Naval Inventions Report Cover, World War I, New York State Defense Council, 1917-1918

Historical Context
In the years leading up to the First World War, competition between the United Kingdom and Germany over naval arms and naval technological development was at an all time high. Each held to a government policy which demanded overwhelming superiority on one side and sufficiently threatening force on the other, causing each country to expand their naval construction projects in response to the other doing the same thing. One major development was the Dreadnought. It was originally constructed by the British as a stopgap to allow them to compensate for the growth of the German Navy by constructing ships that had four times the firepower as the standard battleships that the Germans were constructing. So the Germans (and others) began constructing their own Dreadnoughts to prevent becoming obsolete themselves, making the naval arms race even more desperate.

Another technological development was the submarine. While submarines had existed for centuries, they were never effective combat vessels until the technological developments of the Machine Age gave the submarine new viability. While the massive Dreadnought fleets ended up having only a relatively minor role in the First World War, the submarine had a dominant role, in the form of the German Unterseeboot (U-Boat). Unable to outmatch the British in battleship strength, the U-Boat allowed the German Navy to successfully blockade the British Isles by stealthily destroying commerce flowing to and from the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, by attacking merchant shipping, the German Navy turned popular opinion in the countries still neutral against Germany, especially the United States and Brazil. These countries were losing money with the loss of access to trade. The German government attempted to compensate for this by putting advertisements in newspapers warning Americans of the dangers of gaining passage on ships bound for the British Isles. For a period between late 1915 and early 1917, the German government suspended their unrestricted submarine warfare to prevent American entry into the war after the sinking of the Lusitania and the Sussex. Germany resumed submarine warfare in February 1917 to try to starve the United Kingdom into surrender before the United States could declare war. The United States declared war two months later.
Essential Question
How does new technology impact war strategies?
Check for Understanding
Describe the drawing and evaluate the impact of this technology on the war.
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Naval Inventions, New York State Archives, NYSA_A4234-78_B2_F5_NavalIntentions
Document Description
Cover of a report titled "Naval Inventions," showing a detailed drawing of a submarine. The report was written by Captain William Strother of the U.S. Navy and reprinted by permission of the Saturday Evening Post. The report is from the records of the New York State Defense Council, Correspondence Files, 1917-1918.
  1. Why did the British and the Germans compete over naval arms production?
Historical Challenge
What strategies, technologies, and weapons were developed to combat the submarine?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: What kind of technological developments allowed the submarine to become a viable combat vessel?
  1. Koerver, Hans Joachim. British Naval Intelligence and German Naval Warfare 1914-1918. Retrieved from