The Navy in the Great War: The U.S. Joins World War I
A time of technological innovation
Throughout World War I, then known as the Great War, German U-boats stalked the U.S. coastline, playing cat-and-mouse with passenger and merchant ships that crossed the Atlantic to supply the Allies.
In Europe, the British and German fleets had fought each other to a stalemate in the Battle of Jutland, destroying about 25 ships, while on land, a generation of young men slaughtered and gassed each other in some of the most horrific fighting the world had ever seen.
The U.S. was officially neutral, and, in fact, much of the public was vehemently opposed to joining the war, according to Dr. Dennis M. Conrad of Navy History and Heritage Command.
Then, Germany avowed unrestricted submarine warfare against all ships in a restricted zone off the British Isles and France, Jan. 31, 1917, thereby putting "aside all restraints of law or of humanity," as President Woodrow Wilson said. U-boats went onto sink a number of American merchant ships over the next few months.