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TOTAL UNDERSEA WAR

Aaron S Hamilton

The Evolutionary Role of the Snorkel in D0nitz's U-Boat Fleet, 1944-1945

This exhaustive study, the first of its kind, draws upon wartime documents from archives around the world to re-evaluate the last year of the U-boat's deployment, all its key technological innovations, the evolving operations and tactics, and Allied countermeasures. It provides answers to many long-standing questions about the last year of the war. This new study is destined to become the authoritative reference for all these issues and many more.

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During the last year of World War II the once surface-bound diesel-electric U-boat ushered in the age of total undersea war' with the introduction of an air mast, or 'snorkel' as it became known among the men who served in Donitz's submarine fleet. U-boats no longer needed to surface to charge batteries or refresh air; they rarely communicated with their command, operating silently and alone among the shallow coastal waters of the United Kingdom and across to North America. At first, U-boats could remain submerged continuously for a few days, then a few weeks, and finally for months at a time, and they set underwater endurance records not broken for nearly a quarter of a century. The introduction of the snorkel was of paramount concern to the Allies, who strived to frustrate the impact of the device before war's end. Every subsequent wartime U-boat innovation was subordinated to the snorkel, including the new Type XXI Electro-boat wonder weapon'. The snorkel's introduction foreshadowed the nearly un-trackable weapon and instrument of intelligence that the submarine became in the postwar world. This exhaustive study, the first of its kind, draws upon wartime documents from archives around the world to re-evaluate the last year of the U-boat's deployment, all its key technological innovations, the evolving operations and tactics, and Allied countermeasures. It provides answers to many long-standing questions about the last year of the war: How and why did U-boats patrol so close inshore? How effective was acoustic and anti-radar camouflage? Why was U-boat wireless communication so problematic? How did U-boats navigate so effectively submerged? What were the health implications of staying submerged for a month or more? What does an accurate snorkel-configuration look like? This new study is destined to become the authoritative reference for all these issues and many more.

ISBN: 9781526778802
Format: Hardback
Author(s): Aaron S Hamilton
First Publishment Date: 17 June 2020

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  1. This is an important book which dispels many of the false assumptions often made review by Jon Wise on 25/11/2020

    Aaron Hamilton’s book sets out to counter the popular argument that the Battle of the Atlantic was effectively won by the Allies in 1943, in ‘Black May’ as it became known. The introduction of the snorkel (anglicised version of the German name ‘schnorkel’) and its attendant devices including anti-radar coating and acoustic camouflage were highly significant developments which, by the end of the war, threatened to tip the balance back in favour of the U-Boat. Just as importantly, they paved the way for what were effectively submersibles, with their requirement to surface regularly to replenish their oxygen supplies, to become true submarines.
    What is remarkable is that the innovation and deployment of this ‘air mast’, which allowed the snorkel-equipped boats to remain submerged for increasingly long periods of time, was accomplished in the middle of a world war. ‘Salvation’ as the author describes it, came in the form of a letter from a private U-Boat engineer Dr Hellmuth Walter, sent to Admiral Dönitz during that fateful May, which was to become the catalyst for the rapid experimentation and then deployment of the snorkel.
    As a consequence, the last year of the war saw a radical change in tactics from mass ‘Wolfpack’ attacking formations in the central North Atlantic to single U-Boats seeking their victims in coastal waters, particularly around convoy ‘choke points’. Additionally, the increasing confidence shown in the snorkel device enabled the boats to stay submerged for between fifty to seventy days, records which were not surpassed until the introduction of the nuclear submarine. Thus the snorkel enabled the U-Boat, for instance, to avoid detection while crossing what had become the Bay of Biscay ‘killing-ground’ before disappearing into the wastes of the Atlantic.
    Hamilton explains the working of the device in extensive technical detail in the first part of the book aided by a number of excellent close-up, contemporary photographs. Similar attention is given to the rubber coating applied to the snorkel head and mast. Owing to the increasing ability of the Allies’ surface search airborne radar sets what might otherwise have been the ‘achilles heel’ of the snorkel was effectively countered. Of equal, if not greater significance in terms of the post-war evolution in submarine technology, was the use of rubber coating to reduce sound wave emissions which the author calls ‘one of the least understood of wartime technical developments’. In the decade before Black May, the German BdU had identified ASDIC as the most potent threat to its boats and the discovery of an effective countermeasure was handed the highest priority. Thus, the anechoic tiles, which are used on the hulls of contemporary submarines, trace their lineage directly to the ground-breaking ‘Alberich’ tiles.
    Make no mistake, this is an important book which dispels many of the false assumptions often made in the vast ‘library’ of books about who won the U-Boat war. Instead, the author rightly concentrates on the undoubted significance of the snorkel and accompanying devices as part of an evolutionary process in the historical development of the submarine.

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