This compelling book explores Germany's campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in World War I, which marked the onset of total war at sea. Noted historian Lawrence Sondhaus shows how the undersea campaign, intended as an antidote to Britain's more conventional blockade of German ports, ultimately brought the United States into the war. Although the German people readily embraced the argument that an "undersea blockade" of Britain enforced by their navy's Unterseeboote (U-boats) was the moral equivalent of the British navy's blockade of German ports, international opinion never accepted its legitimacy.
Sondhaus explains that in their initial, somewhat confused rollout of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1915, German leaders underestimated the extent to which the policy would alienate the most important neutral power, the United States. In rationalizing the risk of resuming the unrestricted campaign in 1917, they took for granted that, should the United States join the Allies, German U-boats would be able to stop the transport of an American army to France. But by bringing the United States into the war, while also failing to stop the deployment of its troops to Europe, unrestricted submarine warfare ultimately led to Germany's defeat. Because US manpower proved decisive in breaking the stalemate on the Western Front and securing victory for the Allies, Sondhaus argues that Germany's decision to stake its fate on the U-boat campaign ranks among the greatest blunders of modern history.