The War Against the Nazi U-boats 1942-1944 – Book Review
During the opening years of World War II, the Nazi military employed one of the deadliest nautical weapons, the submarine, to great effect against Allied shipping. German U-boats scoured the waters of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean in an effort to disrupt shipments of American goods to Great Britain, hoping to do by sea what they could not do by land or air: choke the life out of the British Isles. Within a few months of American involvement in the war, however, the two Allied nations began making a concerted effort to eliminate the U-boat as a threat. Cooperation between the two nations and improvements in tactics employed against the U-boats suffered in early 1942, but by 1944, the Allies had won the Battle of the Atlantic and elsewhere. The U-boat would play a greatly reduced role for the remainder of the war, mostly maintaining a defensive footing against the Allies in an effort to staunch the flow of supplies and men supplied by the United States.
As the first in a host of primary documents republished in a series called Lost Histories of World War II, series editor L. Douglas Keeney introduces an original report written in 1945 by Arthur B. Ferguson, Assistant Chief of Staff, Air Intelligence, Historical Division of the United States Army Air Forces. Ferguson’s title alone points to one of the most interesting aspects of the Battle of the Atlantic: the air forces of the United States and Great Britain won the fight against Germany’s deadliest ocean-going vessel. While Allied surface vessels played a major role in the conflict, especially as convoy escorts once the Allies implemented a practical convoy policy, the specially trained bomber pilots of the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) and the RAF (Royal Air Force) nevertheless played the primary role in winning the battle.
Ferguson devotes a chapter to each of the areas of operation, including the entirety of the Atlantic, the Northern shipping lanes, the Caribbean, and the “Moroccan Frontier.” While the details in these chapters prove interesting in understanding the end result, the following chapter titled “Antisubmarine Tactics and Attack Narratives” is perhaps the most interesting portion of the book. Moving away from simple description of how the Allies defeated the U-boats in the various areas, Ferguson includes stories of individual bombers and their crews, presumably culled from reports or first-person accounts. Beyond describing some of the tactics and technology used by the bombers, these give the years-long battle a human face lacking from the rest of the report. Photographs (whether original to the report or added by Keeney for the series is unclear) add another dimension, showing the bombers, their crews, the U-boats, and some very wet and ragged-looking captured German submariners.
The War Against the Nazi U-boats is an interesting look into the official record of how the Allies defeated the Nazi submarine menace and secured the shipping and transport lanes between North America and Great Britain. However, as interesting as it is, the report should be considered mostly for scholars or students interested in pursuing research on the subject. Given the fact that Ferguson originally wrote the report in 1945 for an audience consisting of his superiors in the military and interested parties in the government, casual readers more familiar with the writing style of Stephen Ambrose and other historians like him might find The War Against the Nazi U-boats a difficult read. Nevertheless, we should thank L. Douglas Keeney and the others responsible for the Lost Histories series for republishing an informative document related to the dangerous and massively important battle against the Nazi U-boats.
Adam Koeth is a recent graduate of Norwich University with a Master’s of Arts in Military History. He also holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in History from Ohio University. A native Ohioan, Adam lives with his wife and two children near Columbus, and enjoys reading everything he can get his hands on, writing, and watching sports—even if it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets.