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From Hunter to Hunted

Bernard Edwards

The U-Boat in the Atlantic, 1939-1943
In the early stages of the Second World War, Donitz's U-boats generally adhered to Prize Rules, surfacing before attacking and making every effort to preserve the lives of their victims' crews. But, with the arming of merchantmen and greater risk of damage or worse, they increasingly attacked without warning. So successful was the U-boat campaign that Churchill saw it as the gravest threat the Nation faced.The low point was the March 1943 attack on convoys SC122 and HX229 when 44 U-boats sank 22 loaded ships. Expert naval author and historian Bernard Edwards traces the course of the battle of the Atlantic through a series of thrilling engagement case studies.

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In the early stages of the Second World War, Donitz's U-boats generally adhered to Prize Rules, surfacing before attacking and making every effort to preserve the lives of their victims' crews. But, with the arming of merchantmen and greater risk of damage or worse, they increasingly attacked without warning. So successful was the U-boat campaign that Churchill saw it as the gravest threat the Nation faced. The low point was the March 1943 attack on convoys SC122 and HX229 when 44 U-boats sank 22 loaded ships. The pendulum miraculously swung with improved tactics and technology. In May 1943 out of a force of over 50 U-boats that challenged ONS5, eight were sunk and 18 were damaged, some seriously. Such losses were unsustainable and, with allied yards turning out ships at ever increasing rates, Donitz withdrew his wolf packs from the North Atlantic. Expert naval author and historian Bernard Edwards traces the course of the battle of the Atlantic through a series of thrilling engagement case studies.

ISBN: 9781526763594
Format: Hardback
Author(s): Bernard Edwards
First Publishment Date: 28 February 2020

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  1. I found the over dramatisation began to annoy and detract from the first hand reports, written in a semi official understated way, but superb reading in their own right. review by Warship World reader on 30/06/2020

    The author is a retired Merchant Navy master who has written numerous books on the U-boat campaigns and convoy battles. His latest book focuses on the shift in the balance of power in the Atlantic from the U-boat in 1939 to the escort groups in 1943.
    At the start of the war, convoys hadn’t been established, merchant ships sailed unescorted and any convoy only had minimal escorts. Initially, U-boats were restricted to gun actions after surfacing, but by early October 1939, unrestricted submarine warfare was the norm. In 1939, Germany had 57 U-boats, by 1943 this had grown to a fleet of 393 U-boats. By 1942, Doenitz’s wolf pack strategy had ensured that the U-boats had the upper hand. Even the power of Bletchley Park to provide vital intelligence had been blunted by the addition of an extra rotor to the German Enigma machines. However, 1943 was to see the tide turning against the U-boats and the author focusses on 2 key convoy actions. Atlantic winter weather was atrocious and the first set of convoys in March 1943 (SC122 and HX229) were ambushed by 3 wolf packs of 40 U-boats, losing 22 ships and over 300 merchant seamen. Such losses were unsustainable but convoy ON 55 in April 1943 was to show that improved escort group tactics, and use of radar would have dramatic effect. Over 58 U-boats, the highest number to target a convoy, sank 13 ships for the loss of 8 U-boats to escorts and aircraft and another 18 damaged including 7 badly damaged.
    The book has personal accounts from both the German and Allied sides. From the Allied side the book predominantly recounts the extraordinary heroism and sheer doggedness of the Allied Merchant Navy crews with losses of one in three, often returning immediately after rescue for more dangerous convoy sailings. For the U-boat crews, the increasing number of inexperienced crews facing escorts groups with better tactics and technology, particularly radar, resulted in unsustainable losses and Doenitz withdrew the wolf packs.
    The book is written in an easy style but this gives rise to what can only be described as “padding”. A ship “finally ran out of sea room and succumbed “ – it sank! An element of fiction creeps in “he took 2 steps at a time with the acrid fumes from the explosion in his nostrils”; I found the over dramatisation began to annoy and detract from the first hand reports, written in a semi official understated way, but superb reading in their own right. As the author concludes the “sheer professionalism and tenacity” of the escorts coupled with the “quiet stoicism” of the merchant crews were “the rock on which Doenitz’s dreamboat.. foundered”.

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