This is the first of three volumes describing the part played by the Merchant Navy during the Great War undertaken by direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence and based on official documents. It takes the story from the outbreak of war to late Spring 1915 the sinking of the Lusitania and the advent of the ocean-going submarine. But as a preliminary to that story the author gives as a background an account of the contribution of British merchant seamen in the past to the country’s maritime history from Saxon times to 1914. Finally we take a look at the men who sailed in the merchant fleet and the conditions in which they served and the evolving relations with the Royal Navy and the situation regarding the naval reserve. In the summer of 1914 the Mercantile Marine consisted of some 170000 men of British birth together with about 100000 fishermen (how many fishermen are left today?). The war at sea in the early months of the war was concerned mainly with German surface raiders and their attacks on British shipping using armed merchant cruisers such as Kronprinz Wilhelm and Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and also naval vessels such as Emden perhaps the most famous of them all. Mines and submarines too were soon a major concern and the steps taken by the Admiralty and other departments to afford protection to the Mercantile Marine are described at length. A most interesting feature is the account of the formation organization and development of The Auxiliary Patrol a great assemblage of small vessels of varied types - trawlers drifters whalers steam-yachts paddle-steamers and so on and the great job they did mine-sweeping and combatting submarines. By the end of the war it consisted of nearly 4000 vessels and nearly 50000 officers and men. Mr Hurd tells a good story full of incident though there is unavoidably a measure of overlapping the official naval history. At times the language is emotive so that it reads more like wartime piece of propaganda rather than a dispassionate objective record of events - our heroes against a merciless not to say cowardly enemy and all that sort of thing.
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