The time for Ireland’s battle is now, the place for Ireland’s battle is here.
James Connolly, Irish republican leader, January 1916
Over Easter 1916 a violent uprising erupted in Dublin.
Divisions over British rule in Ireland had been largely set aside since 1914. Most Irish people supported the war. Men from across the country, both Protestant and Catholic, joined the British Army.
Why did the ‘Easter Rising’ break out?
Irish republican rebels believed an uprising would help gain Ireland independence. Germany tried to send them guns and ammunition. It hoped rebellion in Ireland would divert British troops from the Western Front.
On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, shots rang out on the streets of Dublin. Fierce street fighting followed. But by the end of the week, the rebels were defeated by the Army.
The brutal executions of the rebel leaders would fan the flames of Irish nationalism.
This sporting shotgun was used by Irish republican rebels in 1916. Their insurrection did not go ahead as planned. They resorted to weapons like this because the Royal Navy had intercepted the modern rifles and machine guns which the Germans had shipped to arm them. Many republicans opposed or were reluctant to engage in armed revolt. The Easter Rising was confined to Dublin, with around 1,000 rebels taking part.
Martial law proclamation
The proclamation here confirmed that martial law – rule by the Army - was to continue in Ireland. It had first been imposed on 26 April 1916. After the Easter Rising 1,800 men and women were interned in England after being arrested as suspected republicans. While thousands of Irish soldiers continued to fight and die for the Allied cause, the harsh British response to the rebellion increased sympathy in Ireland for the republican cause.
Photo and note
This photograph show British soldiers in Dublin.
Caught unprepared, they had to recapture rebel-held territory, street by street, house by house. The note was scribbled by republican leader Patrick (or Pádraig) Pearse from his headquarters in the General Post Office. In it, he offers safe passage to a wounded British prisoner needing treatment. He had declared an independent Irish republic just hours previously.
These documents relate to the surrender of the Irish rebels. The first, from the commander of British forces in Dublin, instructs rebel leader Patrick Pearse how to give himself up. The second is a surrender signed by Pearse. It orders the rebel fighters to give up, ‘to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered’.
Field service book & letters
This field service pocket book, struck by a bullet, probably saved the life of Captain Arthur Dickson. The bullet is still embedded in the cover. Dickson’s Sherwood Foresters battalion suffered 183 casualties during bitter fighting against Irish rebels on Dublin’s Mount Street. In a letter to his girlfriend, Jessy, he reveals his brush with death. An estimated 130 British soldiers and police, 60 rebels and 300 civilians were killed or wounded in the Easter Rising.
Memorial postcards and secret report
The leaders of the failed uprising against British rule were tried by court martial. Fifteen of them were shot. The memorial postcards here commemorate two of the executed men. James Connolly, wounded in the chest and ankle, faced the firing squad while tied to a chair. An extract from a secret report sent to King George V sets out the case against Patrick Pearse, ‘shot 3 May’
British troops behind a barricade in Dublin
Playing her last card
‘Everyone is excited about the submarine question... Germany is playing her last card.’
Evelyn, Princess Blücher, February 1917
In 1917 Germany planned to starve Britain out of the war rather than face another battle like the Somme with its huge casualties.
Britain, an island nation, relied on imports from all over the world to supply the war effort and feed its people. Germany ordered its submarines to sink without warning ships heading to and from British ports.
Germany’s leaders were taking a big risk. Neutral America had already warned Germany against waging unrestricted submarine warfare, and American ships were now in the firing line.
Did the German plan work?
Submarine attacks on shipping destroyed millions of tons of goods. By May 1917, Britain was facing defeat. But it found ways to counter the threat, including a ship convoy system.
Britain survived and, fatefully, American anger had been aroused.
Between February and April 1917 German U-boats were at their most deadly.
Germany not only had many more submarines than during their 1915 campaign. They also carried more torpedoes.
Ship after ship, Allied and neutral, was sunk. The success of this underwater campaign relied on surprise and terror. Lurking beneath the waves, U-boats could sink a ship without warning.
Lack of space on board meant they could not pick up survivors from stricken vessels.
Lithograph of U-boat in London
‘The Day Will Come! U-Boats in London!’ boasts this German lithograph of a U-boat on the River Thames. It was found in an abandoned German dugout on the Western Front in 1918. The ‘day’ in question was meant to have occurred by in August 1917. By then, German naval leaders had predicted, five months of submarine attacks on merchant shipping would have brought Britain to its knees through hunger and economic chaos.
U boat posters
The early success of the 1917 U-boat campaign was a real morale boost for Germans. These posters promoted the films U-Boote Heraus! (‘U-Boats Out!’) and Der Magische Gürtel (‘The Magic Belt’), featuring the most successful submarine of all, U-35, which in 25 missions sank 224 ships.
This sea mine was laid by a German submarine - a U-boat - in the Thames Estuary. It was designed to float just below the surface of the water and to detonate when a ship struck one of its horns. 235,000 sea mines were laid by both sides. They turned large areas of sea into a no man’s land for warships and merchant vessels alike. This mine recovered by a British minesweeper in July 1917.
German U-boats sank 2 million tons of merchant shipping between February and April 1917. A desperate British Admiralty changed its strategy. Ships would now travel together in convoys. Groups of 20 to 54 merchant ships would be protected by warships as they neared port. A convoy was just as hard to locate in the middle of a vast sea as a single ship. This greatly reduced the number of targets available to U-Boats. The rate of sinkings plummeted.
Poster and photo of Merchant seamen
Keeping Britain supplied with food came at a cost in human lives.
The poster on your right appeals to the people of Britain not to waste food.
Over 14,000 merchant seamen died in the war - 4,000 of them in just three months during 1917 when the number of successful U-boat attacks on merchant vessels peaked.
Dazzle ships models
These models were used to test ‘Dazzle’, a camouflage scheme for ships invented by artist Norman Wilkinson.
The idea was, wrote Wilkinson in 1917, ‘to paint a ship with large patches of strong colour…which will so distort the form of the vessel that the chances of successful aim by attacking submarines will be greatly decreased.
By the end of the war over 4,000 British ships were painted in Dazzle schemes.
Photo of ship and airship
Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) airships and aeroplanes helped to defend merchant ships and warships as they approached or departed from Britain’s ports. This photograph shows an airship keeping a watch for approaching U-boats. Throughout the war only one ship was sunk by a U-boat while escorted by an aircraft.
Zeebrugge items (photo and document)
In April and May 1918 the Royal Navy raided ports in German-occupied Belgium used by U-boats. The photograph shows three British ‘blockships’, warships filled with concrete - sunk at the entrance to Zeebrugge to stop U-boats getting out. The document is an operational order for HMS Vindictive, sunk as a blockship in the later Ostend raid. The raids were daring, but only partially successful.
Submarine Scout Zero type airship escorting a minelaying ship
Crew from across the British Empire on a British merchant ship