Page 3499

3499 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-THE GREAT WAR.

system of fortifications containing many

enormous guns, while the danger from submarines in such an attack would have been

very great.

From the outset the British determined

to play the game safely, to risk no great

disaster. They firmly believed that, if

they could retain control of the sea, they

would ultimately be able to dictate the

terms of peace; and they knew that it

was to the last degree vital to their own

peace and safety for them to retain that

control. Great Britain is dependent for

much the larger part of her food supply

upon other nations. If her fleet had been

destroyed and the Germans had gained

control of the sea, they would not only

have been able to land troops in England

and conquer her colonies at leisure, but

they would also have been able to subject

her to a ruinous blockade against which it

would have been useless to struggle. A

"single error might end the history of

England." The British were resolved,

therefore, to take no foolish chances but to

confine themselves to keeping the German

navy and merchant marine penned up in

German harbors.

Even this task was by no means an

easy one. The cession of Heligoland to

Germany in 1890 had left Great Britain

without any naval base near the German

coast, and blockading vessels were compelled to operate from English and Scotch

harbors. This difficulty was not an insuperable one, and, if it had not been for

submarines, the task of patrolling the

North Sea coast of Germany would have

been comparatively easy. Events soon

showed, however, that a close blockade

gave the ubiquitous wasps too many opportunities to get in their work of destruction;

and ultimately the British merely kept

small patrol boats, such as destroyers and

also their own submarines, on the watch

for any attempt on the part of the