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Virtual Museum

German U-boats

Just minutes following the declaration of what would be known as the Great War (and later World War I) was implemented on 4th August 1914, a German liner was captured by a torpedo boat from Gibraltar, followed by an additional three enemy ships the next day. Although the main battlefields of the war were well away from Gibraltar – Spain remained neutral and the Mediterranean was not contested as it later was during World War II – the Rock played an important role in the Allied efforts against the German U-boat campaign. The naval base was in constant use by the Allied warships for supplies and repairs. The Bay of Gibraltar was also being used as a forming-up point for the Allied convoys, while German U-boats stalked the Strait searching for targets. The Royal Garrison Artillery manned fourteen 9.2-inch, eleven 6-inch and seven 4-inch guns. Anti-submarine warfare was in its infancy and it proved impossible to entirely prevent U-boats operating through the Strait. However, in August 1917 the 6-inch guns at Devil’s Gap Battery engaged and sank a German U-boat lying close to the nearby Spanish port of Algeciras. This was the only action seen by Gibraltar’s coastal defences during World War I. Only two days before the end of the war, on 9th November 1918, SM UB-50 torpedoed and sank the British battleship HMS Britannia off Cape Trafalgar to the west of Gibraltar.

The image shows a German U-boat with the Rock in the background, from Die, 24th July 1915.

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