Germany’s Plan Z in WWII: More Subs Needed?
I read John M. Taylor’s “Raiders of the High Seas” [Summer 2011] with interest, though I disagree with his conclusion that Germany before World War II should have invested more in submarines and less in the surface fleet.
First: The Plan Z was devised by Admiral Erich Raeder for the German fleet based on Hitler’s assertion that the war would not begin before 1944. It calls for submarines—lots of submarines! It also proposes a surface fleet that would be a grave threat to the Royal Navy.
Second: Look at the materiel realities. The fleet of U-boats that would have been available in 1939 would have been mostly the useless IIb class. The VII and IX models were still new, and the VII C and IX D designs were not yet ready for production.
Third: Try to take Norway with IIb and VII submarines rather than surface ships. You will not take it, and your submarine fleet will be blockaded in Germany even after the army takes France. Then each submarine must run the British antisubmarine gantlet between Norway and Scotland or run the Channel.
Fourth: The Germans building mostly submarines would have freed up the British shipbuilding industry to concentrate on building antisubmarine vessels rather than capital ships. Remember, the men in the Admiralty lived through the U-boats of World War I and knew how dangerous they were.
Fifth: Germany lost almost 800 submarines and 33,000 men in sinking 2,828 enemy ships. That is less than four ships per U-boat at a cost of about 60 men lost per U-boat. This is much less impressive when you look at it this way. Not every commander was an Otto Kretschmer or Günther Prien.
My conclusion: Submarines had their part to play and did it well, but they could not have done it alone. They would have been much more effective if they had been supported with a proper surface fleet.
Falls Church, Va.
McClellan: No Grand Strategist
Major General George McClellan’s flawed estimate of troop strength showed his lack of strategic thinking [“McClellan’s War-Winning Strategy,” Summer 2011]. He thought somehow 20,000 troops would win the West, but he needed 273,000 to capture Richmond?
Second, Ulysses S. Grant’s plan is not similar to McClellan’s; it is extremely similar to Winfield Scott’s Anaconda plan.
Finally, McClellan should never have risen above the command of inspector general. He was great at training men, but after that he was too fond of them to risk them in any battle.
A true commander knows that to win a war, you have to risk the thing that you love most, the men of your army. McClellan could not do that.
British Generals: Fighting Scared?
The Battle of Bunker Hill [‘Remember Bunker Hill!’?, Summer 2011] altered forever the British mindset that their regular army could just “chase this rabble from the field.” Three of the four principal British commanders—John Burgoyne, Henry Clinton, and William Howe—witnessed the gutting of their battalions, and their future campaigns were colored by indecision, indirect approaches, and inaction. The fourth, Charles Cornwallis, was not there, and he fought a much more aggressive war.
Bel Air, Md.
The Summer 2011 story “Fooled Again” misstated the number of Modocs hanged following the 1872–1873 clashes with the U.S. Army. The Modoc chief Captain Jack and three others were hanged.
Originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.