THE U-BOAT OFFENSIVE 1914-1945
By V. E. Tarrant
Published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD
The U-Boat Offensive. 1914-1945 was written by V.E. Tarrant, of Cardiff, Wales, after a concept inspired by Eberhard Rossler’s “The U-Boat”, which he states, is “the definitive work on the technical evolution of Germany’s U nterseeboote.” In his preface, the author states his aim to “complement Rossler’s work by chronicling the strategical and tactical evolution of the U-Boats through two world wars, … ” Mr. Tarrant’s book is, indeed, a chronicle of the (strategic) role of the U-Boats in Germany’s overall strategy and the tactical options which were employed in support of that strategy. It states – sometimes convincingly — the reasons which influenced or determined the changes of strategy and tactics.
The first part of the book describes the evolution of strategic employment of U-Boats from the coastal and fleet defense concept at the outbreak of World War I, to the aggressive anti-shipping role by single units operating in designated areas on the high seas, to the concept of the Wolf Pack which emerged in 1917. The many charts and tables of U-Boat successes in this conflict reinforce historical conclusions regarding the importance of several strategic factors on both sides of the conflict, including: shipbuilding capacities, use of convoys, and the entry of the United States into the war.
The author then summarizes the activities between the two wars, during which Germany maintained its technical and industrial capability for building the submarines needed for World War II — first covertly, and then with the full knowledge of Great Britain and other countries.
The international mood of this period between the wars allowed Germany to keep abreast of technical developments in submarine capability and construction and to ignore or supercede the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles, and subsequent naval arms-limiting agreements. The culmination of this post World War I period was a naval agreement in 1935 between Germany and Great Britain, in which “Germany was given the right to possess a tonnage (of submarines) equal to that of Great Britain. Germany agreed, however, not to build beyond 45 percent of British tonnage unless special circumstances arose!” (reviewer’s emphasis and exclamation point). Suffice it to say that this enabled Germany to prepare for employment of the U-Boat in World War II.
The third part of the book describes the manner in which the U-Boats were employed in the second war, building on -although not always very well – the experience gained in the first. The need for and utility of the famous wolf-pack tactic is clearly shown, and many of the same factors as in the first war are seen as major considerations, if not decisive. In addition, the technology of warfare added the following new factors to the overall strategic equation: the use of air power in pro·and anti-submarine operations; command, control and communications considerations (control from shore, shadowing and reporting, radio direction finding, etc.); and the Allies’ ability to intercept and break the German ENIGMA cryptographic code.
The book is written from the German perspective, and is quite objective and evenhanded in its approach. But the attempts at underscoring its authenticity, by using German terminology and titles make for awkward reading. It appears to be thoroughly researched and is presented in a convincing manner. It is an important addition to the library of knowledge of the war at sea in modem times. The book contains many interesting photographs, and is replete with tables, charts, and statistics which illustrate and underscore the text. Unfortunately, the format chosen for the book results in very small print in order to accommodate the photographs and charts. Furthermore, the charts are small and without cartographic references, and so are more illustrative than informative as an addition to the text.
The reader who is looking for an account of the period from 1914·1945 from the eyes of U-Boat commanders will not find it in this book. Nor will the reader find many “sea stories” or entertainment. But it is a solid account, based on updated historical information, and is a worthwhile addition to the library of any serious student of naval or submarine warfare. Perhaps the greatest benefit to the reader is the insight into the evolution of employment of the submarine as a weapons system, and the lessons which should be considered in current and future construction and employment programs.
CAPT Alberl ]. Perry, USN(Ret.)
Rear Admiral Edward}. Fahy, USN(Ret.)
Rear Admiral Oliver F. Naquin, USN(Ret.)
Charles D. West