, we're about to break. we need more stuff, and these submarines are keeping us from getting. but -- and i'm not trying to paint the picture, it's a sea power class. it's all about the navy. the navies are contributing to something else. the most important thing that the united states can do, if you consider how bad things are in 1917, what do you think the most important contribution that the united states can make? >> open up the seas back up. >> what es