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The U-Boat War - A Global History 1939-45

Lawrence Paterson

This new book challenges the accepted historical narrative on the role of U-boats throughout the Second World War, an account which predominantly assigns them to the so-called ‘Battle of the Atlantic’. The U-Boat War resets the mythology of the battle within the wider context of the war itself, analysing the chaotic German military and industrial mismanagement that occurred in all the theatres and hamstrung brilliant commanders and crews.
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The accepted historical narrative of the Second World War predominantly assigns U-boats to the so-called 'Battle of the Atlantic', almost as if the struggle over convoys between the new world and the old can be viewed in isolation from simultaneous events on land and in the air. This has become an almost accepted error. The U-boats war did not exist solely between 1940 and 1943, nor did the Atlantic battle occur in seclusion from other theatres of action. The story of Germany's second U-boat war began on the first day of hostilities with Britain and France and ended with the final torpedo sinking on 7 May 1945. U-boats were active in nearly every theatre of operation in which the Wehrmacht served, and within all but the Southern Ocean. Moreover, these deployments were not undertaken in isolation from one another; instead they were frequently interconnected in what became an increasingly inefficient German naval strategy. This fascinating new book places each theatre of action in which U-boats were deployed into the broader context of the Second World War in its entirety while also studying the interdependence of the various geographic deployments. It illustrates the U-boats' often direct relationship with land, sea and aerial campaigns of both the Allied and Axis powers, dispels certain accepted mythologies, and reveals how the ultimate failure of the U-boats stemmed as much from chaotic German military and industrial mismanagement as it did from Allied advances in code-breaking and weaponry.

ISBN: 9781472848253
Format: Hardback
Author(s): Lawrence Paterson
First Publishment Date: 14 April 2022
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Author(s) Lawrence Paterson
Customer Reviews
  1. A high quality publication - highly recommended
    The U-Boat War during the 1939-45 conflict continues to fascinate readers with a plethora of historical accounts of individual actions or entire campaigns, biographies of famous commanders, technical analyses of the weaponry employed and so on. Often these studies concentrate exclusively on aspects of the Battle of the Atlantic which, of course, lasted the duration of the war. Lawrence Paterson’s book sets out to deliver what could be described as a revisionist history. The author challenges what has become the accepted historical narrative that the German campaign to disrupt the Atlantic supply route somehow existed in isolation from the other battles taking place in different parts of the world. Rather, as the title states, this was a war of global proportions which lasted from the first day of hostilities until the final sinking by torpedo on the 7 May 1945. It also encompassed lesser but nevertheless not inconsiderable campaigns in the Mediterranean, the Arctic, Indian and Southern African Oceans. Paterson is ready to contradict some familiar assumptions about the Atlantic battle. He counters what he calls the ‘myth’ of the U-Boat’s ‘happy time’ between July – October 1940, stating, ‘Though sometimes bloodily successful, it was fleeting and by no means as one-sided as frequently represented’. He attributes the cause, among other factors, to many U-Boat commanders’ over-reliance on making transmissions which either attracted anti-submarine forces or allowed convoys to divert. As the war progressed the U-Boats began to widen their areas of operations, further west and south in the Atlantic and into the Caribbean and fatefully to the Mediterranean where conditions including relatively constricted sea room and clear waters made submarine operations hazardous. In the meantime, according to Paterson, the increasing successes of the Ultra code-breakers were due at least in part to the German’s implacable belief in their own encrypted communication system. In the end, in common with their ally Japan, Germany’s ambitions over-reached their capabilities. Specifically he attributes the ultimate failure of the U-Boat campaigns to military and industrial mismanagement. The author’s extensive knowledge of his subject together with skillful editing enables him to describe a considerable number of campaigns and individual engagements both to advance his theories and to give the reader a comprehensive overview of what is a complex and many-faceted narrative. Osprey are to be congratulated for producing a high quality publication in which, ironically, the Nazi propaganda machine played its part by providing a range of excellent black and white photographs, including many of the famous U-Boat ‘aces’. It is perhaps understandable that it has taken the passage of time, some 77 years since the end of the war, for a truly dispassionate account to be written of what, for many, is an endlessly fascinating but perhaps misunderstood piece of history. In the end, in the face of one of the most well-known mythologies of World War II, that the Battle of the Atlantic ‘nearly brought Britain to its knees’ one is left to ponder Paterson’s statistic that of the 1,394 wartime U-Boat commanders commissioned, some 60 per cent failed to sink a single ship.

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