It began immediately upon the British declaration of war against Germany in September and ended with Germany's surrender to the Allies in May During those six years, thousands of ships were sunk and tens of thousands of men were killed in the Atlantic Ocean. The battle pitted Allied merchant and supply ships, along with their escorts, against German submarines, aircraft, and surface raiders.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the Battle of the Atlantic, "everything elsewhere on land, sea and air, depended ultimately on the outcome of this battle.
Germany had less than fifty U-boats available inbut the British had few escorts with which to counter them. The Nazis immediately began a program of unrestricted submarine warfare against British shipping, a strategy that came very near to starving England out of World War II.
Although the British Navy began convoying ships as soon as the war started, its lack of escorts cost these convoys dearly. As more and more German submarines entered the battle, British shipping losses increased at an alarming rate.
The United States Navy soon adopted the British convoy system, but it lacked enough ships to escort the hundreds of ships sailing across the Atlantic to supply England. By this time, the Navy had approved the destroyer escort de, but it would be nearly a year before the first destroyer escort ed the fleet.
American industry was still transitioning from a peacetime to a wartime footing, so there not enough war materials necessary to build all of the warships and landing craft needed to fight a war in two oceans. Until the destroyer escorts were available in force, the US Navy was forced to rely on stopgap escort vessels, including the four pipers and sub chasers.
Despite the mammoth efforts of these inadequate ships, proved to be the worst year of the war for the Allies in terms of ships lost in the Atlantic. Finally, in Januarythe first destroyer escorts entered the Battle of the Atlantic.
American industrial capacity had caught up with demand and would soon exceed all expectations. By the end of the year, sixteen American shipyards were launching seventeen destroyer escorts per month. These new ships immediately began the dangerous task of escorting Allied merchant ships across the U-boat infested Atlantic.
In addition, the construction of small escort carriers allowed the Navy to form hunter killer groups.
These groups, consisting of one escort carrier supported by several destroyer escorts, were not tethered to a convoy, but could roam the Atlantic ferreting out U-boats and destroying them. It gave the Allies a working Enigma code machine; a device which generated codes that the Allies had been only marginally successful at cracking. It also produced a complete set of the code books to go along with the machine.
Most importantly, the U gave the Allies the current settings for the Enigma machine in use by the U-boat fleet, which allowed the Allies to begin cracking German codes with great success. These finds allowed Allied cryptographers to intercept, decode and read German radio transmissions almost as quickly as the Germans themselves. The U was an intelligence bonanza in other ways as well.
It gave the Allies an opportunity to test the capabilities of their German foes, which in turn led to improved tactics to counter the U-boats. Among the many discoveries on the submarine was a new type of acoustic torpedo. These deadly weapons locked onto the propeller noise of Allied ships and caused massive damage when they struck. This improved countermeasure saved many lives in the war's remaining months.
Churchill appealed to President Franklin Roosevelt for aid. Although the United States was neutral, Roosevelt agreed to provide the British Navy with fifty obsolete four piper destroyers in exchange for the use of British bases in the Caribbean. The United States also began neutrality patrols, ostensibly to protect neutral shipping rights in the western Atlantic but also to give American naval commanders vital experience should the United States enter the war.
It was this program, combined with America's experimentation with the World War I Eagle Boatswhich ultimately led to the development of the destroyer escort. Germany's declaration of war against the United States also greatly expanded the Battle of the Atlantic. German submarines, which had been operating out of western France since its capitulation in Junehad the range to reach the East Coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico. America's sudden entry into the war left it completely unprepared to face the U-boat menace. In the first months of alone, German submarines sank hundreds of Allied ships, mostly along the eastern United States.
The tide of the Battle of the Atlantic turned irrevocably against the Nazis in May That was the first month that more U-boats were sunk than Allied merchant vessels. From May until the end of the war two years later, German submarines were unable to duplicate their successes of the first three years of the war.
Destroyer escorts were an instrumental part of the Allied victory in the Atlantic. Their range and seaworthiness allowed them to escort convoys back and forth across the Atlantic despite fierce North Atlantic storms.
Their speed, maneuverability and firepower made them lethal foes once a U-boat had been found. Finally, their overwhelming s due to their rapid construction made it virtually impossible for the submarines to hide.
Destroyer escorts also carried out several important feats during the Battle of the Atlantic. Perhaps the most important of these feats was the capture of the German submarine U The destroyer escorts attacked the submerged U-boat and forced her to surface. Boarding parties from the destroyer escorts then rushed over to the submarine while its crew abandoned ship. The American sailors stopped the submarine from sinking and then towed it back to Bermuda.
Germany's surrender in May ended the longest continuous battle of the war. Between andmore than 2, Allied merchant ships were lost to enemy activity, with over 1, being lost to German U-boats alone. OverAllied sailors lost their lives in the battle. Although these losses were severe, they would have been much worse without destroyer escorts. Once these ships entered the battle inU-boat successes dropped dramatically.
As severe as the Allied losses were, they were much worse for the U-boat force. Of 1, German submarines produced during the war, nearly were lost to Allied action. Statistically, the job of a German submarine sailor was the deadliest of the entire war.
Destroyer escorts were responsible for many of these U-boat losses. Continue reading: Destroyer Escorts in the Pacific. View fullsize. WWI Eagle Boat. ZIP: 74008 74037