The Battle of the Atlantic

Brian G Turner

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Lindybeige posted a video about the Battle of the Atlantic - which although at nearly an hour in length, remains educational and entertaining throughout:


Aside from having watched Das Boot, I find this especially interesting as the first WWII biography I read was about U-boat captain Wolgang Luth - one of the most decorated serving soldiers under the Nazis.
 

Toby Frost

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Have you ever read The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat? It's a really good novel about a submarine hunter - pretty grueling and frank for its time. The film's good, too, although comparatively sanitised. I also once read a memoir called U-Boat Killer, which did what it said on the cover.
 

BAYLOR

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The Germans had a very tiny surface fleet compared to the Royal Navy which, at that time the best and most powerful navy in the world. The Boat did slot dammam but in end what killed them was development in Sonar, new tactics to combat them.
 

Foxbat

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The British had the largest surface fleet (their policy a the time was to have a fleet larger than the next two navies combined) but it was far from the best. Most of their battleships were antiquated or not particularly good. The Rodney (a design result of the Washington treaty) leaked like a seive, for example.

The Washington treaty, which limited the tonnage and number of ships that could be built had a particularly bad effect on the RN (who had to get rid of some ships) but actually was beneficial to navies that were busy rebuilding because in the end their ships were much more up to date than much of the British Fleet. Even it's best known ship The Hood, was built in 1916, whereas the Bismark and Tirpitz took advantage of the latest build techniques.

Pocket Battleships like the Graf Spee pushed the treaty limitations to the most extreme and effective way of inerperting the intentions. Even newer British ships like King George V (built after the Washington treaty was abandoned) was no match on its own to the likes of Bismark. Britain had to rely on sheer force of numbers to gain victories. Even in the later parts of the war like the Battle Of North Cape (the last ever big gun duel between Britain and Germany), it took the Duke Of York with the cruisers Norfolk, Sheffield, Belfast and Jamaica (along with a number of destroyers) to defeat the Scharnhorst and five destroyers.

Churchill said that the Battle of the Atlantic was the only theatre of war that filled him with fear. It could have been much worse if the Versailles and Washington treaties hadn't delayed rebuilding of the kreigsmarine. Just imagine if Britain had to face ten Bismark class ships as well as the wolfpacks...
 

The Ace

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Hitler did lay down an ambitious programme for a surface fleet to take part in a projected war beginning in 1942-43, but despite this over-ambitious (or insane) plan to build a complete fleet in less than five years, not even he contemplated ten Bismarck-class battleships (his projected total of four was hopelessly over-optimistic, and the two he got was a near-miracle).

The loss of 10 destroyers at Narvik was catastrophic for the Kriegsmarine, whose surface elements never really recovered, and the sole mission of the Bismarck - as a commerce-raider - was an expensive and dangerous folly.

What got me about the Battle of the Atlantic was the use of the, "Flower," - class corvettes. Tiny ships with an open bridge and laughable armament, which actually made a difference in what turned out to be the longest battle of WW2.
 

BAYLOR

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The British had the largest surface fleet (their policy a the time was to have a fleet larger than the next two navies combined) but it was far from the best. Most of their battleships were antiquated or not particularly good. The Rodney (a design result of the Washington treaty) leaked like a seive, for example.

The Washington treaty, which limited the tonnage and number of ships that could be built had a particularly bad effect on the RN (who had to get rid of some ships) but actually was beneficial to navies that were busy rebuilding because in the end their ships were much more up to date than much of the British Fleet. Even it's best known ship The Hood, was built in 1916, whereas the Bismark and Tirpitz took advantage of the latest build techniques.

Pocket Battleships like the Graf Spee pushed the treaty limitations to the most extreme and effective way of inerperting the intentions. Even newer British ships like King George V (built after the Washington treaty was abandoned) was no match on its own to the likes of Bismark. Britain had to rely on sheer force of numbers to gain victories. Even in the later parts of the war like the Battle Of North Cape (the last ever big gun duel between Britain and Germany), it took the Duke Of York with the cruisers Norfolk, Sheffield, Belfast and Jamaica (along with a number of destroyers) to defeat the Scharnhorst and five destroyers.

Churchill said that the Battle of the Atlantic was the only theatre of war that filled him with fear. It could have been much worse if the Versailles and Washington treaties hadn't delayed rebuilding of the kreigsmarine. Just imagine if Britain had to face ten Bismark class ships as well as the wolfpacks...

If Hiter had been able to implement his navel building program the way he wanted. The results would have been dire for the Royal and US Navy.
 

