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by Michael Gannon
Harper & Row Publishers, New York, NY       1990
ISBN 0-06-016155-8
Paperback, Harper Perennial Edition 1991- $1295

Reviewed by Daniel A. Curran

Operation Drumbeat provides an important piece to the historical puzzle that we call, “The Battle of the Atlantic.” For approximately six months, from January to July 1942, the German U-boat arm in an operation called Paukenschlag (Drumbeat) moved almost unopposed up and down the East Coast of the United States. The convoys forming off New-foundland crossed the Atlantic to supply the beleaguered allies virtually untouched, while five Type IX (700 ton) and later a group of Type VII (500 ton) German submarines sank almost 400 merchant ships from Boston to the Caribbean during the first half of 1942.

Michael Gannon, a prominent historian, relates the now familiar story from a new angle: why did senior naval officials, Admiral Ernest J. King in particular, ignore the warnings of British Naval intelligence? The British, who bad been reading the encrypted German radio traffic, reported to the American authorities the U-boat’s positions and courses from their departure at the U-boat base in Lorient, France, to their arrival off the American coast

British intelligence was able to break and read the German naval code because of the capture of German crypto equipment during a series of commando raids in May 1941 and, in an enormous stroke of luck, the capture of a German Enigma (Schlussel M cipher machine) and handbooks from U-110 off the coast of Greenland a few days later.

While the British naval intelligence was at its zenith, American naval intelligence was reaching its nadir. Practically ignored by King and the other operational commanders, Navy Intelligence not only received the reports of the U-boat’s positions in Washington but also disseminated them to the operating forces on the East Coast However, no fleet units were assigned to oppose the German onslaught.

Gannon concentrates the American side of his story on this lapse. Eventually in June 1942, General George Marshall, prompted by President Roosevelt, admonished the senior U.S. naval officials and questioned their Jack of aggressiveness.

By this time, a fleet of patrol craft and subchasers were pouring from small American boat yards in New England, the Midwest, the South and on the West Coast. These small ships would relieve the American ASW destroyers that were so vital for convoy duty. The question remains, however, why these larger fleet units were not assigned to aggressively prosecute the U-boat enemy at their known locations.

The German side of the story, seen through the patrols of Reinhard Hardegen, a winner of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross in U-123, is a fascinating recollection by Hardegen, who survived the war. Through the auspices of Jurgen Rohwer, the prominent German naval historian, Gannon interviewed Hardegen concerning the first and second patrols of U-123 during the early days of Operation Drumbeat. The story is detailed in both operational and human terms and confirms the previous stories told by Doenitz, Peter Cremer, and E. B. Gasaway in their books about the World War TI U-boat offensive.

The consensus right after the war from both sides, Allied and German, was that the American Navy, distracted by the war in the Pacific and bureaucratic inertia, simply absorbed the punishment by the German submarines in the early days of the war. This continued until the U.S. Navy operations were focused enough on the East Coast to aggressively pursue the enemy.

The next piece of the puzzle was revealed when the details about the Allied effort in breaking the German cipher codes was declassified. People like William Stevenson told these stories and the Battle of the Atlantic took on a new light.

The Naval Institute republished Doenitz’s memoirs in 1990 with a new introduction and afterword by J urgen Rohwer (reviewed by this writer in the October 1990 Submarine Review). Here the U-boat activity in the North Atlantic is cast in a new light. While Allied tactical superiority was gained over the U-boats with the new radars and direction finders, the key to defeating the German submarines was the Allied knowledge of the U-boat movements. In fact, Rohwer revealed the details of the British intelligence activity to Doenitz before his death.

Concentrating on the American Navy’s knowledge of the U-boat positions during Operation Drumbeat, Michael Gannon fits another piece into the puzzle – the lack of aggressiveness by the senior U.S. naval officials on the East Coast.

Ned Beach, in his excellent review/article of Gannon’s book in the Proceedings, Apri11991, tends to blame the Washington bureaucracy and chalks up the disaster to mismanagement. Vice Admiral Dan Cooper sent me another article/review by Ken Ringle, a Washington Post staff writer, printed in the August 21, 1990 Post. Ringle quoted Dean Allard, Director of the Naval Historical Center, as saying, “I have a feeling that there’s more of the story yet to be uncovered by future histori-ans to explain King’s inaction.” This should be the final piece of the puzzle.

This writer is presently researching the same period with concentration on the small subchasers that were built in the U.S. boat yards around the country from late 1941 to 1944. There is much evidence of the bureaucratic morass affecting the Navy in those days. In fact, President Roosevelt had to personally order the wooden subchaser program to start in the late thirties, as he had done in World War I when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. These subchasers, earlier scorned by King, coupled with the aggressive actions by the Army Air Force, Coast Guard, and the coastal Navy freed the larger fleet units for convoy duty after July 1942. This caused Doenitz to return to attacking the convoys along the northern route. The six months of U-boat activity along the East Coast against the unescorted merchant fleet ranks high on the list of U.S. naval disasters, perhaps higher than Pearl Harbor in numbers of ships lost and effect on the war.

