WW2 History
Second World War History > Battle of the Atlantic

Battle of the Atlantic

Control of the Atlantic shipping lanes was key to both an Allied and an Axis victory - luckily for the Allies, victory smiled upon them.

Authored By Staff Writer

It is easy to overlook the Atlantic Theater of War when considering the major battlefronts of the Second World War. But it becomes no less important to the student when he/she realizes the importance of the men and women that fought for control of these vital shipping lanes between North America and Europe.The U-boat scourge was one of the more deadly components of the German war machine, a component utilized in the First World War as well, and became the greatest fear of merchant captains traversing the long causeways of the Atlantic Ocean.


Germany understood the important of resupply to Great Britain. As an island nation, Britain would be under intense pressure to capitulate would it not be able to keep its fighting forces, fed, clothes, supplied with ammunition and parts. Equally, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood the vital nature of the lanes between the UK and its American brethren. The New World, it seems, would be largely responsible for keeping the Old one afloat.


Similarly, the Soviet Union would soon come to depend on the shipping lanes for equally vital supplies and war-making implements such as fighters and tanks coming from America - this of course after Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union through Operation Barbarossa came to pass.


Nevertheless, as it stood, German Admiral Karl Donitz took command of the of the U-boat fleet in 1935. He fully understood the implications of Atlantic control and forged his fleet into a cohesive fighting force bent on annihilating the support structure to Europe. His directives included the tactic of "Wolf Packs" in which multiple German submarines would engage an enemy ship or convoy in unison, causing all sorts of calculated havoc and - ultimately - victory. Additionally, merchant ships of the time were unarmed, making them juicy targets to those lying in wait.


However, German blunders prevailed in developing a substantial undersea force for Donitz by September of 1939. Authorities placed an emphasis on the construction of surface vessels instead, forcing the U-boat fleet to number just 56 completed ships instead of the 300 or so envisioned by this time. Additionally, only about 22 of these submarines were actually built for the rough life of deep ocean diving - the rest being nothing more than coastal patrol vessels with limited capability.


The British liner Athenia became the first U-boat casualty, en route from Glasgow to Montreal, and resulted in the loss of 112 souls on September 3rd, 1939. Two days later, the Bosnia became the first merchant ship to fall to the U-boats. The "convoy system" was devised by the Allies and enacted the next day. Merchant vessels were now armed for the task and given orders to ram German warships if the situation presented itself. These actions, in Donitz's eyes, constituted an open-attack policy on any merchant vessel operating in the Atlantic.


Though still operating in limited numbers, the U-boats made their presence felt. Targets of opportunity initially became single ships and then graduated to unprotected convoys. As the plunder grew, so too did the German's area of operations west of Ireland.


1940 and the Fall of France added all-new origination ports for the German Kriegsmarine. Now U-boats could operate from these locations closer to the Atlantic Theater. Additionally, the German Luftwaffe was upgraded with longer-ranged maritime reconnaissance aircraft that could not only mark targets for the U-boats, but also tackle them through their own anti-ship measures. U-boats now had unprecedented reach throughout the vast ocean lanes, forcing the Allies to restructure their travel plans and put old battleships into service for interim protection. The signing of the Lend-Lease Act by the United States allowed for military assistance to Britain and the Soviet Union, helping matters somewhat. Despite this, U-boat "aces" were being born and thousands of tons of goods were lost to the ocean.


The Allies turned to ingenuity and developed several systems of note. Powerful searchlights, anti-ship patrol aircraft on escort carriers and radio transmission interceptors all began working against the U-boat fleet. While 1941 saw nearly 500 Allied ships and over 2.4 million tons of goods lost, 1942 was even worse with over 1,000 ships and nearly 5.5 million tons of goods lost.


However, by March of 1943, the golden age of the German U-boat - and any advantage they held - was undone. Allied tactics improved thanks to technology, experience and execution. U-boats were increasingly targeted as were their all-important bases of origination. The RAF succeeded in disrupting such operations along the coast of France and the successful June 1943 D-Day invasions removed these German Navy bases from contention altogether. The commission-to-loss rate of the U-boat fleet became unsupportable - with 98 new boats placed online to try and replace the 123 or so lost.


Despite the fleet numbering some 400-strong, the U-boat scourge was all but over. As Allied forces made headway throughout Africa, Italy and France, the tide had turned on the Germans in more ways than one. The U-boat capacity was one such casualty for the Germans and a major (as well as critical) victory for the Allied cause.


Arguably the most important battle of World War 2 had now come to a close.

Text ©2006-2012 www.SecondWorldWarhistory.com • All Rights Reserved • No Reproduction Permitted
Total Battle of the Atlantic Events: 27

1939
Sunday
September 3rd

Athenia, a British passenger liner originating from Glasgow and traveling to Montreal, is targeted and sunk by German U-boat U-30 resulting the loss of 112 people. Athenia becomes the first naval casualty of the U-boat scourge in the Atlantic.

1939
Tuesday
September 5th

The Bosnia becomes the first merchantman to be sunk by the German U-boats.

1939
Wednesday
September 6th

Thirty-six Allied ships set out across the Atlantic in the first coordinated convoy crossing attempt.

1940
Monday
January 1st

Only 21 operational ships make up the U-boat fleet at this time.

