Germans Declare Unrestricted U-boat Warfare

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 166th installment in the series. 

February 4, 1915: Germans Declare Unrestricted U-boat Warfare 

After implementing a naval blockade of Germany and Austria-Hungary in August 1914, as the war dragged on the British Admiralty added more and more products to the list of items considered “war contraband,” and hugely expanded the scope of the blockade by introducing the controversial doctrine of “continuous voyage,” allowing the Royal Navy to interdict neutral shipping headed for neutral countries (for example Holland or Denmark) if the cargo was eventually destined for the Central Powers. Meanwhile the British and French seized thousands of tons of German and Austro-Hungarian shipping, and many German ships were interned in neutral ports for the duration of the war. 

In November 1914 the Admiralty declared the North Sea a war zone, and by February 1915 German civilians were starting to feel the effects of blockade, although some trade continued and the blockade still wasn’t seriously impeding Germany’s war effort. Nonetheless the tightening British blockade prompted calls in Germany for retaliation against the enemy’s home front. U-boat warfare against British merchant shipping was a logical response, but on January 31, 1915 the Admiralty responded by instructing British ships to fly neutral flags in the war zone.

In addition to angering neutral countries like the U.S., who objected to the British using their flags as a war gambit, this move obviously presented the German high command with a dilemma: they could either call off the U-boat attacks, allowing British trade to proceed as before, or escalate the attacks to include all vessels flying neutral flags—inevitably sending a good number of neutral ships to the bottom and risking a major rupture with the U.S. and others. 

Despite warnings from the foreign ministry the German high command made the momentous decision to escalate, publishing the following decree on February 4, 1915: 

All the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are hereby declared to be a war zone. From February 18 onwards every enemy merchant vessel found within this war zone will be destroyed without it always being possible to avoid danger to the crews and passengers. Neutral ships will also be exposed to danger in the war zone, as, in view of the misuse of neutral flags ordered on January 31 by the British Government, and owing to unforeseen incidents to which naval warfare is liable, it is impossible to avoid attacks being made on neutral ships in mistake for those of the enemy. 

Mindful of the need to keep Dutch trade routes open for its own supplies, the German admiralty created a safe zone for shipping to Holland: “Navigation to the north of the Shetlands, in the eastern parts of the North Sea and through a zone at least thirty nautical miles wide along the Dutch coast is not exposed to danger.” 

For their part the British responded by immediately declaring all grain and flour war contraband, meaning basic food supplies were now subject to interdiction as wellanother step towards what became known as the “starvation blockade,” which ended up killing somewhere between 400,000 and 800,000 German civilians by the end of the war.

However the most intense period of the British blockade and retaliatory German U-boat warfare lay in the future. In 1915 the British blockade remained fairly inefficient, enforced by a handful of outdated cruisers patrolling between Scotland and Norway, and the British were still leery of offending neutral opinion, especially in the U.S., by seizing large numbers of their merchant ships. For their part the Germans’ first experiment with unrestricted U-boat warfare came to an end following diplomatic protests by the U.S. after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. It wouldn’t resume again until 1917, when the German U-boat fleet had tripled in size. 

Turks Defeated at Suez Canal

Following the debacle at Sarikamish in January 1915, on February 3-4 the Ottoman Empire’s second major offensive also ended in defeat with the failure of the Fourth Army’s assault on the Suez Canal. 

To be fair it is pretty remarkable this ambitious plan got as far as it did. Under pressure from their German allies, who hoped to cut Britain’s lifeline to India through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal (or at least distract the British with this threat), from November 1914 to January 1915 the Turks assembled the new army in Syria and then marched south to Palestine, with propaganda proclaiming the imminent liberation of Egypt (Egypt had technically been an Ottoman province under British protection until December 1914, when the British finally annexed it). 

