In the summer of 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was in the balance. In March the Germans had one of their greatest successes, inflicting heavy losses on convoys HX.229 and SC.122, before in May the attack on convoy ONS.5 saw the Germans lose six U-boats at the start of a costly month that forced Donitz to withdraw his U-boats from the Atlantic.
This study, originally published in English in 1977, focuses on the March battles, and stops at the end of the attacks on HX.229 and SC.122. However the author's aim was to put these battles into their wider context, so there is also an examination of the situation in the previous months, in particular looking at those convoys that escaped attack to work out how that was achieved, the location and status of the Allied escort forces and the command and control mechanisms on both sides. The overall aim is to examine the strategic and tactical elements of these battles, so we don't get the eyewitness accounts so common in more recent books, but we do get an examination of command decisions on both sides.
The German version of this book was written at an interesting time for students of the Second World War, just after the '30 year rule' meant that many British secret documents were released to the public, but just before the first revelations of the successful code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park. The author thus had to re-think many of his conclusions before the English version appeared, to take into account those emerging revelations. This section is of great value – instead of taking the claims made for the code breakers at face value, the author looks at the type of messages that could be intercepted, the speed with which different code circles were actually broken, and what could actually be done with the information that thus became available. Other technological tools, in particular the availability of radio direction finding equipment on escort ships, are given equal if not more credit for Allied successes.
The availability of most official documents for the period meant that Rohwer was able to eliminate some of the exaggerated claims of success on both sides, to produce a more realistic assessment of the fighting. Both sides over-claimed, distorting both official documents at the time and early histories, but here the detailed records from both sides have been compared to produce a more accurate picture of the fighting.
This was a valuable addition to the literature on the Battle of the Atlantic when it first came out nearly forty years ago, and although much more work has been done since, it is still an excellent study, in particular because of the examination of the overall picture in the period before the main battles of March 1943, and for the accurate, detailed account of the fighting itself.
1 - Introduction: Prewar Considerations
2 - 1939-41: The Experience of the First War Years
3 - 1942: The Strategy of the Economic Deployment of the U-Boats
4 - Forces at the Beginning of March 1943
5 - Convoy Control in March 1943
6 - The Gibraltar Convoy Routes
7 - The Search and Evasive Actions up to March 16
8 - The First Night
9 - March 17, 1943
10 - March 18, 1943
11 - The End of the Operation
12 - Conclusions Drawn from the Convoy Battle
13 - Tactical and Technical Analysis of the Operations on Both Sides
14 - Conclusion: The Convoy Battle of March 1943
Author: Jurgen Rohwer