No Room for Mistakes - British and Allied Submarine Warfare 1939-1940, Geirr H Haarr

No Room for Mistakes - British and Allied Submarine Warfare 1939-1940, Geirr H Haarr

We start with a look at the loss of the Thetis, a disaster that took place in Liverpool Bay just before the outbreak of war, and showed how uncertain the Navy's handling of its submarines could be. We then move onto a look at the actual submarines in use in 1939-40, quite a mix of types and ages, the man who served in them and the German anti-submarine efforts. We then move onto the operational history, which takes events from the outbreak of war in September 1939 to the end of 1940.

This was a period in which the submarine service faced a combination of dramatic changes in the strategic situation and in their rules of engagement. In the first few months of the war the Germans were limited to their short North Sea and Baltic coasts, while the British operated under pre-war treaty rules. This changed with the invasion of Norway, which suddenly opened up a new theatre of operations and saw a relaxation of the rules. Finally the fall of France and the entry of Italy into the war transformed the situation, expanding the naval war to the Mediterranean and giving the Germans bases along the Channel and Atlantic coasts of France.

It quite quickly becomes clear just how dangerous service in submarines was, as so many of the subs that we follow in detail are lost. It also becomes clear how final most submarine losses were - very few surface ships were lost with all hands, but here many subs that we have followed in some detail simply disappear on their last sortie, leaving no witnesses to tell us what happened. The danger was made worse by the lack of any clear understanding of how to use submarines at the start of the war, so several boats were lost because they were operating too close together, or with inadequate knowledge of other Allied subs in the same area. Even when targets were found, it was often frustratingly hard to achieve a success, and for that matter it could be alarmingly difficult to successfully identify a target - there are several cases in which British subs reported making attacks on U-boats when no other submarines could have been in the area!

This is an excellent history of one of the most dangerous branches to serve in during the Second World War, with losses only equalled on the British side by Bomber Command. The comparatively small number of boats means that we get a great deal of detail on most sorties, and we thus get a valuable mix of strategic material, looking at the arguments about the correct use of submarines and their deployment, and tense accounts of operations from within the boats themselves.

1 - The Admiralty Regrets
2 - The Thin Grey Line
3 - The Submariners
4 - '… the Violence of the Enemy'
5 - '… the Dangers of the Sea'
6 - A Slight Drizzle
7 - The Polish Predicament
8 - A Most Appalling Crash
9 - Luck and Good Fortune
10 - Something Less Than God
11 - Negative Flag
12 - First Blood
13 - Action Taken
14 - A Most Unpleasant Day
15 - Freedom of Action
16 - Out of the Fog
17 - Le Grande Patrouille
18 - Fear of Invasion
19 - 'we’ve 'it a Bleedin' Mine'
20 - Submarine Mining Operations
21 - Black, Filthy Water
22 - Deep-Sea Stalkers
23 - Allied Submarines
24 - A Summer of Grief
25 - Cygnus's Convoy
26 - Loss of Shark
27 - Brushes
28 - Autumnsong

Author: Geirr H Haarr
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 496
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2015

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