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The U-boat Campaigns in the Bristol Channel 1939-45

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For an overview of the war in the Bristol Channel see the South Wales ports at war.

A background to U-boat operations in the Bristol Channel gives an insight to the naval strategy of the U-boat war.

The mine war in the Bristol Channel gives a technical insight into the minelaying strategy of the German U-boat command.

Information about the types of U-boat that came into the Bristol Channel.

Individual histories of the U-boats that sailed the Bristol Channel

A local view of the Second World War in and around South Wales and the Bristol Channel.

The information in the following pages has been collected in a rather haphazard fashion for a number of years. Whilst my main research interest has always been Luftwaffe activity over South Wales, I would often accumulate various snippets of information about the war at sea. I would file these away and get on with my interest in the Luftwaffe. The recent debate over the activities of U-boats off the coast of Gower led to numerous requests by students and colleagues for me to put the material I had into print. I remain surprised at the interest the topic has generated and the 'question of U-boats' continues to dominate students' questions in my lectures on the war in Wales.

The history of submarine warfare is often a clandestine history. Many history books have been written on little more than unsubstantiated stories with scant supporting evidence. Indeed, the official Royal Navy account of the Battle of the Atlantic remained a classified document until 1989. There is a simple explanation for much of this. The U-boat war was the one war that had to be won. The one war in which defeat would have been an irrecoverable catastrophe for Britain. The one war in which the German Navy knew that Britain would be forever vulnerable. Without victory over the U-boats, the invasion of France would never have been possible. The U-boat war was a conflict based as much upon technological advances and secret intelligence as it was upon brave sailors from both sides fighting a bloody war against the backdrop of the unforgiving Atlantic. It is hardly surprising therefore that a considerable folklore has begun to build up around Admiral Dönitz's Grey Wolves.

The Bristol Channel played an important part in the nation's war effort, a fact not lost upon U-boat command. German naval staff were well aware of the role that Bristol and the South Wales ports would play in the supply of food and raw materials. U-boats were despatched to the Channel in the opening stages of the war and returned for a further campaign in the closing months. The following sections give some details of the U-boat war in the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. In my view, the German inshore campaigns were a part of the broader picture of the trade war we know of as the Battle of the Atlantic. Where necessary I have included details of the wider conflict to place local operations into a clearer context. This study is by no means complete. I have no doubt that much remains to be told about this particular subject as documents and information are still coming to light. However, I have made considerable efforts to check the details enclosed herein and I extend my grateful thanks to all those who have helped me over the years.


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