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Clay Blair's "hitler's U-Boat War" Two Volume Set.


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#1 Chris Werb

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 1554 PM

Hi guys. I'm interested to hear your opinions on Clay Blair's "Hitler's U-boat War" two volume set. I'm reading at the moment and finding it excellent, but remember some controversy about the title on here some years (decades) ago.


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#2 RETAC21

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 1600 PM

Excellent, I got the first volume on the ebook and ended up buying both volumes and Silent victory (for US sub ops) in print as the standard reference. Some stuff would be dated but it won't reduce the value of the books


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#3 Markus Becker

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Posted 02 February 2020 - 1631 PM

I got the German version well over ten years ago and it's why I also got Silent Victory.
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#4 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 0659 AM

I keep getting stalled halfway through volume 1. Its brilliant but a little dry. Found Silent Victory much easier.

 

I do think his negativity to German late war submarines needs to be tempered. This also seems to be the origin of the 'Germans would never have won the war in the Atlantic anyway' argument, which ive always been suspicious of. Particularly when it was believed in some parts of the Admiralty that the country was down to 2 weeks worth of food at one point, and ignores just how chancy Enigma decripts were. I dont know, ive not read volume 2 so I cant comment, but from what ive seen is an excellent book thus far.


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#5 RETAC21

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 1458 PM

I keep getting stalled halfway through volume 1. Its brilliant but a little dry. Found Silent Victory much easier.

 

I do think his negativity to German late war submarines needs to be tempered. This also seems to be the origin of the 'Germans would never have won the war in the Atlantic anyway' argument, which ive always been suspicious of. Particularly when it was believed in some parts of the Admiralty that the country was down to 2 weeks worth of food at one point, and ignores just how chancy Enigma decripts were. I dont know, ive not read volume 2 so I cant comment, but from what ive seen is an excellent book thus far.

 

Volume 2 is depressing if you root for the U boats:

 

20 May 1943 U-485 sunk, U-578 sunk, U-699 sunk

21 May 1943 U-663 sunk, U-445 sunk, U-998 sunk

22 May 1943 U-997 sunk, U-876 sunk, U-112 sunk

 

etc.


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#6 Ken Estes

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 1548 PM

How would the Germans have won the Battle of the Atlantic, Stuart?


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#7 Nobu

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 1743 PM

By playing a role in the decision of a Britain fighting alone to reach a political accommodation with Hitler and his U-boat war before December 7, 1941.


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#8 R011

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 2120 PM

For all the legitimate concern at the time, Germany was not close to winning the Battle of the Atlantic. Even without US help, the RN was improving faster than the Germans and the Germans were years away from winning the tonnage war.

Once the US unofficially entered the war in mid 1941, German victory in the Atlantic would only have been possible with unbelievable incompetence on the Allied side.
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#9 R011

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Posted 03 February 2020 - 2124 PM

As for the Type XXI wonder subs, they weren't as quiet as claimed and they were limited to a 5 kt speed of advance, meaning slower to get to the convoy routes and slower than the convoys. They would be faster than older subs during the attack and harder, but not impossible, to detect.
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#10 Argus

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0104 AM

Up front I have to say I have not read Blair, but I have read a good deal on the subject and been on the edges of debate around his conclusions many times.

The telling thing to me, is the SME's always end up arguing the degree and detail about how badly he got it wrong and why he got there. The question of his fundamental error in asserting Britain was under no real threat gets taken as read.

My wider reading finds little to support a case the UK was actually comfortably off for imports and just crying poor, and everything to suggest that their surpluses were more a result of careful husbandry than over supply, but thats only my 2 cents and worth as much.    


Edited by Argus, 04 February 2020 - 0107 AM.

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#11 Argus

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0116 AM

As for the Type XXI wonder subs, they weren't as quiet as claimed and they were limited to a 5 kt speed of advance, meaning slower to get to the convoy routes and slower than the convoys. They would be faster than older subs during the attack and harder, but not impossible, to detect.

 

And high speed submarines were not as revolutionary as get claimed either, the RN kept a R-class as a clockwork mouse down at Portland into the mid 30's specifically to provide a high speed submarine target, the results of which were incorporated into base doctrine and on file in every fleet library.


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#12 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0334 AM

How would the Germans have won the Battle of the Atlantic, Stuart?

You are better to ask, how could we have lost it?

 

There is an underlying narrative in the American Historians position that the battle of the atlantic that the Germans were doomed to lose it. That doesnt to my mind take into account how we had the lucky break of  accessing Enigma, and the lucky break we had America came into the war when it did, which was entirely the Germans own choice. They lost the best chance of winning the war right there.

