The Battle of the Atlantic
During WWII, the Germans attempted to force Britain into surrender by
preventing vital supplies from reaching her across the Atlantic Ocean.
Explain why by mid 1943, the British had gained the upper hand in the
The Battle of the Atlantic was a key event in deciding the outcome of
WWII. The Atlantic was Britain's lifeline, the only route to the great
'factory' that was the USA with it's vast production capabilities.
British control of the Atlantic was essential in order to sustain
supplies. German superiority in the Atlantic would have deprived
Britain of commodities, starving her into almost certain surrender and
prevented American access to mainland Europe in 1944.
Germany's main weapon here was the U-boat, a craft capable of
travelling above or below water. It was treated mainly as a surface
craft as below water it operated at greatly reduced speed and relied
on battery power. It dived only to infiltrate and attack convoys or to
evade enemies and was a formidable weapon armed with torpedoes capable
of sinking a ship with a single hit. It was virtually invisible to the
naked eye when surfaced, as the deck only just broke the waterline and
was grey in colour. U-boats mainly targeted merchant as opposed to
battleships with the objectives of destroying vital British imports
and reducing the cargo capacity of the British merchant navy.
In the early war years the U-boat fleet was very successful, sinking
36% of the British merchant fleet between June 1940 and December 1941.
As the number of U-boats grew, sinkings increased, peaking in 1942
when 1159 merchant ships were lost, halving the pre-war level of
British imports and bringing Britain to the brink of defeat. However,
Britain began to retaliate and by mid 1943 had gained the upper hand
in the Atlantic. There were several reasons allowing the British to
reduce the U-boat peril, each of varying significance, and these are
In the early years of the war, escort ships were unable to give
adequate warnings of a U-boat's presence. The only means of detecting
a U-boat, other than the human eye, that the escorts possessed was
ASDIC, which located the U-boat by bouncing sound waves off its hull.
This was only useful when the U-boat was under the water and as
generally, U-boats only submerged to attack, by the time ASDIC
detected a U-boat the convoy was already in danger. ASDIC gave no
advance warning of a U-boat and thus there was no opportunity to
reroute a convoy away from the danger. However, advances in technology
meant that by 1942 the escorts would have several more means of
One such method was radar. By May 1942, 236 ships carried centimetric
radar, an accurate radar using a wavelength of 10cm and able to detect
a U-boat at a distance of several...