HC Deb 05 March 1918 vol 103 cc1879-80

I turn now to our measures against the submarine. I expressed the opinion in a previous statement to this House that the submarine menace is held, but is not yet mastered. From the figures at present before me I see no reason to depart from that opinion. The submarine is being destroyed in increasing numbers, and as our methods develop I feel confident that the numbers will still further increase. We know that there is a growing reluctance upon the part of their crews to put to sea. I am referring particularly to those which operate in the North Sea, North Atlantic, and English Channel. I think it would not be an unduly favourable estimate to say that in recent months the chances against a submarine returning from its voyage in these Home waters are about one in four or one in five, and that for some months now we believe that we and the American Forces in Home waters have been sinking submarines as fast as they have been built. In the past the enemy has attributed the decreasing measure of his success to the large reduction in the number of vessels at sea. In my previous statement to the House I showed that this excuse was of no avail. It is still of no avail, as the sailings for February are practically equal to the average for the last six months.

The efforts of the Royal Navy and our Allies to detect and destroy submarines are being steadily developed. I am pleased to be able to give the assurance that the large programme of anti-submarine craft and devices which the Allied Navies embarked upon is being pushed forward with all possible speed, although the lag in the mercantile shipbuilding is reflected here also. Nevertheless, we and our Allies are now able to devote more of our resources than has hitherto been possible to the Mediterranean, which in the past has been regarded by the North Sea enemy submarine commanders as affording something of a "rest cure" and a happy hunting ground. I hope, however, that the steps which we and our Allies are taking and which I have already mentioned to the House, will alter matters in those waters to the enemy's detriment at no very distant date. I have already referred to the enemy's publication of tonnage sunk which he issued from time to time, and in studying those particulars I have been interested to observe the progressive rate of exaggeration which he has felt obliged to adopt in order to hearten his people. These figures furnish, I think, a further testimony, if it were needed, of the steady decline in value of "Submarine Warfare Stock" on the Berlin market. The House may be interested to note the increases. The rate of exaggeration in the second quarter is twice the first quarter, the third and fourth quarters are roughly three and four times the first quarter's rate of exaggeration, and the month of January more than four and a-half times. In arriving at these rates of increase I have allowed for every damaged ship being reported by the submarine commanders in their returns as a sunken ship. The full exaggeration above actual sinkings is. therefore, much higher.