- Hardcover: 236 pages
- Publisher: Naval Institute Press (May 1, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1557500444
- ISBN-13: 978-1557500441
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,743,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Q-Ships Versus U-Boats: America's Secret Project Hardcover – May 1, 1999
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The American effort in World War II to use Q-ships (disguised merchant vessels, intended to provoke submarine attacks and then fight back) is a little-known sidebar to the navy's antisubmarine effort. It now has a proper chronicler in Beyer, the supply officer of one of the two elderly freighters converted for the purpose, U.S.S. Asterion. He chronicles the secret recruiting of the crews and equipping of the ships and their eventual deployment at sea, along with parallel aspects of the careers of the German submariners who ended up fighting them. Neither Q-ship sank a German submarine, although Asterion put up some good fights, and her sister ship Atik was lost with all hands, an episode that the author reconstructs in a fashion both dramatic and plausible. This is one of those Naval Institute volumes that is not really vital to anyone except serious students of naval history but is likely to be the only coverage of its subject for them. Libraries with naval buffs aboard, take note. Roland Green
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Q-ships were ineffective in the First World War, and obsolete in an era of unrestricted submarine warfare. But President Roosevelt insisted the U.S. Navy try Q-ships against the Nazi threat. It might perhaps be new to the young U-boat captains. Admiral E. J. King, commander of the U.S. Fleet, recognized the futility of the Q-ship concept, but lacking any real anti-submarine capabilities, King diplomatically complied: "the president had requested Q-ships, and Q-ships he would get," Beyer wrote in his Q-ships versus U-boats. King had two small freighters and a tanker converted and outfitted as Q-ships (USS Atik, Asterion, and Big Horn), invested minimal resources, and sent them in harm's way. The Q-ships were not expected to "last longer than a month after commencement of assigned duties," and indeed proved a futile and ineffective, albeit gallant, offensive gesture.
In his "Q-ships versus U-boats" Beyer (who served as Asterion's supply officer) uses American and German official records, and the memories, letters, and memorabilia of the veterans of Asterion and the families of the Atik crewmen to reconstruct a speculative account of the battle of Atik with U-105 and U-123. His "nonfiction fiction" fits the record to a dramatized rendering, based on Beyer's knowledge and imagination. This mixing history with fiction is the first problem with Beyer's book. The second is the dry and awkward writing. While flawed, Beyer's memoir fills a niche, and describes the minor role of America's Q-ships in the western Atlantic, holding on against the predations of the U-boats through the dark days of 1942... The Q-ships received none of the fused all-source operational intelligence that one year later would become essential to victory over the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. No effort was made to exploit the U-boat captains' fallacious but ubiquitous fears, for example, by simulating Q-ship operations more widely, or making their existence public. To the contrary, the Q-ship operations remained classified long after the war. Like their counterparts in the Great War, the Q-ships lacked any effective mechanism to force U-boats to the surface, or even excite their interest. Only one of the three U.S. Q-ships was sure-fire U-boat bait: a high-value tanker. But this was happenstance; the Q-ships' designs were not based on any careful assessment of U-boat vulnerabilities to deception.
The Q-ships were a lost opportunity to effectively bait the U-boats to the surface. The British code breakers in the spring of 1941 had already seen the utility of cutting out German weather ships to capture their cryptographic materials. Royal Navy task forces in the spring of 1941 captured München and Lauenburg with their code keys, at about the same time HMS Bulldog fortuitously seized U-110 and her Enigma code machine, rotors, and keys. The Germans were just as intensely interested in British and American merchant codes, and read the Allied convoy codes until mid-1943. The Kriegsmarine surface raiders frequently made captures and seized intelligence materials.
The U.S. Navy might have baited and trolled Q-ships, enticing U-boats to the surface to attempt such a capture. But the U.S. Navy hatched no such ruses or deception schemes. America's few WWII Q-ships, basically window-dressing, essentially were sacrificed.
I knew my Mother's Father, Guy Brown Ray, was an officer aboard the Asterion but little else until Mr. Beyer's book.
Mr. Beyer -- THANK YOU!!!