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Hitler's U-Boat War : The Hunters, 1939-1942 (Hitler's U Boat War) Hardcover – October 22, 1996
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A former infantryman, Adolf Hitler had little use for the German navy, which he considered inept and politically suspect. Still, through the skillful maneuverings of a young, up-and-coming naval officer named Karl Dönitz, Hitler eventually endorsed a costly program of shipbuilding. As a result, Dönitz was able to field a vast fleet of U-boats when Germany went to war against France and England in 1939. Although his enemies were initially better equipped, Dönitz was the craftier fighter, launching daring raids on shipping convoys and Allied harbors, and for a time, controlling the chief Atlantic sealanes.
In this monumental history, Clay Blair analyzes the German U-boat campaigns from 1939 to 1942 (a companion volume continues his narrative to 1945), which, he writes, fall into three phases: one against England alone, another against the newly arrived American navy, and a furious third against the combined Allied forces. Blair argues, against other historians, that the "U-boat peril" has been overestimated. He holds that the American submarine campaign against Japan in the Pacific was far more effective, and observes that 99 percent of Allied merchant ships on transatlantic convoys reached their destinations. Even so, the U-boats introduced a powerful element of terror into an already horrific war, diverting Allied effort into antisubmarine campaigns and delaying the transport of much-needed materiel.
Blair's outstanding work adds much to the naval history of World War II. Packed with detail, it is sure to become a standard work on the Battle of the Atlantic. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Everything about this book is big: its page count, its thesis?and its shortcomings. Blair is a respected authority on submarine warfare whose Silent Victory, a history of the U.S. submarine service, remains a widely cited work. He is also a master of operational narrative, a writer who can put readers in a destroyer's bridge or a U-boat's conning tower as convincingly as many novelists. Here, in the first of two projected volumes, Blair employs a comprehensive mix of German, British and U.S. sources to argue that the German U-boats have been mythologized, their successes overstated and their threat to the Allied war effort exaggerated. While U-boats delayed and diminished the arrival of supplies to Europe, 99% of all ships in transatlantic convoys reached their destinations. For Blair, that is a sizable margin of acceptable loss. He even stands foursquare behind Admiral Ernest King's reluctance to organize merchant convoys after Pearl Harbor. German U-boats operating off the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean accounted for about a quarter of all tonnage sunk during the war, but even these losses could be replaced. Blair compares by implication German failures in the U-boat war to the U.S. submarine campaign in the Pacific, which succeeded in strangling Japan by mid-1945. But to assert, as he does, that the U-boats never had a chance seems to fly in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence that cannot be dismissed as retrospective mythmaking. Even before the climactic convoy battles of 1943, the Allied navies were morally and materially stretched to near breaking point. Though richly informed and a pleasure to read, this volume ultimately provokes without convincing. Photos and maps not seen by PW. History Book Club selection.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Perhaps the most striking revelation of this book is the extent and nature of German torpedo failures, which eerily parallel similar failures of U.S. torpedoes during the Pacific war, and that these failures perhaps suffered from similar root causes in both navies. Also, Blair treats the German U-boat crews with humanity and fairness. Their relatively small and cramped craft were subjected to extremely difficult conditions and even the so-called "happy time" was not often very happy. He gives the Italian submarine force proper treatment and perspective for their role in the battle as well.
Equally, Blair highlights and clarifies the Allied side of the battle and - rightly, I believe - defends Admiral Ernest King for his handling of the Atlantic submarine war, which has been highly (and I think unfairly) criticized by some. If the highest and best role of the historian is to seek the most accurate truth and to tell the story as fairly as possible - considering the task to be a sacred trust - then Blair fits this definition nicely. Anything he has written is highly recommended.
Blair's style is simple, straight-forward, and repetitive: the books recount nearly every single U-Boat patrol, every single U-Boat sinking, every single convoy attack, and every single U-Boat success. The chapters are organized logically with sections on patrols in the North Atlantic, patrols to the Americas, patrols to the Arctic, patrols to the Mediterranean, and patrols to far-flung theaters (the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Asia). Blair also does a very good job placing the U-Boat battle into proper context of the larger naval war and overall war by giving brief synopses of the bigger picture of the fighting in Europe and, where appropriate, the U-Boat reactions to the campaigns.
Blair also gives detailed accounts of the "cipher war," describing in technical detail how the Ultra machines worked to decode Enigma transmissions and how the Germans were ignorant that their transmissions were being read by the Allies. He also fills each book with charts, appendices, and copious amounts of raw data detailing every U-Boat loss, monthly shipping losses, and many other illuminating aspects of the campaign.
Although primarily a narrative, Blair does include some analysis. Most interestingly, Blair argues that most historians of World War II greatly overstate the threat that the U-Boats posed and concludes that at no point during the war did the U-Boats come close to being the decisive weapon many claim. Blair also defends Admiral King's decisions and the overall U.S. effort early in the war against many who argue that the U.S. was caught flat-footed and unprepared and failed to take simple measures such as convoying or blacking out the East Coast, resulting in huge shipping losses off the East Coast in 1942.
Also, while writing two volumes that cover every almost every aspect of the U-Boat war, Blair does not do a very good job describing the tactics and capabilities of the U-Boats and the escorts. While describing the campaign at the operational level, he never gives the reader a good picture of the tactical capabilities of the U-Boats or their equipment and weapons, or of the men who crewed them on the almost-suicide missions.
Blair has written an incredibly detailed and well-researched account of the U-Boat war. These books would serve anyone interested in a detailed, blow-by-blow, patrol-by-patrol account of the U-Boat war, and they would serve well as a resource for someone studying this campaign. However, these books are too detailed for most readers.