Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Battle of the Atlantic 

Countering the U-Boat Threat and Supplying the Allies


Blue Jackets Loading A Depth Charge Rack
Blue Jackets Loading a Depth Charge Rack. Painting, oil on canvas; McClelland Barclay; 1940–42. Navy Art Collection, accession #48-031-L.

The Battle of the Atlantic pitted the German submarine force and surface units against the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and Allied merchant convoys. The convoys were essential to the British and Soviet war efforts (read more about the Arctic convoys to the USSR in "Convoy is to Scatter" and The Ordeal of PQ-17), and, later, supported the build-up and sustainment of U.S. forces in the European theater of operations.  

The ultimate cost of victory in this vast area of operations was sobering: Between 1939 and 1945, 3,500 Allied merchant ships (14.5 million gross tons) and 175 Allied warships were sunk, and 72,200 Allied naval and merchant seamen lost their lives (read more in Extraordinary Heroism and Conspicuous Courage). The Germans lost 783 U-boats and approximately 30,000 sailors, three quarters of Germany's 40,000-man submarine force.

For a closer examination of the operational and strategic evolution of this transoceanic struggle, see the essay Battle of the Atlantic: An Overview.  


Photo #: 80-G-K-1063 USS Roper
80-G-K-1063. USS Roper (DD-147) escorting a convoy (background) out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1942. Roper, commissioned in 1919, was typical of the often-outdated surface escorts utilized at this time.


North Atlantic Convoy, 1942
80-G-21187. North Atlantic convoy of 24 ships steaming south of Newfoundland, Canada, on 28 July 1942.


USS PC-556
80-G-14940. A Coast Guardsman sets the fuse of a depth charge on a “K-gun” projector, October 1942.


U-442 in front of burning tanker of convoy TM in January 1943.
NH-111257. German submarine U-442 running on the surface near a burning tanker, January 1943.


S-079 Captain Frank K.B. Wheeler Collection
S-079, Captain Frank K. B. Wheeler collection. Bridge scene on board USS Kearny (DD-432) in the cold North Atlantic, 1944.


Blasting Nazi wolf packs:  planes of escort carrier save convoy, 16 July 1943.
NH-111313


Blasting Nazi wolf packs:  planes of escort carrier save convoy, 16 July 1943.
NH-111308


Fighting the foe from Salerno to Tarawa--Depth charge blasts Nazi sub
NH-111284


Blasting Nazi wolf packs:  planes of escort carrier save convoy, 16 July 1943.
NH-111311

This striking series of photos from July 1943 shows attacks on a German U-boat by aircraft from a U.S. Navy escort carrier. (NH-111313, NH-111308, NH-111284, and NH-111311, above.)


USS SANTEE (CVE-29)
19-N-34871. USS Santee (CVE-29), an escort carrier. The “jeep carriers” or “baby flattops” were often built using merchant ship hulls. They were typically half the length and had a third of the displacement of larger fleet carriers, and were also slower, carried fewer planes, and were less well armed and armored than these. However CVEs were cheaper and could be built quickly. They were ideally suited to provide continuous air cover for slow-moving merchant convoys. Later in the war, escort carriers also formed part of antisubmarine hunter-killer groups.


Escort Carrier (CVE) flight operations
80-G-K-15217. Flight operations on board a CVE: A Grumman F6F Hellcat is being readied for take-off.

Sources and suggested reading:

Cressman, Robert J.,The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, MD/Washington, DC: Naval Institute Press/Naval Historical Center, 1999.

Dimbleby, Jonathan. The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Gannon, Michael. Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990.

Howarth, Stephen, and Derek Law, eds. The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945: The 50th Anniversary International Naval Conference. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. I—The Battle of the Atlantic, September 1939–May 1943. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948.

———, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. X—The Atlantic Battle Won, May 1943–May 1945. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1956.

Runyan, Timothy J., and Jan M. Copes, eds., To Die Gallantly: The Battle of the Atlantic. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994.

Van der Vat, Dan. The Atlantic Campaign: World War II’s Great Struggle at Sea. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Published: Fri May 10 12:06:21 EDT 2019