BOOK REVIEW: Turning the Tide – How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-Boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic


By Ed Offley, Basic Books, New York, NY, (2011)

Reviewed by Thomas P. Ostrom

Ed Offley brings writing and research skills to his book on the World War II Battle of the Atlantic. The conflict featured German submarines (U-boats) versus the combat ships of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Britain’s Royal Navy, and the Royal Canadian Navy and their respective deadly fleets of corvettes, destroyers, destroyer escorts, cutters, frigates, patrol boats and aircraft which took off from aircraft carriers and land bases. Offley’s book reflects his experience as a military reporter, author, and U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran. This book resurrects his nautical credibility after naval experts asserted his previous book on the tragic 1968 sinking of the submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) consisted of unsubstantiated assertions.

The Battle of the Atlantic preceded the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Had the U-boat “Wolf Packs” driven Allied cargo ships and submarine hunters from the sea, Britain would likely have been defeated. It was a close call, but Adm. Karl Donitz, the German Navy and U-boat commander-in-chief, and German dictator Adolf Hitler lost.

Merchant mariner sailors suffered high casualties, as did U.S. Navy Armed Guards stationed on the merchant vessels, and German submariners. Tens of thousands of civilian and naval personnel perished in the Atlantic campaign. Offley traced the missions, tactics, technologies, and carnage. By 1943, the U-boat war was nearly over.

Allied technology, teamwork, and nautical skills prevailed on the treacherous, stormy, foggy, icy seas that stretched from the Eastern Seaboard of Canada and the United States, to Iceland and Greenland, and the coasts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.

Cryptological complexities were vividly described by the author, as were the Allied technologies of radio communications, sonar (Asdic), radar, high frequency direction finders (HF/DF), gunnery, and depth charge weaponry.

Offley emphasized U.S. and British-Canadian strategies and leadership, but neglected Rear Adm. Adolphus Andrews (USN), the creative commander of air and convoy escort vessels on the Eastern Sea Frontier (ESF). Adm. Andrews initially relied on limited U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army air and sea craft in his innovative inter-service operations. The ESF included the Atlantic maritime domain from south Florida to the Canadian border.

The author included the significant contributions of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Battle of the Atlantic. Offley described the competent crews and technological and seafaring assets of the 327-foot Treasury Class cutters that performed treacherous SAR missions in stormy, U-boat infested waters. Offley chronicled the U-boat hunter cutters Ingham, Campbell, and Spencer; the SAR missions of the USCGC Bibb; and the maritime expertise exhibited by Ensign John M. Waters, Jr. (USCG), a future Coast Guard captain, and future author of a book on the Atlantic U-boat war appropriately titled Bloody Winter.

The missions of Royal Canadian Navy combat and SAR include the voyages of the Sunflower and Zamalec. The USN escort aircraft carrier USS Bogue launched planes on dangerous and successful support missions in joint missions with USS Card and Santee, and HMS Archer.

Offley described the challenges, successes, and failures of U.S., British, and Canadian combat vessels and their courageous commissioned and enlisted personnel.

The author covered the unneutral diplomacy crafted at the Atlantic Charter meeting off the Canadian coast between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose nation was not yet officially in the war.

Offley lists diplomatic meetings and treaties, and described the leadership qualities of Churchill, First Sea Lord, Adm. Dudley Pound, and Adm. Sir Max Horton (RN), commander of Allied operations in the North Atlantic; and the comparable commands of U.S. Navy Admirals Harold R. Stark and Ernest J. King. Offley provides scholarly documentation. Convoy routes and designated ports in the U.S., Canada, Iceland, and the United Kingdom are cited in appendices; and an index of German submarines, British, Canadian and U.S. warships, and merchant vessels. The text contains photographs and other illustrations; and primary and secondary sources, including military intelligence reports and documents.

Turning the Tide is a historic reminder of the exemplary skills of civilian factory workers who furnished the equipment and supplies of war, industrial and political leaders, and the military personnel who were instrumental in achieving victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The author described the significance of the Battle of the Atlantic and the realistic perceptions of its German and Allied participants: “They knew that victory and defeat, (and) life and death, would be determined on the open ocean before the grisly end game of the war could play out on land…And they committed themselves accordingly.”

Thomas P. Ostrom is a member of the Naval Historical Foundation and the author of United States Coast Guard in World War II.Amazon Button

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