British Frigates & Escort Destroyers 1939-1945 & US Destroyers Vs German U-Boats
BRITISH FRIGATES & ESCORT DESTROYERS 1939-45
By ANGUS KONSTAM
(Osprey – £12.99)
US DESTROYERS vs GERMAN U-BOATS
By MARK LARDAS
(Osprey – £15.99)
The first of these booklets is very easy to review as the title is entirely accurate, which is more than can be said of the second…. British Frigates & Escort Destroyers gives details of all the British-built convoy escorts (excluding destroyers & corvettes) commissioned during WWII. Angus Konstam covers the design & development of the Hunts, Rivers, Lochs & Bays. The 76 Hunts were, in effect, pocket-destroyers & were built in four batches. These were ‘proper’ warships & so needed the skills of a warship-building yard to construct them. One surprising fact that I was completely unaware of was the revival of the ‘Bow Catcher’ – several Hunts were fitted with a 2-pdr gun right up in the bow for chasing e-Boats. The Hunts soldiered on into the Cold War – the last to leave RN service was HMS Brocklesby (broken up 1968).
The frigates (49 Rivers, 25 Lochs & 19 Bays) were designed to be constructed in smaller yards that had no previous warship building experience. Whereas the Hunts had a reasonably balanced armament, the three frigate classes were primarily ASW platforms. Eight additional batch 2 Rivers were built in Canada for the USN, but transferred straight to the RN under Lend-Lease. The developments of ASW weapons from the depth charge to the Hedgehog to the Squid is well covered, as is the introduction & (initially) very limited capability of surface search radar. The book finishes with a few examples of actions that these ships were involved in. If you are interested in the development & use of escorts in WWII, I would certainly recommend British Frigates & Escort Destroyers. All the basic facts are well tabulated & the illustrations are good too.
US Destroyers vs German U-Boats is a different kettle of fish. Mark Lardas jumps from topic to topic – for example in the middle of a section on ‘The Strategic Situation’, there is a whole page on ‘U-boat anti-escort tactics’. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to interest members in this book. The author covers the development of both the escorts (in the USN, Escort Destroyers were known as Destroyer Escorts) & U-boats, their weapons & early electronics (the first USN ships to have radar were fitted with RN sets), recruitment & training of sailors on both sides (in 1941 black men were only allowed to be cooks or mess boys; by 1944 one destroyer escort (USSMason) had a majority African-American crew). I suspect that few are aware that the USN policed a Neutrality Zone in the Western Atlantic before the US entered WWII – and this patrolling led to several engagements with U-boats & the loss, two months before Pearl Harbor, of USS Reuben James (a 4-stacker of the same type as the 40 destroyers transferred to the RN in exchange for the Bermuda airfields under Lend-Lease). The final section of the book covers four engagements from 1941-45, which illustrate the changes that four years of combat experience had brought.
Inevitably, the author’s chosen subject matter cannot be covered in only 80 pages & he was probably keen not to leave out anything interesting from his research – but I would have preferred a bit more depth & slightly narrower coverage. If you don’t mind the somewhat disjointed approach, this is a good introduction to an aspect of WWII at sea that your reviewer had never really considered.
CAPTAIN ANDREW WELCH FNI ROYAL NAVY RETIRED