Causes and effects of U Boat war

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the submarine forces of the Kriegsmarine.
Clio13
Member
Posts: 69
Joined: 13 Feb 2011 18:00

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Clio13 » 25 Feb 2011 07:00

When? 1934-38 in order to ring forward technological innovation

What do you cut out? No easy answer to that one.

Had Britain been identified as the supreme enemy in 1933 I suggest that resources could have been concentrated towards U-boat development 1934-38 during these critical years. The loser would have been the Luftwaffe in this (admittedly speculative) scenario.
Until the recent war against Serbia, it was generally held that a country could not be defeated by air power alone but the evidence of the First World War is that attrition at sea works wonderfully in undermining socio-economic cohesion - although it's a slow burner.

I fully concede the points previously made that Britain was not perceived as enemy No 1 during this time and the obvious dangers in weakening the Luftwaffe during this period but I believe that this approach would have offered a route map to radically reducing both Britain's capacity and political will to wage war against Germany.
Silent Warriors: Submarines lost around the British coast in war and peace

ljadw
Member
Posts: 9794
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 17:50

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by ljadw » 25 Feb 2011 12:27

LWD wrote:
berrek wrote: ... Howevermore effort should certainly have been put into submarines in a strategy wherin Brittain would be defeated first.
When? how much? What do you cut out?
one also could ask :why ?

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Jon G. » 25 Feb 2011 12:47

One could also ask how the Kriegsmarine could possibly have known that less than a year into the war against Britain they would be able to operate their subs from French and Norwegian bases?

Odd as it may seem, there is no direct relationship between number of U-Boats at sea and number of merchantmen sunk.

Also, less resources for the Luftwaffe (which is in itself highly implausible, given that Göring presided over the Four Year Plan) would presumably mean even fewer Condors, and thus fewer eyes for the U-Boats, and fewer sinkings by aircraft.

User avatar
LWD
Member
Posts: 8584
Joined: 21 Sep 2005 21:46
Location: Michigan

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by LWD » 25 Feb 2011 13:55

Clio13 wrote:When? 1934-38 in order to ring forward technological innovation

What do you cut out? No easy answer to that one.

Had Britain been identified as the supreme enemy in 1933 I suggest that resources could have been concentrated towards U-boat development 1934-38 during these critical years.
There is absolutely no reason to identify Britain as the "supreme enemy at that time. Furthermore without taking France out of the picture first it's hard to see how Germany could defeat Britain. Then there's the British reaction to Germany building up her U-boat force. Surely you don't think they'd just say "that's nice" and continue with business as usuall. One of the reasons Germany was able to get away with taking over Austria and Checkoslavakia is that the Germans hadn't tripped enough alarms as far as the British were concerned before that point. Building up their u-boat force would in all likely hood raise more than enough of said alrams. Indeed even not signing the naval agreement might be sufficient.
The loser would have been the Luftwaffe in this (admittedly speculative) scenario.
In that case can Germany still take out France? If not how can they go full bore after Britian when they've got an enemy army on their border?
Until the recent war against Serbia, it was generally held that a country could not be defeated by air power alone
That's still pretty much the case. Indeed Serbia illustrates it rather graphically.
but the evidence of the First World War is that attrition at sea works wonderfully in undermining socio-economic cohesion - although it's a slow burner.....
For it to work in the desired way one needs to be "winning" it. It's not clear that Germany could even with the changes you suggest. Certainly it wouldn't do them a whole lot of good to get Britain 3 months away from starvation if a French and British army is sitting on the Ruhr or a Soviet one advance on Berlin.

