*** war and social upheaval: World War II naval campaigns -- the Atlantic

World War II Naval Campaign: The Atlantic

Battle of the Atlantic
Figure 1.--The North Atlantic is a very unforgiving place. The cold water meant that if the victims of an U-boat attack did not get into a life boat, the chance of surviving was minimal. And the convoy ships were under orders not to stop to pick up survivors. This would have presented additional easy targets for the U-boats. Here we see some survivors of the 'SS City of Benares' after being adrift 8 days in the rough Atlantic being rescued. This lifeboat included five children. Less than half of the children being evacuated to America were saved. A total of 77 children perished.

Most of the major naval engagements of World War II were fought in the Pacific between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. Navy, including the largest naval battles in history. Even so, the most important naval battle of the War, possibly the most important battle overall, was the campaign in the North Atlantic to defeat the German U-boats and their effort to cut off Britain's life line to America. While there were relatively few surface engagements because of the small German surface fleet, the campaign between U-boats and convoy escorts largely determined the outcome of the War. The Americas and British set on a Germany first doctrine even before America entered the War. The Allied victory in the North Atlantic made D-Day and the liberation of Western Europe possible as well as the strategic bombing campaign that destroyed Germany's ability to make War. While the naval campaign in the North Atlantic did not by itself defeat Germany, it did mean that the Allies could prevent the NAZI Germany and the Soviet Union from accomplishing what Hitler and Stalin as allies set out to do in 1939 with the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939), gain control not only of Eastern Europe, but Western Europe as well.

The Atlantic: Ocean Area

The naval campaigns are often given superficial coverage in assessments of World War II in Europe. In fact, the most important battle of the War was the Battle of the Atlantic. Churchill was to write after the War that it was the the loss Battle of the Atlantic that was the only thing he feared. Battles could be lost or won, but the cutting of Britain's life lines to the Dominions and especially America would have made it impossible for Britain to have continued the War. It was no accident that Anglo-American military cooperation began in the North Atlantic well before America entered the War. Hitler on the other hnd gave little attention to the U-boat fleet until after the War had began. Hitler had approved Plan-Z, a secret plan to prepare the Kriegsmarine for war with Britain by 1944. It involved the construction of massive capital ships and two aircraft carriers. The Germans with U-boats, surface fleet, and long range aircraft hoped to cut off Britain from its Empire and supply from the United States. Although neutral in the early years of the War, President Roosevelt was determine to support the Allies. A few days after the fall of France in 1940, a shocked American Congress approved the Naval Construction Act. The immediate impact of the fall of France in 1940 tremendosly increased the effectiveness of the German naval campaign, providing indespensible French Atlantic ports. The Royal Navy had ben strongly depleted during the inter-war era by naval limitations traties. After France fell, the Royal Navy stood alone againt the German and Italian navies. The Germans had growing surface fleet and the Italians a fast modern fleet that threatened to seize control of the Mediterannean. The German u-boat operations proved highly effective, despite the fact that Hitler launched the War years beore the Kriegsmarine was prepared. Even before America entered the War, the U.S. Navy was deployed in the North Atlantic to protect British convoys. Anglo-American naval and scientific cooperaion resulted in the defeat of the u-boat campain by 1943. Combined with American construction of liberty ships, not only was Britain kept supplied, but America assembled a massive force of men and supplies in England which in 1944 was unleased on Hitler's Atlantic Wall.

The Atlantic: Sea Areas

The primary Atlantic campign was fought in the North Atlantic between the Allies and the German U-boat fleet in a life and death struggle to keep the sea lanes between America and Britain open. The campaigns in the Atlantic sea areas were of only limited importance compared to the strugge in the North Atlantic. They were not, however, unimportant. The most important was the struggle between the Italian Regio Marina and British Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. This largely determined the outcome in the North African struggle and blocked Axis access to Middle Eastern oil. There were also naval campaigns in the Baltic and Black Seas. Campaigs that are poorly covered in World War II histories. The Baltic until the last year of the War became essentilly a German lake. The Black Sea was more of a contest and played a role in the Eastern Front campaign in the Ukranian. The substantial Soviet naval force at the onset of Barbarossa was largely negated and destroyed by German air power. The British naval victories in the Medterranean, however, meant that the Axis was unable to introduce substantial naval forces in the Black Sea. .


Blair, Clay. Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 19839-1942 (Random House: New York, 1996), 809p.

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Lash, Joseph P. Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941 (1976).

Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral


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Created: 1:10 PM 9/14/2016
Last updated: 6:50 AM 6/25/2019