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Germany[]

History[]

While various "Germanic" peoples have occupied northern-central Europe for thousands of years, the modern political entity known as "Germany" is extremely young, created almost single-handedly by the imperialistic Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck some 140 years ago. During its brief existence Germany has had a profound effect - for good and for bad - on human history.

Climate and Terrain[]

Germany encompasses a variety of terrains, from snow-covered mountains in the south to rolling hills in the west to the flatlands of the east to the coast in the north. It is crossed by several major rivers which provide water for crops and transport for goods. Its hills and mountains are poor with natural resources and its plains are not very fertile. Germany has a temperate climate and abundant rainfall, ideal for European-style agriculture.

Pre-History[]

For centuries northern-central Europe has been occupied by Germanic people, roughly defined as people who speak Germanic languages (rather than say the Romanic languages of Italy, France and Spain). Evidence suggests that Germanic tribes lived in northern Germany as far back as the Bronze Age. It appears that during this period Southern Germany was originally populated by peoples of Celtic origin; they were however eventually "Germanized" as the Germanic tribes' influence spread south. At first a new culture called Celti-German came but eventually this region was fully Germanized.

The Romans[]

The first historical information on the Germanic tribes comes to us from about 50 BC, when the Roman general Julius Caesar encountered and fought various tribes while conquering the province of Gaul (an area roughly encompassing modern France). Caesar established the eastern border of Gaul at the Rhine River, beyond which most of the "barbaric" German tribes lived.

The Romans and Germanic people maintained an uneasy peace (punctuated by various raids and border skirmishes) for some forty years until approximately 10 BC, when the Roman armies invaded Germanic territory from two directions, crossing the Rhine to the west and the Danube to the south. This proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation: the barbarians were astonishingly tough opponents and a number of Roman legions were destroyed. The humiliated Romans retreated to the previous borders of the Danube and the Rhine, no further incursions were attempted for several centuries, and the two sides coexisted more or less peacefully until 350 AD.

During that period there was a good deal of commerce between the Romans and the Germans, with the Germans trading raw material in exchange for Roman manufactured and luxury goods. Over time the Germans learned advanced agricultural techniques from the Romans, and they even began using Roman money.

Enter the Huns[]

As the fourth century progressed, the Germanic tribes began to come under increased pressure from "Hunnish" tribes migrating into Germanic territory from further east. This pushed the Germanic people into Roman territory. Over the next fifty-odd years parts of Rome were overrun by the Visigoths, Suebi and Vandals. The city of Rome itself was sacked several times, and several Roman emperors died fighting the invaders. The Romans eventually came to terms with some of the invaders, granting them territory and some measure of protection from the advancing Huns.

With the death of Attila in 435 the Hun Empire collapsed, and the Germanic tribes no longer needed Rome's protection. A number of tribes declared their independence from Rome, and within a short period a Visigoth kingdom was established in southwest Gaul, a Burgundian kingdom was declared in southeast Gaul, a Frankish kingdom was established in the north, and the Lombard kingdom was created on the Danube – and the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist.

The Franks[]

Once established in north-western Gaul, the Franks (the Germanic peoples in Roman Gaul) began to expand eastward across the Rhine and back into non-Romanized Germanic territory, where the non-Romanized Germanic tribes remained as stubbornly independent as ever. The subjugation of the tribes spanned three centuries of war, conquest, rebellion, treachery, punishment, and more war. Religion was one of the great impediments to peace: the Franks had become Christian and they sought to spread the gospel into the barbarian lands. The Germanic tribes were pagans but quickly abandoned their religion.

The Franks themselves were not a unified monolithic entity: they spent as much time fighting themselves as they did battling external foes. The earliest line of rulers, the Merovingians, remained in power until the middle of the seventh century, when they were overthrown by the Carolingians, former stewarts of the Merovingians. The Carolingians were blessed with a series of extremely able kings who, allied with the Catholic Church, extended Frankish power across much of central Europe.

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire[]

The greatest of the Carolingians, Charlemagne (742-814) was a brilliant military leader and a canny politician. He continued his father's and grandfather's subjugation of the Germanic tribes, and he extended his empire into southern France and then Italy. In exchange for protecting Rome from the Saracens and the Byzantines, the Pope crowned him Emperor. Today Charlemagne is considered to be one of the founders of France and of Germany, not to mention the first man to unite Western Europe since the Romans.

