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How close to successful was Doenitz's U-boat campaign?

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Showing 1-25 of 178 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2013 2:31:58 PM PST
Churchill is famously quoted as saying that the only thing that really frightened him during WWII was the U-boat threat. Doenitz postulated that it came down to a matter of tonnage. If he could just consistently sink more Allied tonnage than the Allies could replace, Britain must starve and sue for peace.

Statistically however, the Germans only managed to achieve this goal about a half dozen scattered months prior to the focus of the war being shifted to the Soviet Union.

What would have been necessary to have made Doenitz's dream the world's nightmare?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2013 2:35:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 2, 2013 2:48:21 PM PST
for the poles to have not stolen the enigma machine
so bletchley park could crack the german ciphers using it
by using colossus and the bombes to assist in doing it fast
so the airplanes would know the subs location and happen to show up by 'luck' when they surfaced and then whack them

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2013 2:46:11 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
There's a wiki item on the Battle of the Atlantic. Sez the crucial period was March to May 1943.

I haven't managed to find the figures for British stockpiles of critical war necessities. But they were running low on fuel especially at that point.

Once the Mid-Atlantic Gap was closed and intelligence on the whereabouts of the U-Boats improved, it was curtains for the Germans in that theater.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2013 6:50:09 PM PST
F. Gleaves says:
The Poles bought an Enigma machine around 1928, but that wasn't enough to read the German messages. They developed the technique to determine the code wheel settings using their 'bomba', an example of which they provided the British in July 1939 along with the results of ten years work.

Unfortunately by then the Germans had greatly complicated the job by adding additional code wheels, but Bletcheley Park and the refugee Polish code-breakers working for the French at Versailles both cracked the code again just before Germany invaded Belgium and France.

It took another two years to crack the Naval version of the Enigma code, due to the extra care taken by German naval officers in setting up their machines and picking the message codes to make cracking them more difficult.

Colossus was created to crack 'Tunny', the even more complex Lorenz cypher machine used for the most important messages of the German Field Marshals to their High Command in Berlin.

Posted on Jan 2, 2013 7:24:53 PM PST
Bubba says:
The biggest problem with American ASW early in the war was that the available airplanes didn't have enough range to be effective for ASW. Development of airplanes with sufficient range to use for detecting submarines, the development of ASW airborne equipment, and the use of US Navy anti-submarine warfare destroyers were a major factor in killing the U-boats. The British also developed ASW Trawlers for use against U-boats.

Posted on Jan 2, 2013 10:23:38 PM PST
Even before cracking the ENIGMA codes the Brit escorts were locating the U Boats using High Frequency Direction Finders since Doenitz required the boats to check in every day. When the went to the wolf packs, the initial boat locating the convoy was to trail sending out continous position reports, that was very hazardous.

The Brits used any hull they could get their hands on for escorts. Trawlers were very poorly suited for escorts since they were very slow, but there were a lot of them available. The four piper destroyers they got fromthe US were equally unsuitable for the opposite reason, they were too fast and wasted to much hull on propulsion.

Posted on Jan 3, 2013 6:45:25 AM PST
Bubba says:
An apparently mundane innovation that made airborne ASW far more effective against U-boats was the British Leigh-light, which was a very bright carbon-arc light mounted to aircraft. U-boats surfaced at night to recharge their batteries, which made them visible to air-surface radar and vulnerable to air assault. The aircraft would use radar to initiate a run against the submarine, and at the last minute turn on the light to visually drop bombs/depth charges. The submarine did not hear the aircraft approaching due to the sound from their diesel engines, and by the time that the light was turned on, announcing the presence of the aircraft, it was nearing the end of its bombing/depth charge run -- the U-boat crew had no time to man the AA gun or submerge. The use of the Leigh-light forced the U-boats to surface during the day to charge their batteries so that they could see the approaching ASW aircraft.

The Germans did not have radar on their U-boats to detect aircraft, although they developed radar receivers to detect airborne radar, which could detect the aircraft before the aircraft detected the submarine. The British then developed millimeter wave radar, and the Germans then developed millimeter wave radar receivers. When the Germans detected the incoming aircraft, they would submerge to avoid being detected; this was a bother to the U-boat as well as to the ASW aircraft. I haven't found any information that shows that it was done, but it might have been interesting for the Allies to install radar transmitters on all sorts of aircraft to force the U-boats to submerge at odd times even when there was no real threat from the nearby aircraft. These false triggers would cause operational disruptions for the U-boat crew and reduce the usefulness of the German's airborne radar detection systems.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 9:50:09 AM PST
R. Largess says:
It's worth noting that in 1917 the Germans saw the U-boat campaign, based on careful estimates, as capable of forcing Britain out of the War. It didn't - though it looked like it came very close. Between the wars Doenitz thought very carefully about how the Allies defeated the 1917 U-boat offensive, and how to do a successful replay. After the War, Soviet Adm. Sergei Gorschkov again analyzed the experience of the preceding war, thought he identified Doenitz's crucial mistakes, and again made cutting the Atlantic supply line the centerpiece of his planned war against the US and NATO - posing us a problem that several times did appear hopeless. So in a lot of ways the story of submarine/anti-submarine war is a single continuous story which embraces most of a century.