 

Well we nearly lost the intelligence war right from the start. We had the Admiralty codes for convoy protection broken. We had no maritime air worth a damn. Most of the initial breaks were on the Germans side. I think personally action in the South Atlantic would probably have broken us, because it would have broken links with the rest of the Empire, and when the Japanese got in the war, that could have been fatal. In fact, the invasion of Madagascar was to stop any such cooperation between the Germans and the Japanese, because if it had been lost, it could have made operations in the Indian ocean as problematic as the mid atlantic.

https://en.wikipedia...e_of_Madagascar

 

Failing that, remaining undefeated would have suited the Germans fine, because whilst the Submarine Fleet  was undefeated, launching a second front in Northern Europe would not have happened. For the Germans that would have perhaps been achieved, if they had used more secure codes on top of the 4 wheel rotor system. From what I read in Hugh Sebag Montefiore's book on Enigma, this was actually starting to happen in 1945, right as the Third Reich was collapsing. If they could have done that 2 or 3 years earlier, we would have had problems pinning down the German boats enough to achieve the attrition on them we did. More secure coms, such as not reporting sightings till they engaged, as Kretchmer did, would also have been a good idea. It would have made DF virtually useless till wolfpacks were on the convoys.

 

There was nothing inevitable about the victory in the Atlantic, and it minimises British and Commonwealth efforts that this narrative is continually trotted out.


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#13 R011

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0403 AM

There's a difference between enemy victory being impossible no matter what and enemy victory being impossible so long as friendly forces try.

Things were certainly tight, but not as tight as they were after the war when shortages had nothing to do with enemy action. As for SIGINT, it certainly made things much easier, but it's a bit of a stretch to say unwinnable without it. Indeed, there were times the Germans changed codes and we were blind for a while.

As for fanciful plans of cross oceanic invasions by a country without the logistics to support what they already had - good luck.
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#14 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0445 AM

There's a difference between enemy victory being impossible no matter what and enemy victory being impossible so long as friendly forces try.

Things were certainly tight, but not as tight as they were after the war when shortages had nothing to do with enemy action. As for SIGINT, it certainly made things much easier, but it's a bit of a stretch to say unwinnable without it. Indeed, there were times the Germans changed codes and we were blind for a while.

As for fanciful plans of cross oceanic invasions by a country without the logistics to support what they already had - good luck.

Look what happened with Vichy Forces in Indo China. The Japanese turn up, set an ultimatum, the French handed it over. From what im led to understand, there were japanese Submarines off the coast of Madagascar just after the allied landings. Chancy for them? Yes. But what a payoff if it works out for them, and what an even bigger payoff for the Germans. And no real cost to them to even try.

https://www.sahistor...base-madagascar


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#15 Rick

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0505 AM

During the actual time of the end of  1939 to the middle of 1944, how did the Royal Navy officers making the actual decisions know how the "Battle of the Atlantic" was doing at this time? Same question for the Kriegsmarine. 


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#16 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0523 AM

The only clue they had was tonnage being lost. And that at times was still a major issue as late as 1943. Didnt matter that ships were being replaced, I have to wonder how easy it was to find crews.

 

We look at it now as if it was inevitable the end result was always going to happen. Whilst it was probably likely with the decisions Germany made prewar, it wasnt a given. You only have to look at PQ17 to see the spectacular result a few bad decisions could have.


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#17 R011

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0830 AM


There's a difference between enemy victory being impossible no matter what and enemy victory being impossible so long as friendly forces try.

Things were certainly tight, but not as tight as they were after the war when shortages had nothing to do with enemy action. As for SIGINT, it certainly made things much easier, but it's a bit of a stretch to say unwinnable without it. Indeed, there were times the Germans changed codes and we were blind for a while.

As for fanciful plans of cross oceanic invasions by a country without the logistics to support what they already had - good luck.

Look what happened with Vichy Forces in Indo China. The Japanese turn up, set an ultimatum, the French handed it over. From what im led to understand, there were japanese Submarines off the coast of Madagascar just after the allied landings. Chancy for them? Yes. But what a payoff if it works out for them, and what an even bigger payoff for the Germans. And no real cost to them to even try.
https://www.sahistor...base-madagascar
These were Japanese forces moving across the border from Japanese occupied China. They also weren't then trying to support forces in Malaya, Dutch East Indies, the Dolomons etc. An occassional sub patrol isn't the same as an invasion force and the IJN was not going to wholeheartedly switch over to hitting merchants instead of supporting the battlefleet. Nor did the Allies not have escorted convoys.

PQ17 was very muchan exeption. Unless German capital ships could operate at will in the Atlantic and the Luftwaffe somehow manage to deploy several hundred miles further west, disasters like that were not going to happen on a regular basis.

Edited by R011, 04 February 2020 - 0835 AM.

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#18 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 0922 AM

 

 

There's a difference between enemy victory being impossible no matter what and enemy victory being impossible so long as friendly forces try.

Things were certainly tight, but not as tight as they were after the war when shortages had nothing to do with enemy action. As for SIGINT, it certainly made things much easier, but it's a bit of a stretch to say unwinnable without it. Indeed, there were times the Germans changed codes and we were blind for a while.

As for fanciful plans of cross oceanic invasions by a country without the logistics to support what they already had - good luck.