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If Hiter had been able to implement his navel building program the way he wanted. The results would have been dire for the Royal and US Navy.

True, but the project was so resource-intensive, expensive and impractical that its implementation would've been near impossible - even without the outbreak of war in 1939
 

BAYLOR

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True, but the project was so resource-intensive, expensive and impractical that its implementation would've been near impossible - even without the outbreak of war in 1939

Germany had very limited resources to work with of which the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe tended to get the most of even that wasn't enough for them. . Combine that with the fact hat by the Nazi economy was on the verge of economic collapse because the bills for rearmament were past due. Everybody talks about how mechanized the German army was, not really . They were still using horses and a fail amount of their tanks and weapons came from the takeover of Czechoslovakia. Getting hold of that countries financial resources and industries like the Skoda factory made ups for some the short fall.
 
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Tirellan

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Also significant that Hitler lost faith in his surface fleet, and concentrated on submarines
 

BAYLOR

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Also significant that Hitler lost faith in his surface fleet, and concentrated on submarines

Had the Germans been able to produce and deploy the type 21 Uboat in large numbers , that could have presented a problem to both the Royal and the US Navies and merchant shipping. . But again lack of resources came into play .
 

BigBadBob141

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It's interesting how the tech and tactics changed as the war went on.
I highly recommend "Aircraft Versus Submarine" by Dr Alfred Price.
 

BigBadBob141

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Early on in the war the u-boats had it all their way, it was so, so easy for them, like shooting fish in a barrel, but it was a very different story by the end.
Thanks to cracking the four rotor enigma (thank you Bletchley Park) , hunter killer groups, escort carriers, use of airfields on Iceland, better sonar and tactics, long range aircraft such as the Liberator and Sunderland, rocket carrying Mosquitos, airborne radar, acoustic torpedoes, Liegh light, huf-duf, hedgehog, and last but by no means least Western Approaches WATU ( thank you WREN J. Laidlaw), if you don't know what I mean look up the film by Lindybiege on YouTube about war gamers!!!)), with all this lot the poor b*****s never stood a chance!
Which is why four out of five German submarines never went home, that's an 80% mortality rate, which must be the highest in the war for any military or naval branch!
P.S. I wish someone had shot the american Admiral King early on in the war, it would have saved a hell of a lot of ships and lives!!!
 

BAYLOR

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Early on in the war the u-boats had it all their way, it was so, so easy for them, like shooting fish in a barrel, but it was a very different story by the end.
Thanks to cracking the four rotor enigma (thank you Bletchley Park) , hunter killer groups, escort carriers, use of airfields on Iceland, better sonar and tactics, long range aircraft such as the Liberator and Sunderland, rocket carrying Mosquitos, airborne radar, acoustic torpedoes, Liegh light, huf-duf, hedgehog, and last but by no means least Western Approaches WATU ( thank you WREN J. Laidlaw), if you don't know what I mean look up the film by Lindybiege on YouTube about war gamers!!!)), with all this lot the poor b*****s never stood a chance!
Which is why four out of five German submarines never went home, that's an 80% mortality rate, which must be the highest in the war for any military or naval branch!
P.S. I wish someone had shot the american Admiral King early on in the war, it would have saved a hell of a lot of ships and lives!!!

The U-boat Captains referred to early period as the Happy Times .
 

BigBadBob141

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There were two happy times, at the start of the war 1939/40 then 1942 when America enters the war.
Sinking ships just off its coast was so easy at first, plus the Americans blundered badly by putting Admiral King in charge of convoys, he was supposed to cooperate with the British but had a pathological hatred for them!
But as I said before once the allies got their act together plus scientific and tactical advances which include, Hedgehog, better Sonar, HufDuf, Leigh light, B24 Liberator bomber and Short Sunderland flying boat of Costal Command, acoustic torpedo, use of Icelandic airfields, escort carriers and U-boat hunter/killer groups, breaking the four wheel enigma cypha, Western Approaches and W.A.T.U. and their extraordinary young WRNS!
I could go on and on but the end result was four out of five German submarines never went home, the U-boat service had the highest mortality rate of any unit in the war!I
P.S. I may come off as a bit obsessed with this but this battle was absolutely vital, if we had lost it then we would have lost the war.
Also people do not realize how vital the Arctic Convoys were to the Russian war effort, there is an argument that without the massive supplies from America and Britain they might not have defeated the Germans.
 