User avatar
Urmel
Member
Posts: 4078
Joined: 25 Aug 2008 09:34
Location: The late JBond

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Urmel » 25 Feb 2011 16:09

Jon G. wrote:Also, less resources for the Luftwaffe (which is in itself highly implausible, given that Göring presided over the Four Year Plan) would presumably mean even fewer Condors, and thus fewer eyes for the U-Boats, and fewer sinkings by aircraft.
In fairness you can forget about the first of these two arguments. As Neitzel quite conclusively shows, the LW sucked at being the eyes of the U-Boote. Unless by eyes you mean 90-year old short-sighted partially deaf into the bargain, kind of eyes.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 14986
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Andy H » 25 Feb 2011 16:38

Many of us are familiar with Churchills statement about "the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril' and this has taken on some mthological proportions as to the real or imagined danger the UBoats presented or what would have happened if only more had been built.

I think Clay Blair opened many eyes when he stated in Vol2 of his UBoat tome-"U-Boats never even came close at any time to cutting the vital North Atlantic lifeline to the British Isles" and "There was not the slightest possibility that, had they only come into play earlier, U-Boats equipped with snorkels or the new Type XX1 & XXIII electro boats, with their high sprint speed, could have won the Battle of the Atlantic or significantly intervened against Allied shipping"

Between September'42 and May 1945 some 43,526 ploughed the NA shipping lanes. The U-Boats sent some 272 to a watery grave. That left 99.4% afloat and reaching their destinations intact.

Source: Clay Blair 'Hitlers U-Boat War (The Hunted 1942-45)
Regards

Andy H

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Jon G. » 25 Feb 2011 17:02

JBond wrote:...As Neitzel quite conclusively shows, the LW sucked at being the eyes of the U-Boote. Unless by eyes you mean 90-year old short-sighted partially deaf into the bargain, kind of eyes.
Right, but on the assumption that any kind of eyes is better than no eyes at all, no Condors would presumably also mean less sinkings. Much for the same reason that you give granddad ever stronger spectacles, rather than tell him to not bother :)

Also, no Condors would also leave the 300-odd thousand tons of ships sunk by the Atlantic Luftwaffe out of the picture.
Andy H wrote:...Between September'42 and May 1945 some 43,526 ploughed the NA shipping lanes. The U-Boats sent some 272 to a watery grave. That left 99.4% afloat and reaching their destinations intact.
In fairness, and although Blair's is a good narrative of the U-Boat war, that period does leave out both of the 'happy times'

Also, quite a lot of effort went into protecting all the merchantmen that did arrive safely and timely - i.e. evasive routing, expanding air cover, forming permanent escort groups etc. etc. etc. we can't measure the effects of the U-Boat war simply by looking at tonnage sunk.

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 14986
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Andy H » 25 Feb 2011 17:22

Jon G. wrote:
Andy H wrote:...Between September'42 and May 1945 some 43,526 ploughed the NA shipping lanes. The U-Boats sent some 272 to a watery grave. That left 99.4% afloat and reaching their destinations intact.
In fairness, and although Blair's is a good narrative of the U-Boat war, that period does leave out both of the 'happy times'

Also, quite a lot of effort went into protecting all the merchantmen that did arrive safely and timely - i.e. evasive routing, expanding air cover, forming permanent escort groups etc. etc. etc. we can't measure the effects of the U-Boat war simply by looking at tonnage sunk.
Hi JonG

I fully agree that discussions such as this cannot be fully explained by numbers alone and yes the figures do omit the happy times as you pointed out.

Yes there are natural consequences and reactions to each sides strategy and weaponary, and without the U-Boat 'menace' the Allies could have redistributed resources to other areas and arms.

The U-Boat happy times caused a number of frustrating and temporary spot shortages that required emergency measures for sure. Equally the U-boats gave the Allied high command numerous headaches throughout the war, but without some wild swing in the realities of the historical narrative, the U-Boats ability to close the NA to such a degree that Britain would have sued for peace, was beyond their grasp in my opinion.

