The British Blockade of Germany, or the Blockade of Europe, occurred from 1914 to 1919.
British Blockade of Germany
Meanwhile, the British were involved in a real atrocity of their own: a deliberate attempt to starve the Germans with a naval blockade. The British hunger blockade of Germany violated the generally accepted norms of international law codified in several key international agreements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
While a so-called close blockade, where a belligerent stopped traffic with its enemy’s ports by stationing ships within a three-mile limit, was considered legitimate, a distant blockade of the kind in which Britain was engaged was not. In a distant blockade, one side simply declares whole areas of the seas to be off-limits. In this case, the British mined the North Sea so that even neutral ships would travel in peril. So while an opposing force had the right to search ships carrying cargo to its enemy, British mines indiscriminately destroyed anything with which they came into contact. “By sowing mines in international waters,” historian John Coogan explains, “Britain deliberately replaced the belligerent right of visit and search in the North Sea with a new rule: explode and sink.”
Moreover, food intended for civilian use was not considered contraband by anyone—except Britain. But given the relatively mild international response to Britain’s conduct, the British government concluded that “the neutral powers seem to satisfy themselves with theoretical protest.” It was in that spirit that the Germans expected their submarine policy to be accepted as well—but in the case of President Wilson at least, they were in for a surprise.
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