Two totally different Submarine Campaigns in WW2: The German U-Boats and the Battle of The Atlantic, and the US Submarine Fleet in the war against Japan in the Pacific

In the Battle of the Atlantic over a long period of WW2, the German U-Boats waged a bitter battle against the Allied Merchant Ships in Convoy and their Escorts.

The U-Boats went very close to winning that war.

U-Boat on Patrol North Atlantic WW2.
U-Boat on Patrol North Atlantic WW2

In the Pacific, US Submarines choked off the Japanese Merchant Fleet, and their tankers carrying vital petroleum products to the Homeland, to bring that country to its knees.

One statistic alone highlights the difference between the two campaigns, and that is: U-Boats lost: 781/785 dependent upon which stats one uses, versus US Submarines sunk, namely 52 ( 2 of which were lost in the Atlantic Ocean )

At the periscope of US Submarine WW2 in the Pacific.
At the periscope of US Submarine WW2 in the Pacific.

Shipping Losses in WW2.
Britain needed the lifeline of Merchant Ships plowing across the North Atlantic route from North American ports to both Liverpool and on the Clyde in Scotland. 75 % of all food stuffs to sustain the British people needed to be imported.

Shipping losses on the North Atlantic run totalled a staggering 11,904,954 tons.

Admiral Karl Donitz, CO of U-Boat fleet
Admiral Karl Donitz, CO of U-Boat fleet

US boats sank about 5.3 million tons of Japanese shipping in WW2, although their Boat Skippers had claimed about 10 million tons, only to have those claims reduced post war by almost half.

With the fall of France in May of 1940, Germany gained access to U-Boat bases on the West coast of France, thereby shortening both the exit and entry routes for their U-Boat fleet to the Battle of the Atlantic.

In contrast, US submarines were based in Hawaii and in Brisbane, and Fremantle in Australia. They had a very long haul to reach their killing fields, and also were a great distance from their homes and families.

Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, CO US submarines in WW2. Promoted to Vice Admiral 1943
Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, CO US submarines in WW2.
Promoted to Vice Admiral 1943

Role of the Liberty ship in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The backbone of the US Merchant Fleet in WW2 was the Liberty Ship used to cross the North Atlantic carrying vital food stuffs, and materials needed to prosecute the war in Europe. Some 2,751 Liberty Ships were constructed. and they formed The Bridge of Steel spanning the North Atlantic in both directions.

Without these Liberty Ships victory in WW2 would have taken many months longer, and may not have ever come to pass.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those UGLY DUCKLINGS, who delivered the goods over those war years of 1942-1945 after the US had declared war on Germany after Pearl Harbor.

Liberty Ship
Liberty Ship

Finding Targets.
The sheer number of ships sailing in convoys crossing the North Atlantic from West to East and vice versa provided the U- Boat Fleet with an enormous number of targets for their deadly torpedoes. The U-Boats hunted in packs, the first boat to sight a convoy would home in his mates until a sufficient number of boats were able to gather and then attack in numbers. The long range Folke-Wolfe Condor aircraft spanning the vast distances of the North Atlantic skies aided in the detection of Allied ships.

Convoy assembling at Halifax
Convoy assembling at Halifax

By contrast, US submarines in the Pacific had long distances to cover to find enemy Japanese ships. They tended to hunt alone, although sometimes they operated as a group of three boats. Aircraft reconnaissance was not available like in the North Atlantic, thus making the finding of a suitable target much more difficult.

Weather Conditions.
In the North Atlantic, high seas, high winds and the cruel cold were facts of life at sea in general.

By contrast the weather obtaining in the Pacific was much milder and more condusive for Submarine Operations against enemy shipping.

The U-Boats fought against the most efficient Anti-Submarine force in the world, the Royal Navy, whilst in the Pacific the other end of that scale obtained. The US Submaines had pitted against them the most inefficent Anti-Submarine force in the world, the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The American Submarine Operational History concedes: " It would do very well for all Submariners to humbly ponder the fact that Japanese Anti-Submarine defences were not the best. If our Submariners had been confronted with Allied Anti-Submarine measures, the casualty list of the Submarine force would have been much higher, and the accomplishment of Allied Submarines less impressive."


BIair, C. Jr. Silent Victory. The US Submarine War Against Japan. Bantam Books, New York. 1976.

Donitz, K. Memoirs. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1959.

Edwards, B. Donitz And The Wolf Packs. Arms And Armour, London, 1996.

Gregory, M. J. Under Water Warfare. The Struggle Against The Submarine Menace 1939-1945. The Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc, Garden Island Sydney, Reprinted 2002.

Macintyre, D. The Battle of the Atlantic. Pan Books Ltd, London, 1961.

__________ The Battle for the Pacific. Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1996.

_____ The Naval War Against Hitler. Charles Scriber, New York, 1971.

____ U-Boat Killer. Corgi, London, 1976.

Padfield, P. Donitz, The Last Fuhrer. Victor Gollancz, London, 1984.


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