** First World War I: Naval War Belhian North Sea ports

World War I Naval Campaigns: Belgian North Sea Ports--The Triangle

World War I Ostend
Figure 1.--This is the scene at the St. Peter and Paul Church in Ostend, built only a few years before the War. We see nuns surveying the damage. Amid the rubble are bodies of women abd children. The post-card back photograph is undated, but we believe was probably the result of the British effort to close down the German naval operations in the Flemish Triangle -- Ostsend, Zeebrugge, and Bruges (April 1918). The postcard apparently camr from the estate of Arno Elsner (from Dresdeny). This card may have come from his brother Paul Elsner, in the Imperial Navy, who was a bandsman and was connected to a U Boat unit that operated friom Burges.

Most of the continental North Sea coast is covered by the Denmark and the Netherlands. The German invasion of Belgium which launched World War I did gain them some valuable North Sea ports. The Germans suceeded in occupying almost all of Belgium (Augist 1914). Belgimn had only a small North Sea coast, but it included startegically placed Ostend and Zeebrugge with canal connections to Bruges, a large inland city. Ostend and Zeebrugge were fishing ports that developed into popular resort towns because of the beaches. where the Geramns develp[ed a major naval base. Adm. Ludwig von Schröder (1854-1933) was given command of the Marinekorps Flandern, the German force that occupied the area. He immeduately realized that these bases could be used by samm torpedo-boats and submarines to strike at the supply libes crossing the Channel to support the Western Front. The Germans called this position the 'Triangle' and by 1917 was a major base with powerful shore guns to protect the unstallatioins from British naval fire. This became critical when the Germans reintroduced Unrestricted Submarine warfare (1917). The Belgian ports were used not onlyfor U-Boats breaking out into the North Sea, but because they were close to cross-Channel shipping lanes suppying the British Army on the Western Front. Small German boats from these ports harried the British. But the primary threat was the U-boat bases in Burges which cvould enter the North Sea at Ostend and Zeebrugge. The Geramns, rejecting an American effort at a negitiated peace, reintroduced Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (February 1917). This brought America into the War, but made the U-boats far more effective and successful. The resulting shipping losses were a real danger to the British war effort. Thus there was renewed importance for the British to try again to close down the ports. A limited 1917 attack had largely failed. The British had been considering a second attack on the Belgian ports. The small torpedo boat raids on Channel traffic had bee dustractibg, but the U-boat crisis was a major threat. It resulted in a second and larger attempts to close down the ports. The Flemish Triangle had become Germany's most heavily defended U-boat base. The Royal Navy launched the second large-scale attack (April 23, 1918). Some 136 ships simultaneously attacked Zeebrugge and Ostend. This took place as German Troops had lauched their Spring Offensive to crack the Western Front wide open.


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Created: 6:24 AM 10/26/2021
Last updated: 6:24 AM 10/26/2021