Responsibility for losses in U Boat War WW11

Discussion in 'History' started by Nutty, May 30, 2006.

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  1. I have just completed reading Peter Padfield's "War Beneath the Sea" a history of Submarine Warfare in WW11. He reaches certain conclusions that Clay Blair also reaches in his books "Hitlers U Boat War. Vol 1 The Hunters. Vol 2. The Hunted.

    These being that the three people being most responsible for the high losses in 1942/3 in the North Atlantic and USA East Coast seaboard were.

    Admiral King, Chief of Naval Operations USN:

    Who dismally failed to take any notice of two and half years of Allied experience with U Boats. Failed to have a convoy system ready for the Western Atlantic and coastal traffic, failed to ensure Navigation buoys, light houses and shore side premises were blacked out. Failed to have escorts ready in any number. Failed to train USN in A/S warfare. Sent VLRP A/C to the Pacific i.e. Liberator Bombers when they were need to cover the mid Atlantic gap. Used Liberators to patrol the Caribbean where weather and ranges bore no relationship to the North Atlantic battle field.

    Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

    Who continually refused to allow VLRP A/C Liberators, Lancaster, Halifax, Stirlings to be moved from carpet bombing of Germany, assessed as non effective by his own experts, to Coastal Command duties to cover the mid Atlantic gap. The loss of ships in the convoy dropped dramatically after March 1943 when agreements made much earlier to release A/C for this purpose were finally put into place.

    Air Marshall Harris:

    Who continued with 1000 plane bomber raids when it was shown that only 1 in 4 dropped their bombs within 5 miles of the target. He still refused to release any VLRP A/c or crews to Coastal Command. Who failed to attack the U Boat pens in Western France's Atlantic sea-board when they were under construction despite requests from the Admiralty. When ordered to attack in 1943 flattened the surrounding towns but failed to make any impression on the 28 feet thick pens. (I have visited these pens, still in use, during my boat days, very impressive).

    All three blantly ignore lessons expensively learnt in WW1 and the start of WW11 that a Convoy with air cover and in particular A/C fitted with radar was a very difficult target for submarine attack.


  2. I have very little trouble with the comments about both King and Harris who were a pair of arrogant whatsits. Churchill on the otherhand was actually a lot more pragmatic than many give him credit for. Particularly in the 42/43 period when the news was all bad he was very aware of the need to maintain public morale and support for the government. I suspect that because the main thrust of taking the war to Germany that the public saw and understood was bomber command that he was prepared to support that however well they performed because the public believed they were performing.

    To your list I would also add Doenitz, who had managed to get the resources to build up the U Boat fleet and develop their operations to a point where they had the upper hand. He had a decent number of boats, good crews and a good system. Of course all this collapsed as the allied technological developments kicked in, their ASW tactics developed, and yes the VLRMP A?C came on stream. This of course was also compounded by the successes of Ultra and the German inability to conceive that Enigma could be broken.

    Whilst I like Padfield as a historian, I feel there is always a danger in trying to resolve complex intereactions into a few key points.


  3. By 42/43 the Allies could no longer read U Boat Enigma signals as they had switched from thr three rotor to four rotor machines at Christmas 41.

    Not withstanding the Germans had about 400 u-boats, 42/43 by the time you remove the boats involved in Operation Torch both within the Med and at the Gib Approaches, others in the South Atlantic and Northern Norway together with training and on work up in the Baltic the germans only once managed to have over 40 boats on patrol in the North Atlantic and usually it was 30 or less. Interrogation also reveals the standard and moral of crews not officers had plummeted by 1943. Most were conscriped into boats.

    Churchill is alledged to have had a fixation with offensive action, bombing offensive as with his Turkish adventures in WW1. He was still a pollie at heart me thinks.

  4. janner

    janner War Hero Book Reviewer

    I blame the Germans
  5. I can't remeber how long they lost the U Boat Enigma for but even then the Submarine Tracking Room did provide very good predictions of deployment, but without the absolute accuracy of the Ultra data. Remeber they also used HF/DF from shore and later at sea despite the fact the Germans believed seaborne HF/DF was impossible. Direct control by Doenitz and the resultant heavy radio traffic was part of the U Boat downfall.

    Even so 30 boats in the main convoy routes supplied with radio intercept data from B Dienst was a pretty formidable force and in the early part of 43 did serious damage to convoy traffic, this coupled with the second happy time with Drumbeat did give Doenitz the belief he was on the road to success. Yes moral fell after the turning point battle whenmany boats were lost and many more were very badly mauled. This was the turning point and the U boats were then on a very slippery downhill track. For the rest of the war they were trying to play a catch up game in both technology and tactics but without the ability to win in either area.

