The Battle Of The Atlantic: How The Allies Won ... |VERIFIED|
The Battle of the Atlantic has been called the "longest, largest, and most complex" naval battle in history. The campaign started immediately after the European War began, during the so-called "Phoney War", and lasted more than five years, until the German surrender in May 1945. It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre covering millions of square miles of ocean. The situation changed constantly, with one side or the other gaining advantage, as participating countries surrendered, joined and even changed sides in the war, and as new weapons, tactics, counter-measures and equipment were developed by both sides. The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming German surface-raiders by the end of 1942 and defeating the U-boats by mid-1943, though losses due to U-boats continued until the war's end. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote "The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril. I was even more anxious about this battle than I had been about the glorious air fight called the 'Battle of Britain'."
The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won ...
With the outbreak of war, the British and French immediately began a blockade of Germany, although this had little immediate effect on German industry. The Royal Navy quickly introduced a convoy system for the protection of trade that gradually extended out from the British Isles, eventually reaching as far as Panama, Bombay and Singapore. When the convoy system was first introduced however, Britain's Royal Admiralty strongly opposed the idea. It believed that the convoy would be a waste of ships that they could not afford, considering they might be needed in battle. Convoys allowed the Royal Navy to concentrate its escorts near the one place the U-boats were guaranteed to be found, the convoys. Each convoy consisted of between 30 and 70 mostly unarmed merchant ships.
German success in sinking Courageous was surpassed a month later when Günther Prien in U-47 penetrated the British base at Scapa Flow and sank the old battleship HMS Royal Oak at anchor, immediately becoming a hero in Germany.
In the South Atlantic, British forces were stretched by the cruise of Admiral Graf Spee, which sank nine merchant ships of 50,000 GRT in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean during the first three months of war. The British and French formed a series of hunting groups including three battlecruisers, three aircraft carriers, and 15 cruisers to seek the raider and her sister Deutschland, which was operating in the North Atlantic. These hunting groups had no success until Admiral Graf Spee was caught off the mouth of the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay by an inferior British force. After suffering damage in the subsequent action, she took shelter in neutral Montevideo harbour and was scuttled on 17 December 1939.
It was in these circumstances that Winston Churchill, who had become Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, first wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt to request the loan of fifty obsolescent US Navy destroyers. This eventually led to the "Destroyers for Bases Agreement" (effectively a sale but portrayed as a loan for political reasons), which operated in exchange for 99-year leases on certain British bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda and the West Indies, a financially advantageous bargain for the United States but militarily beneficial for Britain, since it effectively freed up British military assets to return to Europe. A significant percentage of the US population opposed entering the war, and some American politicians (including the US Ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy) believed that Britain and its allies might actually lose. The first of these destroyers were only taken over by their British and Canadian crews in September, and all needed to be rearmed and fitted with ASDIC. It was to be many months before these ships contributed to the campaign.
Pack tactics were first used successfully in September and October 1940 to devastating effect, in a series of convoy battles. On September 21, convoy HX 72 of 42 merchantmen was attacked by a pack of four U-boats, which sank eleven ships and damaged two over the course of two nights. In October, the slow convoy SC 7, with an escort of two sloops and two corvettes, was overwhelmed, losing 59% of its ships. The battle for HX 79 in the following days was in many ways worse for the escorts than for SC 7. The loss of a quarter of the convoy without any loss to the U-boats, despite a very strong escort (two destroyers, four corvettes, three trawlers, and a minesweeper) demonstrated the effectiveness of the German tactics against the inadequate British anti-submarine methods. On 1 December, seven German and three Italian submarines caught HX 90, sinking 10 ships and damaging three others. The success of pack tactics against these convoys encouraged Admiral Dönitz to adopt the wolf pack as his primary tactic.
