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Hitler's U-Boat War : The Hunters, 1939-1942 (Hitler's U Boat War) Hardcover – October 22, 1996

4.3 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Series: Hitler's U Boat War
  • Hardcover: 809 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First American Edition edition (October 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394588398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394588391
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Matthew D. Carr on November 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Clay Blair has written a masterful account of the German submarine war in WWII. While it is extremely thorough, the level of detail can become cumbersome to the amateur historian. Mr. Blair outlines every mission undertaken by a German submarine during the entire war; a blessing for other researchers in naval history but a curse to the lay reader. The author does a commendable job outlining the major campaigns and summarizing the effects of the submarine war. He even comes to the conclusion that the feared "wolf packs" and the submarine war in general never posed the serious threat that the Allies believed it did. Perhaps the most interesting portion of the book is the chapters devoted to describing the development of submarine/ASW technology and the encryption/decoding efforts of both sides. The author does an average job as far as the "characters" are concerned. For most people he simply describes their military careers and follows their progression through various commands and notes the awards they receive. Very few players get the background coverage that makes them come alive and seem like real people.
I highly recommend this book for any reader of history interested the German submarine war. However, the casual or amateur reader will do well to skim through the endless details.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very comprehensive work! The author is not only meticulous in describing practically each u-boat sailing during this period, but he tends to keep the reader's interest in what could be a dull assignment, by explaining pertinent background information and providing in-depth detail on various crew members, making many of them "come to life" in the words on the page. At the same time, he keeps the reader informed on what is going on in other parts of the war that could affect u-boat and ASW (anti-submarine warfare) operations and practices, such as code breaking, Hitler's rash decision-making, Operation Torch, dropping off of secret agents, sabateurs, and/or commandos into enemy territory, development of radar and sonar and HF direction finding, u-boat activity on the U.S. coast, military officials involved, etc. This book is important historically since it not only provides an extremely detailed account of operations, but it reviews it from an American standpoint based on the author's incredible current research and his reading of British historians, and then commenting on divergences of viewpoint or, in some cases, the lack of British commentary on certain embarrassing happenings. - As some reviewers have noted, Blair tends to "stick with the facts" instead of sensationalising, and in the process gains the reader's trust. Excellent u-boat history, engrossing reading.
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Format: Hardcover
You probably can't find a more exhaustive detailing of the Atlantic U-boat war. And generally speaking, this work makes for good reading and good history. What is excellent here is the overall strategic view of the war and the surrounding attempts to stay one step ahead of the enemy. The book has two flaws (they are inter-related): The mass of tonnage statistics begins to lose relevance after a while to a casual reader and also de-humanizes the story. Missing from this book is a good description or feel for any but the most famous of U-boat captains, or descriptions of individual patrols that brings them to life.
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Format: Paperback
Gives an excellent view of the Battle of the Atlantic from the perspective of the Germans. Having read Silent Victory, I was amazed how much the Germans' submarine war paralleled the submarine war fought by the United States Navy in the Pacific against the Japanese in certain particulars, namely torpedo problems. It also outlined many, if not all, of the mistakes made by Hitler and Doenitz during the Battle of the Atlantic as well as those of the Allies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very thorough review of the subject. Only true history lovers can appreciate this as it is very deep in detail and gets incredibly involved in all aspects of the subject. A book for someone who thought they knew everything about the WW2 German Military machine.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Clay Blair's two-volume history "Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942" and "Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunted, 1942-1945" is probably the definitive history of the German U-Boat war during World War II. These books are an excellent resource on this campaign, but are extremely long and detailed--and at 700+ pages of tiny text (for each volume), much too long and detailed for anyone except hard-core readers interested in this campaign.

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.
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