    You must remeber that unlike today being a long term pollie was not the gravy train it is today. Churchill made his money from books and lecture tours and had a sufficient reputation by 39 to ensure he never died poor. He spent most of his time as PM during the war making sure he kept the job, be was big headed enough to believe he was the man for the job. His WW2 fixation on offensive action and action that would allow claims of success was to keep the public moral up and himself in office. The bombing campaign was I suspect seen as essential to Churchill in 42/43 to show they were fighting back despite all the bad news from everywhere else. The Dardanelles was blaimed on him, but the idea was not to bad, it was the implementation particularly by the generals that let the whole thing down, by the time they got enough men ashore the Turks had had enough warning to make sure they never made any progress. He also had the decency to resign and go and fight in the trenches, see any of todays lot doing that?


  6. Nearly did a long story on this --however I got timed out!!

    Short version is------you can't name and shame anyone in WW2

    America was fighting the Japs in 1942 - in the Pacific. The 'Drumbeat' era was a gift due to unpreparedness like The Uk was in 1939---

    Untill May 1943 the Uboats only real enemy was the weather!! However enigma was very helpful . But the advances in technology were complimenting all intelligence gained.

    In 1943 with VLR aircraft, HF/DF and the early radar sets and of course asdic--sonar and the depth charge we were fighting back.
    However-due to the Atlantic trade being essential to the war effort--Germany was designated first priority-- all the stops were pulled to open the trade routes-- thus VLR aircraft became available and also the Escort carriers arrived on the scene with suitable aircraft and weaponry to destroy any Uboat found .

    Outcome was ---Doenitz withdrew his boats from the Atlantic. and a lot of other places aswell.
  7. I agree with much that has been stated.

    We went into a war in 1939 unprepared.

    Whilst the Army and the RAF were going through the so called 'phoney war,' the RN and the Merchant Service was up to their arse in muck and bullets. Convoy escorts consisted mostly of destroyers whose fuel capacity could only guarantee short leg trips.

    Asdic had been much over rated in peacetime, and when the U-boats found it bettter to attack an escorted convoy at night on the surface, I'm afraid the escorts were like blind men.

    You also have to remember that until smaller escorts like sloops, frigates and corvettes were built, there were insufficient escorts. Troopship convoys had an old battleship in the centre of the convoy all the way across the North Atlantic-no other escorts had the fuel to do that crossing.

    Then when more escorts became available they were mostly manned by Hostility Only rating and RNR and RNVR officers. And let it be said they did a terrific job. They also had to be trained, firstly to work ship and then shoved in at the sharp end.

    Up until early 1942 escort groups were made up of an ad hoc group of ships with usually an old V & W destroyer of WW1 vintage acting as senior officer. Until all escort vessels underwent training as a GROUP and formed a convoy escort as a GROUP, successes against the enemy were although hard fought, limited. Until escorts were equipped with RADAR and later HF/DF and Squid, then and then only were the U-boats put under extreme pressure.

    I served in a corvette in the North and South Atlantic and other that senior rates we were all as green as grass. We learned and became very efficient but our hearts went out to the officers and men of the RN, especially from April 1940 until the early 1942.

    It is those we have to take our hats off too, not of course forgetting the Merchant Service-Some saling in ships that should have been scrapped years before-whose machinery often broke down and had to be left behind in mid Atlantic, helpless, due to the most important task of getting the safe arrival of the convoy at its port of destination.
  8. Everything I read says otherwise, for example;

    "In 1941 British intelligence learned that the German Navy was about to introduce M4, a new version of Enigma with 4 rotors rather than 3. Fortunately for the Allies, in December a U-boat mistakenly transmitted a message using the four-rotor machine before it was due to be inaugurated. Realizing the error, the U-boat retransmitted the same message using the 3-rotor Enigma, giving the British sufficient clues to break the new machine soon after it became operational on February 1, 1942. The U-boat network which used the four-rotor machine was known as Triton, codenamed Shark by the Allies. Its traffic was routinely readable."

    "Had the Germans ever replaced every rotor at the same time, the British might not have been able to break back into the system. And had German operating practices been more secure, things would have been much more difficult for the British cryptologists. However, due to the expense and difficulty of getting new rotors to all ships and units, this was never done. Instead the Germans every so often added new rotors to the mix, thereby allowing the British to work out the wirings of the newest rotors."

    Use of Ultra

    Enigma Machine details

    Tony Sales pages incl Bletchley park museum tour
  9. Could this be what Nutty (or the author) is referring to?

    "Three German ciphers unsolved since World War II are finally being cracked, helped by thousands of home computers."

    "The codes resisted the best efforts of the celebrated Allied cryptographers based at Bletchley Park during the war. "

    "The three unsolved Enigma intercepts were published in a cryptography journal in 1995 and have intrigued enthusiasts ever since."

    "Although assumed to have little historical significance, they are thought to be among just a handful of German naval ciphers in existence still to be decoded. "

    I read this through Turings pages at;
  10. I am currently reading this book, strangely out of all the history books I happen to have at my disposal, and have been interested to note people's opinions on it. Glad to see that the same overall goodness remains, the likes of which I have encountered so far :)

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