Those of us who are students of the “Battle of the Atlantic” will find Gannon’s book fascinating. Those who just like a good sea yarn will also enjoy the book. Gannon has provided a major contribution to U.S. Naval history.

[Daniel Cwran is a former submarine officer, an attorney and a Marketulg MDIJager for the Submarine Signal Division of Raytheon Corporation. ]


by David Miller
New York, NY  Orion Books, 1992
ISBN: 0-86101-562-2

Reviewed by Larry Blair

Not in their wildest dreams did the conceivers and builders  of the submarine in the late 1800s realize the impact underwater vessels would have on warfare through the following 100 years. During World War Two, there weren’t many U.S. and Allied navy brass who envisioned the profound importance submarine warfare would achieve by 1992. Also, not in their wildest nightmares did our Japanese adversaries believe so few submarines and manpower would create the devastation that expedited the Empire’s downfall.

David Miller is a recently retired British Army officer with five other submarine works under his belt, and is also a writer of many military articles. The book illustrates how far maritime nations have progressed in undersea technology, to arrive at its position of dominance in naval warfare.

Any writer who undertakes such a diverse subject in 189 pages, is sure to have been faced with hard choices on content, style and parameters. He has written a chronology of events in salient terms, coupled with photographs and superior color and black and white artwork including cutaways. Credit for these go to artists Tony Gibbons, Terry Hadler and James Marffy. The author’s verbiage is a breath of fresh air, compared to the numerous technical tomes written on the subject.

The seasoned submariner, historian, writer or just plain lay person is given an overview of the art of submarining. This reviewer, however, wishes the treatise could have been longer, allowing for more classes to be covered, especially in the USA section. It undoubtedly was the author’s dilemma on how to depict a cross-section from the various countries represented.

The introduction does just thal It takes the reader from the Early Days to the First World War and Post War period; then into the big war which proved undersea warfare’s worth. From the Cold War era, the author succinctly touches upon Weapon-ry, Propulsion and the important roles submarines have played in each country’s history.

The meat of the book begins with the boats of the USA. Seven major submarine oriented countries follow — the former USSR, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, France, Italy and China. The following section continues in alphabetical order with Argentina through Turkey, and discusses the strategic and tactical places the eleven nations hold in underwater warfare. In all, some 70 classes are represented. A highlight of the book is the aforementioned artwork, dramatically positioned in the middle of each double-page spread.

One cannot help be impressed by the Royal Indian Navy’s appetite for a meaningful submarine fleeL History has shown how the British were the catalyst in breeding an RIN surface fleet. Since the end of World War Two, it has grown to a size and stature worthy of recognition. Its involvement with submarines began in 1968 with Soviet FOXTROTs and began delivery of KILO class boats in 1991. In 1988, it received, on loan, one Soviet CHARLIE SSGN for training purposes.

An alliance is underway with the German company Howaldswerke-Deutsche Werft in Kiel for Type 209 subma-rines. Follow-ons will be built in Bombay. The Type 1500 is from a design by lngenieurkonto LObeck {IKL). This series incorporates the Gabler escape sphere. It holds a full crew and is located forward of the sail, flush with the flat-topped upper casing. When released, it rises to the surface and floats to await rescuers.

Sophisticated training and technology, nuclear warhead and missile capability and at-home construction growth shows the RIN has sights on Indian Ocean supremacy. In the future, SSBNs are likely.

Of all the current submarines being designed and built, diesel-electrics arc prolific. The Australian COLLINS class is an example. This boat is based on the Swedish VAsTER-GOTLAND. The Kockums design attack boat will begin service hi 1995.

Sweden is a well known self-contained producer of submers-ibles and for many years has had a fine reputation for const-ruction. Kockums of MalmO has a unique 159 foot diesel-electric in the Type A-17 class. The reader will want to sec the unusual bow, sail, propulsion and turtleback design found in the book’s artwork.

Protagonists, People’s Republic of China and Taiwan show their wares. In their HAN class SSNs, four of which have been commissioned since 1991, and first SSBN (XIA class) in service since 1981, the PRC has made impressive achievements. Both classes were produced at a yard in Liao Ning province.

The Taiwanese have opted for the Dutch company of Wilton-Fijenoord to construct their two HAl LUNG class attack boats. They have been in service since 1987 and 1988 respectively. However, political pressure on the Dutch from the PRC has halted follow-ons. They are looking into Type 2000s from IKL of Germany.

Contained within the pages of this pictorial narrative is information for the armchair adventurer and professional sub watcher. It is chock-full of requited dreams nurtured in the minds of Day, Bushnell, Bauer, Lake, Holland, and other inventors, not the least of whom was modern day visionary, Rickover. In an easy to read treatment, Mr. Miller has captured the quintessence of past and present submarining.

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