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Convoy controversy and success

Convoy controversy

In late April 1917 the War Cabinet discussed the 'convoy controversy'. On 23 April Prime Minister David Lloyd George pressed for the introduction of convoys for merchant vessels but the First Sea Lord resisted the measure and was instructed to make another report to the War Cabinet. When Lord Jellicoe made the report on the submarine menace at the next Cabinet, there was no mention of convoy as a possible antidote to the U-boat attacks. 

The War Cabinet felt they did not have sufficient information to make informed decisions. It was therefore decided on 25 April 1917 that the Prime Minister formally visit the Admiralty to conduct his own investigation. Between 26 April and Lloyd George's visit on 30 April, the Admiralty decided convoys would be given a thorough trial and their structure re-organised.

The British encountered problems introducing convoys on a large scale. Availability of suitable escort vessels to protect the merchantmen was seen as a considerable problem. The Admiralty and War Cabinet hoped that the US Navy would be able to assist.

Convoy success

Due to convoying merchant vessel losses rapidly decreased, reducing the pressure on food supply and imports. The most important domestic and political consequence was the loss of confidence in Lord Jellicoe as First Sea Lord and Sir Edward Carson as First Lord of the Admiralty. Geddes replaced Carson on 20 July 1917 while Lord Jellicoe was dismissed on Christmas Eve 1917. He was succeeded by his deputy Vice Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss

German attacks on Scandinavian convoys by Light Cruisers and then Destroyers were duly reported to the Cabinet during December 1917. 

Other means of preventing German submarines attacking Allied and neutral shipping were put before the Cabinet; most notably the plans to close the German bases in Ostend and Zeebrugge with block-ships in 1918. 

Up to the very end of hostilities, the activity of German submarines attracted War Cabinet interest. Aspects of the naval war that were put before the War Cabinet, either for discussion or for their information, lacked the excitement of fleet to fleet encounters like Jutland. Instead, the war at sea in this period was a war of attrition - similar to the land war on the Western Front.

One of the things demonstrated by Jutland was that the southern North Sea had been turned into a maritime no-man's land for traditional battle fleets by mines and submarines. The impact of the sea war in 1917 and 1918 was the direct fallout from Jutland and it continued to influence the Royal Navy even after the fighting had stopped.