Up ] The U-boat Inshore Campaign in the Bristol Channel 1944-45 ]

The U-boats move to the Atlantic

'there were never more than 21 boats at sea at any one time in 1940'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Contrary to popular belief, there are very few instances of U-boats surfacing off the coastline of the British Isles'

 

'As early as July 1941, intensive anti-submarine patrols had forced U-boats to move westwards into the North Atlantic'

The one overriding difficulty that U-boat command faced in the early part of the War was a constant lack of U-boats. Whilst the menace of the boats was always present in the minds of the Allied navies, there were never more than 21 boats at sea at any one time in 1940. Consequently, U-boat command carefully considered the deployment of the boats to ensure that these limited numbers were used to the maximum effect. The technical difficulties of tactical control of the boats whilst at sea was also causing concern. Admiral Dönitz was still evolving the ‘wolf pack’ tactics that were to make the U-boats famous. Whilst these technical difficulties were being considered, a number of boats were used on mine laying missions, particularly in the Bristol Channel which was physically very suitable for such operations. A further outcome of the shortage of available boats was that Admiral Dönitz fought a constant battle to prevent his boats being used for what he considered as ‘wasteful’ missions. Chief amongst these were clandestine coastal missions to drop spies or saboteurs on enemy coastlines. Contrary to popular belief, there are very few instances of U-boats surfacing off the coastline of the British Isles and members of the crew going ashore. Amongst the few missions that were completed were; U 35 landing prisoners at Ventry Bay in Eire on 3 October 1939, U 37 landing agents in Donegal Bay on 8 January 1940, and U 38 landing an agent on the south-west coast of Eire on 12 June 1940. The U-boats were designed as weapons for a trade war. Any time spent on clandestine spying missions was time and precious resources wasted. Throughout the War, Admiral Dönitz insisted that every day that a U-boat was at sea had to be a ‘productive’ day. He was convinced that direct results through the sinking of enemy shipping were far more valuable that any other kind of mission.

The Royal Navy quickly lost any illusions it may have had about the effectiveness of its ASDIC systems. New weapons and detection systems were quickly developed. Antisubmarine warfare evolved into a mix of technical wizardry and hard fighting. It was essential for the British war effort that the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel be as free from German interference as possible. The links between the Clyde Anchorages Emergency Port, Liverpool and the Bristol Channel ports needed to be open so that goods from the Clyde could be shipped by coasters to the centres of population and war production. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy made a massive effort to harry any U-boat that was detected near the western coast. Both sides knew that the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland was a crucial battleground.

In September 1940, the United States agreed to take over convoy protection in the western Atlantic. This allowed the Royal Navy to double the number of anti-submarine patrols in the western coastal waters. When Coastal Command was brought under Admiralty control on 4 December 1940, a formidable fighting force was created. As early as July 1941, intensive anti-submarine patrols had forced U-boats to move westwards into the North Atlantic, where ships were relatively harder to find. The larger boats started to avoid coastal areas because they were spending more time manoeuvring to avoid anti-submarine patrols than actually attacking ships. Moreover, the smaller Type VII boats that had patrolled the Bristol Channel had either been paid off or sunk, leaving the burden of duty to the larger Type VII B or Type IX boats. U-boat activity in the Bristol Channel had ceased by 1941. The main battles of the War were fought in the north and central Atlantic. U-boats would not reappear in the Bristol Channel until July and August 1944 when the German Navy was forced to abandon the Biscay ports ( Brest, Lorient, and St Nazaire) in the aftermath of the Allied invasion of southern France.

The U-boat Inshore Campaign continues the story.

 

 

The View for Sunday October 15 2000

If you want to navigate the site come to the Home Page  © Swansea History Web 2000

Up ] [ The U-boats move to the Atlantic ] The extension of U-boat operations 1939-40 ]

The History Web Bookshop    Search the Site  Contact us   The Swansea History Web CD ROM