Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

The Battle of the Atlantic

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Battle of the Atlantic

    So, I'm nearly finished this book:


    So far, it's been a very interesting read. There are two main topics of discussion I've taken from the book.

    First, the books basic premise is this: Whoever lost the battle of the Atlantic was going to lose the war.

    Second, I was struck by what felt like an extremely high level of politics and political involvement during the battle. It's this point I'd like to delve in to. Some of the many examples of politics or political interference/involvement include:
    1. Of course, Roosevelt's careful tap-dance to appease the isolationist elements in congress/senate while still supplying Britain with arms and supplies.
    2. Churchill seems to have appreciated the importance of the Atlantic life line yet considered it a "defensive" war, much to the chagrin of the Royal Navy. This manifested itself in his push for "hunter" battlegroups and in the lack of emphasis on production of escort vessels early in the war.
    3. Fortunately for the allies, the Kriegsmarine was the ugly stepchild of the 3 military arms in Germany. And U-boats were the ugly stepchild of the Kriegsmarine. Raeders poor relations with Hitler (compared to Goering, at least) meant that little was done about the prioritization of U-boat production early in the war.
    4. Even so, Hitler was fond of interfering with even the navy. Despite the lack of U-boats, he would often demand they "escort" supply ships for surface raiders, or be sent on questionable objectives beyond the Atlantic sea lanes. One good example of this was the order to transfer U-boats to the Mediterranean. Once in the Med, it was virtually impossible for a U-boat to return to the Atlantic.
    5. The complete lack of readiness of the Americans for war on the seas on the east coast during the "happy times". Donitz was amazed at the lack of convoys, escorts, and even light discipline. The government was reluctant to impose blackouts on the east coast even months after war was declared.
    6. "Bomber" Harris used his influence with Churchill to deny Coastal Command access to long range Liberator bombers. Closing the Atlantic gap was "defensive". Bombing Germany was "offensive". Churchill's desire for an offensive, somewhere, made him side with Harris.
    7. At the same time, Goering refused to transfer long range bombers to Donitz for scouting and convoy attacks.
    8. The arctic convoys were often political toys to soothe Stalin, especially when early, unrealistic promises of a second front had to be broken.
    9. The wins/losses in the Atlantic were often used for propaganda at the same level as a major campaign victory on land. For example, PQ17 was a major propaganda win for Germany. Ditto the loss of Graf Spee and Bismark for the allies.
    It feels as if no other theater in the war suffered the same level of political visibility, and therefore, interference as the Atlantic.

    Donitz started the war with a mere handful of operational U-boats. Still, by early 1942 Germany was sinking more ships, especially tankers, than the allies could build and rationing in Britain was pretty severe. It does make one wonder what might have happened if Germany had started the war with the 300 U-boats Donitz has planned for.

  • #2
    The "Battle of the Atlantic" and,perhaps the Murmansk Convoys, were the one theatre of war where the Nazis might have won the war, at least in the West.
    "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
    Samuel Johnson.

    Comment


    • #3
      Hi Dingbat

      The What If of 300 U-Boats has been discredited so many times.

      The KM and Germany as a whole didn't have the means or infrastructure to build the boats or train the crews without it having a huge impact upon the other arms.

      Equally any decision to build 300 U-Boats would have elicited a building response etc from RN in particular.

      Regards

      Andy H
      "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

      "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Andy H View Post
        Hi Dingbat

        The What If of 300 U-Boats has been discredited so many times.

        The KM and Germany as a whole didn't have the means or infrastructure to build the boats or train the crews without it having a huge impact upon the other arms.

        Equally any decision to build 300 U-Boats would have elicited a building response etc from RN in particular.

        Regards

        Andy H
        Excellent point. I hadn't considered the response from the RN angle.

        Certainly, it seems as if the Army and Goering would never have allowed much in the way of resource diversion to the navy. But what if Germany had sunk the resources required to build Bismark and Tirpitz into U-boats instead?

        As for a response from the RN, that one's interesting. On the one hand, the UK and France were in the depths of denial and pacifism during the rise of Hitler. Preparation for war lacked in so many areas, it doesn't seem like a sure thing that the Admiralty would've got the attention required to mount a response.

        Still, even assuming Donitz had managed to collect 300 U-boats by 1940, it seems reasonable to assume that the related surge in sinkings would have forced a major change in Allied strategy, and quickly. It further seems that this would've affected the Murmansk convoys and Bomber Command the most. But I guess the really interesting question is: How long would Donitz have needed to maintain massive levels of sinkings before the UK would've been forced to consider terms?

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi

          The first type VIIC U-Boat wasnt built till 1940 and were far superior to the A&B versions, let alone earlier types.
          In reality the first TR UBoats weren't started till 1935 and they required some input from the Dutch. Also you need to factor in the Anglo-German naval agreements, which the Germans were still abiding by limited Germany to around 50 boats until 1935.

