U-boats in the Bristol channel.

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

The South Wales Ports at War 1939-41 ] The Welsh ports in the frontline of the War in 1941 ] Wartime problems at the Welsh ports 1940-41 ] A background to U-boat operations in the Bristol Channel ] The extension of U-boat operations 1939-40 ] The U-boats move to the Atlantic ] U-boats that entered the Bristol Channel ] The U-boat Inshore Campaign in the Bristol Channel 1944-45 ] Types of U-boat ] The mine war in the Bristol Channel 1939-41 ] Later developments in the mine war in the Bristol Channel ]

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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

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

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.


Recommended Reading:

Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn

You can obtain a copy of this book by using our association with  In Association with Amazon.co.uk

Just click on the book title or cover picture!

David Kahn is both an excellent writer and a superb historian. In telling the story about the U boat Enigma he manages to write a history book that doubles as a thriller. I honestly can't tell you how many times I've read my copy of this book but the spine has broken and the pages are falling out. During my U boat research years this book was a constant companion. The author's attention to the detail that matters is masterful and the superb referencing guided me on U boat events in the Bristol Channel on a number of occasions.

If you are interested in the U boat war start with this book, it will save you a lot of time and effort in understanding the milestone events of the U boat battles. The one thing I don't understand is how so much quality information is sold in such a cheaply priced book. (Nigel Robins)


SHW Microhistory: 5. 1940s Pillbox, Swansea Beach

Although Welsh castles are lovingly conserved, the defences of the twentieth century are being destroyed at an ever increasing rate.

As far as I am aware this little pillbox is the only survivor of coast defence on the beach at Swansea. Although there originally were a number of other examples of pillboxes and light anti-aircraft defence, this remains as the only survivor.

Pillboxes such as this were built on beaches in the southern half of the country as a response to the invasion scare of 1940. Many were hastily built by hard pressed building crews so they were often crude and badly positioned. In addition to the pillboxes, beaches would have had slit

trenches, barbed wire, and anti-tank obstacles to create a series of difficulties which would delay a landing by the German army. This example is an amended Type 26 pillbox which has loopholes on the sides for light machine guns or rifles. The front face does not have an embrasure in an effort to make it more survivable should it ever have come under fire from the beach. This may indicate that the pillbox was built in the light of battle experience in France where the German army proved themselves masters at quickly overcoming such defences. It is a sobering thought that the lifespan of the occupants of this type of pillbox would have been measured in minutes rather than hours in the face of a determined German attack.

Although a great deal of time and expense was devoted to preparing beach defences, the Germans never had the capability to make beach landings, they would have occupied a port and unloaded their vehicles and supplies with cranes from the holds of ships. Landing craft were not invented until the Americans realised they would be needed later on in the war. Nevertheless, defending Swansea against possible invasion was a serious precaution and very relevant because German army records found after the war indicated that they had prepared tactical street fighting maps for Swansea and fully expected to fight for the port in the way of the urban battles of Kiev or Rotterdam.

More SHW Microhistory

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