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Under Water Warfare The Struggle Against the Submarine Menace 1939 -1945
The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic

This battle ebbed and flowed from the opening day of W.W. 2 The German V-30. only twelve hours after war was declared. sank the" Athenia" off Ireland, with the subsequent loss of life of 120 of its passengers. It continued unabated for the next 5 years, and 8 months, until, Admiral Donitz, on 4 May,1945, ordered all U-Boats to cease hostilities, and return to base.

Hedgehog Charge explodes

[ click for enlarged photograph ]

Hitler on 9 October, 1939, made this comment, "Used ruthlessly, the Submarine, can today, be an extraordinary threat to Britain." Churchill said, " Battles might be won or lost, enterprises succeed or miscarry, Territories might be gained or quitted, but, dominating all our power to carry on the war, or even keep ourselves alive, was our mastery of the ocean routes, and free approach and entry to our ports. The only thing that ever frightened me during the war was the U-Boat peril."

Convoy being assembled in Bedford Basin, Halifax Nova Scotia

Convoy being assembled in Bedford Basin, Halifax Nova Scotia

The period of seven months from war's declaration to the invasion of Norway by Germany has been dubbed "The Phoney War." For the Royal Navy, it had been anything but "Phoney." During the first three months of the war, for every 1000 tons of Allied merchant ships sunk, 110,000 tons reached port, and, 140,000 tons sailed from Britain. The "Royal Oak" had been sunk within the supposed sanctuary of the Home Fleet Base at Scapa Flow. The carrier "Courageous" sunk, and 6 Destroyers and 3 British Submarines all lost.

Gunther Prien who sank the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow

Gunther Prien who sank the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow

In the South Atlantic, the Battle of the River Plate was over, and the German "Graf Spee" had been sunk. The threat of German surface raiders such as "Deutschland," "Scheer," "Scharnhorst," and "Gneisenau," sallying forth into the shipping lanes ot' the North Atlantic ensured that a large force of the Royal Navy was effectively tied down as the Home Fleet based on Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland.

One of my Midshipman's journal entries at this time reads.- "Even with the increased menace of magnetic mines, Submarine and Aircraft attack, Germany has failed to halt British trade.

An entry dated Friday 21 June 1940, ( at this time I was 18, and had been at sea in H.M.A.S "Australia," since September, 1939.)

"The great German advance has continued, and now the whole of France is in chaos, Paris has fallen, the British Government offered complete union with France, so that France and Britain may be joined as one entity - however, France has not responded to this offer. M. Reynaud has resigned, and the hero of Verdun, Marshal Petain has been elected as the new Prime Minister. France is seeking an armistice, this news has come as a great shock to the whole civilized world, however, Mr Winston Churchill has declared "Britain will now fight to the finish" (of course, the term Britan, includes Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) It seems to me, that the fate of the Empire depends on the Navy, and the war has turned to a Naval war. Our aim is to blockade Germany, and so starve them into submision. This wll become a difficult task if the French Fleet falls into German hands, and nothing less than united efforts on everyone's part will win us this war, and save the Empire from destruction."

Convoy under air protection

Convoy under air protection

With the fall of France. Germany has gained U-Boat bases on the West coast of France, thus shortening the entry and exit routes to the Battle of the Atlantic Around the Atlantic. Around the Battle of Britain time my journal talks about the R.A.F bombing the French coast where German troops are reported massing for the invasion of Britain, and I comment thus, "Hitler has apparently missed his opportunity to invade, the longer he waits, the less chance he has of succeeding. Before long the weather will be unsuitable for any attempt. If, however he does attempt invasion, he will meet with terrific resistence, and I think, the chance of German troops surviving attacks by the Navy and R.A.F is remote. Even if a large percentage of German troops do manage to penetrate to the coast, they will find themselves up against several million Allied troops under arms, and a whole Island united against Nazism, and everything for which it stands.

The obstacles in Hitter's way are pararnount. In his earlier conquests mobile equipment has been one of his chief allies, now he has a strip of water, the English Channel between France and his ultimate objective, after becoming Master of the Channel. He then has to conquer the British Spirit."

On 15 September, 1940, there is an interesting comment in my Journal, "Britain could not exist without her Merchant Fleet, as she needs to import 75% of all her foodstuff needs."

 <CENTER><FONT size=1>Convoy under air protection</FONT></CENTER>

Convoy under air protection

The Year 1941
The dark days of 1941, in the Atlantic,and the struggle to survive, are epitomised by two comments from Winston Churchill: - "When you think how easy it is to sink ships at sea, and how hard it is to build them, and when you realise that we never had less than 2000 ships afloat, and 300 to 400 in the danger zone, and of the great Armies we are nuturing,and reinforcing in the East, and of the world wide traffic we have to carry on, when you think of all this, can you wonder that it is the Battle of the Atlantic which holds the first place in the thoughts of those upon whom the responsibility for final Victory rests.

"The Merchant Navy, with Allied comrades, night and day, in weather fair or foul, faced not only the ordinary perils on the sea, but the sudden assaults of war from beneath the waters or from the sky. Your first task is to bring to port the cargoes vital for us at home or for our Armies abroad, and we trust your tenacity and resolve to see this stern task through. We are a seafaring race, and we understand the call of the sea. We account you in these hard days worthy successors in a tradition of steadfast courage and high adventure, and we feel confident that proud tradition of our Island will be upheld today, wherever the Ensign of a British Merchantman is flown."

Sinking of U-Boat U110
On 9 May. 1941. Fritz Julius Lemp in command of U110, was off the Southern tip of Greenland and attacked a heavily escorted convoy. He was forced to he surface by a Royal Navy escort Destroyer, and Lemp's crew set explosive charges to scuttle the U-Boat. Lemp and most of his crew abandoned ship. When the charges failed to explode, the C.O tried to return to his Boat to reset these scuttling charges, but was shot by one of the British boarding party. U110 was captured intact, yielding up an Enigma machine used to encipher operational Radio messages, plus Code Books etc.

Shortly afterwards, British Cryptographers broke the German cipher used to direct U-Boat crews by radio.

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