SIGHTED SUB SANK SAME: THE UNITED STATES NAVY’S AIR CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE U-BOAT

Reviewed by: RWP

Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted. I examine bibliographies to see if ‘old friends’ are present and if new research has been utilised to gain an insight into any book’s preparation. Eleven books quoted (two by the author) and only three by Brits – two of which concern U-boats destroyed. The third is an Osprey publication. Morison’s History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II is there. Other sources include Office of Naval Intelligence and Office of Naval Operations documentation. Then an index scan to ascertain information ‘spread’, ‘Admiralty’, ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Royal Navy’: absent. Also missing was ‘American Naval Mission’. (Sited in London since July 1940 and provided with much detail of British technical developments and ‘lessons learnt’).

The title ‘Sighted Sub Sank Same’ is unfortunate. The text, in ‘traditional folksy American fashion’, states these words were uttered by “Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Donald Francis Mason, AMM1c (NAP), who engaged Oberleutnant Eberhand Greger’s Type VIIB U-85 off Newfoundland….the crew observed the U-85 to take a vertical plunge and was sure in its destruction when bubbly oil began to spread across the surface… as he pointed the Hudson (aircraft) towards base, he called to base and reported”.  Jonathan Dimbleby’s ‘The Battle of the Atlantic’ p250 says the statement was almost certainly concocted by the US Navy’s public relations team. Nor was the U-boat sunk. Nine maps at the front of the book include the ‘Eastern Sea’ and ‘Caribbean Sea’ Frontiers. Useful. The successes of Operation Drumbeat, (the U-boat foray along the U.S. east coast), is explained by the Americans lacking sufficient numbers of surface and aviation units. Roskill states delay was occasioned by American desire to maintain patrols and ‘hunting’. No explanation why there was an inordinate delay in darkening the coastline (visible for miles). East coast convoys were eventually introduced in January 1943. Submarine detection equipment, weaponry and German detection equipment are briefly explained in the introduction. Such detail surely merited a chapter in its own right, as technological advances won the battle. As an example, sonar buoys get but nine lines.

I always believed Birmingham University Physics Department invented the magnetron and hence centimetric radar. Here, it quotes their Bureau of Aeronautics. America first?  It was not until 1943 that sufficient assets came on stream that enabled naval air to demonstrate its potential.  There is an absolute ‘nugget’ (p31) of a meeting between General ‘Hap’ Arnold USAAF and Rear Admiral John S McCain in 1943. The USAAF reported they no longer wanted to participate in ASW and agreed  responsibility should reside with the USN plus the transfer of B-24 Liberators to the navy – provided the USN would not participate in strategic bombing. Eight USN Liberator squadrons were established at a variety of bases around the Atlantic. These very long range aircraft enabled total Atlantic air cover and closed ‘the black hole’ the demise of so many merchantmen.  Chapters 9 (some typos) and 10 detail the impact of escort carriers and at sea air which in conjunction with the VLR aircraft, ensured the defeat of the U-boats. The book is profusely illustrated. Full marks there.  Readers should study page xiii to interpret the alpha/numeric designations of individual aircraft types to aid understanding when reading the text.  An instance of machine-gunning U-boat survivors in northern waters was undertaken in the belief that it was ‘better to die from a bullet than hypothermia’. What would Marine ‘A’ say?