Upon Charlemagne's death, his only son Louis I (Louis the Pious) assumed the throne. Louis had more than one son, and they soon deposed of him and fought bloody wars about the empire. Many years would pass before any single person would again rule so large a portion of Europe.

The Rise of Germany (Part I)[]

Louis the Pious' son, Louis the German, inherited the eastern portion of the Frankish Empire, in what would become Medieval Germany. Much of his reign was spent fighting the Slavs, the Vikings and his brothers, inheritors of the middle and western portions of Charlemagne's empire (the areas which would later become France and the Benelux countries). Louis the German ruled for some 50 years (ca. 825-876), providing political stability to his war-torn kingdom. When not engaged in battle with his neighbors, Louis was an early patron of German letters who promoted the creation of monasteries in his kingdom.

The Middle Ages[]

In the two centuries following Louis' reign, power devolved to local authorities, resulting in a patchwork of smaller mostly independent duchies who became independent political units in everything but name. Following the death of the last Carolingian German king, the German dukes elected first a Frankish duke to be king, but when he proved incompetent the title went to a Saxon duke.

The Saxons remained in power for some centuries. They successfully held off the attacks of the eastern barbarians (though an attempt to expand German power east proved disastrous). By the late 10th century Otto I had invaded and conquered much of the Slavic lands in the east. Pope John XII crowned him Emperor, beginning a powerful alliance between the German state and the Church that lasted over a century.

This alliance was not permanent, however. Eventually, the popes grew to resent the German kings' increasing power over the Church's property and personnel. Reformers within the Church decried the corruption of bishops and abbots who purchased their positions from kings and duchies (the sin of "simony"), claiming that only the pope should make such appointments. Matters reached a peak in 1075, when King Henry IV demanded that Pope Gregory VII abdicate; Gregory responded by excommunicating Henry. Facing a civil war, Henry was forced to beg the pope for forgiveness. The pope gave it, but Henry was badly weakened and was unable to quash the rebellion, which dragged on for some 20 years. Although Henry IV survived, the German monarchy was permanently weakened by the struggle.

During this period German power continued to grow in Central Europe, as German kings and duchies conquered and colonized non-German territory to the east and west. King Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa), who reigned from 1152–1190, campaigned to reconquer Lombardy and Italy. Although unsuccessful against the Lombards, he (and his heirs) did make substantial gains in Italy. Frederick died in 1190, while leading the ill-fated Third Crusade towards the Holy Land. According to legend he drowned while bathing.

The Fall of Germany (Part I)[]

Frederick's heirs were unable to unify the increasingly fragmented Germany, and when Frederick II, Barbarossa's grandson, died in 1250, the crown was left vacant for some time. Although others would eventually claim the crown, none would again wield true monarchical power.

By the late 14th century the dissolution of Germany was all but complete.

The Rise of Germany (Part II)[]

Germany would remain divided for some five long centuries. By the 18th century Austria (under the Habsburgs) and the kingdom of Prussia were the two dominant powers; at the beginning of the 19th century both were engaged in the desperate struggles of the Napoleonic wars that convulsed Europe. In the Congress of Vienna in 1814 which followed Napoleon's defeat, many of the states which comprised the old German empire were joined together in the German Confederation. Austria and Prussia both sought to dominate the Confederation; their incessant squabbling and jockeying for position left the new state weak and divided.

In 1861 King William I of Prussia appointed Otto von Bismarck Prime Minister of Prussia. Three short years later Bismarck led his country into war with Denmark, adding Schleswig-Holstein to the growing Prussian State. In 1866 Prussia went to war against Austria, after Bismarck's cunning machinations left the Habsburg Empire isolated and vulnerable. Prussia easily defeated its once mighty competitor, driving Austria from the Confederation.

In 1870 Prussia went to war with France, utilizing its incomparable railroad network to launch a lightning assault that the French were totally unprepared for. The French were crushed and the Prussians claimed the disputed territories of Alsace-Lorraine. Having decisively beaten the only two land powers who might have stopped them, Bismarck and the Prussians announced the formation of the German Empire, the direct ancestor of modern Germany. Germany would dominate central Europe for the next 50 years.

