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The First Shot was the Last Straw: The Sinking of the T.S.S. Athenia in September 1939 and British Naval Policy in the Second World War

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On 3 September 1939 the passenger liner Athenia, sailing from Liverpool to Montreal, was sunk by the German submarine U-30 with a loss of 112 lives. This action, while not intended by the German government, was in violation of Germany's commitments under the London Naval Treaty and it complicated its desire to keep hostilities confined to Poland. The British government and Admiralty, confronted with an attack on an unarmed passenger liner within nine hours of the declaration of war, and several freighters shortly thereafter, concluded that the German Navy intended to wage unrestricted submarine warfare. This article shows that as a result of the sinking of the Athenia, the government and the Admiralty implemented convoys within the first week of the war, sooner and more completely than had been intended. Naval ship building priorities were also subsequently adjusted to quickly provide escort vessels for the newly organized convoys.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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