Cover image for The battle of the Atlantic : Hitler's gray wolves of the sea and the Allies desperate struggle to defeat them
The battle of the Atlantic : Hitler's gray wolves of the sea and the Allies desperate struggle to defeat them
Williams, Andrew.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : BasicBooks ; Oxford : Oxford Publicity Partnership, [2003]

Physical Description:
304 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D781 .W555 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What history calls the "Battle of the Atlantic" was really a full-scale war-within-a-war, fought from the beginning of hostilities in 1939 to the moment of cease-fire in 1945. Andrew Williams focuses on the first four years of this bitter conflict, during which time German submarines sank an astounding twelve million tons of Allied shipping. The story reaches its climax in May 1943, when the introduction of new weapons and tactics turned the tide of the battle and enabled the Allies to contain and finally defeat the dreaded German "wolf packs." Interweaving scores of first-person accounts from survivors of both sides, The Battle of the Atlantic follows the exploits of the charismatic U-boat commanders who led their crews to the hunt-and often to their deaths. It goes aboard the merchantmen and escort ships that were both victim and nemesis to the "gray wolves" of the sea. And it enters the war rooms of the German, British, and American navies, where code-breakers and strategists angled for any advantage in a race that spelled doom to its loser. This dramatic chronicle sheds new light on one of the most dangerous conflicts of the Second World War.

Author Notes

Andrew Williams is a writer and producer for the BBC. He has produced such internationally acclaimed programs as "A Journey Home," a documentary on the famine in Somalia, as well as the Emmy-nominated "War Crime: Five Days in Hell," an investigation into war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and "Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein." He lives in London

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This companion to a History Channel miniseries is a thoroughly sound, readable popular naval history. The U-boats seriously endangered Britain's survival only during 1940^-41 but remained dangerous until well into 1943. Both sides fought hard and ingeniously, but Allied intelligence, including code breaking, and production capacity carried the day and allowed further Allied victories while eventually ruining the morale of even the most determined U-boat crews. Williams' overview, which incorporates the viewpoints of a substantial number of survivors of specific incidents, betrays only a slight British slant. The informants, most of them well into their eighties, range from U-boat ace Erich Topp and British escort officer John Adams, who ended their careers as admirals, to British diver Sandy Robertson and German radio operator Heinz Wilde. All enlarge the dimension of Williams' account of the naval battle that was the longest in history and the most decisive one of World War II. This book deserves its place on the shelf occupied by Nicholas Monsarrat's classic, The Cruel Sea (1951). Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945) was one of the most crucial of World War II; tens of thousands of sailors were killed on each side, and German U-boats almost succeeded in choking off the supply lines on which Britain's survival depended. This hard-fought conflict gets an engrossing retelling in this companion to the History Channel series. Williams, producer of War Crime: Five Days in Hell for the BBC, covers every aspect of the cat-and-mouse game in which U-boats stalked merchant convoys across the ocean and were in turn hunted by Allied planes and destroyers. It's a harrowing tale, full of torpedo attacks, depth-chargings and drownings in the icy North Atlantic, and Williams draws on many first-hand accounts, both German and Allied, to bring it to life. He also pulls back to examine the strategic dimensions of the battle, exploring the development of German wolf-pack tactics, the initially bumbling Allied efforts to organize convoys and escorts, and the increasingly sophisticated anti-submarine warfare techniques that eventually drove the wolf packs from the North Atlantic. Williams is especially good at explaining the vital development of sonar, radar, detection and decryption technologies that enabled Allied escorts to locate, evade and destroy the stealthy U-boats with ever greater success. The conflict was both a nerve-wracking battle of wits and an epic of self-sacrifice, and Williams's thorough research and skillful storytelling does it full justice. B&w photos. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Williams, a writer and producer for the BBC, presents an interesting history to accompany a television series on the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest campaign of World War II. This underappreciated effort began with the sinking of the ocean liner Athenia by the German submarine U-30 just hours after the British declaration of war on September 3, 1939, and continued until V-E Day in 1945. The Battle of the Atlantic was a crucial factor ensuring Germany's defeat by forcing Hitler to fight a two-front war; the purpose was to keep the sea lanes between Britain and America open and to defeat the German submarines that preyed on Allied shipping. If the Germans had succeeded in shutting down the sea lanes, Britain would have been forced out of the war, America would not have been able to mount an invasion of Western Europe, there would have been no Allied bombing campaign directed at German resources, and Hitler would have been free to direct all of Germany's military assets against the Russians. Williams bases his study on interviews conducted with more than 40 participants from both sides. He concentrates on the period from September 1939 to May 1943 when it became apparent that the U-boat force had lost the battle-although they would fight for another two years in a futile attempt to regain the initiative. A vivid account of an important campaign that will interest both the casual reader and the armchair historian, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.-Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Professor David Syrett
Forewordp. 6
Author's Notep. 10
1 The Freikorps Donitzp. 13
2 Pingersp. 41
3 Happy Timesp. 63
4 Wolf Packp. 84
5 Mortal Dangerp. 105
6 The End of the Wolvesp. 116
7 Special Intelligencep. 137
8 Beating the Drump. 161
9 The Sardine Tinp. 189
10 Survivorsp. 211
11 Collapsep. 233
12 Sacrificep. 267
Notes on Contributorsp. 289
Referencesp. 294
Indexp. 300