The Germans received help from their allies. From August 1940, a flotilla of 27 Italian submarines operated from the BETASOM base in Bordeaux to attack Allied shipping in the Atlantic, initially under the command of Rear Admiral Angelo Parona, then of Rear Admiral Romolo Polacchini and finally of Ship-of-the-Line Captain Enzo Grossi. The Italian submarines had been designed to operate in a different way than U-boats, and they had a number of flaws that needed to be corrected (for example huge conning towers, slow speed when surfaced, lack of modern torpedo fire control), which meant that they were ill-suited for convoy attacks, and performed better when hunting down isolated merchantmen on distant seas, taking advantage of their superior range and living standards. While initial operation met with little success (only 65343 GRT sunk between August and December 1940), the situation improved gradually over time, and up to August 1943 the 32 Italian submarines that operated there sank 109 ships of 593,864 tons,[page needed] for 17 subs lost in return, giving them a subs-lost-to-tonnage sunk ratio similar to Germany's in the same period, and higher overall. The Italians were also successful with their use of "human torpedo" chariots, disabling several British ships in Gibraltar.
The belief that ASDIC had solved the submarine problem, the acute budgetary pressures of the Great Depression, and the pressing demands for many other types of rearmament meant little was spent on anti-submarine ships or weapons. Most British naval spending, and many of the best officers, went into the battlefleet. Critically, the British expected, as in the First World War, German submarines would be coastal craft and only threaten harbour approaches. As a result, the Royal Navy entered the Second World War in 1939 without enough long-range escorts to protect ocean-going shipping, and there were no officers with experience of long-range anti-submarine warfare. The situation in Royal Air Force Coastal Command was even more dire: patrol aircraft lacked the range to cover the North Atlantic and could typically only machine-gun the spot where they saw a submarine dive.
For the first half of 1940, there were no German surface raiders in the Atlantic because the German Fleet had been concentrated for the invasion of Norway. The sole pocket battleship raider, Admiral Graf Spee, had been stopped at the Battle of the River Plate by an inferior and outgunned British squadron. From the summer of 1940 a small but steady stream of warships and armed merchant raiders set sail from Germany for the Atlantic.
The power of a raider against a convoy was demonstrated by the fate of convoy HX 84, attacked by the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer on 5 November 1940. Admiral Scheer quickly sank five ships and damaged several others as the convoy scattered. Only the sacrifice of the escorting armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay (whose commander, Edward Fegen, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross) and failing light allowed the other merchantmen to escape. The British now suspended North Atlantic convoys, and the Home Fleet put to sea to try to intercept Admiral Scheer. The search failed and Admiral Scheer disappeared into the South Atlantic. She reappeared in the Indian Ocean the following month.
Other German surface raiders now began to make their presence felt. On Christmas Day 1940, the cruiser Admiral Hipper attacked the troop convoy WS 5A, but was driven off by the escorting cruisers. Admiral Hipper had more success two months later, on 12 February 1941, when she found the unescorted convoy SLS 64 of 19 ships and sank seven of them. In January 1941, the formidable (and fast) battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which outgunned any Allied ship that could catch them, put to sea from Germany to raid the shipping lanes in Operation Berlin. With so many German raiders at large in the Atlantic, the British were forced to provide battleship escorts to as many convoys as possible. This twice saved convoys from slaughter by the German battleships. In February, the old battleship HMS Ramillies deterred an attack on HX 106. A month later, SL 67 was saved by the presence of HMS Malaya.
In May, the Germans mounted the most ambitious raid of all: Operation Rheinübung. The new battleship Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen put to sea to attack convoys. A British fleet intercepted the raiders off Iceland. In the Battle of the Denmark Strait, the battlecruiser HMS Hood was blown up and sunk, but Bismarck was damaged and had to run to France. Bismarck nearly reached her destination, but was disabled by an airstrike from the carrier Ark Royal, and then sunk by the Home Fleet the next day. Her sinking marked the end of the warship raids. The advent of long-range search aircraft, notably the unglamorous but versatile PBY Catalina, largely neutralised surface raiders. 041b061a72