The Battle of the Atlantic:
How the Allies Won the War,
by Jonathan Dimbleby
The “Battle of the Atlantic” is the term used to describe the war at sea that took place during World War II between Germany and the Allies. Great Britain’s economy, and thus its ability to continue the fight, depended on its access to food and commercial supplies from throughout the British Empire. Its need for oil imports and a supply of military manufacturing materials was critical to its industry and the replacement of weapons in its arsenal. The objective of the German naval war was to sink as much enemy commercial shipping in the Atlantic as possible, ships bound to Great Britain from North and South America and to the Soviet Union through the North Atlantic and Arctic seas. After Germany declared war on the United States in late 1941, a further German objective was to hinder the transport of American troops and supplies across the Atlantic to the theaters of war, to make difficult the Allied landing of forces in North Africa, and to prevent a channel crossing and launch of an invasion in France, the so-called “Second Front.”
|German Admiral Karl Donitz reviewing one of his U-Boats|
at the French port of Saint Nazaire.
Coast Guardsmen on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer
watch the explosion of a depth charge, which drove the
German submarine U-175 to the surface on 17 April, 1943.
|Rescued German crew members of U-175|
Dimbleby also has an interesting analysis of the intelligence war, one that provides a somewhat different perspective on the relative value of breaking the German Enigma code to the Battle of the Atlantic (something readers may find at odds with contemporary book and movie accounts of the heroics of the wunderkinds at Bletchley Park). And readers may find surprising the revelations about how careless--indeed, irresponsible--the British were when it came to protecting their own codes. The Germans may arguably, given this lapse, have had better intelligence about the shipping they were trying to sink and the movement of British warships than the British had about U-boat movements.
|The Pennsylvania Sun, torpedoed by U-571 125 miles|
west of Key West, 1942.
|Crew of U-boat 73. It was sunk by the Allies in 1943.|
We tend to think that, in a situation of gravity and high stakes, the judgement of individual leaders and the wisdom of a collective circle of advisers will rise to the occasion, that there is better or more careful decision-making because so many lives are at stake. The Battle of the Atlantic will disabuse you of this notion. The author is careful to point out the strategic errors in judgement, both of the winners and the losers, as they made mistakes that lost lives pointlessly and with a shameful profligacy.
|Allied sailors mark the sinking of their first U-boat.|
More would follow as the Allies began to get the
upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The selection of historical photos included in this book is superb.