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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Total Undersea War

Were the German U-boats in the Atlantic defeated in May 1943? Not only is that an illusion but submarine historian Aaron S. Hamilton proves that some of the last German sub operations, shortly before the big German surrender and right beside the North American coastline, are among the most amazing. 

The book title, Total Undersea War, at first seemed a bit vague. But once you get into the book it becomes logical, as Mr. Hamilton is able to show how largely surface-bound submarine warfare was transformed by the introduction of an air mast, or “snorkel”, opening up a new era under the surface of the sea. Thus this book is both about submarine design, late U-boat operations and postwar submarine design. 


Submarine buffs, and especially those that are residents of North America, will be richly rewarded by Hamilton´s research. If you are not already a buff you might have problems believing the Germans cruised so close to your shores even when the war was about to end. There is no doubt, however, that Hamilton´s book is based on hard facts. 


More U-boats departed for the East Coast in the spring of 1945 than at any point since 1942. Let that sink in. The US Navy took this German underwater offensive very seriously, and more than most people now realize. This was not least because of the possibility that a U-boat might launch a V-weapon against a US city or base. Why this V-rocket scare must have been especially troublesome can be understood by taking into consideration how Allied intelligence, in spite of all its resources, had failed to predict the massive German offensive in the Ardennes in late 1944. Hitler there proved that he could still deliver large and unpleasant surprises.


In fact, in January 1945, the German Minister of Armaments Albert Speer made a radio broadcast in which he said V-rockets would fall on New York “by February 1”. We all know that this didn´t happen, but it is amazing enough to learn how despite a tight US naval barrier, German U-boats still managed to slip through, reach the East Coast and remain undetected to the end. To quote Hamilton: “[…] a submarine that didn´t surface and didn´t transmit by radio was almost impossible to track, find and destroy.”


This brings us to the final chapter of the book, about the mystery of U-869. Here the author has gone to very great lengths to provide a credible solution, and any future expeditions to the wreck ought to use Total Undersea War as the starting point.


This 416-page book contains plenty of fine photographs that I have never seen before, plus several interesting appendices.

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