          Politically the UK and France may have been in denial but the navies rarely were. The RN 1937 building programme saw some 148 vessels slated for construction and its reasonable to assume that some of that production would have been switched from heavy units to DD's etc in response to any 300 U-Boat fleet. Also you need to factor in if the German invasion of the West would have been as successful if the resources had been redirected from the LW & Heer to the KM. With the fall of France not guaranteed, the impact and consequence on the BoA would have been huge.

          Regards

          Andy H
          "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

          "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

          Comment


          • #6
            Just curious. How many and what types of U-Boats did the Germans eventually bring to launching? And how did that compare with the US' Liberty Ship program?
            ARRRR! International Talk Like A Pirate Day - September 19th
            IN MARE IN COELO

            Comment


            • #7
              Well, the book's premise is wrong. The U-boat campaign--in fact the entire German war at sea in the Atlantic--was a guerre de course. That is, it was based on commerce raiding. While this can be quite expensive to the nation against which it is done, it has never been a war winning strategy. Instead, it's a spoiler.

              By choosing an unsupported commerce war--that is, one where you have no navy to back it up with any chance of defeating your opponent's navy--you are admitting you can't win a war at sea with your opponent. You have opted for the next best thing, and that is to attack his merchant shipping wherever possible in a hit and run fashion.

              Jose asks about construction of ships

              1154 U-boats were built and commissioned.
              The US alone produced 565 destroyer escorts.
              The US completed 2710 Liberty ships. They completed another 702 Victory ships.

              While the Allies spent something on the order of $10 billion to win in the Atlantic, the Germans spent about $1 billion fighting their commerce war.

              One might also note that the bulk of the merchant ships sunk by U-boats were older, slower vessels not larger faster ones.

              So, the Allies by 1943 had more escorts and ASW ships at sea than Germany had U-boats. The US was turning out merchant ships (that were larger and faster) quicker than the Germans could sink them. The best Germany could hope for by late 1942 was simply to do as much damage as possible per U-boat lost.

              It was a war that Germany was never going to win.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                So, the Allies by 1943 had more escorts and ASW ships at sea than Germany had U-boats. The US was turning out merchant ships (that were larger and faster) quicker than the Germans could sink them. The best Germany could hope for by late 1942 was simply to do as much damage as possible per U-boat lost.
                By May 1943, the battle had been lost. The allies had ALWAYS had more escorts than there were U-boats. And while the Liberty ship was a major factor, the real deciding cause was the widespread use of aircraft with the accompanying closure of the Atlantic Gap and the coordinating tactics with surface escorts. After May 1943, being a U-boat crew was pretty much a suicide mission. The massive expansion in shipping tonnage of the Liberty program just added insult to injury.

                The book doesn't dispute any of this. The question is: Could Germany have caused enough damage BEFORE 1943 to force Britain to the bargaining table. There were times where allied shipping, especially tankers, was being sunk far faster than they could be built. There were times when the UK had fewer than 3 months reserves of fuel on hand.

                I think once the US was in the war, the opportunity was gone. But if you could somehow magically create 300 U-boats at the start of 1941, I think the UK might have found itself in a tough spot. If wishes were fishes. And Andy H has already explained the issues preventing Germany from actually building those vessels prior to the outbreak of the war.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by DingBat View Post
                  The book doesn't dispute any of this. The question is: Could Germany have caused enough damage BEFORE 1943 to force Britain to the bargaining table. There were times where allied shipping, especially tankers, was being sunk far faster than they could be built. There were times when the UK had fewer than 3 months reserves of fuel on hand.
                  And, the answer to that is a resounding no. The problem with a guerre de course is that as you lose ships, the remaining ones get better and better protected. The raiders, unless they produce some paradigm shift in technology or tactics are not going to do the same.

                  So, as the Germans sink mostly slower merchant ships in slow convoys, the convoys that remain are getting faster with more escorts.

                  The whole of the situation is that the U-boats find it harder and harder to tackle a convoy and produce sinkings while it is getting more and more dangerous to even attempt to try and take a convoy on.

                  Aircraft just add another dimension to the threat.

                  But the real game changers were HF/DF and radar. These two devices allowed the Allies to find and track U-boats far better than anything else. Prior to every escort having radar, a surfaced U-boat could approach a convoy in poor weather or at night to launch an attack. Radar made those tactics unviable.
                  HF/DF let the Allies track U-boats by their radio transmissions. That was a huge mistake on the Kriegsmarine's part. The insistence on these by Donitz ensured U-boats were being tracked by their location on an almost hourly basis.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Andy H View Post
                    Hi Dingbat

                    The What If of 300 U-Boats has been discredited so many times.

                    The KM and Germany as a whole didn't have the means or infrastructure to build the boats or train the crews without it having a huge impact upon the other arms.

                    Equally any decision to build 300 U-Boats would have elicited a building response etc from RN in particular.

                    Regards

                    Andy H
                    Furthermore, the idea of an expanded U-Boat construction programme assumes that Hitler saw Britain as his primary opponent. Hugh Trevor Roper, many years ago, argued that the real message of nazism was the conquest of Russia, the extermination of the Slavs, and the colonisation of the East. As he wrote :- This Eastern policy was essential to nazism ; all other positive aims - the conquest of France or Britain - were subsidiary and incidental to it. The offence of France was its traditional policy of Eastern alliances, which had enabled it, for three centuries, to intervene in Germany. The offence of Britain was its refusal to be content with a maritime supremacy, its insistent tradition of preventing the domination of Europe by a single Continental power. But the offence of Russia was the existence of Russia.'

