Blockade of Germany - History - Effects During The War

Effects During The War

The first official accounts of the blockade—written by Professor A. C. Bell and Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, differed in their accounts of its effects upon German food supplies. Bell—who employed German data—argued that the blockade led to revolutionary uprisings in Germany and caused the collapse of the Kaiser′s administration. Edmonds, on the other hand, supported by Colonel Irwin L. Hunt (who was in charge of civil affairs in the American occupied zone of the Rhineland), held that food shortages were a post-armistice phenomenon caused solely by the disruptions of the German Revolution of 1918–19.

More recent studies also disagree on the severity of the blockade′s impact on the affected populations at the time of the revolution and the armistice. Some hold that the blockade starved Germany and the Central Powers into defeat in 1918, but others maintain that while the German population did indeed go hungry as a result of the blockade, Germany′s rationing system kept all but a few from actually starving to death. German success against the Russians on the Eastern Front culminating in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave Germany access to the resources of Poland and other eastern territories, which did much to counter the effects of the blockade. The armistice on 11 November was forced by events on the Western Front rather than any actions of the civilian population. Also Germany's largest ally Austria-Hungary had already signed an armistice on 3 November 1918, exposing Germany to an invasion from the south.

Nevertheless, it is still accepted that the blockade made a large contribution to the outcome of the war; by 1915, Germany′s imports had already fallen by 55% from their prewar levels and the exports were 53% of what they were in 1914. Apart from leading to shortages in vital raw materials such as coal and non-ferrous metals, the blockade also deprived Germany of supplies of fertiliser that were vital to agriculture. This latter led to staples such as grain, potatoes, meat, and dairy products becoming so scarce by the end of 1916 that many people were obliged to instead consume ersatz products including Kriegsbrot ("war bread") and powdered milk. The food shortages caused looting and riots, not only in Germany, but also in Vienna and Budapest. The food shortages got so bad that Austria-Hungary hijacked ships on the Danube that were meant to deliver food to Germany.

The German government made strong attempts to counter the effects of the blockade; the Hindenburg Programme of German economic mobilisation launched on 31 August 1916, was designed to raise productivity by the compulsory employment of all men between the ages of 17 and 60, and a complicated rationing system initially introduced in January 1915 aimed to ensure that a minimum nutritional need was met, with "war kitchens" providing cheap mass meals to impoverished civilians in larger cities. All these schemes enjoyed only limited success, and the average daily diet of 1,000 calories was insufficient to maintain a good standard of health, resulting by 1917 in widespread disorders caused by malnutrition such as scurvy, tuberculosis, and dysentery.

German official statistics estimated 763,000 civilian malnutrition and disease deaths were caused by the blockade of Germany. This figure was disputed by a subsequent academic study that put the death toll at 424,000. In December 1918 a German government report estimated that the blockade was responsible for the deaths of 762,796 civilians, the report claimed that this figure did not include deaths due to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The figures for the last six months of 1918 were estimated. Maurice Parmelle maintained that "it is very far from accurate to attribute to the blockade all of the excess deaths above pre-war mortality", he believed that the German figures were "somewhat exaggerated". The German claims were made at the time when Germany was waging a propaganda campaign to end the Allied blockade of Germany after the armistice that lasted from November 1918 until June 1919. Also in 1919 Germany raised the issue of the Allied blockade to counter charges against the German use of submarine warfare.
In 1928 a German academic study sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace provided a thorough analysis of the German civilian deaths during the war. The study estimated 424,000 war related deaths of civilians over age 1 in Germany, not including Alsace-Lorraine, the authors attributed these civilian deaths over the pre war level primarily to food and fuel shortages in 1917-1918. The study also estimated an additional 209,000 Spanish flu deaths in 1918 A study sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1940 estimated the German civilian death toll at over 600,000. Based on the above mentioned German study of 1928 they maintained that “A thorough inquiry has led to the conclusion that the number of “civilian” deaths traceable to the war was 424,000, to which number must be added about 200,000 deaths caused by the influenza epidemic”

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