Considering the logistical difficulties presented by Palestine, at that time a backwards backwater of the Ottoman Empire with bad roads and almost no rail links, Fourth Army commander Djemal Pasha and his German “colleague” Kress von Kressenstein (“boss” might have been more accurate) were quite successful in marshaling their forces (above, Turkish troops marshaling for the advance). A fair amount of chaos still prevailed, according to Alexander Aaronsohn, a Jewish Zionist settler who witnessed the Turkish preparations in southern Palestine:

Beersheba was swarming with troops. They filled the town and overflowed on to the sands outside, where a great tent-city grew up… From all over the country the finest camels had been “requisitioned” and sent down to Beersheba until, at the time I was there, thousands and thousands of them were collected in the neighborhood… no adequate provision was made for feeding them, and incredible numbers succumbed to starvation and neglect. Their great carcasses dotted the sand in all directions… The soldiers themselves suffered much hardship. The crowding in the tents was unspeakable… All things considered, it is wonderful that the Turkish demonstration against the canal came as near to fulfillment as it did.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement was the crossing of the Sinai Peninsula, with 20,000 Turkish troops advancing west across the desert in two main columns in just six daysa feat comparable with Alexander the Great’s crossing from Gaza to Pelusium in seven days, but with more heavy equipment, including artillery and pontoons to cross the canal. Unfortunately this rapid crossing failed to preserve the element of surprise, as the British were aware of Turkish preparations thanks to spies, and moonlight betrayed the final approach of the advance guard Turkish troops carrying pontoons on the night of February 3, 1915.    


Click to enlarge 

Meanwhile the British had reinforced their army in Egypt to a strength of 70,000 with troops from India, Australia, and New Zealand, including 30,000 guarding the 100-mile canal; even worse for the Turks, they had quietly moved a number of battleships into the canal to serve as ersatz artillery. In the early morning hours the British troops opened fire, repelling most of the attacking Turkish units. One squadron managed to deploy its pontoons and succeeded in crossing the canal, but the infantry were simply mowed down by machine guns and rifle fire on the far bank. An Armenian soldier who was present later confided in a Spanish diplomat in Jerusalem, Conde de Ballobar, that “he didn’t even shoot his rifle, since he did not know where he should shoot since he did not see a single Englishman. There were only warships, airplanes, and heavy caliber batteries, and at a range much greater than their cannons.”

By February 4, 1915 the main Turkish force was in retreat, having suffered relatively modest casualties of around 1,500 killed and taken prisoner out of the total force of 20,000. More important than the casualty count, however, was the total failure of the Egyptian Muslim population to rise up in rebellion against the British occupation forces, as the Ottomans had confidently predicted. The “jihad” declared by the Ottoman Sultan in November 1914 had failed to materialize.

See the previous installment or all entries.

15 Surprising Facts About Scarface

Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman—who passed away on June 16, 2018—offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay. But Stone, who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand, wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

11 Things You May Not Know About John Lennon

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at a few facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles

1. HE WAS A CHOIR BOY AND A BOY SCOUT.

Yes, John Lennon, the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast, was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

2. HE HATED HIS OWN VOICE.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

3. HE WAS DISSATISFIED WITH ALL OF THE BEATLES'S RECORDS.

Dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

4. HE WAS THE ONLY BEATLE WHO DIDN'T BECOME A FULL-TIME VEGETARIAN.

John Lennon (1940 - 1980) of the Beatles plays the guitar in a hotel room in Paris, 16th January 1964
Harry Benson, Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

5. HE LOVED TO PLAY MONOPOLY.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

6. HE WAS THE LAST BEATLE TO LEARN HOW TO DRIVE.

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

7. HE REPORTEDLY USED TO SLEEP IN A COFFIN.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

8. THE LAST TIME HE SAW PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS ON APRIL 24, 1976. 

Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon (1940-1980) of the Beatles pictured together during production and filming of the British musical comedy film Help! on New Providence Island in the Bahamas on 2nd March 1965
William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO SING LEAD ON THE BEATLES'S FIRST SINGLE, 1962'S "LOVE ME DO."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

10. "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE" WAS THE BEST LYRIC HE EVER WROTE.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

11. THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHER TO SNAP HIS PICTURE WAS PAUL GORESH.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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