Posted on Jan 3, 2013 10:31:43 AM PST
Doenitz would have come much much closer to success, were it not for the American 'Liberty Ship' strategy. North America easily had the capacity to keep the British supplied, and merely resorted to building 'disposable' ships. The Kaiser shipyards got to where they could build a Liberty Ship in a single day, if I remember correctly. Doenitz had not taken into account that America might be able to produce ships so fast. But a Liberty Ship was basically just a matter of pouring a bunch of concrete, and attaching a crude diesel engine. The ships were disposable, and if they made it across the Atlantic with a cargo for the Brits just one time, it was a winner. There was no way that Doenitz's U-boat fleet could sink enough tonnage to stop the Liberty Ships from keeping Britain supplied.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 10:44:42 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2013 10:45:00 AM PST
You're getting your wars mixed up. The concrete ships were in WWI and they weren't very sucessful. The Liberty ships were a British design based on a inter-war tramp steamer that was simple to build, had a old fashioned triple expansion steam engine that was cheap and easy to maintain. American yards could churn them out faster than the U Boats could sink them.

The main reason the the U Boats failed to strangle England is that Hitler went to war almost ten years before he planned to. Doenitz never had more than a handful of U Boats on station at any given time in the early war years. The whole German navy was caught off guard by the early start of the war and never really recovered.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 11:41:57 AM PST
You are partially correct, sir. That'll teach me to post about stuff that I haven't read about, in at least 25 years. :)

However, my general point is correct, about American yards being able to crank them out faster than they could be sunk, which sunk Doenitz.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 11:46:16 AM PST
That plus the Allies got better at anti-submarine warfare faster than Doenitz's forces could react. Plus it's hard to train submariners, so you can never expand your force rapidly. You can build subs faster than you can train crews. There is no doubt in my mind the the true winner of WWII was Rosie the riveter, the other allies were doomed to defeat without US war production and food supplies.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 12:09:22 PM PST
IGS says:
R Largess

I read some stuff about Gorshkov, excellent and capable. I think his big problem was going to be extremely good US and NATO ASW technology and doctrine. We also had learned quite a bit from defeating the Kriegsmarine and deep-sixxing the the Japanese merchant fleet. This showed up in the extensive inventory of long range ASW aircraft in the US arsenal and the even larger allocation of ASW air assets in carrier battle groups as well as the massive investment in surface fleet ASW. Added to that, the finest submarine fleet and ships in the world. The Soviets would have given a good run for the money, but the would have lost. Moreover, Europe as a whole was not nearly so vulnerable as Germany alone was. Gorshkov realized this.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 12:13:38 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2013 12:15:50 PM PST
IGS says:
Kenyon, I'd rather say that the mass of ships was not what won the U-boat conflict. It was airborne ASW assets and radar couple with sufficient range of the aircraft. Fair code braking was helpful as well. The American production did not bury Donitz, he had more than the capacity to sink them faster than we could make them ... if the boats weren't sunk first. What the Liberty's did do was insure sufficient bulk freight transport (sea lift capacity), i.e., it upped the ton mile capacity.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 12:15:10 PM PST
IGS says:

" There is no doubt in my mind the the true winner of WWII was Rosie the riveter,"

True enough, but she couldn't have won it without Ivan the bullet stopper.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 12:47:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2013 12:48:10 PM PST
We've talked about this before. I believe that we could have beaten Germany without the Soviets. It wouldn't have been as quickly or cheaply, but Nazi Germany was simply outclassed by the USA in every way that mattered. Now if Germany had conquered the Soviets and had a decade or two to pacify them and bring their resources and productivity on line it might have been different, but that wasn't in the cards. The Soviets killed a lot of Nazis, but the damage to the German nation was completly done by the western allies. And in the end lack of fuel and destruction of the German rail and road net would have been decisive.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 12:54:35 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
Had the war taken longer, the Vergeltungswaffen program of the Germans would've been more and more refined.

Quite apart from that, look at the number of divisions the Soviets engaged on the Eastern Front. It resulted in 25m deaths for them.

It takes a lot of bravado to claim the U.S. could've beaten Germany on its own.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 1:07:08 PM PST
Divisions without fuel and munitions are targets. That was the situation in 1945. Without the Soviets, it would have taken until 1946 or 47 to destroy the Luftwaffe and make the invasion practical, but you can't move troops under a hostile sky. The German Army would have been destroyed before it ever engaged allied troops. Look at what happened to Hitler Jugend in Normandy for an example. Most of their losses were in movement, not action. Magnify that by the distance of forces trying to move from Germany to western France and the numbers are clear. The allies would have had to fight the same forces we did in 1944, then dribs and drabs of the remains of the rest of the German army.