The Fall of Germany (Part II)[]

The story of World War I is well known. At heart, that war was a horrible failure of diplomacy as lesser men tried to emulate Bismarck's tactics. In the years leading up to that cataclysmic event, the Great Powers of Europe found themselves almost helplessly falling into two armed camps, each side linked together by a labyrinthine of diplomatic agreements which left little room for actual diplomacy. Country A was treaty-bound to Country B, who had promised to come to Country C's aid if it went to war with Country D, who was similarly allied to Countries E, F, and G.

In 1914 the entire house of cards came tumbling down following a blatant attempt to engulf Serbia by Austria-Hungary. Using the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian nobleman by a Serbian anarchist as an excuse, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia honored its treaty with Serbia and declared war on Austria-Hungary, and Austria-Hungary's ally Germany mobilized its forces to attack Russia, which caused France (still smarting from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine 40 years earlier) to mobilize against Germany. England, France and Russia's ally, had little choice but to also declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Although it enjoyed great initial success early in the war, crippling Russia and overrunning half of France, Germany and its allies were unable to deliver the final killing blow to its enemies, and the war degenerated into a hideous stalemate which lasted for four horrible years of trench warfare. Britain's command of the seas and the United States' entry into the war finally broke Germany's will to resist. Sick of war, under pressure on all fronts and seeing no chance of victory, the German people revolted. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands; the Germans declared a Republic, and on November 11, 1918 they signed an Armistice agreement. By war's end some 15 million people had been killed and much of Europe was a stinking wasteland of mud, corpses and unexploded ordnance.

The victors were not overly kind to Germany following the war. France took back the disputed territories of Alsace-Lorraine, and the allies imposed huge war reparations on the already-destitute country, which was forbidden to maintain a significant military. (Austria-Hungary fared no better: the empire was dismembered on ethnic lines into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and the Ottoman Empire was similarly hacked into pieces.)

Germany was prostrate, bankrupt, and under threat of occupation if it did not pay huge sums of money to its neighbors (who it should be noted in fairness were not in much better shape themselves and who desperately needed the money to rebuild). Many wondered if Germany would ever be able to recover from the catastrophe of World War I.

The Rise of Germany (Part III)[]

Again, the events leading up to World War II are well-known. Trading upon the anger and humiliation felt by the German people, Adolf Hitler and his fascist Nazi (National-Socialist) party gained control of the German government. The Germans rebuilt their country, economy and military with astonishing rapidity, while Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other minorities were persecuted with increasing ferocity.

While Germany's former enemies watched supinely, Hitler united Germany with Austria, then gobbled up Czechoslovakia. Isolated by France, England and the US, Stalin's Communist Russia helped Germany dismember helpless Poland. This caused France and England to declare war against Germany, but neither country had the military power to launch an offensive war against Hitler's growing army.

In 1940 Germany invaded France via the Netherlands, Belgium and the Low Countries. France's defenses were outflanked, and the German tanks made short work of the inferior French and British armaments. In a little over a month France had surrendered and the British had been driven off of the continent.

In 1941 Germany turned its attention to the East. The mighty German war machine carved a bloody swath into the belly of the Soviet Union, destroying entire Soviet armies hurled into its path to stem the assault. By late 1941 Germany seemed on the verge of destroying Soviet Russia and achieving undisputed mastery of continental Europe.

The Fall of Germany (Part III)[]

Despite its early astonishing successes, Germany was unable to destroy the Soviet Union. Crippled by Stalin's purge of the officer's corps some years before and ill-equipped and ill-trained, the Soviet army fought heroically to stem the German advance. Though it cost them huge, terrible casualties to do so, the Red Army halted the Germans before they could capture Leningrad or Moscow, buying Stalin time to train and equip a huge military force with which to launch his counter-offensive.

In the Western Front, things were looking no better for Germany. The United States had entered the war (following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), and American and British forces began to undermine German power first in Africa and then Italy. As the Russian forces ground their way west against extraordinary German resistance, the Americans and British invaded France, opening up another front against Hitler's forces. Bled white and unable to defend fronts, the German army finally collapsed. Hitler committed suicide, and in May 7-8 1945 Germany surrendered.

Germany paid heavily for its transgressions. Millions of Germans died in the war, including a staggering number of German Jews who were murdered by their German countrymen. The Soviet Union (which itself suffered tens of millions of casualties) expanded its borders westward into Polish territory and Poland was in turn awarded German eastern territory, including all of Prussia, where fifteen million Germans were driven from their homes into what remained of Germany. Germany herself was divided and occupied by the Allies, Russia occupying Eastern Germany while France, the United Kingdom and the United States occupied Western Germany and half of Berlin.

