British submarines in World War One

British submarines in World War One

British submarines played a significant role in World War One but arguably never reached their full potential. This was mainly due to the Admiralty’s initial reluctance to accept the Submarine Service as a permanent part of the Royal Navy or to divert funding into the development of new classes of sub.

Even so, wartime Britain boasted the largest submarine service in the world and was the first country to put submarines to sea once war was declared in 1914. While these submarines only made up a small part of the Royal Navy fleets, they were used occasionally as part of battles. This approach sadly rarely worked, with a lack of communication between surface ships and submarines rendering any battlefield relationship between the two almost impossible. This frequently led to friendly fire and confusion during battle, and eventually submarines were used for blockades and the targeting of merchant ships instead.

Despite the failure of the original submarine flotillas, they did eventually find their ‘feet’ and created a number of successful naval and commercial blockades that worked largely via the creation of a fear culture. Eventually, enemies were forced to develop anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tactics to break these blockades, and soon ASW was also at the forefront of research in Britain too.


A British R-class submarine

Click on the links below to find out more about the different areas of submarine and ASW development in Britain during World War One:

MLA Citation/Reference

"British submarines in World War One". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.