U-BOATS IN THE BAY OF BISCAY
An essay in Operations Analysis, by Brian McCue.
National Defense University Press, Washington, DC,
Sold by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Reviewed by w. J. Ruhe
For the submarine buff who has a smattering of operations analysis, this book is a gem. Moreover, anyone with today’s knowledge of systems analysis — with its derived graphs, models, statistics, mathematical equations, etc. – can readily relate to this book, though it deals with yesterday’s analysis of the Uboats in the Bay of Biscay in World War D.
What the author, Brian McCue, presents exceptionally well are the analytical findings about submarine warfare as related to a specific campaign – one in which Allied ASW aircraft tried to prevent the German U-boats from transiting the Bay of Biscay to get to the North Atlantic convoy lanes. From McCue’s findings, broad principles of submarine strategies are made evident, many of which seem applicable to today’s submarine warfare. In fact, there is an obvious similarity between the GIUK barrier and the “fence” across the Bay of Biscay for preventing submarines from getting out into the Atlantic.
In the words of Vice Admiral J. S. Baldwin, “This study is not for the casual reader looking for the romanticized battles of the North Atlantic.” It does however “challenge the reader intellectually and offers in return, many fresh insights into modem man’s attempts to evaluate quantitatively — warfare,” and particularly submarine warfare.
Some of the insights derived in this book are truly profound and are descnbed here to entice potential readers to read and digest the conclusions reached by McCue. The detailed analytical data, graphs, derived tables and methods shown, are worth sifting through to see how operations analysts arrived at important observations about submarine warfare.
Early on, McCue defines the difference between the operations analysis he used in this book and systems analysis (so popular in today’s military world). Operations analysis, he notes, “uses present and historical data to produce quantitative conclusions about ongoing or past operations.” Systems analysis on the other hand, “provides an understanding of future or hypothetical systems” – and in such usage, “works with fewer facts and thus has a harder job than his or her operational counterpart.”
The scenario of this Bay of Biscay campaign from 1942 to 1944 shows first the effects of introducing new technologies and soon their being countered by other technologies. The conduct of the ensuing battle of technologies is then related to the submarine war in the North Atlantic and how changes in strategies, tactics and policies impact on the overall results.
At the start of the Bay of Biscay antisubmarine battle, British aircraft employed the ASV Mk II radar, which could detect surfaced subs up to 10 miles. When within a mile of the submarine, the radar lost the sub in sea clutter. Hence, the ASW bombers used a carbon-arc searchlight to localize the surfaced German subs at night, for the final phase of the attack. The British were moderately successful in attriting U-boats sailing from the French ports during early 1942.
Then, a British bomber crashed in Tunisia in the spring of 1942 and the Germans recovered a Mk ll radar from it. To counter this radar, the Germans adapted a French device, the Metox intercept receiver, for their U-boats. This successfully detected the British Mk II radar emissions and hence the Germans were “wildly enthusiastic” about this solution. They even began running surfaced in the daytime across the bay and became extremely effective with their wolfpacks because of their great mobility while running on the surface.
But by early 1943 the Germans had lost confidence in their Metox device. Their U-boats were frequently being surprised by Allied aircraft at night. The Metox receiver, a heterodyne unit, was broadcasting a signal which could be intercepted by Allied aircraft at “fabulously long ranges.” Hence in May 1943 the U-boats went to sea with a new Naxos receiver which was totally covert and successful in intercepting Mkii radar signals.
However, at about the same time the Allies introduced the Mk ill radar, a magnetron-generating 10 centimeter S-band signal which Metox could only marginally detect. Admiral Doenitz in fact thought the British had shifted to using an infra red device.
In November of 1943 a Wellington bomber crashed in France. It was canying a Mk ill radar and showed the technology which had to be countered. Yet, not until April1944 did the Germans introduce a new S-hand search receiver into their U-boats. Before this, however, the British had deployed an Xband radar and by mid 1944 the Germans had developed the Tunis receiver as a counter.
At the same time the Germans introduced the snorkels into their submarines, tending to minimize the effects of introducing new radars, – and their countering – to the transit problem across the Bay of Biscay. The snorkel had such a small radar return — at most one third of a surfaced submarine – that ASW aircraft were no longer very effective. At the same time the Germans were introducing the Walther hydrogen-peroxide propelled U-boat along with the GNAT homing torpedo as countermeasures to the Bay of Biscay offensive.
