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Battle of Atlantic Sections
 Battle of Atlantic Home <<<
  The Combatants
  The Surface Raiders
  U-Boat Types and Tactics
  The Convoy System
  Enigma and Ultra
  The U-Boat War, 1939-42
  The Climax, 1943
  To the Bitter End, 1943-45
  To Arctic War
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Books by John Barratt

Armada 1588

The Battle of Marston Moor

The Civil War in South-West England 1642-1646

The First Battle of Newbury: 1643

Cavalier Generals

The Great Siege of Chester

The Battle for York: Marston Moor 1644

Cavalier Generals

Battle of the Atlantic
Battle of the Atlantic
by John Barratt

The Combatants
On 21 November 1918, as Germany's once-proud High Seas Fleet sailed into the British naval base of Scapa Flow to surrender, the Royal Navy seemed at the pinnacle of its long history. With 61 battleships to France's 40 and the U.S.A.'s 39, the British fleet appeared uncontestably to be the strongest in the world...

The Surface Raiders
On the outbreak of hostilities, Grand-Admiral Raeder, knowing that the German surface fleet was no match for the Royal Navy in a general action, sought other means to challenge his stronger opponent. During World War I, the Kaiser's Navy had made a number of attempts at commerce raiding, notably by von Spee's squadron in the opening months of the war, and with converted merchant vessels of various kinds...

Re-birth of the U-boat
The devastation wrought by German U-boats on Allied merchant shipping during World War I brought Imperial Germany nearer to victory than the efforts of any of her other armed forces. It was with memories of this that the Allies, by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) prohibited the small Navy of the new German Republic from having any submarines. 

The Convoy System
The convoy system, which can be defined as a group of merchant vessels sailing together, with or without naval escort, for mutual security and protection, has a much longer history than sometimes suggested. It was commonly employed during the Age of Sail, notably by British vessels under threat from French and US commerce raiders, and indeed probably has its origins in ancient times.

Enigma and Ultra - the Cypher War
The German "Enigma" machine was initially developed after World War I as a commercial encrypting device, but the military were quick to recognise its value, and developed it for their own uses. In basic terms, the "Enigma" resembled a typewriter, which scrambled the text typed into it by means of notched wheels or rotors. The messages could be unscrambled by a similar machine with its rotors adjusted to the same settings as the sender. German cypher experts refined the basic machine by adding plugs with variable electronic circuits, whose settings operators changed approximately every 24 hours, according to code books, listing the daily variations, with which they were issued.

The U-Boat War, 1939-42
On the outbreak of war in September 1939, Donitz had 39 U-boats stationed near the main British shipping lanes. On the first day of hostilities, the liner "Athenia", was sunk by a U-boat commanded by Kapitan Franz-Julius Lemp. The German commander had mistaken her for a troop-transport, but the deaths of a large number of civilians, including Americans caused an immediate widespread outcry. Hitler had in fact forbidden unrestricted submarine warfare of the kind which had helped bring the USA into World War I, in the hope that Britain might, after the fall of Poland, agree to a compromise peace.

The Climax
By July 1942 the days of easy pickings for the U-boats along the Eastern Seaboard of the USA were over. It was time for Donitz to switch his efforts back to his old hunting grounds in the mid-Atlantic. He had seemingly ample grounds for optimism. In May 1942 German experts had produced a study which concluded that if the U-boats were able to sink a monthly average of 700,000 tons of Allied merchant ships for the rest of the year, Britain, despite all the efforts of shipbuilding yards on both sides of the Atlantic, would be doomed.

The Bitter End
On 31st May, a week after calling off the U-boat offensive in the North Atlantic, Donitz reported on the situation to Hitler. After listing all the current allied advantages, the head of the Kriegsmarine outlined the various technological developments which he hoped would tilt the war once more in the U-boat waffe's favour. Already being tested was the "Naxos" short-wave radar detector.

The Arctic War
For those who took part in them, the Arctic convoys were probably among the most difficult of any missions mounted in World War II. The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 brought Great Britain a new ally, but also created new demands on her limited resources. As the Red Army reeled under the massive German onslaught, it became increasingly doubtful whether the Soviet Union would be able to hold out for long...

* * *

Copyright ?2002 John Barratt

Written by John Barratt. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact John Barratt at:

About the author:
John Barratt has authored many books to include: Armada 1588,  The Battle of Marston Moor, The Civil War in South-West England 1642-1646, and Cavalier Generals.

Published online: 12/15/2002.
Featured Books

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942
by Clay Blair

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunted, 1942-1945
by Clay Blair

Battle Beneath the Waves
by Robert Stern

Torpedo Junction
by Homer Hickam

Iron Coffins
by Herbert A. Werner

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