Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

How the Allies Left U-Boats Dead in the Water

By Stephen Budiansky 
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: July 30, 2010 
Print Friendly
2 comments FONT +  FONT -

The decision that had placed an American escort carrier—the USS Bogue—and its aircraft in position to catch the U-118 at a refueling rendezvous had not been made lightly. Top American navy officials knew that in doing so they risked giving away the greatest Allied secret of the war: the breaking of the Germans' Enigma cipher. But they had been persuaded by a small team of civilians—an odd collection of mathematicians, insurance actuaries, theoretical physicists, biologists—that targeting the German tankers would be a literally war-winning strategy worth the risk.

Few of the scientists, a group of men very few people within the navy even knew existed, had ever set foot on a ship or fired a gun. They worked behind doors labeled with cryptic names like ASWORG and ORS, surrounded by punch cards and papers filled with equations, graphs, and tables. But they had already won the trust of the brass with a series of almost oracular feats that had begun to turn the tide in the war against the U-boats. Where the Germans as recently as the fall of 1942 had been sinking close to 100 Allied merchant ships a month, pushing the toll menacingly close to the point that would imperil Britain's very survival, by the summer of 1943 they were down to half that. To put an end to the U-boat menace once and for all the U.S. Navy was now prepared to risk everything—based on little more than the calculations of some very non-naval academics.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to World War II magazine

Though many factors contributed to the ultimate victory over U-boats—new weapons, better radar, the intelligence

P. M. S. Blackett went on to win the 1948 Nobel Prize in  physics.
P. M. S. Blackett went on to win the 1948 Nobel Prize in physics.
coups of the code breakers—it was the new science of operations research, or OR, that pulled it all together and showed the sailors and airmen how to snatch victory from the very precipice of disaster. Again and again the operations researchers, asking questions about everything from the depth setting of bomb fuses to the way aircrews used their binoculars, and often applying little more than a scientific mindset and a few simple equations, were able to propose seemingly tiny changes in tactics or strategy that doubled or tripled the lethality of the Allied antisubmarine campaign in a single leap.

The British were the first to stumble on the realization that scientists might have something useful to say about how to run a war, and not just about narrow technical matters related to developing new weapons and hardware. The British scientists who had advised their government on the development of radar in the 1930s were soon drawn into the larger problems that arose as radar was incorporated into the country's new air defense system. Issues of command structure, the allocation of forces, even basic strategy on how best to meet a German air raid all turned out to be questions in which scientific analysis was central. Decisions that were traditionally the sole purview of generals were now being routinely shared with civilian scientists.

One of these scientists, P. M. S. Blackett, was notable for actually having a military background. As a young man scarcely 17 years old he had received a commission as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, and in World War I had served aboard a destroyer that was heavily shelled during the Battle of Jutland. Blackett had since gone on to study at Cambridge and had become one of Britain's leading young nuclear physicists—as well as a far-left socialist who bitterly denounced the class-bound hierarchy of the Royal Navy that he had observed as a young officer.

In 1940, assigned to the British Army's Anti-Aircraft Command, he carried out statistical studies on gunner accuracy that cut the number of antiaircraft shells fired per German bomber hit from 20,000 to 4,000. When Blackett was transferred a year later to Coastal Command—the joint navy-air force unit in charge of hunting U-boats—the general in charge of AA Command was crestfallen. "They have stolen my magician," he lamented.


Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2 Responses to “How the Allies Left U-Boats Dead in the Water”


  1. 1

    [...] How the Allies Left U-Boats Dead in the Water German Submarine U-505 Crewmember Hans Goebeler REcalls Being Captured During World War II [...]

  2. 2
    Christopher Walter says:

    Gentlemen,

    As an avid student of history, I am wonder where I can obtain, Royal Navy, Kreigsmarine and US Naval Maps of the Battle of the Atlantic. One would think that these should be readily available on the Internet, but I have been having a difficult time obtaining the convoy maps.

    In order for the convoy to sail, such maps would have had to been prepared, and with so much time under our keels declassified.

    I have been able to obtain the written accounts of the convoys and of the U-Boats, but nothing of the maps.

    Any help that can be provided would be greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Christopher Walter



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Weider History, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 Weider History. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy