On the 1st February 1917, following Germany’s announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Norwegian government forbade any foreign submarines entering and using Norwegian territorial waters. Norway was a neutral country and this statement was issued in an effort to keep Norway neutral. Consequently, on the 13th February 1917 the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland published a joint protest against German unrestricted submarine warfare.
Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on 1st February 1917 after Kaiser Wilhelm had signed the order the previous day. Admiral von Hortzendorff had proposed sinking 600,000 tons of shipping per month in a bid to halt the import of much needed food and raw materials into Britain. He argued that should the submarine attacks prove to be successful then Britain would soon be unable to continue and would sue for peace. Germany’s military campaign was not going well on the Western Front, with 190 Allied divisions facing 150 German divisions paving the way for a successful Allied offensive. With the German navy holed up in in its home port of Kiev the British naval blockade caused severe food shortages with the real danger of civilian starvation. The unrestricted submarine warfare was initially successful with the British losing 105 ships transporting 500,000 tons of imported goods in February 1917.
As a response to the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on the 3rd February 1917, President Woodrow Wilson announced to the joint session of Congress that the United States of America had broken diplomatic relations with Germany. The president did not declare that the U.S. would enter the war against Germany, although it was taken for granted war was inevitable and preparations for war were being made.
On the 14th February 1917, the British Government informed the Japanese Government that all Japanese claims to German possessions north of the equator will be supported by Britain. Japan was to reciprocate this for the equivalent claim south of the equator.
On the 14th February 1917, the British Government pledged to the British Parliament, the war aim was that Alsace and Lorraine would be restored to France at the successful end of the war when Germany was defeated.
On the 17th February 1917, The Nationalist Party of Australia was formed by a merger between the National Labour Party and the Commonwealth Liberal Party. The Nationalist Party of Australia was the name of the supporters of the “World War I Conscription Campaign” were given by the Labour Prime Minister Billy Hughes. From this coalition the new Australian Government was formed.
In the Dover Straights on the 25th February 1917 a number of German torpedo boats attempted a raid against the Dover Barrage and Allied shipping. One flotilla of torpedo boats attacked the Dover Barrage, which consisted floating mines and wire netting fixed to the sea bed. Another flotilla operating off the Kent coast was spotted before they could shell Margate and Broadstairs. Both flotillas withdrew and escaped without any major contact with the British Dover Patrol.
On the Somme the German forces began their retreat from the south bank of the Ancre toward the Hindenburg Line (Siegfried Stellung) on the 25th February 1917. The Hindenburg Line was a strong defensive line which had been built during the winter of 1916/1917 at the orders of the German high command. The Hindenburg Line had been straightened out as much as possible in an effort to shorten the line employing less troops for defence and to release additional forces as reserve troops. The frozen ground of January/February 1917 allowed the Allies to advance following the German army’s strategic withdrawal to the prepared Hindenburg Line. After the capture by the Australians of Boom Ravine a thaw had begun which hindered the Allied advance. Whilst withdrawing the Germans employed a scorched earth policy by destroying anything useful to the Allies. Both the Germans and the Allies suffered equally on the Somme and each side, in future engagements, were to use the lessons they learnt from the battle.
RMS “Laconia”, commanded by Captain Irvine, was torpedoed on the 25th February 1917 by the German submarine SMU-50 whilst returning from the USA to England. “Laconia” was a Cunard ocean liner carrying 75 passengers and 217 crew when the torpedo struck the starboard side. As she did not sink immediately a second torpedo struck her on the starboard side in the engine room and finally “Laconia” sank. She had been converted to an armed merchant cruiser in 1914 and patrolled the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans before returning to the UK in June 1916. She was handed back to Cunard and resumed service as a passenger liner until she was torpedoed west of Fastnet. 12 people were killed, six crew and six passengers, of whom two were Americans. On the 26th February 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress to ask for powers to arm all merchant ships in view of Germany’s resumed unrestricted submarine attacks, and on the 27th February 1917 he considered the sinking of “Laconia” an “overt act”. This and public support encouraged him to start proceedings which would bring the United States into the war.
An Anglo-French Conference assembled at Calais on the 26th February 1917 to discuss cooperation and co-ordination of the army operations. This proposal was for Robert Nivelle, French Commander-in-Chief to be overall commander with Sir Douglas Haig being subordinate to Nivelle. The plan suggested by Nivelle was for the British to take over 20 miles of the French lines. The Anglo-French forces would operate wearing-out attacks which would keep German reserve troops occupied between Arras and the Oise. Haig had already agreed with the previous French commander, Joseph Joffre, that the British would launch wearing-out attacks during 1917. Haig requested written confirmation from Nivelle that if the plan did not succeed in forcing a general retreat by the Germans, then the French would take over the British line in order to free up British reserves. Haig wanted these reserves for his planned Flanders Offensive. Friction between Nivelle and Haig was further strained when the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George backed Nivelle because of his success at Verdun.
On the 28th February 1917, United States President Woodrow Wilson released to the American press, the text of the Zimmerman Telegram. The telegram was an internal diplomatic communication, sent on the 19th January 1917, from the German Foreign Office proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of America entering the war. British Intelligence had broken the German codes and were able to translate the telegram into English and transmit it to the Americans who had verification from the telegraph company files in the United States the telegram was genuine. The Germans were not aware their codes had been broken and devious stories were spread about to ensure the British were able to maintain their surveillance of the German airwaves. The Zimmerman Telegram together with Germanys’ unrestricted submarine warfare were reasons the United States would enter the Great War on the Allied side.
By the end of February 1917, German submarines, mines and destroyers had sunk 308 British, Allied and neutral ships. The loss amounted to 546,000 tons gross. German naval commanders had calculated that Germany would need to destroy 600,000 tons of shipping per month in an effort to deprive Britain of materials and food therefore forcing them to negotiate for peace. The first month of unrestricted German submarine warfare did not meet Germany’s target of the Allies losses.
The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign
On the 4th February 1917, Sa’id Halim resigned as Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. The Grand Vizier was the equivalent of Prime Minister. He had been Grand Vizier from 1913 and was one of the government ministers who signed the Ottoman-German Alliance. The Committee of Union and Progress was a liberal reform movement wishing to modernise the Ottoman Empire and by 1917 had taken control of the Imperial Government of the Ottoman Empire. Sad Halim’s continued clashes with the Committee of Union and Progress led to his resignation.
The Senussi were a religious sect resident in Libya and Egypt who were persuaded by the Ottoman Empire to raise jihad and encourage insurrection in Egypt. The Senussi Campaign ended on the 8th February 1917 when the British Empire forces defeated the Senussi. The campaign began in North Africa in November 1915, when the Senussi attacked British-occupied Egypt from the west. This campaign was designed to divert British forces away from the war against the Ottoman Empire. After the defeat of the Senussi, a peace was negotiated and the area was quiet for the rest of the war.
Following the slow advance of Sir Frederick Maude’s British troops after the Battle of Khadairi Bend, he launched an attack on Kut-al-Amara on the 23rd February 1917. The Turkish commander, Karabekir Bey, saw his forces overwhelmed and authorised a skilfully-managed retreat from Kut on the 24th February 1917 which ended the 1917 Battle of Kut. The Turkish retreat was pursued by British naval gunboats but the cavalry was unable to offer much assistance owing to well-sited Turkish machine guns. The Turkish army was faced with further difficulties when they were repeatedly attacked by local Marsh Arabs at every opportunity. The successful British advance came to a stop approximately 100 miles beyond Kut. Buoyed up by this success Maude hardly paused before advancing on the 25th February 1917 onto Baghdad which was to fall to the British the following month.