While the electronic war was ensuing, Admiral Doenitz used other measures to get his submarines safely to sea and to maximize their patrol usefulness. The Allies similarly had counters to Admiral Doenitz’s actions. By late 1942 Doenitz started using resupply submarines in the mid-Atlantic to reduce the number of transits of U-boats through the Bay. By prolonging aU-boat patrol time, through a refueling and reprovisioning operation, the U-boats went from an average of about 2 ships sunk per patrol to about 12 ships sunk per extended patrol. Each submarine tanker could service at least 10 submarines. This strategy paid off handsomely until about July 1945 when the toll per submarine dropped to about S ships per patrol.
The British deciphering of the Germans’ Enigma code resulted in the gleaning of information of tanker rendezvous with subs, allowing attack by Allied aircraft of submarines being refueled, resulting in considerable loss of U-boats. U-boat communications with their bases was their undoing.
By April of 1943 the Germans were so unsuccessful in getting their boats safely across the Bay that Doenitz shifted to their running submerged during the night and running on the surface during the day – ready to shoot down attacking ASW aircraft. Single boats did so poorly against the ASW aircraft however, that Doenitz configured special FLAK boats — boats heavily armed with anti-aircraft weapons – to patrol the Bay and shoot down ASW aircraft But, the Allies escorted their ASW aircraft and destroyed the FlAK boats. This led to about five boats transiting during the daytime together – all armed with antiaircraft weapons and mutually supporting each other against attacking aircraft. But this worked only poorly and was abandoned.
During 1943 Admiral Doenitz became painfully aware that there was a great backlog of submarines awaiting refit The repair facilities in Western France were so poorly manned and spare parts so sparse that submarines spent exorbitantly long periods of time awaiting their refits after a patrol. Thus putting more money and effort into refits was indicated, so that more submarines could cross the bay per month – thus reducing the attritions per transit
The U-boats also began using a decoy named Aphrodite to cause searching ASW aircraft to investigate a false contact Operations analysis however quickly determined that search aircraft were investigating, at all times, so many false contacts during a single air patrol, that adding a few more had little effect.
Doenitz also routed his boats along the Spanish coast in Spanish territorial waters, to reduce the attrition of his U-boats. But that only marginally affective. Operations analysis also showed that for British ASW aircraft the “miles flown in the operational area” were the fundamental measure of effective ASW search rather, than “the hours flown.”
It became obvious that “only in the Bay of Biscay and near the Allied convoys could Allied aircraft find submarines often enough to make search efforts worthwhile.” And the “offensive campaign in the Bay proved fruitful enough to warrant the continued diversion of aircraft and crews from the ‘defensive’ task of protecting convoys:
Operations analysis also showed that “the operational use of intelligence in the Second World War made a contribution which is hard to assess and was of mainly indirect value.” Doenitz’s assessment however was; “decryption results were worth an additional 50 U-boats: That was a doubling of strength to him.
As a result mainly of the Bay of Biscay operations, the words which Winston Churchill wrote: “the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril” were put to bed by Admiral King’s report in April 1944 which downgraded the U-boat “from a menace to a problem.”
Admiral King summarized this Battle of Biscay as an interplay of new technical measures and opposing countermeasures. “In the see-saw of techniques the side which countered quickly, before the opponent had time to perfect the new tactics and weapons, had a decided advantage.”
How this Bay of Biscay battle might play-out if applied to the possible battle in the GIUK gap between nuclear submarines, is interesting to contemplate.
TAKTIKA PODVODNYIQI LODOK (SUBMARINE TACTICS)
by Vladimir A Khvoshch
reviewed by LT Robert E. Clark, USN
The ability of one to defeat an adversary is proportional to one’s true understanding of how an adversary thinks and intends to employ his forces. Taktika Podvodnykh Lodok (translated: Submarine Tactics), by Vladimir Khvoshch is the first known book length publication written on Soviet submarines, and their tactics, by a Soviet author. This book gives the perspective of a Soviet in the area of submarine warfare and therefore makes it invaluable reading to anyone seriously trying to understand Soviet submarine tactics or how the Soviets think in terms of submarine employment. Taktika Podvodnykh Lodok is a publication with two purposes. In essential content, the book was written as a text for naval officers so as to expand their professional knowledge level with respect to submarine warfare. The writing style and words used by the author express various themes that are more conducive to the academic and political sectors of Soviet society versus the military audience that the publication appears to be focused towards. Besides being an excellent source book in terms of understanding Soviet submarine employment, Taktika Podvodnykh Lodok allows the thoughtful reader insight into the present day military budget debate being fought in the Soviet Union. The book is an attempt to prove the submarine force’s worth, from a budgetary standpoint, and it’s importance to future national defense.
