Military history

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942

For a period of nearly six years, the German U-boat force attempted to blockade and isolate the British Isles in hopes of forcing the British out of the war, thereby thwarting both the Allied strategic air assault on German cities and Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Occupied France. Fortunately for the Allies, the U-boat force failed to achieve either of these objectives, but in the attempt they sank 2,800 Allied merchant ships, while the Allies sank nearly 800 U-boats. On both sides, tens of thousands of sailors perished.

For decades, an authoritative and definitive history of the Battle of the Atlantic could not be attempted, since London and Washington agreed to withhold all official code-breaking and U-boat records in order to safeguard the secrets of code breaking in the postwar years. The accounts that did appear were incomplete and full of false conclusions and errors of fact, often leaving the entirely wrong impression that the German U-boats came within a whisker of defeating the Allies, a myth that is finally laid to rest in this account.



Early Developments

U-boats in World War I

Treaties, Disarmament, and Submarines

The Rebirth of the German Navy

A Dramatic Reconversion

To the Eve of War




“To Die Gallantly”

The Boat

Complicated Rules

“Winston Is Back”

Hits and Misses

Encounters with Ark Royal

“A Wonderful Success”

North Sea Patrols

Poised for a Naval Race


Plans and Problems

Prien in Scapa Flow

The First Wolf Pack

Atlantic U-boat Operations: October-December 1939


U-boat Countermeasures

Atlantic Operations: January and February 1940

The U-boat Failure in Norway


Return to the North Atlantic

Great Britain at Risk

“Happy Time”: The June Slaughter

First Patrols from Lorient

The August Slaughter

Strategies, Secrets, and Deals

More Happy Times

The October Slaughter

Serious British Lapses


A Brutal Winter

Knitting Anglo-American Relations

Unhappy Times

Attacking Naval Enigma

“The Battle of the Atlantic”

The Loss of Prien

The Loss of Schepke and Kretschmer

More Bad News

Declining Prospects

A Slight British Lead


Flower Petals of Rare Beauty

“Sink the Bismarck”

Rich Trophies in West African Waters

June Patrols to the North Atlantic

A Revealing Convoy Battle

Coastal Command


Barbarossa: The Baltic and the Arctic

July Patrols to the North Atlantic

The Atlantic Charter

August Patrols to the North Atlantic

The Capture of U-570


Allied Naval Operations

German Naval Operations

The North Atlantic Run

Another Fierce Convoy Battle

“We Are at War”

Patrols to West Africa

In Support of Rommel

The Crisis in the Mediterranean

The Loss of Kota Pinang, Atlantis, and Python

An Epic Convoy Battle





Japan Strikes

A New War

The “Norway Paranoia”

“All We Need Is Ships”

A New Convoy Plan

Beats on the Drum

First Actions off Cape Hatteras

The Attack on Canada

Exploiting British Antisubmarine Technology

German Diversions and Delays

More Failures in Gibraltar-Azores Waters


The Loss of Naval Enigma

First Type VII Patrols to the United States

First Forays to the West Indies and Caribbean

Unforeseen and Unplanned Convoy Attacks

Another Heavy Blow

Heated Exchanges

Global Naval Challenges

Hardegen’s Second Patrol

A Spectacular Foray

Patrols to Other Waters

Sharing Deep Secrets


The British Raid on St. Nazaire

Hitler’s Doubts and Promises

Strategic Victories at Coral Sea and Midway

Penetrating Gulfs

Difficult Hunting on the East Coast

Slaughter in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea

Allied Oil Problems Mount

The Argonaut Conference

Group Hecht

Mines, Agents, and Mishaps

More Record Patrols by the Type IXs


The Shifting Character of the U-boat War

June Patrols to the Americas

Sharply Diminishing Returns from the Type IXs

The Arctic: Convoy PQ 17

The Mediterranean: Supporting Rommel

Return to the North Atlantic Run

Return to the Middle and South Atlantic

Further Patrols to the Americas

More Poor Returns from the Type IXs

Withdrawal from the Caribbean



1. Oceangoing U-boats Assigned to Combat: The First Three Years: August 1939–August 1942

2. U-boat Patrols to the North Atlantic: August 1939–August 1942

3. U-boat Patrols to the South Atlantic: October 1940–August 1942

4. U-boat Patrols to the Americas: December 1941–August 1942

5. U-boats Assigned to the Arctic Area: July 1941–August 1942

6. U-boats Transferred to the Mediterranean Sea: September 1941–August 1942

7. Sinkings by Type II U-boats (Ducks): September 1939–November 1941

8. Italian Submarines Based in the Atlantic

9. The British Destroyer Situation 1939–1941

10. The Canadian Destroyer Situation 1939–1945

11. Exchange of Ocean-Escort Vessels Other Than Destroyers Between the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy 1942–1944

12. The American Destroyer Situation: January 1942–September 1942

13. American Destroyer Escort and Frigate Building Programs

14. American Patrol Craft-Building Program in World War II: January 1, 1942–July 1, 1942

15. Ocean-Escort Vessels Lent by the Royal Navy to the U.S. Navy 1942–1943

16. Employment of Atlantic Fleet Destroyers as Escorts for Troopship and Special-Cargo Convoys and for Other Tasks: November 1941–September 1942

17. Allied Tanker Losses to Axis Submarines in the Atlantic Ocean Area: September 1939–December 1942

18. Allied and Neutral Ships and Tonnage Sunk by German and Italian Submarines in World War II: September 3, 1939–August 31, 1942

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