Year
1917

Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare

On this day in 1917, the lethal threat of the German U-boat submarine raises its head again, as Germany returns to the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare it had previously suspended in response to pressure from the United States and other neutral countries.

Unrestricted submarine warfare was first introduced in World War I in early 1915, when Germany declared the area around the British Isles a war zone, in which all merchant ships, including those from neutral countries, would be attacked by the German navy. A string of attacks on merchant ships followed, culminating in the sinking of the British ship Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. Although the Lusitania was a British ship and it was carrying a supply of munitions—Germany used these two facts to justify the attack—it was principally a passenger ship, and the 1,201 people who drowned in its sinking included 128 Americans. The incident prompted U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to send a strongly worded note to the German government demanding an end to German attacks against unarmed merchant ships. By September 1915, the German government had imposed such strict constraints on the operation of the nation’s submarines that the German navy was persuaded to suspend U-boat warfare altogether.

German navy commanders, however, were ultimately not prepared to accept this degree of passivity, and continued to push for a more aggressive use of the submarine, convincing first the army and eventually the government, most importantly Kaiser Wilhelm, that the U-boat was an essential component of German war strategy. Planning to remain on the defensive on the Western Front in 1917, the supreme army command endorsed the navy’s opinion that unrestricted U-boat warfare against the British at sea could result in a German victory by the fall of 1917. In a joint audience with the kaiser on January 8, 1917, army and naval leaders presented their arguments to Wilhelm, who supported them in spite of the opposition of the German chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who was not at the meeting. Though he feared antagonizing the U.S., Bethmann Hollweg accepted the kaiser’s decision, pressured as he was by the armed forces and the hungry and frustrated German public, which was angered by the continuing Allied naval blockade and which supported aggressive action towards Germany’s enemies.

On January 31, 1917, Bethmann Hollweg went before the German Reichstag government and made the announcement that unrestricted submarine warfare would resume the next day, February 1. The destructive designs of our opponents cannot be expressed more strongly. We have been challenged to fight to the end. We accept the challenge. We stake everything, and we shall be victorious.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Puccini’s La bohème premieres in Turin, Italy

By the time the first of his three career-defining operas had its premiere, Giacomo Puccini was no longer living a life of impoverished artistic struggle. His previous opera, Manon Gascaut, had made his name in the world of Italian opera, and, more important, it had earned him a ...read more

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years of exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government under Khomeini’s ...read more

Oxford Dictionary debuts

On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. Today, the OED is the definitive authority on the meaning, pronunciation and history of ...read more

Operation Plan 34A commences

U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces initiate Operation Plan (Oplan) 34A, which calls for raids by South Vietnamese commandos, operating under American orders, against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations.Although American forces were not directly involved in the ...read more

Nixon announces his candidacy for president

Richard M. Nixon announces his candidacy for the presidency. Most observers had written off Nixon’s political career eight years earlier, when he had lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election.Two years after losing to Kennedy, Nixon ran for governor of California and lost in a ...read more

NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk posts 103rd shutout

On this day in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk earns his 103rd shutout, setting an NHL record for most regular-season shutouts that still stands today.Terrance Gordon Sawchuk was born December 28, 1929, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Nicknamed “Ukey” for his Ukrainian heritage, he ...read more

Mormon president goes underground

John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, goes “underground” to avoid arrest and continue resisting federal demands for reforms within the community of Latter-day Saints.A former Methodist minister, Taylor converted to Mormonism in 1836, not long after Joseph Smith founded ...read more

“The Corsair” by Lord Byron is published

On this day in 1814, Lord Byron’s “The Corsair” is published and sells some 10,000 copies on its first day in print. The poem was one of several gloomy works he produced at a time when he was engaged in several ill-fated love affairs.Byron was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1788 ...read more

Official registration of Hollywood

On this day in 1887, Harvey Wilcox officially registers Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office. Wilcox and his wife, Daeida, had moved to Southern California four years earlier from Topeka, Kansas, where Harvey had made his fortune in real estate. They bought 160 ...read more

Columbia mission ends in disaster

On this day in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia breaks up while entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board.The Columbia‘s 28th space mission, designated STS-107, was originally scheduled to launch on January 11, 2001, but was delayed numerous ...read more

Serial killer Ted Bundy strikes again

On this day in 1974, University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy disappears from her apartment and is killed by Ted Bundy. The murder marked Bundy’s entry into the ranks of serial killers as he had recently attacked his first victim, Sharon Clarke, in her Seattle home. By ...read more

U.N. condemns PRC for aggression

By a vote of 44 to 7, the United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution condemning the communist government of the People’s Republic of China for acts of aggression in Korea. It was the first time since the United Nations formed in 1945 that it had condemned a nation as an ...read more

Texas secedes

On this day in 1861, Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union when a state convention votes 166 to 8 in favor of the measure.The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston.A staunch Unionist,Houston’s election in ...read more

Ford GT makes TV debut in Super Bowl ad

During the Super Bowl on this day in 2004, the first TV commercial airs for the Ford GT, a new, high-performance “supercar” based on Ford’s GT40 race car, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France four years in a row starting in 1966. The TV ad for the two-seater ...read more