Ireland and submarine warfare in WWI

Published in Issue 5 (September/October), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—As we are now in the zone of commemorations of the First World War, one aspect of Ireland’s involvement tends to be forgotten. Ireland was in the front line in one of the most critical engagements of that war. I refer to the submarine campaign waged against British (and Irish) supply lines. The situation became critical in the early months of 1917 but had been ongoing for the previous two years. Irish bases, harbours and other facilities with headquarters of the command and control of the campaign at Queenstown (Cobh) were the rear echelons. The front line was at sea. The hundreds of wrecks littering the seabed in Irish coastal waters testify to the scale of this campaign.

We no doubt will commemorate the arrival of the United States Navy in April 1917 to Queenstown, and their increased involvement in coping with the submarine threat for the remainder of the war. Ireland, how-ever, was so critical in this campaign that the Admiralty warned the government of the threat posed by any rebellion or actions that might arise from the proposal to extend conscription to Ireland in 1918. While the major naval installations such as Queenstown and Berehaven might have been reasonably secure, there were numerous and difficult-to-defend installations around the country. These were such facilities as radio direction-finding stations, war signal stations and air stations, not to mention the approximately 150 coast guard stations. Most of these were in remote locations and manned with small numbers, mostly of technical staff rather than armed troops. Any interference with these could, according to the Admiralty, have serious con-sequences for the prosecution of the war. The importance of Ireland in this regard was to have a profound implication in British–Irish relations just over twenty years later.—Yours etc.,



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