How did the war at sea cause starvation in Lebanon in WW1?

Open navigator

Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

1. To war with bread and bullets

Wars are not just won or lost on the front line. Soldiers cannot fight if they are hungry, or do not have enough ammunition. Generals do not just have to worry about battlefield tactics, but also about getting food, clothing and weapons to where they are needed.

Attacking an enemy’s supply lines has long been an important military tactic. In the modern era, with countries more dependent on international trade than ever before, it became possible to lay siege to an entire country.

In World War One, trade blockades became an important weapon – on all sides – and on home fronts across the world civilian populations suffered terribly.

2. Trading nations

Wheat imports rose between 1885-89 and 1910-13 in Britain (64-78%) and Germany (16-38%)

Source, Lothar Burchardt, Friedenswirtschaft und Kriegsvorsorge: Deutschland wirtschaftliche Ruestungsbestrebungen vor 1914, Mitchell, British Historical Statistics

International trade grew dramatically in the 19th Century. By 1914, European countries were so dependent on imports that it was inevitable that blockades would become a weapon of war.

3. Blockades and battles

Both Britain and Germany attempted to use blockades as a strategy in World War One.

4. Famine in Lebanon

Although there was no fighting in the region, the war still brought horrific suffering to the civilians of Mount Lebanon. (This video contains scenes some viewers may find disturbing.)

5. Civilians play their part

Countries which had previously imported much of their food were forced to be more self-sufficient again. But in many countries, even getting hold of fertilisers to make the most of available land became a problem. So how did they make ends meet?

Land armies

With men away at the front, women took their place. In February 1917, the British government appealed for women to join a ‘land army’ to grow food, tend livestock, and undertake other tasks such as felling trees. By 1918, over 113,000 women were working on the land. The government also encouraged people to grow vegetables in gardens and allotments. Even the gardens at Buckingham Palace were put to work for the war effort.

In the United States, the Women’s Land Army of America brought 20,000 women from cities to work on rural land. Known as ‘farmerettes’, they became wartime icons.


Restricting the amount of food any one individual could buy was a drastic limit to personal freedom, but became necessary during total war. The British government debated long and hard before introducing rationing, but by late 1917 they concluded there was no choice.

The first compulsory rationing began at the start of 1918. It was a success, and the British had enough to eat for the whole of the war.

In Germany, various controls were imposed upon nearly all food and fuel, but controls arguably did more harm than good. Substitute foods were of poor quality. The notorious K-Brot – ‘war bread' – could be made from anything from potatoes to straw, and proved particularly unpopular.

6. The impact of the war on trade

This content uses functionality that is not supported by your current browser. Consider upgrading your browser.

7. The trade blockade evolves

Since World War One, trade blockades and restrictions have often been used as tools of international politics. Have they always been successful?

The Abyssinia crisis

In 1935, the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions on Italy after it invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopa).


The Abyssinia crisis

Lack of support

The international community failed to support economic sanctions. The crisis proved to be a nail in the coffin of the League of Nations.

World War Two

As in World War One, the allies attempted a blockade of Germany in 1939.

Partial Failure

World War Two

Hard to implement

By 1941 Germany had conquered much of Europe. The blockade was hard to enforce. Germany was able to maintain supplies of raw materials until later in the war.

Boycott of South Africa

In 1985, Britain and America imposed economic sanctions on South Africa in response to its policy of Apartheid.

Partial success

Boycott of South Africa

Gradual change

In direct response to the 1985 Boycott, South Africa repealed its pass laws. However, Apartheid only ended after many years and much international pressure.

Iran’s nuclear programme

Since 2006, sanctions have been imposed on Iran to discourage it from enriching Uranium.

Partial success

Iran’s nuclear programme


Many commentators believe sanctions have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table. As of 2014, no final agreement has been reached.