|In the planning that went into World War One the German Admiralstab made a serious mistake. They anticipated that the British would impose a blockade of Germany but wrongly assumed that it would be a close blockade within sight of German
shores, just as the British had done with France in the Napoleonic Wars. The German plan was to use attrition of the ships in the close blockade line through submarine action and sorties by surface ships to whittle down the strength of the British
Fleet before any major fleet action. In August and September of 1914, when no patrolling British ships were spotted close to Heligoland Bight or along the German coast, sorties were constantly launched to find the location of the blockade line.
These sorties were mostly by submarines. The British were afraid of using a close blockade for this very reason and chose to impose a distant blockade by choking the entrances to the North Sea with a blockade running from the Orkney Islands,
north of Scotland, to the Norwegian coast and the English Channel by a light force of cruisers and destroyers based at Harwich.
As the war progressed the blockade had significant effects. Raw material and especially food stuffs suffered greater and greater shortages. Germany was incapable of growing enough food to support her population. With feeding the military forces
receiving the greatest priority, the diet of the German civilians worsened significantly. There had to be a way to break the blockade. The management of the North German Lloyd Line thought that they had an answer. The solution was to build
extremely large merchant submarines. Two of these unarmed submarines were initially constructed with private funds. Deutschland and Bremen. Flensburger Schiffbau was selected to build the Deutschland and on October 27, 1915 the submarine
was ordered. She was launched on March 28, 1916. She was 213-feet 3-inches (65m) in length overall, with an internal pressure hull 187-feet (57m) in length. Beam was 29-feet 2-inches (8.9m) and draught of 17-feet 5-inches (5.3m). Her standard
displacement was 1,512-tons surfaced and 1,875-tons submerged, with a deep load displacement of 2,272-tons. The machinery coupled to two propellers gave her a top speed of 12.4-knots surfaced and 5.2-knots submerged. She had a tremendous
range of 25,000nm (45,000 km) at 5.5-knots with a submerged range of 65nm (120 km). Her test depth was 160-feet (50m).
On June 23, 1916 Deutschland made her first voyage as a merchant cruiser. She departed Heligoland and headed to Baltimore, which was reached on July 9, 1916. Her 750 ton cargo for the US was among other things, chemical dyes, medicine,
gemstones and diplomatic mail with a total worth of $1,500,000. Only 90 miles in the outbound 3,800 mile voyage were spent submerged. Her route took her north of Scotland. While in Baltimore the crew of the Deutschland were treated as
celebrities, taken out to dinners had honored in organized volksfests. Simon Lake, the US submarine pioneer, visited the Deutschland and entered an agreement with North German Lloyd officials to build merchant submarines for the firm in the
United States. She returned, departing for Bremerhaven on August 2, 1916 and arrived there on August 24. The cargo included, among other things, 341 tons of nickel, 93 tons of tin, 348 tons of rubber, with a total value of $17,500,000, more than
the cost of building the submarine. Deutschland’s second voyage as a merchant cruiser was to New London, Connecticut. Her $10,000,000 cargo for the US included gemstones, medicine and securities. As she was leaving New London on
November 17, her tug boat escort T.A. Scott, Jr. cut in front of the Deutschland. The submarines was not very maneuverable and accidentally rammed the tug boat, which immediately sank with the loss of her five man crew. Deutschland
returned to New London for a week of repairs to her bow. When she left a second time on November 21, she carried cargo that included 6.5 tons of silver bullion. The second mercantile submarine was named the Bremen. Also built by Flensburger
Sciffbau, the Bremen left Bremerhaven in September bound for Norfolk, Virginia with among other cargo credits for Simon Lake to build merchant submarines in the US. Her fate is unknown as she disappeared during the voyage to unknown
causes. U-53 reported on September 28 that she had intercepted a transmission from an unknown source that Bremen was sunk. On September 29 an oil stained life preserver marked Bremen was recovered at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.