WWI German "U" Boat " labels

5/12/2013     Germany, Colonies, States & Areas

“Cinderellas” without the fairy story
We are delighted to offer some scarce German submarine stamp labels alongside a collection of submarine picture postcards.

When Great Britain declared war on Imperial Germany on the 4th August 1914, Germany took every opportunity to describe Britain as the protagonist and instigator. Literature portraying Germany as an innocent participant was encouraged and amongst much else stamp- like labels showing an aggressive Royal Navy held back by a single "U" Boat defending German interests were popular amongst philatelists.

These and similar patriotic designs appeared in newspapers, booklets and on a range of other printed material and although public awareness of stamp designs was high no revenue generating stamps were ever approved or issued by the Postal Service.

Despite this, unofficial propaganda labels were affixed to envelopes that circulated domestically and internationally, these often bore a well- known slogan taken from a poem by Ernst Lissauer that subsequently became the motto of the German armed forces.

'Gott Straffe England' - 'May God Punish England'

This snappy number became a day – to - day utterance, a toast to success, and a slogan written on the walls of damaged and ruined buildings on the battlefields of Northern France. It was also incorporated into the designs of the "Cinderella" stamp labels.

Whilst there are variations in both subject matter and the shape of the often perforated stamp labels, many show technical achievements, including illustrations of Zeppelins, others focused on the achievements of the Imperial Navy's fleet of "U" Boats. They show their silhouettes against different coloured backgrounds often surrounded by a border in the shape of a torpedo.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, one of Queen Victoria's grandsons, was instrumental in the build-up and support given to the German Navy during the first part of the 20th Century. This included the development of submarines. At the outbreak of the War, the German Navy had 29 operational "U" Boats, by the end of the War the number was 142. The early fleet was dismissed by many as an ineffective fighting force, however in late August 1914 a torpedo launched from U-21 sunk the Royal Navy cruiser HMS "PATHFINDER". Then on the 17th September U-9 successfully launched torpedoes that in quick succession, sunk HMS "ABOUKIR", HMS "CRESSY" and HMS "HOGUE", three armed Royal Navy Cruisers on patrol in the North Sea. On the 31st December U-24 sunk the battleship HMS "FORMIDABLE". Submarines had arrived in the public consciousness.

With these successes it is understandable that a country at war would actively publicise this impressive record and the popular "Cinderella" stamp labels were just one medium by which to do so. Another was the picture postcard. Some have artistic designs that graphically show vessels sinking with written inscriptions that claim victory for the Imperial German Navy and others show photographs of the "U" Boats and their victorious crews. Later there were to be images of captured "U" Boats that had been attacked and damaged by Allied forces.

Both countries depended on imports of foodstuffs and essential supplies. For Great Britain these traditionally came from the Empire, including Canada and also from the USA. These included armaments, ammunition and other war related materials. Both nations sought naval supremacy and the "U" Boat fleet was used to enforce a blockade that by the end of hostilities in November 1918, had sunk over 5000 ships with the loss of thousands of lives. The British "Grand Fleet" had to contend with the threat of "U" Boat attacks that came without any warning. There was no radar nor were there echo sonars. The use of depth charges only became effective by March 1918. Submarine-nets and mines were used, as were spotter planes and air-balloons. Perhaps the most successful deterrent was the use of convoys and escorts that accompanied the merchant fleets across the Atlantic and Mediterranean trade routes. This was a different and previously unknown type of naval campaign, one that enabled both sides to make good use of propaganda that offered support and encouragement to the service personnel and population of each nation involved.

One event occurred on the 7th May 1915 that changed the course of the War. Whilst Germany protested its innocence by stating that danger warnings had been issued to passengers with advertisements placed in newspapers, the "U" Boat campaign intensified when unrestricted targets were selected and U-20 attacked and sunk RMS "LUSITANIA" with the loss of 1,198 passengers and crew. A large number of US Citizens perished. Shortly afterwards, as a result of this hostile action, the previously neutral USA entered the War pouring millions of US$, troops, armaments and other resources that contributed to Germany's defeat and capitulation in 1918.

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