                    Poor old Hugh, by the way. One of the most respected historians of his time. Then he authenticates the Hitler Diaries!!!!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      In retrospect, perhaps the best policy that the Nazis might have adopted would have been to blockade Britain with U-Boats, as best they could, and leave it at that. No invasion preparations, no bombing, no Battle-of- Britain: just let British resistance wither on the vine. The people, without the stimulous of a hostile bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe to inspire them, and,perhaps, seeing overseas territories being lost, might have decided that Churchill's blandishments were all hot air after all, and seek to make peace.

                      Just as well that didn't happen.
                      "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                      Samuel Johnson.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I've always advocated that if the Germans really were planning for a war with Britain in the 1930's they focus on producing a paradigm shift in naval warfare. That would be building an aircraft carrier centric fleet backed by a land-based naval air arm in the style the IJN did this.

                        This requires a great deal of quite imaginative thinking at the time from the KM, and would require the acquiescence of the Luftwaffe for a naval air arm to form. But the result would be the necessary paradigm shift in technology.

                        The requirement would be by 1939 there are 6 carriers in service each with about 50 to 60 aircraft assigned. Another 100 maritime patrol and 100 seaplanes (with tenders--already available) are in service. That gives Germany 300 to 400 naval aircraft on carriers that are of reasonably up-to-date design, say a variant of the He 112, an attack / torpedo plane based on the He 70, and Ju 87 dive bombers. This means the Luftwaffe's production isn't particularly affected and most of the maritime and seaplanes are ones that the Luftwaffe already had in service just operated by the KM instead.

                        You would need about 24 to 30 DD and a dozen light and heavy cruisers (6 each) along with 8 to 12 unrep ships. That is all doable with German industry.

                        But all that takes a complete shift in German naval thinking that was not going to happen at the time.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by BELGRAVE View Post
                          In retrospect, perhaps the best policy that the Nazis might have adopted would have been to blockade Britain with U-Boats, as best they could, and leave it at that. No invasion preparations, no bombing, no Battle-of- Britain: just let British resistance wither on the vine. The people, without the stimulous of a hostile bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe to inspire them, and,perhaps, seeing overseas territories being lost, might have decided that Churchill's blandishments were all hot air after all, and seek to make peace.

                          Just as well that didn't happen.
                          Hi Belgrave

                          The purpose of a Blockade as you well know is to incite shortages, shortages of both materials and the means to sustain life, a policy that would hardly endear Germany to the British popn.

                          The means of imposing an effective blockade was never in Germany's tool kit. Yes it could (and did) cause short-term alarm but it could never sustain the pressure to any meaningful degree.

                          Regards

                          Andy H
                          "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                          "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                            I've always advocated that if the Germans really were planning for a war with Britain in the 1930's they focus on producing a paradigm shift in naval warfare. That would be building an aircraft carrier centric fleet backed by a land-based naval air arm in the style the IJN did this.

                            This requires a great deal of quite imaginative thinking at the time from the KM, and would require the acquiescence of the Luftwaffe for a naval air arm to form. But the result would be the necessary paradigm shift in technology.

                            The requirement would be by 1939 there are 6 carriers in service each with about 50 to 60 aircraft assigned. Another 100 maritime patrol and 100 seaplanes (with tenders--already available) are in service. That gives Germany 300 to 400 naval aircraft on carriers that are of reasonably up-to-date design, say a variant of the He 112, an attack / torpedo plane based on the He 70, and Ju 87 dive bombers. This means the Luftwaffe's production isn't particularly affected and most of the maritime and seaplanes are ones that the Luftwaffe already had in service just operated by the KM instead.

                            You would need about 24 to 30 DD and a dozen light and heavy cruisers (6 each) along with 8 to 12 unrep ships. That is all doable with German industry.

                            But all that takes a complete shift in German naval thinking that was not going to happen at the time.
                            Hi Terry

                            I'm interested in just when you foresee such a proposal starting given the various limitations imposed on Germany in the 1930's?

                            Also, have you read James FitzSimonds recent article in the Journal of Military History (July2020), Aircraft Carriers versus Battleships in War and Myth: Demythologizing Carrier Air Dominance at Sea. He argues that the Battleship remained the ultimate determinant of sea control.

                            Regards

                            Andy H
                            "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                            "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              For the Germans it would have to start about 1936 at the latest. That gives them 3 years to build 6 carriers. If they laid down 3 that year and 3 the next year they'd have 6 by 1939. They could have converted a liner or large merchant to a CVE for practice and training in about a year meaning that pilots and aircraft are ready when the carriers are. All of the planes I mentioned would have been available too.

                              I haven't read FitzSimmon's article, but I'd say he's completely wrong in that assertion. Do you have an accessible link for it?

                              Comment

                              Latest Topics

                              Collapse

                              Working...
                              X