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Venusian Broon

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There were two happy times, at the start of the war 1939/40 then 1942 when America enters the war.
Sinking ships just off its coast was so easy at first, plus the Americans blundered badly by putting Admiral King in charge of convoys, he was supposed to cooperate with the British but had a pathological hatred for them!
But as I said before once the allies got their act together plus scientific and tactical advances which include, Hedgehog, better Sonar, HufDuf, Leigh light, B24 Liberator bomber and Short Sunderland flying boat of Costal Command, acoustic torpedo, use of Icelandic airfields, escort carriers and U-boat hunter/killer groups, breaking the four wheel enigma cypha, Western Approaches and W.A.T.U. and their extraordinary young WRNS!
I could go on and on but the end result was four out of five German submarines never went home, the U-boat service had the highest mortality rate of any unit in the war!I
P.S. I may come off as a bit obsessed with this but this battle was absolutely vital, if we had lost it then we would have lost the war.
Also people do not realize how vital the Arctic Convoys were to the Russian war effort, there is an argument that without the massive supplies from America and Britain they might not have defeated the Germans.

I think it was also pivotal on the strategic direction of the war for the Western allies.

My understanding was that General Marshall as chief of staff, with many other in the US military, wanted to push an invasion of France in 1943 rather than have an "adventure in the Mediterrean", which seemed peripheral to the US. (Why not just land in France and go straight to BerlIn?)

However we Brits we a bit worried about the Atlantic supply line and the fact that even by the end of 1942 it was still not clear who was on top regarding the battle of the Atlantic, so instead pushed an invasion of North Africa and then the invasion of Italy, which would be less of an impact on the Germans but was feasible with the riskier supply situation.

Logistics were everything in WW2 (just ask the Japanese) and when the U-boat situation was contained by late 1943, it was then much easier for the US and the UK to devastate the Luftwaffe, gain air superiority, so that we could invade France with the most optimum and well supplied armies possible for success. (It was still a slog and a grind to get out of Normandy, but that, with the destruction of Army Group Centre by the Russians in Bagration, meant that there was no way back for the Nazis after this point.)

A minor point about not invading France in 1943 that few people bring up. In Jan 1943 the sixth army surrendered, leading to the loss of something like 300,000 men to the Germans. Yes, El Alamein, which occured at roughly the same time, was a much smaller battle, but at the conclusion of the North African campaign, when the Germans were cornered in Tunisia, they lost approximately the same number of men.
 

.matthew.

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It's really quite harrowing to think how close the whole war was, right up until the end. Mostly we have Hitler's rapidly escalating drug addiction, pathological need to micromanage, and surrounding himself with sycophants to thank for it not tipping the other way.
 

Venusian Broon

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It's really quite harrowing to think how close the whole war was, right up until the end. Mostly we have Hitler's rapidly escalating drug addiction, pathological need to micromanage, and surrounding himself with sycophants to thank for it not tipping the other way.

I disagree. I don't think the war was so finely balanced. At least by December 1941. By that point Germany and the axis was definitely going to be defeated. It was just a question of how long and therefore how much suffering the world would take.

Pre-Barbarossa and post the fall of France, there just remained the UK against the Nazis, and although I think the British Empire at the time was not as weak as it is generally protrayed in some sources, the US, via Roosevelt, was essentially supporting the Britain. Also, the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, but eventually I think Stalin knew there was going to be war.

But Hitler unleashed the perfect storm. He invaded Russia surprising Stalin, definitely underestimating their ability and reserves, then he declared war on the US after Pearl Harbour, definitely underestimating their industrial capabilties with no real reason to do so.

After that it was a fricken' hard slog but the Allies were going to win, no matter what.
 

BAYLOR

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I disagree. I don't think the war was so finely balanced. At least by December 1941. By that point Germany and the axis was definitely going to be defeated. It was just a question of how long and therefore how much suffering the world would take.

Pre-Barbarossa and post the fall of France, there just remained the UK against the Nazis, and although I think the British Empire at the time was not as weak as it is generally protrayed in some sources, the US, via Roosevelt, was essentially supporting the Britain. Also, the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, but eventually I think Stalin knew there was going to be war.

But Hitler unleashed the perfect storm. He invaded Russia surprising Stalin, definitely underestimating their ability and reserves, then he declared war on the US after Pearl Harbour, definitely underestimating their industrial capabilties with no real reason to do so.

After that it was a fricken' hard slog but the Allies were going to win, no matter what.

All three of the Axis powers lacked the essential crucial resources for a sustained conflict, in particular , oil and metal and, their combined industrial bases couldn't come close to the Industrial and Manufacturing capability of the United States. They were doomed to defeat.
 
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