A military reporter examines the climax of “the longest and deadliest naval conflict in world history.”
Allied plans for a Britain-based amphibious assault on the European continent, not to mention the very survival of the United Kingdom, depended on unharried use of the North Atlantic’s shipping lanes, lifeline to the United States and its vast supplies. In March 1943, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz suddenly stepped up the attacks of his deadly U-boats. Striking day or night, the German submarines posed a critical threat to the merchant convoys and, consequently, to the outcome of World War II. Offley (Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon, 2007, etc.) meticulously re-creates the terrifying U-boat assaults during this pivotal spring (generous appendices help the reader keep track of the chessboard) and explains how the Allies turned the tide of the years-long battle. Improved tactics (more escort warships, more Liberator bombers, a shift from merely fending off subs to aggressively pursuing them), advances in technology (sonar, ship-based radar, high-frequency direction finding, air-dropped acoustic homing torpedoes, air-to-surface rockets launched by carrier-based aircraft), command of the cryptologic conflict, breaking the German naval Enigma code, even the vagaries of the notoriously severe North Atlantic weather—all accounted for the permanent advantage the Allies finally seized. As he traces these developments, the author enlivens the narrative with telling detail: a glimpse of life aboard the cramped and foul U-boats, a sample of hortatory messages from Dönitz to his fleet, accounts of merchant mariners who survived the torpedoes, estimates by U-boat commanders that inflated their kills, decisions by rogue captains to abandon the convoys, the war-game results of a lowly Admiralty captain that persuaded Churchill to shift more resources to the Atlantic. The fight would continue for another two years, but with a hoped-for new generation of subs and weapons never materializing, the Germans could no longer contemplate victory.
An intensely focused account that cuts through the battle’s sprawl and duration, supplying the general reader with an appreciation of its character and importance.