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The Kaiser’s determination to starve Britain into surrender and the development of his Navy and the U-boats in particular meant that Britain’s merchant navy was in the front line throughout the Great War.

This book charts the progress of the war at sea which began with the sinking of the oil tanker San Wilfrido off Cuxhaven only eight hours after the official declaration of war. The merchantman Glitra was the first victim of a German U-boat (U-17) on 20 October 1914 – she was to be joined by many, many more. As the war on land intensified so the naval struggle grew ever more bitter. As vividly described there were many incidents of atrocious behavior, amounting to war crimes, by the attackers against their hapless victims; sinking of lifeboats, machine-gunning of survivors, attacks without any warning designed to cause maximum casualties.

We learn of instances where the weak gallantly fought back such as the duel between Captain Bissett-Smith’s Otaki (with one gun) and the heavily armed German surface raider Möwe. Although he went down with his ship, Captain Smith was posthumously awarded the VC, and remains the only merchant seaman so honored.

War under the Red Ensign contains many inspiring and shocking accounts of war at sea and is a gripping read.

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