Sunday, 30 October 2016

Blockade: Cruiser Warfare and the Starvation of Germany in World War One - Steve R Dunn

This review has been submitted to War History Online Magazine.

Title: Blockade: Cruiser Warfare and the Starvation of Germany in World War One
Author: Steve R Dunn
ISBN: 978-1-84832-340-7
Publisher: Pena and Sword//Seaforth
Year: 2016
Pages: 208
Photos/Maps: 15/1

One of the least appreciated battlegrounds of the First World War was the ocean. The Battle of Jutland has been well documented as has been the fact that Germany was subject to a very effective naval blockade; however, the details of that blockade and its actual effect are at best superficially known to the reading public. Blockade seeks to redress that delta with its discussion of the methodology of the blockade, focusing upon the actions of the 10th Cruiser Squadron covering the ‘Northern Approaches” and renditions of noteworthy individual ship actions. Further, he touches upon little known German efforts to both break the blockade and effect a similar style of blockade on the British Islands.

Dunn begins his work with a look at the impact of the German surface raider’s and the u-boat campaign. He additionally looks at the challenges of the Law of the Sea as it pertains to submarine warfare (so-called ‘unrestricted warfare’). His analysis is succinct and easily grasped and enables the reader to comprehend the difficulty and potential of this new form of warfare both doctrinally and practically. Additionally, his narrative clearly shows the effect that individual commerce raiders had when released upon merchant fleets unprotected on the vast oceans.

He also discusses the legality (and superficially, the morality) of a universal blockade not specifically aimed at military resources but Germany writ large and the doctrinal transition from close to distant blockade. The legality of the blockade as a method of warfare is interesting in that it highlights the hypocrisy of the international and historical discussion of this period. Much was made (especially amongst neutrals) of the illegality of unrestricted seaborne warfare to the point where calls were made by the British to declare submarine warfare a war crime. Yet, the dubious legality of the general blockade of Germany was never questioned despite the fact that over 750,000 German civilian deaths may be directly attributable to a lack of food during the war.

The 10th Cruiser Squadron, comprising obsolete cruisers and armed merchant vessels (AMC’s), was responsible for an inverted triangle running from Iceland to Norway with its southern point on the Orkney’s. The deeply hostile environment and hardships that these sailors suffered and their unacknowledged triumph at denying the Germans merchant access is recounted by Dunn in a gripping narrative of courage and endurance. He focusses on the human face of this campaign as opposed to a stark rendition of dates and numbers. The statistics serve to reinforce the significance of the accomplishments of the officers and sailors themselves. Dunn’s account of the unsung heroes and combatants of this region is not limited to the Allies but also encompasses the German officers and sailors who constantly strove to break the 10th Cruiser Sqn’s stranglehold on this region.

This book serves as an excellent introduction into the details of the blockade; its history, evolution and effect. It touches upon themes that should be discussed in more detail such as the morality and legality of the blockade and the stigma of German attempts at unrestricted warfare; however, these are not pursued in any real analytical depth. Dunn’s work is solid and very readable and is recommended for those seeking to gain insight into the nature of this kind of warfare and its impact upon the Allied war effort in 1914-1918.


  1. Does the morality and legality of a blockade matter now? The Allies proved to the Soviets we could take care of Berlin during the Soviet attempt.

  2. Great review, looking forward to reading the book.