Customer Review

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author proves epochal importance of Battle of the Atlantic, September 27, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Black May: The Epic Story of the Allies' Defeat of the German U-Boats in May 1943 (Hardcover)
September 26, 1998. Black May; ISBN 0-06-017819-1 In fascinating detail, Gannon takes you through a pivotal and epochal aspect of World War II that most interested laymen (like me) have only a foggy idea about - the battles over the Allies' Atlantic merchant shipsand the Germans and their U-boat fleet. For example I used to wonder, but no more, why the Allies didn't just put everything in airplanes and fly them over to England, avoiding all the U-boats.
The first thing I experienced as I read the book was that no thought of mine went unthought by the participants in that long and painful series of events. That was satisfying to realize. When the author mentioned a particular problem one or the other side was facing at the moment, you say to yourself, well, why don't they try this or that - it seemed obvious? Invariably, either the idea WAS then tried, or it was deliberately not tried after usually careful amalysis at the time. For example, Gannon relates coutnless incidents in which attacking aircraft dropped depth charges on diving U-boat submarines.
The probability of sinking or harming the boat (as U-boats were called) from such a single attack was not very high So you say to yourself, why not manufacture a "bomb" that would be capable of following the diving sub so that evasion would be impossible? Enter the homing torpedo bomb, which was designed to follow the "cavitation" noise made by the U-boat's propellors.
All the U-boat had to do if attacked by this device was to shut down its propellors until the device passed out of danger. So the problem at first became one of hiding from the Germans that such a device was being used when it was being used. Thus, aircraft were instructed not to drop this new invention unless the U-boat's hatch (in the conning tower) was closed, lest the Germans see that what was being dropped. I think he mentioned that the German high command never even found out about the device until after the war!
In general, the author has succeeded in several things. The first, in my opinion, is that the Battle of the Atlantic deserves to be seen for what it really was - the equivalent of any other set of operations and battles during the war in overall strategic importance to the final outcome. He mentions Kursk and Stalingrad. There's no question the author is correct. I would argue further that it was even more important than all other operations of the war, because regardless if the Germans had won or lost in the East, the Allies eventual unstoppable strength would have continued as long as the ocean war was won.
`The difficulty, or part of it anyway, is placing an exact geographical site of the Battle of the Atlantic - they talk of longitudes and latitudes, but people don't usually relate to that very well as "sites." His book more than adequately demonstrates the absolute truth that either the war would have gone on for many years more, or that even we might not have won the war at all, without the gradual overtaking in the numbers game of continual supply versus continual destruction of our supply train until, after a certain, long-awaited time, the cost for the Germans eventually became two U-boats sunk for every merchant ship sunk - obviously not a way to win a war.
The second is the managerial focus of the Allies in eventually coordinating everything that turned out to work, and to discard, by and large, that which didn't work well.. Once most of these elements were in place, the inevitable tide turned. What did these things consist of? Very many things - a combination of good military leaderhip, the willingness of the Allies to really be allies, the high level of required technical education, the wonderful ingenuity of British and American scientists to always seem to be one step (or more) ahead of the Germans (e.g., 10 centimeter, and later, 3 cm radar), HF/DF, Enigma decryption) and the enormous, still unbelievable, related industrial output of hte United States. I don't think the author gave this particular example, but I believe that at the height of the war, America was launching three Liberty SHIPS a DAY! (I couldn't build a rowboat in a year!) That number alone meant doom for the German side.
To make this great book even greater, I would recommend in a subsequent edition a chapter that would explain in a lot more detail several nautical terms that either are not currently explained at all or not fully-enough explained.
The glossary should be a lot fuller. For example, toward the end of the book (probably earlier too, where it is probably defined) the term OS occurs, referring to a rank of a U-boat officer. It's not in the glossary, and the reader forgets what it stands for.
In addition to the wonderful German grid maps provided, a superimposed grid of lat. and long. would be helpful.
Much of what he wrote only whetted my appetite for more.
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A Customer