1940
Saturday
July 6th

German ships begin operating out of captured bases along the French coast.

1940
Saturday
August 17th

German U-boats are given the green light to attack any and all merchant vessels - whether armed or not - in an attempt to stranglehold the British mainland into submission.

1940
Friday
September 20th

Massive convoys breed equal massive measures - German U-boats begin operating in 20-strong "Wolf Packs" with coordinated attacks.

1940
Friday
October 18th - October 19th

An attack on two Allied convoys yields 36 sunken ships by the attacking German U-boats.

1941
Tuesday
March 11th

The Lend-Lease Bill is signed into law by American President Franklin Roosevelt allowing the United States the unrestricted ability to help supply the Allies in their fight against the Axis.

1941
Thursday
April 10th

The first US combat action against Germany occurs - this being the USS Niblack destroyer firing on a marauding German U-boat violating the US security zone.

1941
Friday
May 9th

HMS Bulldog acquires the first Enigma code machine during the capture of the U-110. British codebreakers set to work on deciphering the device.

1941
Tuesday
May 27th

The first escorted convoy - HX129 - crosses the Atlantic.

1942
Thursday
January 1st

The German U-boat fleet now numbers some 331 operational vessels.

1942
Thursday
January 1st - March 1st

Off the east coast of the United States, some 216 vessels fall prey to the German U-boat scourge in this span.

1942
Thursday
May 14th

The convoy system is formally adopted by the United States in an effort to protect its merchant shipping in the Atlantic.

1942
Monday
June 1st - June 30th

June of 1942 marks the single worst month of Allied shipping losses, totaling some 834,000 tons of goods at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

1942
Sunday
July 19th

German U-boats off the eastern coast of the US are relocated to better assault the merchant fleets streaming across the Atlantic.

1943
Thursday
January 14th

U-boat bases at Cherbourg and Lorient are targeted by the Royal Air Force.

1943
Monday
February 1st

A Presidential directive calls for some 250 American aircraft to begin offensive actions in the Atlantic.

1943
Saturday
May 1st

Allied aircraft are fitted with U-boat detecting radar systems.

1943
Saturday
May 1st - May 31st

By the end of May, 43 U-boats are sunk to just 34 merchant vessels.

1943
Wednesday
May 19th

Some 33 U-boats assail an Allied convoy. However, the streamlined Allied response nets zero ship losses and fatalities. The U-boats come up empty.

1943
Monday
May 24th

Due to dwindling results, German Admiral Karl Donitz calls back his U-boats from operations in the Atlantic.

1943
Tuesday
June 1st

The German U-boats are unleashed once more, this time operating in substantially smaller groups.

1943
Sunday
June 6th

The Allied D-Day landings in the North of France eventually render the French-German U-boat bases inoperable.

1945
Sunday
April 1st - April 30th

The USN is credited with sinking four German U-boats in what turns out to be the last recorded combat actions in the Atlantic Theater of War.

1945
Tuesday
May 1st

By May of 1945, the U-boat scourge in the Atlantic is over, completing one of the more important battles in all of World War 2.
Second World War History

EVENTS BY WAR YEAR:

1939
1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945


EVENTS BY DAY OF THE WEEK:

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday


MISC:

Pearl Harbor Speech Text
WW2 War Posters
WW2 Quotes
WW2 Statistics


NATIONAL TIMELINES:

Australia
Austria
Belgium
Britain
Bulgaria
Canada
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Holland
Hungary
India
Italy
Japan
New Zealand
Norway
Poland
Romania
South Africa
Soviet Union
United States
Uruguay

Contacting SecondWorldWarHistory.com
We can only get better if you tell us how. You can contact SecondWorldWarHistory.com at SecondWorldWarHistory at gmail dot com (replace "at" with "@" and "dot with ".") with any questions, comments or corrections. We also accept related military imagery that you approve for us to use on our website. Keep in mind, however, that due to volume, we may not directly respond to your inquiry. Please add us to your list of non-blocked recipients if you expect a response!
British Flag
German WW2 Flag
Soviet Union Flag
United States Flag
French Flag
Japanese Flag
Italian Flag
Finland Flag
Australian Flag
British Canada Flag
British India Flag
Poland Flag
Belgium Flag
Greece Flag
Holland Flag
British South Africa Flag
Norway Flag
Denmark Flag
Romania Flag
New Zealand Flag
Austrian Flag
Hungarian Flag
Bulgaria Flag
Uruguay Flag
All Events by War Year
All Events by Day of the Week
SUN
MON
TUE
WED
THU
FRI
SAT
World War 2 Posters
Pearl Harbor Speech
WW2 Weapons
spacer img

Site Disclaimer | Privacy Policy


©2014 www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com • Content ©2006-2014 SecondWorldWarHistory.com • All Rights Reserved • Site Contact Email: secondworldwarhistory at gmail dot com (replace "at" with "@" and "dot" with ".")

Top SwwH Stuff: Battle of El Alamein | WW2 Quotes | Rescue at Dunkirk | Blitzkrieg on Poland | Operation Market Garden


Most photographic images appearing on this site are courtesy of the public domain. Digital art work courtesy of Dan Alex. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value.

eXTReMe Tracker