The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous military campaign in World War Two, is to be commemorated in a series of events today, 8 May 2013.
According to BBC News, ‘three Royal Navy warships will arrive in London before a special evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral at 17:00 BST. The events mark the seventieth anniversary of the climax of the battle, May 1943, when Germany’s submarine fleet suffered heavy losses in the Atlantic. The milestone is also being marked in Londonderry and Liverpool.’
So what exactly was the Battle of the Atlantic? History In An Hour provides a brief summary.
The war at sea began immediately in September 1939 with the Germans sinking merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic. On 13 December 1939, the Battle of River Plate in the South Atlantic took place. The German battleship Graf Spee attacked a squadron of British ships off the coast of Uruguay but in doing so was damaged herself. Hitler ordered her captain, Hans Langsdorff, to scuttle the ship rather than let her fall into enemy hands. Langsdorff followed his orders and the Graf Spee was sunk (pictured). A week later, Langsdorff, draped in the German flag, shot himself.
The U-boat peril
In his memoirs, Winston Churchill later confessed: “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” Britain depended heavily on imports – from iron ore and fuel to almost 70 per cent of all her food. Convoys of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic were escorted by the Royal Navy and, as far as it could reach, the RAF. But there was only so far the planes could travel, leaving a ‘mid-Atlantic gap” where the convoys were particularly vulnerable to German submarines, or U-boats, which hunted in groups or ‘wolf packs’.