From Wikinormous

An order was given by Churchill, writes Jim Marrs in Rule by Secrecy, changing the rules of war where U-boats and ships normally were given a chance to challenge each other i.e. U-boats were surfaced, also confirming the target not being civilian. The change was to disregard this challenge, forcing submarines to attack and launch submerged, consequently increasing risks to hit neutral targets.

”The first British counter-move, made on my responsibility in 1915 was to arm British merchantmen to the greatest possible extent with guns of sufficient power to deter the Germans from surface attack ... As the U-boats were forced by the progressive arming of the British Mercantile Marine to rely increasingly on underwater attacks they encountered a new set of dangers. The submerged U-boat with its defective vision ran the greatest risk of mistaking neutral for British vessels and of drowning neutral crews, and thus of embroiling Germany with other Great Powers. ”

... Churchill reveals in The World Crisis 1923. Churchill also gave order for ships to remove their hull names and to hoist neutral flags while in British waters.

”We also resorted to the well known ruse de guerre of hoisting false colours in order further to baffle and confuse the enemy.” The World Crisis

Lusitania, the British New York-Liverpool liner was hit by German U-boat torpedo 1915. ca 1200 (of 2000) people died. As a false flag type operation this incident did not directly bring USA in to the war, certainly one major reason though. Apparently it was more or less known that the ship carried tons of war material, (probable reason for the speedy 18 min sinking) giving the Germans a good incentive to actually engage. In any case, as a strategic war effort it wasn't especially well handled risking 2000 lives on a civilian ship. If the Germans knew of weapon freight, Sir Spencer Churchill and Woodrow Wilson knew (or others in compartmentalized chain of command).

Interestingly Churchill's orders was further extended for civilian marine captains;

”to immediately engage the enemy, either with their armament if they possess it, or by ramming if they do not" and he continued then: "Any master who surrenders his ship will be prosecuted" The World Crisis/The Lusitania, Colin Simpson 1972

Which made the life of Charles Fryatt both heroically celebrated for ramming a German U-boat, but with a harsh ending being captured and later executed by the Germans 1916.

Summing up, the directives above among others, more or less erased the line between war vessels and mercantile. If normal civilian ships were encouraged or indeed directly ordered to engage German U-boats and ships we can't say the Germans were not provoked and more or less forced to counteract. The German declaration of ”unlimited U-boat war” can't be said to be more or less devious than the ”Allied and Neutral's” tactics.

<comments />