Regards

Andy H

ljadw
Member
Posts: 9794
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 17:50

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by ljadw » 25 Feb 2011 21:29

Andy H wrote:
Jon G. wrote:
Andy H wrote:...Between September'42 and May 1945 some 43,526 ploughed the NA shipping lanes. The U-Boats sent some 272 to a watery grave. That left 99.4% afloat and reaching their destinations intact.
In fairness, and although Blair's is a good narrative of the U-Boat war, that period does leave out both of the 'happy times'

Also, quite a lot of effort went into protecting all the merchantmen that did arrive safely and timely - i.e. evasive routing, expanding air cover, forming permanent escort groups etc. etc. etc. we can't measure the effects of the U-Boat war simply by looking at tonnage sunk.
Hi JonG

I fully agree that discussions such as this cannot be fully explained by numbers alone and yes the figures do omit the happy times as you pointed out.

Yes there are natural consequences and reactions to each sides strategy and weaponary, and without the U-Boat 'menace' the Allies could have redistributed resources to other areas and arms.

The U-Boat happy times caused a number of frustrating and temporary spot shortages that required emergency measures for sure. Equally the U-boats gave the Allied high command numerous headaches throughout the war, but without some wild swing in the realities of the historical narrative, the U-Boats ability to close the NA to such a degree that Britain would have sued for peace, was beyond their grasp in my opinion.

Regards

Andy H
hear,hear

Clio13
Member
Posts: 69
Joined: 13 Feb 2011 18:00

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Clio13 » 25 Feb 2011 21:46

None of the above arguments persuade me to change my initial assertion, namely that the conditions and underlying tensions in Britain which persisted in early 1917, could theoretically have been replicated in 1941. However I am well enough versed in realpolitik to realise that the necessary investments were unlikely to be made. Blair's observations are a welcome strand of the debate but his view is far from hegemonic in British academic circles at least.

As for the British response, the lesson of WWI was that intelligence, convoy, minefields and destroyers were the only riposte to the U-boat threat. In the later 1930s when Britain was rearming, there was still no emphasis on destroyers and corvettes. There was a lingering fondness for big showy warships - which looked great on newsreels and made people feel good - but could not depth-charge a U-boat or shepherd a convoy. I am not suggesting that these ships were useless, not by any means. What I am saying is that the perception of the U-boat threat did not necessarily result in a commensurate increase in means to combat it, ie destroyer output.

Finally, it ought to be pointed out that the French Atlantic bases, while immeasurably useful, were not essential to fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. The comparatively feeble U-boote of the KDM had managed the norweg quite nicely in WWI.

Deep down inside I know its just my idle speculation though !
Last edited by Clio13 on 26 Feb 2011 11:15, edited 1 time in total.
Silent Warriors: Submarines lost around the British coast in war and peace

ljadw
Member
Posts: 9794
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 17:50

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by ljadw » 25 Feb 2011 22:39

the French Atlantic bases were ESSENTIAL to fight the battle of the Atlantic,because they were much closer to the convoys ,than the Norwegian bases,and thus the UBoats having Lorient,etc..as base,could much longer operate .
The comparison with WWI is flawed,because in WWI,the Germans could only use the Northsea .
From Lorient,it took the UBoats 1600 km to intercept the convoys west of Ireland,from Bremerhaven,some 4000 km .The difference is 2400 km,if we take an average speed of 20km per hour,that would mean 120 hours,of 5 days longer en route = 5 days less operating .

User avatar
LWD
Member
Posts: 8584
Joined: 21 Sep 2005 21:46
Location: Michigan

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by LWD » 26 Feb 2011 05:22

The lack of the French bases makes minefields much more effective. If they don't have the Norwegian bases it's even worse.

Clio13
Member
Posts: 69
Joined: 13 Feb 2011 18:00

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Clio13 » 26 Feb 2011 10:51

'The comparison with WWI is flawed, because in WWI,the Germans could only use the Northsea'

'..the French Atlantic bases were ESSENTIAL to fight the battle of the Atlantic,because they were much closer to the convoys..'

I disagree emphatically. Desirable ? Yes. Essential ? No.
While it was distinctly advantageous to hold French Atlantic and Norwegian ports, the lesson of history is that the German North Sea bases could have been used to fight the Battle of the Atlantic, just as they had been used during the First World War. Of course air power had to be factored in to the Second War equation but it would have been perfectly feasible to operate beyond the range of Coastal Command - which was scarcely a serious player until 1943 in any case.