As a reference source, in terms of submarine employment as expressed by a Soviet, the book offers insights into various areas of Soviet submarine operations as well as insight into bow the Soviets view the Western threat. There are numerous tables that list not only U.S., but other Western Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) assets and their extrapolated capabilities. The tables seem to be included as a reference more than anything else, for at no time in the book does V. Khvoshch infer that various technical improvements within the Soviet submarine force had come about because of Western advances. In fact the author makes it a point to show that most advances in ASW emanated from Soviet designs and ideas.
The technical and organizational layout of the book is very methodical and matter of fact. The author systematically presents the various types of submarines in the Soviet inventory and explains in basic terms their capabilities and employment potential. The presentation of the various submarine platforms as “multi-mission capable”, reflects the Soviets’ general trend in constructing naval vessels as well as assigning some to extremely unconventional roles. V. Khvoshch mentions amphibious transport submarines, and submarines used in an air defense role. Both amphibious transport and air defense seem almost unrealistic missions for submarines when viewed with Western prejudices, but when put in a Soviet context they are quite logical. For example, air defense (as viewed by a Soviet) means the elimination of forces capable of launching an air assault on the Soviet homeland or Soviet forces – such as an aircraft carrier. Understanding the words and examples presented in the book, in the context of Soviet thinking, allows the reader to see beyond the mere words.
Along with the Soviet trend of multi-mission combat platforms, their methodical and statistical approach to warfare is extremely evident throughout the book. Almost all submarine employment situations, and operational considerations, are simplified into relatively basic statistical models which are then analyzed and explained to illustrate the Soviet submarines combat effectiveness, especially in the realm of ASW. Though the book in basic concept is a text (from a Soviet perspective) on submarine warfare, the actual themes presented and the words used reflect a deeper purpose.
The Soviet military is presently undergoing an exhausting justification process from both the po1itical and academic sector. In a time of glamost there is much debate on the issue of “reasonable sufficiency” with respect to national defense. In an era of perestroika there is a drastic need to cut costs in all sectors of the military so as to try and salvage the Soviets’ crumbling economy. Taktika Podvodnykb Lodok is an attempt to justify the Soviet submarine program, and its future, with respect to national security in a time of economic despair.
V. Khvoshch utilizes historical cases to make the point that submarines have consistently been the force of choice in crippling offensive minded super powers (the author uses Hitler’s Germany by example but infers the present day U.S.) The author also notes the technological advances with respect to missiles, in particular the use of cruise missiles by submarines. Because of the advent of submarine launched cruise missiles, V. Khvoshch argues that a cruise missile carrying submarine, in a strike role, can be considered a strategic asset. The theme of a non-ballistic missile carrying submarine having a strategic role is a significant change from previous Soviet literature. At first one would conclude that the strategic role associated with a submarine would be directly related to whether or not the submarine was carrying cruise missiles. The fact that the author talks of submarines in a strategic reconnaissance and ASW role seems to suggest that he is trying to argue the strategic significance of the submarine in general, versus being confined to a particular weapons system that a certain submarine may carry. By arguing a submarine’s strategic significance, a point can be made directly to its necessity in national defense and the importance that must be put on maintaining such a system in the future. Whether or not a submarine is actually strategic or not, in the Soviet sense, is not the point. The fact is that the author tries to make the point of the submarine’s importance to the readers. If the book was solely intended to be used as a reference document or instructional tool for naval officers, as noted in the publications distribution footnote, the significance of submarines would not have to be stressed so strongly so as to infer their importance on the strategic level.
The importance of reading Soviet literature and understanding it from a Soviet perspective can not be over emphasized. Taktika Podvodnykh Lodok offers excellent insight into the Soviet mind-set in terms of the utilization and application of submarine warfare. Along with the first views of how the Soviets conduct submarine warfare the book allows the thoughtful reader insight into how a Soviet uses specific words and themes to make a point about the necessity or usefulness of a system in the midst of a budgetary debate, such as the ongoing one with respect to “reasonable sufficiency” within the Soviet military, in the context of a seemingly diverse publication .