HC Deb 16 November 1917 vol 99 cc734-6

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the very favourable Return of Shipping Losses published yesterday gives good ground for believing that the submarine menace is being mastered to such an extent as to encourage the confidence that this reduced rate of loss will continue?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Eric Geddes)

I am very glad my right hon. Friend has put this question. The good report of tonnage sunk by enemy submarines in last week, and, indeed, the comparatively favourable reports for the last two months, ought not to be taken ac indicating that the submarine menace is a thing of the past, or is defeated.

In the statement I made in this House on the 1st of November I said that the enemy's "attack on our trade is being held," but that it was not defeated I also stated as plainly as I could that, on the best information I had, the enemy was building submarines faster than we were destroying them, but that our methods were improving, and that I looked with confidence to the defeat of the submarine menace eventually.

I also pointed out that, although we were now straining every nerve to increase our merchant shipbuilding—as were our Allies—we were not at present maintaining the mercantile marine tonnage against the depredations of the enemy submarines. I see no reason in what has happened since, or in the favourable results of last week, to qualify or modify in any way what I have said as publicly as possible, both in this House and elsewhere, and which I crave the indulgence of the House to permit me to repeat:

  1. (1) That the calls upon the merchant shipping of the world for the waging of war are so great at the present time that nothing should be left unsaid or undone which will bring home to the people of this country, and of all Allied countries, that economy in everything that is sea-borne has a direct, vital, and early result upon the successful prosecution of the War.
  2. (2) That the shipyards are short of men and women, and that all the labour that can be saved from unnecessary work or production, and diverted to the shipyards, will have a direct effect upon the winning of the War.
Lastly, I would earnestly beg the House and the country not to be uplifted or cast down by one good or bad week or month in tonnage sinkings. The steady downward curve of sinkings since April shows that we are holding and, for the present, mastering the submarine. The rise in merchant shipbuilding, present and proposed, shows that we are counteracting his efforts.

But I repeat once more, we must have rigid economy. We must have increased output in marine engine shops and shipyards.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give us any information as to the destruction of enemy submarines? Is that equally favourable?


I am afraid I cannot add anything to what I said in my statement on that subject.