Look what happened with Vichy Forces in Indo China. The Japanese turn up, set an ultimatum, the French handed it over. From what im led to understand, there were japanese Submarines off the coast of Madagascar just after the allied landings. Chancy for them? Yes. But what a payoff if it works out for them, and what an even bigger payoff for the Germans. And no real cost to them to even try.
https://www.sahistor...base-madagascar
These were Japanese forces moving across the border from Japanese occupied China. They also weren't then trying to support forces in Malaya, Dutch East Indies, the Dolomons etc. An occassional sub patrol isn't the same as an invasion force and the IJN was not going to wholeheartedly switch over to hitting merchants instead of supporting the battlefleet. Nor did the Allies not have escorted convoys.

PQ17 was very muchan exeption. Unless German capital ships could operate at will in the Atlantic and the Luftwaffe somehow manage to deploy several hundred miles further west, disasters like that were not going to happen on a regular basis.

 

Well yes, thats all im suggesting. If they could either convince the Vichy to yield madagascar, or better yet, continue to defend it and give port access, that would be a shot in the arm for the Japanese, and in fact, the Germans as well.

 

I dont think they liked attacking merchants, but they certainly did it, even off the US West coast. And in 1943 and 44 the Germans were increasingly using the IXD in the Indian Ocean as well. I wouldnt claim they were achieving the same kills they did in the North Atlantic, but it was stretching our defences. If they could have done that a year or 2 earlier, I really dont see us having enough to cover all the bases.

 

Agreed on PQ17, it was an exception. But that is kind of the point, we know we won the Battle of the Atlantic with what were, mostly, good decisions. If we accept that good commanders made good decisions, we have to reflect there was certainly opportunity for there to be bad ones making poor ones. I think around 1941, we didnt have much room to make many bad decisions.

 

If the commanders at the time felt they were approaching a crunch point, and they did, I think we have to stop and reflect why. its too easy for us to say in hindsight they were always going to win. I think that is lazy and frankly complacent thinking. It ignores the ability for even intelligent men to screw up occasionally.
 


Edited by Stuart Galbraith, 04 February 2020 - 0924 AM.

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#19 R011

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 1001 AM

The Japanese actually invaded Indochina. The French didn't give it to them willingly. They wouldn't give them Madagascar either. A transoceanic amphibious assault from bases in Vietnam and China would not be feasible.

As for consistently bad leaders making consistently bad decisions, unless the RN had fired every competent officer of Captain rank or higher, it is not realistic to think that situation would last more than a few months,

Look. The RN had some three hundred years to figure out how to fight a worldwide naval war and had comparatively recent experience of a modern one where they did make basic errors thinking the old lessons didn't apply. They did and they relearned them in 1917.
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#20 RETAC21

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 1257 PM

 

How would the Germans have won the Battle of the Atlantic, Stuart?

You are better to ask, how could we have lost it?

 

There is an underlying narrative in the American Historians position that the battle of the atlantic that the Germans were doomed to lose it. That doesnt to my mind take into account how we had the lucky break of  accessing Enigma, and the lucky break we had America came into the war when it did, which was entirely the Germans own choice. They lost the best chance of winning the war right there.

 

Well we nearly lost the intelligence war right from the start. We had the Admiralty codes for convoy protection broken. We had no maritime air worth a damn. Most of the initial breaks were on the Germans side. I think personally action in the South Atlantic would probably have broken us, because it would have broken links with the rest of the Empire, and when the Japanese got in the war, that could have been fatal. In fact, the invasion of Madagascar was to stop any such cooperation between the Germans and the Japanese, because if it had been lost, it could have made operations in the Indian ocean as problematic as the mid atlantic.

https://en.wikipedia...e_of_Madagascar

 

Failing that, remaining undefeated would have suited the Germans fine, because whilst the Submarine Fleet  was undefeated, launching a second front in Northern Europe would not have happened. For the Germans that would have perhaps been achieved, if they had used more secure codes on top of the 4 wheel rotor system. From what I read in Hugh Sebag Montefiore's book on Enigma, this was actually starting to happen in 1945, right as the Third Reich was collapsing. If they could have done that 2 or 3 years earlier, we would have had problems pinning down the German boats enough to achieve the attrition on them we did. More secure coms, such as not reporting sightings till they engaged, as Kretchmer did, would also have been a good idea. It would have made DF virtually useless till wolfpacks were on the convoys.

 

There was nothing inevitable about the victory in the Atlantic, and it minimises British and Commonwealth efforts that this narrative is continually trotted out.

 

 

Don't forget that in 1945 the allies were also deploying their high tech toys in the form of sonobuoys and air dropped acoustic torpedoes against which the legacy U boats had no viable defence and the elektroboots would be few in number initially. The U boat arm fought to the last day of the war, with the last U boat appearing at Buenos Aires on 10th July 1945, but after May 1943 it was an impossible struggle and just ran up the casualty count.

 

The window in which the Germans could have "won" only in the narrow window between the fall of France and the US entry into the war, and they didn't have enough boats to even approach a decisive result, but that didn't mean they didn't try or that it was an easy fight


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