The Rise of Germany (Part IV)[]

In the years after World War II Germany has made yet another remarkable comeback. Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, East and West Germany have reunited, becoming once again an economic powerhouse unrivaled in Europe. Germany has become an enthusiastic member of the European Union, and perhaps most astonishingly, a close friend and ally of France. The German people seem to accept responsibility for their nation's horrible crimes in World War II and seem determined to make sure that they never reoccur. In short, Germany has become a powerful force for world peace and unity in the twenty-first century.

German Trivia[]

  • The German Autobahn is the oldest motorway network in the world – it has no enforced speed limit and only a maximum advisory speed of 130 kmph, which equals about 80 mph.
  • The world's oldest savings bank was established in Oldenburg in 1786.
  • There are over 1,300 beer breweries in Germany, making almost 5,000 different kinds of beer. The Germans consume the 3rd largest amount of beer per year, after the Irish and the Czechs: roughly 31 gallons per person per year.
  • The Ulm Cathedral is the tallest church in the world – its main spire measures 161.5 m (530 ft) in height.
  • Gummi Bears were invented by a German confectionist, Hans Riegel, in 1922.

Wilhelm II[]

History[]

Wilhelm II or William II was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was the eldest grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe. Crowned in 1888, he dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890 and launched Germany on a bellicose "New Course" in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that led to the First World War. Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers, culminating in a disastrous Daily Telegraph interview that cost him most of his power in 1908.

Early Life[]

Wilhelm was born on 27 January 1859 at the Crown Prince's Palace in Berlin to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Frederick III) and his wife, Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria. His mother was obsessed by his damaged arm. She blamed herself for the child's handicap and insisted that he become a good rider. The thought that he, as Heir to the Throne, should not be able to ride was intolerable to her. Riding lessons began when Wilhelm was eight and were a matter of endurance for Wilhelm. Over and over, the weeping prince was set on his horse and compelled to go through the paces. He fell off time after time but despite his tears was set on its back again. After weeks of torture he finally got it right and was able to maintain his balance.

Wilhelm possessed a quick intelligence, but unfortunately this was often overshadowed by a cantankerous temper. Despite his parents' (especially his mother's), efforts to educate their son in British attitudes towards democracy, he favoured his German tutors in aspiring to autocratic rule. He thus became alienated from his parents, suspecting them of putting Britain's interests first.

In many ways, Wilhelm was a victim of his inheritance and of Otto von Bismarck's machinations. Both sides of his family had suffered from mental illness, and this may explain his emotional instability. When Wilhelm was in his early twenties, Bismarck tried to separate him from his parents (who opposed Bismarck and his policies) with some success. Bismarck planned to use the young prince as a weapon against his parents in order to retain his own political dominance. Wilhelm thus developed a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, but especially with his English mother.

Emperor of Germany[]

The German Emperor Wilhelm I died in Berlin on 9 March 1888, and Prince Wilhelm's father was proclaimed Emperor as Frederick III. He was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer and spent all 99 days of his reign fighting the disease before dying. On 15 June of that same year, his 29-year-old son succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia. Although in his youth he had been a great admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm's characteristic impatience soon brought him into conflict with the "Iron Chancellor", the dominant figure in the foundation of his empire. The new Emperor opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to protect Germany's "place in the sun." Furthermore, the young Emperor had come to the throne with the determination that he was going to rule as well as reign, unlike his grandfather, who had largely been content to leave day-to-day administration to Bismarck. Early conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned the relationship between the two men. Bismarck believed that Wilhelm was a lightweight who could be dominated, and he showed scant respect for Wilhelm's policies in the late 1880s. The final split between monarch and statesman occurred soon after an attempt by Bismarck to implement a far-reaching anti-Socialist law in early 1890.

Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II's insistence in 1890, at the age of 75, to be succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi, who in turn was replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, in 1894. Following the dismissal of Hohenlohe in 1900, Wilhelm appointed the man whom he regarded as "his own Bismarck", Bernhard von Bülow. In foreign policy Bismarck had achieved a fragile balance of interests between Germany, France and Russia—peace was at hand and Bismarck tried to keep it that way despite growing popular sentiment against Britain (regarding colonies) and especially against Russia.

