Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Battle of the Atlantic

A well written and interesting account of the battle, it had one major flaw. Admittedly, it wasn't really the books fault--the information was only declassified after this book was published--but it does highlight the problems of using books published only a short time after the events they describe (I guess I count fifteen years after the end of WWII a short time in this case). In fact, if there's a more recent edition with an extra chapter or so and some modification to the rest of the text, I would highly recommend getting it. The classified information absent from this book was the cracking of the Enigma code, which had a huge impact upon the Battle of the Atlantic. In this account, the use of Enigma was hidden under that of High Frequency Direction Finding equipment or Huff-duff, which enabled u-boats using their radios to be detected. As radio was a key part of the wolf pack tactics, it was obviously of use, but the ship-based ones were difficult to use and not introduced until later in the war.

It describes in detail the tactics used by both sides, and illustrates with interesting examples of convoys sunk in convoy. A great book, with the exception that it's not quite complete. Read in conjunction with a book on the Enigma code (like Station X, more on that in a sec or two), it does give a useful account of the Battle of the Atlantic--one of the most vital campaigns in WWII. Without success in the Atlantic, Britain would be starved out of the war, without success in the Atlantic, Britain could not be turned into an oversized military camp prior to D-Day as there was no way troops could be sent across an insecure Atlantic. Thus, without the Allies winning the Battle of the Atlantic, Britain would have been completely unable to fight on. Interestingly at the start of the war, despite the success achieved by German u-boats in WWI, nobody seemed to grasp that the u-boats would be a threat once more. The British believed that the use of convoys (introduced this time right at the start of the war, rather than when shipping losses all but crippled the country) and Asdic would nullify the threat posed by the u-boat, and Hitler didn't really seem that fussed about the Navy at all and particularly not about the u-boat arm. It was only when he saw the spectacular success of the sinking of the Royal Oak in harbour that he allocated a greater amount of money to build more u-boats.

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