The V weapons were jokes, the only effective ones were the Fritz X, the Henschel HS293 and the ME262. Both the Fritz X and the HS293 needed air parity for their bomber mother ships to survive until launch. Nazi Germany didn't have the capability to produce enough 262s and engines for them to dominate the air over Germany, let alone the rest of Europe. The P80 and the Meteor might not have been as good as the 262, but they had better engines and could be produced in the same numbers as Tempests and P51s.

Without the Soviets our productivity advantage would have still have swamped the Germans.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 1:15:00 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
London wouldn't have survived until 1946 or 1947 with V-2s raining down in the capital for that length of time. I don't understand why you're calling them jokes.

Listen, I'm not very fond of these what-if discussions.

I don't know from when you want to fight Nazi Germany without the Soviets. Large sections of the Luftwaffe were tied down on the Eastern Front. Iirc, the USAF took quite a beating in the early days. The Schweinfurt raid, for instance. If their air assets are all available in the West, the air campaign is going to take longer.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 1:27:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2013 1:28:35 PM PST
A single V2 carried a 2,200 pound warhead, a single He111 carried twice that and thousands of sorties did very little to destroy London. Plus the V2 wasn't a very accurate weapon, most landed in the countryside well away from London. Plus the Germans didn't have the facilities to build and launch more than a few hundred V2s a year. The cost to build and launch a V2 was more than the damage it did. It was a terror weapon, not a practical one. That's what made the Fritz X and the HS 293 effective weapons, they were guided and almost always hit what they were aimed at.

As for the Luftwaffe, once the US bombing hit it's stride in 1943 most of the Luftwaffe was pulled back into Germany and destroyed by the bombers and their escorts during late 1943 and 1944. The Soviets did very little to damage the Luftwaffe, that's why the experten had two and three hundred kills mostly on the eastern front. The early raids like Schwienfurt were learning labs for the AAC. What killed the Luftwaffe was the escort fighters engaging the Luftwaffe on it's home ground.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 1:36:07 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
'Plus the Germans didn't have the facilities to build and launch more than a few hundred V2s a year.'

Wiki sez differently.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 1:48:23 PM PST
You're right I misremembered. But did you see the casualty figures for those 3000 V2s, they only managed to average three kills per missile, that's not an effective weapon. They cost Germany far more than the damage cost the allies. The Germans spent one and a half times what the Manhatten project cost to produce a complicated, not very effective weapon.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 2:04:20 PM PST
Cliff Sedge says:
I did see that the results were mixed.

I also saw that operational potential was obscured by the statistics.

There was a reconstruction in 2010 that created a crater 8m deep and 20m across, throwing 3000 t of material into the air.

Multiply that by 5200 rockets produced at Kohnstein and aimed with good intelligence and the results are pretty grim.

I think it's fortunate the war ended when it did.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2013 2:12:49 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2013 2:15:15 PM PST
That appears to be a big crater, but a single earthquake bomb dropped from a Brit Lancaster does far more damage and the Lancaster is a reusable platform. B17s and B24s could carry 2,000 pound bombs that made almost as impressive craters and they carried multiple bombs. Besides moving earth isn't the measure of damage from a weapon, it's how much it damages the enemiy's war effort. The fuel for V2s was a third of Germany's alcohol production and German agricultural production was dropping so it wouldn't have long before there weren't enough potatos to make the fuel. Even if every V2 had hit London, that is less weight of explosives than one thousand plane raid dropped on Berlin and we were mounting multiple raids a week. The V2 was a waste of money and resources that Germany couldn't afford. How many U boats could have been built for that three billion dollars?

Posted on Jan 3, 2013 2:25:36 PM PST

This is all very interesting, but the question was what, if anything, Dönitz could have done to win the U-boat war.

The mention of intelligence coups by the allies in breaking the Enigma device are interesting too. Is the implication that if the allies did not break the Enigma case, the U-boats would have won? Personally, I don't think so, but their defeat would have been much more difficult.

I think it comes down to a matter of numbers and naval technology. Early in the war, when the U-boats (especially the Type VII) were most effective, Dönitz just didn't have sufficient numbers. Could a bigger building program before, or early in the war have helped? I think the comment on the need to train the boat's specialized crews was relevant. By the time Dönitz had the 300 boats he estimated he needed to maintain 100 at sea at a time, the Type VII was becoming obsolete. Much has been mentioned about the allied used of radar that took away the U-Boats ability to hide at night, but what is not so much discussed is the development of simple destructive technology, such as the hedgehog, the teardrop depth charge - which allowed a quicker sink time, and heavier depth charges that eliminated the Type VII's ability to dive to 200 meters and ride out an attack with impunity.

Could a concentration on heavier type IX and other U-cruisers, which would have allowed the boats to operate further afield and out of range of allied air cover have made a difference?

Just some thoughts. By all means revert to the discussion of the air war if that's where we want to go (an equally fascinating subject), but I'm really interested on thoughts about U-boat and ASW technology and deployment.
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Discussion in:  History forum
Participants:  15
Total posts:  178
Initial post:  Jan 2, 2013
Latest post:  Jan 14, 2013

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