With Bismarck's dismissal the Russians now expected a reversal of policy in Berlin, so they quickly came to terms with France, beginning the process that by 1914 largely isolated Germany. In the early twentieth century Wilhelm began to concentrate upon his real agenda; the creation of a German navy that would rival that of Britain and enable Germany to declare itself a word power. He ordered his military leaders to read Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan's book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, and spent hours drawing sketches of the ships that he wanted built. Bülow and Bethmann Hollweg, his loyal chancellors, looked after domestic affairs, while Wilhelm began to spread alarm in the chancellories of Europe with his increasingly eccentric views on foreign affairs.

World War I[]

Wilhelm was a friend of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June 1914. Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the Black Hand, the secret organization that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement—Serbia (this is often called "the blank cheque"). Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 84-year-old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia. As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilization to attack Austria in defense of Serbia.

When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that the United Kingdom would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium, the panic-stricken Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia. In the original Schlieffen plan, Germany would attack the (supposed) weaker enemy first, meaning France. The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war. Defeating France had been easy for Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. At the 1914 border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border.

Wilhelm's role in wartime was of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties. The high command continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed. By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff.  Increasingly cut off from reality and the political decision-making process, Wilhelm vacillated between defeatism and dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected.

Later Years[]

Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918. Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him. After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate. Up to that point, he accepted that he would likely have to give up the imperial crown, but still hoped to retain the Prussian kingship. The unreality of this belief was revealed when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm's abdication of both titles on 9 November 1918.

On 10 November, Wilhelm—now Wilhelm Hohenzollern, private citizen—crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war. Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties", but Queen Wilhelmina refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies. King George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as "the greatest criminal in history", but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George's proposal to "hang the Kaiser". President Woodrow Wilson of the United States rejected extradition, arguing that punishing Wilhelm for waging war would destabilize international order and lose the peace. Wilhelm first settled in Amerongen, where on 28 November he issued a belated formal statement of abdication as king of Prussia and released his soldiers and officials from their oath of loyalty to him, thus formally ending the Hohenzollerns' 400-year title as kings of Prussia. In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs — a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating the Great War, and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy. For the remaining twenty years of his life, he entertained guests (often of some standing) and kept himself updated on events in Europe. In the early 1930s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the German Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser. His second wife, Hermine, actively petitioned the Nazi government on her husband's behalf. However, Adolf Hitler, himself a veteran of the First World War, like other leading Nazis, felt nothing but scorn for the man they blamed for Germany's greatest defeat, and the petitions were ignored.

Judgement of History[]

The court-inspired writers considered him a martyr and a hero, often uncritically accepting the justifications provided in the Kaiser's own memoirs. Then there came those who judged Wilhelm to be completely unable to handle the great responsibilities of his position, a ruler too reckless to deal with power.

Factoids[]

A traumatic breech birth left him with a withered left arm due to Erb's palsy, making his left arm about 6 inches (15 centimeters) shorter than his right arm, which he tried with some success to conceal. In many photos he carries a pair of white gloves in his left hand to make the arm seem longer, holds his left hand with his right, or has his crippled arm on the hilt of a sword or holding a cane to give the effect of a useful limb posed at a dignified angle. Historians have suggested that this disability affected his emotional development.

Unique Components[]

Stormtrooper[]

Stormtroopers were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen were trained to fight with "infiltration tactics", part of the Germans' new method of attack on enemy trenches. Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann (literally "storm man" but usually translated as "stormtrooper"), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen ("assault troops", more often and less exactly "storm troops"). The infiltration tactics of the stormtroopers are still in use today, in one form or another. Other armies have also used the term "assault troops", "shock troops" or fireteams for specialist soldiers who perform the infiltration tasks of stormtroopers.

U-Boat[]

U-boat is the anglicised version of the German word U-Boot, a shortening of Unterseeboot, which means "undersea boat". While the German term refers to any submarine, the English one (in common with several other languages) refers specifically to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II. Although at times they were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were most effectively used in an economic warfare role (commerce raiding), enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada, the British Empire, and the United States to the islands of the United Kingdom and (during World War II) to the Soviet Union and the Allied Countries in the Mediterranean. Austro-Hungarian submarines of World War I (and before) were also known as U-boats.

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