Battle of Atlantic

27 May, 2015 - editing will continue

This page will be dedicated to the two Battles of the Atlantic - that which culminated in 1917 and that which was finally concluded in 1943. Both are treated very briefly in the general histories of the wars. Even John Keegan, a recognised expert on the Great War, disregards the Atlantic conflict completely in his famous work, The First World War. An Illustrated History. London 2002. You look in vain for references to the major commanders, Admiral Lewis Bayly RN CinC Queenstown, Admiral William S. Sims USN CinC US Naval Forces in Europe, and Korvettenkapitän Hermann Bauer IGN Führer der Unterseeboote (who proposed the use of Wolf Packs even in 1917 but was ignored by the high command - Karl Dönitz, who was a brilliant U-boat commander in the first war - used this idea constructively in the second conflict). Henri Ortholan's monograph, La guerre sous-marine 1914-1918 takes very little account of English and German sources (judging from his bibliography).  It is finally true that Clay Blair (tones down the importance of the first battle, but this is done in retrospect and takes no notice of the opinion of those actually involved. In Blair's case, I lean on the Swedish translation Hitlers ubåtskrig, 1. Vargar på jakt 1939-1940, which includes a short discussion on the first conflict.

There will not be many pictures on this page - because I have none of my own. The books I refer to are to be found in my main Bibliography which covers every work I have studied (or will study)..

Writing about the first of these two battles I rely heavily on Admiral Sim's account, in Victory at Sea, of his leadership of the US Naval ships and of his co-operation with Admiral Bayly; the monograph by Nolan & Nolan (Secret Victory) is also very informative as the Irish motif is not really so pronounced as it would appear from a first glance. I am currently reading Ortholan's overview, La guerre sous-marine, which offers a very valuable historical perspective, not least the difference - which I had never suspected - between a sous-marine (submarine) and a submersible! The submersibles reigned supreme during both wars, but whith the advent of nuclear propulsion and latterly Stirling engines, the real submarines have taken over, although the navies of minor powers still equip themselves with diesel-electrical submersibles. But the first major builder of these ships, John P. Holland and the Electric Boat Co. of New York City, thought of their ships as submarines.

On the hunting side, destroyers were considered the answer. But in WW I, destroyers on aggressive anti-submarine patrols usually missed the subs, for the simple reason that a destroyer belching smoke is a far mor visible thing at sea than the conning tower of a sub.The subs themselves actually were more efficient sub-chasers. As Admiral Sims points out, a sub lying low with only a portion of its conning tower showing could run on its Diesel engines and scan the horizon for enemy subs proceeding on the surface and looking for merchant ships. A torpedo put an end to the German sub.

Convoys with air cover (even in the form of an unarmed blimp) proved to be the most efficient answer to the hunting subs because the subs ducked in order to evade observation - and then they lost their chance to attack. A good example of passive-agressive tactics, following the principle of the tiger hunt - if you tether a goat and wait in a safe spot for the tiger, it will turn up and present an easy target, whereas it will easily avoid the stalking hunter.

The Allies came up with new types of ship for the aggressive role, the British with Motor Launches (built in the US) and the P-series of vessels, which were fast and so small that they were often mistaken for subs (and they emitted very little smoke, to boot). The Americans took over the builders that had supplied ML:s and built slightly larger Sub-Chasers instead. These served with distinction in the Otranto passage between Greece and Italy.