Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Battle of the Atlantic – WWII on the naval front

Written By Darshan M (Grade 11)

On the 2nd of September, 1939, a big ship called the SS Athenea left Liverpool in England to go to Canada. But on the second day of the trip, a submarine from Germany attacked the ship even though there was an agreement that they wouldn’t attack civilian ships. This was the start of a big fight in the ocean called the Battle of the Atlantic. England didn’t waste any time and stopped Germany from getting supplies by putting a barrier in the water. This also prevented Germany’s navy from using their big warships. But Germany had a secret weapon that they had been working on for a long time, so they wouldn’t be stopped for too long.

A long time ago, in 1919, Germany had to sign a special paper called the Treaty of Versailles because they lost World War I. This paper said that Germany was to blame for starting the war and they had to make their military smaller. They were not allowed to have many submarines. But, even though they weren’t supposed to, Germany secretly started making submarines again in 1922. When Hitler came into power in the 1930s, they made even more submarines. In 1935, Britain tried to be friends with Germany and let them make submarines legally again. When the Second World War started, Germany had a really good fleet of submarines, which helped them fight against Britain’s navy.

A little while after sinking a ship called the Athenia, Germany wanted to show off their new submarines to the British Royal Navy. They told a brave submarine captain named Gunther Prien to secretly bring his submarine into a British naval base called Scapa Flow. Prien shot some torpedoes at a big ship called the Royal Oak while it was still tied up, and it tipped over really quickly. Lots of people on the ship had to jump into the water and couldn’t breathe. Within a few hours, 833 sailors and officers had drowned. This was a grave setback for Britain because the Royal Oak was an important ship for their navy.

Prien was chosen by Admiral Donitz to go on a special mission. Donitz planned to attack the ships that brought food and supplies to Britain. He wanted to sink enough ships to make it hard for Britain to get what they needed. At the beginning of the war, Donitz didn’t have many submarines to do this. He wanted more, but his boss said no. Donitz still tried his best with the submarines he had. During a big fight, the British Navy wanted to protect their ships from U-boat attacks. They used special warships to guard the merchant ships as they sailed across the ocean together. These warships had powerful guns and torpedoes to fight off the U-boats. But the best weapon they had was something called a depth charge, which is a special device used to find and destroy the U-boats underwater.

The British have a hard time attacking the German U-boats because the U-boats are sneaky and hide underwater. The British have a way to find them underwater, but it doesn’t work when the U-boats come to the surface. On the other hand, the German U-boat commanders have trouble finding British convoys in a really big ocean. But the German commander, Donitz, came up with a clever idea. He told the U-boats to spread out across the ocean and communicate with each other to find the convoys. This trick worked well for them. In the first 7 months of the war, he made over 200 ships sink with his small group of boats. But the U-boats have a problem – they need to talk to each other to work well, making them weak. If the British can figure out what they’re saying, they can stop them.

Some important messages were being sent through a special machine called the Enigma Machine. These messages were in a secret code called Morse code. The Germans were using this code to plan attacks on convoys of ships. The British tried to figure out the messages, but it was like solving a puzzle. While they were trying to figure it out, the Germans were trying to sink as many ships as possible. This became a big competition between the two sides, and it was called the Battle of the Atlantic. But it was impossible to keep the sad truth hidden from the public. In the Battle of the Atlantic, the Germans sank more than 4000 British ships and sadly, over 29000 sailors lost their lives. This had a big impact on the British people, as they had less food and had to fight every day to stay safe and free.

In June 1940, the called the Nazis took control of Denmark, Norway, and France. Donitz said he could use some places in France to park his submarines. This means that his submarines can now easily go in and out of the sea from France. There are German submarines called U-boats that are causing a lot of trouble in the Atlantic Ocean by sinking many ships. The German media makes being on a U-boat seem exciting and attractive, so many new people join the fleet. But in truth, being on a U-boat is tough, and there are often around 35 men on board facing difficult conditions.

Hitler sees how effective the U-boats are and decides to make more of them. But this means that there are more secret messages that need to be cracked. The British government sets up a secret school called Bletchley Park to find smart people who can figure out these codes. One of the leaders is a really smart mathematician named Alan Turing. He builds a machine that can help crack the codes, but it’s really hard because the Germans change the codes every day. In 1940, Britain suffered a big loss in a battle called Dunkirk. This makes it even harder for the ships to protect the convoys, and the U-boats take advantage of this. Britain is in a tough spot, so their leader, Winston Churchill, asks other countries for help. Then in 1941, a submarine commander named Julius Lemp makes a bad decision that changes the course of the war. He doesn’t follow the rules and doesn’t destroy his damaged submarine, which gives the British a big advantage.

Once a submarine sinks, the people inside have to leave. One person named Lemp wanted to go back to the submarine to destroy some important things inside. But luckily for the British, Lemp doesn’t make it back and the British capture the submarine with all its secret information still inside. They find something called an enigma machine, which is important. The Germans don’t know that the British have it. The British have to make sure the Germans never figure out that they know how to use the enigma machine. But this causes some problems because sometimes they can’t save other boats to make sure the Germans don’t get suspicious.

The Allies realized they needed to be more aggressive in fighting the U-boats to win the war in the Atlantic. The British set up a special unit in Liverpool to come up with new strategies to find and destroy the U-boats. These strategies were very successful and were used by Captain Johnnie Walker, who became famous for hunting down U-boats with a large group of men. To fight back, the American president, Roosevelt, decided to build many new ships. Every time a U-boat sank a military or cargo ship, a new one was quickly built to replace it. Because there was also a threat from Japan in the Pacific Ocean, many warships went there instead of staying in the Atlantic Ocean.

During World War II, the United States joined the fight and a German leader named Donitz sent submarines called U-boats to attack the East Coast of America. These sneaky U-boats went into American ports and sank ships and oil tankers, causing a lot of damage from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. Just when things seemed bad for the allies, Donitz thought that the enemy could understand how the U-boats communicated. So, he made a change to the communication device called the Enigma, which made it harder for the enemy to figure out what the U-boats were saying.

Now the Allies had control of the ocean and could plan their invasion of France. The leader of the U-boats, even though he believed strongly in what he was doing, knew that the war was almost over and asked his men to surrender. In January 1943, things were starting to go bad for Hitler in the war, and there were problems in the navy. When Germany’s famous ship called the Bismarck sank, Hitler got upset and changed the leader of the navy. The new leader had everything he needed to win at the beginning of the war, but now it might be too late. The balance of power in the ocean was changing, and the Allies had better weapons and technology.

In 1943, the British Navy finally got the help they needed with airplanes that could fly far. With this help, they were able to protect their ships and stop the U-boats. The U-boat crews had the most people dying out of all the German forces. After May 1943, the leader of the U-boats realized that the convoys were too well protected and took his submarines out of the ocean. Hitler chose the leader of the U-boats to be his successor when he killed himself the next year, maybe because he was so loyal. But even the new leader could see that Germany was losing, and when Berlin fell, he asked his men to surrender. The Battle of the Atlantic was really important in World War 2. It decided who would win the war. If the Allies didn’t win this battle, they might not have been able to defeat the Nazis and bring peace and freedom to Western Europe. It was like a key that unlocked the door to victory.

Featured Image Courtesy – ThoughtCo


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