Great Britain Comes Close to Starvation in World War One

Great Britain Comes Close to Starvation in World War One

German U-Boats Played Havoc with British Food Imports in World War One.

While we associate German U-Boats primarily with World War Two, they played an active role in World War One and came close to cutting off Great Britain from her food imports. The number of merchant ships sunk by the primitive German U-boats of the first war is astonishing.

Partly this was due to the stupidity and mule-headed stubbornness of the British Admiralty who refused to put into place a convoy system which had been used in every war fought by the British against a maritime power back through the ages.

Such a system had been used by Great Britain in centuries past and the instructions from the 1700s on how to form and escort a convoy don’t read much differently than those issued late in World War One.

Fortunately, the Royal Navy had leaned its lesson and merchant ships were ordered to sail in convoys almost as soon as the war had broken out. In a burst of foresight, the Admiralty had actually put in place the structure and personnel to implement this before the war came.



World War One British Ministry of Food poster issued in 1917 urging people to eat less bread since Great Britain had to import a significant of her wheat supplies.

(all images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Below is the commentary on this poster from the Imperial War Museum.

“An enormous, crusty loaf of bread, marked ‘EAT LESS BREAD’, sits on the grassy top of coastal chalk cliffs. In the background, partly obscured by the loaf, are silhouettes of warships of the British Grand Fleet set against a vivid yellow sky. text: SAVE THE WHEAT AND HELP THE FLEET. EAT LESS BREAD.”

“During the First World War, merchant shipping bringing imported food supplies into Britain was extremely vulnerable to German U Boat attack. By 1917, 400 Allied ships a month were being sunk. Although wheat was imported from new sources and Britain’s own harvest reached record levels, the government actively encouraged economy.

“The poster is neither subtle nor sophisticated. However, it does give an interesting insight into the controlled war economy established by Lloyd George. Not only was industry reorganised and food supplies rationed, but also individual freedoms were radically constrained. The poster calls on the individual to voluntarily contribute to these changes and makes a direct link between their actions and the wider war effort.” (Commentary from the Imperial War Museum)





 Another World War One poster issued by the British Ministry of Food urging people to eat less bread.






Of course, complete victory depends on each citizen not eating so much damn bread! 



Posted by writer Charles McCain, author of the World War Two naval epic:

An Honorable German


“A truly epic and stirring tale of war, love, and the sea. An Honorable German is a remarkable debut novel by a writer who…seems he was an eyewitness to the history he portrays in such vivid detail. An original and surprising look at World War II from the other side.”

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By | 2014-04-03T15:04:43+00:00 April 4th, 2014|British Empire, Charles McCain, Convoys, Great Britain, Imperial Germany, submarine, u boat, u boot, United Kingdom, World War One|Comments Off on Great Britain Comes Close to Starvation in World War One

About the Author:

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: