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America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II

by Richard Snow

Pub Date: May 11th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-9110-8
Publisher: Scribner

Former longtime American Heritage editor Snow (Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, 1983, etc.) examines the Atlantic theater of World War II, where his father fought.

The Pacific is often considered the primary locale for the naval battles of WWII, but the effort in the Atlantic, centered on protecting supply lines between the United States and Europe, was no less vital. Snow uses the experiences of his father, a Navy man who had served in the Atlantic, as a jumping-off point to tell the wider story of what would be known as the Battle of the Atlantic (1939–1945), in which Allied ships were pitted against hard-to-track German submarines. The Atlantic war began in earnest after a German U-boat torpedoed and sunk a British passenger ship in 1939. The author shows how the situation complicated the United States’ then-neutral stance in the war. Soon Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt began corresponding, leading to a deal in which the United States sold destroyers to the British, bypassing the antiwar Congress. In December 1941, Hitler ordered German U-boats to attack American ships, bringing the States fully into the Atlantic war. It proved to be a grueling, drawn-out affair, the longest continuous campaign of World War II. Churchill called the struggle against the German U-boats “the only thing that ever really frightened [him] during the war.” Snow looks at several important figures in the campaign, and he writes at length about Karl Doenitz, the commander of the German submarine fleet, whose strategic thinking about the use of submarines—specifically, using U-boats to focus on attacking merchant ships—transformed naval warfare. The author also uses letters and recollections of his father, providing a palpable sense of the daily activity of an enlisted man in the Atlantic war.

An accomplished historian with a welcome personal touch.