The battle of the Atlantic

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Reg Norton writes:

 

1941. The second year of World War 2. All of continental Europe is under Nazi control. Britain stands alone, her cities being bombed nightly and her citizens living with the realisation that they are in imminent danger of invasion. Survival depended on maritime trade. Our Merchant Fleet was the largest in the world, consisting of 1,900 ocean-going ships with crews drawn from throughout the Commonwealth.

 

Along with ships of friendly nations, Britain relied on these vessels to supply all of her oil, half of her food and most of her raw materials. British Merchant Ships also exported goods to help pay for these imports. It was absolutely essential that this vital life-line be protected.

 

So, the "Convoy" system was introduced where 30 or 40 merchant ships sailed together, escorted by one or two fast ships of the Royal Navy. After the fall of France, German submarines (known as U-boats) had direct access to the North Atlantic and the threat to that life-line became very real.

 

Ministry of Information Poster

Ministry of Information Poster - World War 2

 

Ministry of Information Poster

 

In 1941, our losses totalled 1328 ships of which total, U-boats, hunting in groups called "wolf packs" were responsible for destroying no less than 432 vessels!

Ministry of Information Poster - World War 2

 

Admiral Raeder, who commanded the U-boats estimated that they needed to sink 150 merchant ships each month to starve us into surrender. Because of this change in tactics, Hitler turned his attention to the East and launched "Operation Barbarossa" - the invasion of Russia. But, like Napoleon 150 years earlier, the German army was beaten by the bitter winter weather and, at the very gates of Moscow, the Red Army counterattacked.

Ministry of Information Poster

U-boat attacking merchant ship

Source unknown

 

At the same time, on the other side of the world, the Japanese, who had grown tired of American Trade embargoes, launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 which finally pulled the United States into the war. Throughout this whole period, in fact throughout the entire war from September 1939, we were fighting the "Battle of the Atlantic", which Winston Churchill described as "...the dominating factor all through the war." Also, in his words, it was "....the only thing that really frightened me" - and with just cause when you consider the losses mentioned earlier.

 

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  Last modified:
30/12/2004