History of the Second World War, Volume 4

again as with the surface escorts the problem was range and endurance. As yet there were no aircraft in Coastal Command with a range or endurance long enough to cover Atlantic convoys for more than a short period of their passage even using Iceland and Newfoundland as additional bases. To try to fill the gaps with carrier-borne air­craft was out of the question for the few aircraft-carriers in the fleet were all re­quired for other operational duties. Perhaps even more important in 1941 efficient air­borne radar by which aircraft could locate U-boats on the surface was as yet instill the future as was an efficient airborne weapon which could kill a submarine. The odds then were still strongly in favour of the U-boat and they remained in its favour throughout 1941 and 1942. These were the years of building up the Allied anti-submarine escort forces both surface and air in numbers in training in tactical doctrine and in the provision of scientific aids to locate U-boats —along and tedious road to travel made longer and harder by the rapid increase in numbers of the U-boats and by the development of their pack tactics of attack. Early in 1941 the first step along this road was taken by the removal of the head­quarters of the Western Approaches com­mand from Plymouth to Liverpool and by the appointment of a commander-in-chief whose sole responsibility was to conduct the campaign against the U-boats. Into this new headquarters was integrated the headquar­ters of 15 Group Coastal Command so that both surface and air escort could be co­ordinated from one operations room. Dupli­cates of the U-boat and trade plots in the British Admiralty were setup in the Western Approaches operations room and the two connected with direct telephone and tele­printer links between Whitehall and Liver­pool. Admiral Sir Percy Noble was appointed as Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches in February 1941. He was perhaps the first to appreciate that the key to victory in this campaign lay just as much in the training of the officers and men as in the number of available escorts. Anti-submarine training establishments were setup at Dunoon and Campbeltown experimental work was car­ried out at Fairlie and a sea training organi­ sation was based at Tobermory. To this last establishment went all new escort vessels as they completed their acceptance trials. For a month they were engaged in arduous sea exercises designed to harden crews who were largely new recruits to accustom them to normal Atlantic weather conditions and to give them a reasonably intimate know­ledge of their own ship and her capabilities. Specialist training followed the sea train­ing so that by the time the new ship became fully operational her complement had not only been toughened by the Tobermory training but had also acquired the necessary professional and technological skills. All this however took time and it was not until mid-1943 that the total overall training could be considered adequate. Until that time the operational need in the Atlantic for all and every escort had to take pre­cedence. Another decision by Admiral Noble was to organise all the escorts into groups. By allocating eight escort ships to a group the C-in-C could count anon effective strength of five or six escorts for each group leaving a margin for refits of ships leave periods After the first ‘Happy Time of the U-boats, Allied losses fell off -but not for long training and other contingencies. The great value of the group system was that each es­cort captain quickly became familiar both with the other escorts in the group and with the group commanders methods. It is in this reorganisation of the escort forces and the emphasis on proper anti­submarine training that the seeds of ulti­mate victory in the Atlantic were sown. Yet if it was one important thing to recognise the correct road to travel in search of victory Britains actual journey along that road was a vastly more difficult business. The priorities in naval building in 1940 and 1941 had to be balanced between the needs of the operational fleet for aircraft-carriers, cruisers destroyers and landing-craft of various shapes and sizes and of the anti­submarine fleet for frigates sloops and cor­vettes for purely escort purposes. There could obviously be no absolute priority for escort vessels and so there was no possi­bility of keeping even level with the rate of U-boat building in Germany let alone over­taking it. Two and a half bitter years were to pass before the escort groups finally established their superiority in this vast campaign. The tribulations of 1941 when Britain was instill the throes of reorganising her anti­submarine forces were magnified by the establishment of German long-range bomber squadrons on the coasts of France and Nor­way. These consisted mainly of Focke-Wulf Condors able to operate up to 800 miles into the Atlantic. Their mission was two-fold. Primarily their task was to locate British convoys so that the U-boats could be directed to them abut secondary role was to sink merchant ships proceeding independently or straggling from their convoys. And in their secondary role alone they came avery close second to the U-boats. While in January 1941 U-boats sank 21 ships of 126.782 tons the long-range bombers accounted for 20 of 78517 tons. The figures for February were similar: 39 ships of 196.783 tons to the U-boats 27 ships of 89305 to the bombers. The answer to the Focke-Wulf bombers came in many ways. One was to route the independently sailed merchant ships far to the north beyond the range of the bombers based in Norway and France and to bring in convoys along a narrow route patrolled by long-range fighters. Another was to press ahead with the mounting of anti-aircraft guns in the merchant ships themselves, manned by gun-crews of seamen and marines. A third was to fit catapults in the old seaplane-carrier Pegasus and use her, with naval fighters embarked as an anti­aircraft escort for convoys. A development of the Pegasus idea was to fit catapults in selected merchant ships and embark a Hurricane fighter which could then be catapulted off whenever an enemy aircraft was sighted. On completion of its mission the Hurricane was ditched alongside a friendly ship and the pilot rescued. It was through means such as these, and also through the reluctance of the Luft­waffe to work in harmony with the Kriegs- marine that the attack of the long-range bombers on shipping was eventually beaten. With the gradual extension of convoy across the Atlantic the reign of the German U-boat 'aces came to an end. These were the men who had distinguished themselves in the Atlantic battle by the actual tonnage of merchant shipping they personally had sunk. In the first 18 months of warfare while the 1346
Add Names


We have sought to ensure that the content of this website complies with UK copyright law. Please note however, that we may have been unable to ascertain the rights holders of some items. Where we have digitised items, we have done so with items that to the best of our knowledge, following due investigations, are in the public domain. While the original works are in the public domain we reserve all rights to the usage of the digital works.

The document titled History of the Second World War, Volume 4 is beneath this layer.

To view this document now, please sign up as a full access member.

Free Account Registration

Please enter your first name
Please enter your surname
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter your password, it must be 8 or more characters

Already a member? Log in now
Small Medium Large Landscape Portrait