The U-Boat War - A Global History 1939-45 by Lawrence Patterson

ARRSE Rating
4.00 star(s)
A Review by @RBMK

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This book is very good in places and not so good in others.

The book is arranged, as you might expect, in chronological order. The first part contains a lot of interesting technical detail on U-Boats which were informative as to the operation and effectiveness of the weapons. The various marks of U-boats are described in some detail including the later electroboots and Milchkühe.

Particularly interesting is that mines laid by U-boats were more effective than torpedoes in sinking ships. Also that the Germans had many issues with torpedoes including depth keeping and magnetic triggers. From reading the book, it seems that many ships escaped sinking purely down to the failure of torpedoes.

It's also clear that the German Navy was far from fully prepared for war in 1939 and that they had not expected Hitler to declare war until 1944 by which time there would have been many more U-boats in service. Hitler was, however, more concerned with land forces than sea, and had underestimated British naval power.

Another interesting issue was the antipathy of the Luftwaffe to providing air cover for U-boats which was a key factor as longer ranged British and American patrol aircraft became available.

The limited number of U-boats on patrol at any time was surprising and it's clear that had there been more U-boats available then the Battle of the Atlantic may have had a different result. It is also clear that ships sailing independently were much easier prey than those in a convoy, even those with a relatively small escort.

A significant part of the U-boat downfall was the lack of a co-ordinated approach to the development and improvement of the basic design and also the design of weapons. For example, the installation of snorkel apparatus was far too late because the Allies had developed centimetric radar which could detect a snorkel. Radar combined with Leigh light equipped aircraft made it difficult for U-boats to recharge batteries even in darkness.

U-boat Diesel engines were not always reliable, and in fact there were many patrol curtailed because of engine problems. This was not helped by manpower shortages in the shipyards, where the book states that 85 skilled dockyard workers were required for every refit. Approximately 30% of the fleet was under refit at any time, with others working up or in training and travelling to or from patrol areas, leaving relatively few active boats at any time.

German torpedoes were unreliable pretty much all the way through the war, even basic contact triggers weren't reliable and the problems with magnetic triggers were not generally solved until late in the war. Again, the Germans did not put sufficient effort into torpedo development, otherwise many more ships would have been sunk.

The book covers U-boat operations in all theatres and includes the operation of Milchkühe (Milk Cow) resupply boats.

Criticisms: The period from 1939 to 1942 occupies about three quarters of the book and the period from 1943 to the end of the war occupies the final quarter. The level of detail for the second half of the war is relatively scant, especially in comparison to the in depth coverage of the first period, and I felt that much had been skirted over, almost that the author had run out of steam and wanted to get the book over and done with. Another minor criticism is that the chronology of events could have been made clearer at the start of each chapter.

Overall conclusion:
I found the book a straightforward read with many facts which I'd not known previously. I did find it helpful at times to cross reference to Wikipedia for details of the various marks of U-boat. I enjoyed reading the book but it doesn't get full marks because of the rushed ending.

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A Review by @RBMK

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This book is very good in places and not so good in others.

The book is arranged, as you might expect, in chronological order. The first part contains a lot of interesting technical detail on U-Boats which were informative as to the operation and effectiveness of the weapons. The various marks of U-boats are described in some detail including the later electroboots and Milchkühe.

Particularly interesting is that mines laid by U-boats were more effective than torpedoes in sinking ships. Also that the Germans had many issues with torpedoes including depth keeping and magnetic triggers. From reading the book, it seems that many ships escaped sinking purely down to the failure of torpedoes.

It's also clear that the German Navy was far from fully prepared for war in 1939 and that they had not expected Hitler to declare war until 1944 by which time there would have been many more U-boats in service. Hitler was, however, more concerned with land forces than sea, and had underestimated British naval power.

Another interesting issue was the antipathy of the Luftwaffe to providing air cover for U-boats which was a key factor as longer ranged British and American patrol aircraft became available.

The limited number of U-boats on patrol at any time was surprising and it's clear that had there been more U-boats available then the Battle of the Atlantic may have had a different result. It is also clear that ships sailing independently were much easier prey than those in a convoy, even those with a relatively small escort.

A significant part of the U-boat downfall was the lack of a co-ordinated approach to the development and improvement of the basic design and also the design of weapons. For example, the installation of snorkel apparatus was far too late because the Allies had developed centimetric radar which could detect a snorkel. Radar combined with Leigh light equipped aircraft made it difficult for U-boats to recharge batteries even in darkness.

U-boat Diesel engines were not always reliable, and in fact there were many patrol curtailed because of engine problems. This was not helped by manpower shortages in the shipyards, where the book states that 85 skilled dockyard workers were required for every refit. Approximately 30% of the fleet was under refit at any time, with others working up or in training and travelling to or from patrol areas, leaving relatively few active boats at any time.

German torpedoes were unreliable pretty much all the way through the war, even basic contact triggers weren't reliable and the problems with magnetic triggers were not generally solved until late in the war. Again, the Germans did not put sufficient effort into torpedo development, otherwise many more ships would have been sunk.

The book covers U-boat operations in all theatres and includes the operation of Milchkühe (Milk Cow) resupply boats.

Criticisms: The period from 1939 to 1942 occupies about three quarters of the book and the period from 1943 to the end of the war occupies the final quarter. The level of detail for the second half of the war is relatively scant, especially in comparison to the in depth coverage of the first period, and I felt that much had been skirted over, almost that the author had run out of steam and wanted to get the book over and done with. Another minor criticism is that the chronology of events could have been made clearer at the start of each chapter.

Overall conclusion:
I found the book a straightforward read with many facts which I'd not known previously. I did find it helpful at times to cross reference to Wikipedia for details of the various marks of U-boat. I enjoyed reading the book but it doesn't get full marks because of the rushed ending.

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Another great review thanks @Grownup_Rafbrat
 

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