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.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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The Surprising Characters on Friends Who Were Originally the Show's Main Couple

Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
Everyone was enthralled by Ross and Rachel's romantic drama—but how would you feel about Monica and Joey's?
Getty Images

When you think of Friends, your mind probably goes to all the hilarious one-liners, such as Joey's "How you doin'?", or all the romantic relationships in the show, most importantly Ross and Rachel's. We watched the pair's love story blossom since their first kiss back in season two, and the couple is widely regarded as one of the best in TV history.

Well, there was another couple planned that didn't make the cut. Just as Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc wanted their characters Phoebe and Joey to get together, showrunners planned for Monica and Joey to be an item. And they weren't just going to be a fling—the two were originally the Ross and Rachel of the show.

Vulture reports that Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman initially had Monica and Joey coupling up, explaining:

"It would’ve unfolded like this: Joey, a 'perpetual horndog,' would’ve eventually been lured and 'tamed' by Monica as he continued to climb up in the world of acting. Crane, however, found himself 'bored' by this version of Joey; he retooled Joey to be a funnier and warmer character within the friend group, and dropped the romance with Monica altogether."

Would've been weird, right? According to Entertainment Weekly, it wasn't just Crane who didn't like the idea. LeBlanc himself, who played Joey, wasn't into his character trying to pursue Monica, not wanting to play someone who was perceived as creepy and hit on everyone.

It seems Joey went through some serious revisions before Friends became what it is today, and it's probably for the best. He doesn't end up married in the end, but at least Monica gets her happily ever after moment with Chandler.

[h/t Vulture]