BLACKETT'S WAR by Stephen Budiansky
Kirkus Star


The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare
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Little-known story of the Allied scientists whose unconventional thinking helped thwart the Nazi U-boats in World War II.

With the largest fleet of submarines (U-boats) in the war, Germany dominated early fighting in the Battle of the Atlantic, destroying much Allied shipping. During three months in 1940 alone, U-boats sank more than 150 ships; U-boat commanders were celebrated as daring heroes back home. By war’s end, U-boat crews would suffer the highest casualties of all German forces. Military historian Budiansky (Perilous Fight: America’s Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812–1815, 2011, etc.) offers an excellent, well-researched account of the unlikely group of some 100 British and American scientists whose ideas halted the Nazi submarine menace. Foremost among them was British experimental physicist Patrick Blackett, a controversial socialist and later Nobel Prize winner, who directed operational research for the Admiralty during the war. His teams of scientists brought “a scientific outlook and a fresh eye” to problems that had previously been addressed by tradition and gut instinct. Drawing on math and probability theory, the scientists developed effective solutions to issues such as armor placement on RAF aircraft, the optimal size of warship convoys to protect merchant ships (larger was better), and the proper use of plane-delivered depth charges. Their work doubled or tripled the effectiveness of the Allied campaigns against U-boats; writes the author: “It is no exaggeration to say that few men did more to win the war against Nazi Germany than Patrick Blackett.” Especially fascinating is Budiansky’s account of Blackett’s successful effort to urge the wartime mobilization of scientists at a time when the military greatly distrusted intellectuals and civilians. The scientists’ contributions to the war effort secured “a permanent institutional foothold” for scientific advice in government.

An engrossing work rich in insights and anecdotes.

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-59596-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2012


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