I have very detailed charts of RN minelaying operations. There were no effective minefields on the norweg route and the Fair Isle Gap was never seriously mined because the undertaking was too great. (Tried to upload one of the minefield charts but it is too big)

Indeed BdU was toying with wolfpack operations (together with Milchkuhe, a tactic derived from 1917 - see Bauer, 'Als Fuhrer der U-boote' )based on the North Sea ports as early as June 1939.

Take it or leave it but I can only re-iterate my previous contention, namely that in order to understand the undersea war 1939-45 one has to study U-boat operations 1917-1918.
Silent Warriors: Submarines lost around the British coast in war and peace

User avatar
hagen
Member
Posts: 77
Joined: 22 Dec 2010 20:35

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by hagen » 26 Feb 2011 16:13

RichTO90 wrote:This is a split from the original discussion, which also wasn't a what if. But the discussion has now moved into what if territory - deeply.
Indeed. Then again to answer the question you must have a what if something was done differently.
Yep. Of course I'm not sure that their opinion was based upon the same examination of the evidence.
You will be familiar with the use and abuse of statistics. I suggest that such shipping data needs to be used with caution.
All well and good, but how do you transform the average of 4.82 boats joining the operational fleet per month from 1 September 1939 to 31 December 1941 to something high enough to generate the requisite 222 U-Boats postulated as neccessary sometime during that time period? To have that number available just ten months into the war requires that the monthly number joining needs to quadruple. How does that happen? Magic? Hand waving?
Magic? Hand waving? I think that was Hitler's approach, was it not? :lol: :idea:

The lag time between decison and effect is quite significant. It means taking the long view and I doubt Hitler had the patience or inclination for it. He did not want to destroy Britain; the Soviet Union was his real enemy. It is quite telling that there was never any well developed plan to defeat Britain. A serious plan would have shifted resources towards sea & air systems and taken some years to bring to fruition when the next generation of weapon systems could be in place with which to defeat the SU.

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Re: Causes and effects of U Boat war

Post by Jon G. » 26 Feb 2011 17:48

Clio13 wrote:...
As for the British response, the lesson of WWI was that intelligence, convoy, minefields and destroyers were the only riposte to the U-boat threat. In the later 1930s when Britain was rearming, there was still no emphasis on destroyers and corvettes. There was a lingering fondness for big showy warships - which looked great on newsreels and made people feel good - but could not depth-charge a U-boat or shepherd a convoy. I am not suggesting that these ships were useless, not by any means. What I am saying is that the perception of the U-boat threat did not necessarily result in a commensurate increase in means to combat it, ie destroyer output.
In the overall climate of defense cut-backs in the 1920s and 1930s, and also attempts to curb naval spending internationally via the Washington treaties, the Royal Navy didn't do all that badly in terms of building destroyers. They made it eight letters into the alphabet (from 'A' to 'I') with new destroyer classes, ending with the big Tribals.

The general plan seems to have been to build big ships (which take a long time to work up) in peacetime, and leave the boring stuff of building nasty little escort corvettes after war broke out to Canadian yards. Convoy escorts, after all, were smaller and easier to build and faster to make operational than big cruisers and battleships etc.

Also, remember that the first 'happy time' summer-autumn 1940 coincided with a period when the surface Kriegsmarine still made occasional forays into the Atlantic, the most famous probably being the Admiral Scheer's raid in October-November 1940. So big ships were certainly of use also during that period.
Finally, it ought to be pointed out that the French Atlantic bases, while immeasurably useful, were not essential to fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. The comparatively feeble U-boote of the KDM had managed the norweg quite nicely in WWI...
The flip side of the U-Boats' access to French bases from the summer of 1940 and on (which no KM or RN planner could have foreseen in the 30s) was that the French fleet left the equation at the same time, leaving the trans-atlantic convoys with far fewer escorts than anyone could have anticipated prior to the outbreak of war.

Return to “U-Boats”