This large format book is very well produced and presented with crisp text supported by lavish illustration, much of it in full colour. There are also end paper drawings of typical Type VII U-Boats from the first series VIIA to the VIIC. The quality of the drawings is excellent and produced specifically to illustrate this book. As a result the book is highly recommended and will feature in the libraries of any self-respecting enthusiast.
NAME: Type VII, Germany’s Most Successful U-Boats
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Marek Krzysztalowicz
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: Hard back
GENRE: Non fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, 1939-1945 War, German Navy, U-Boats, submarines, submersible torpedo boats, naval technology
DESCRIPTION: This large format book is very well produced and presented with crisp text supported by lavish illustration, much of it in full colour. There are also end paper drawings of typical Type VII U-Boats from the first series VIIA to the VIIC. The quality of the drawings is excellent and produced specifically to illustrate this book. As a result the book is highly recommended and will feature in the libraries of any self-respecting enthusiast. Although the cover price may deter some, the publisher’s on-line bookshop is currently offering a significant special offer discount. When any book includes “most successful” in its title or sub-title, it can become a hostage to fortune, but the author fully justifies why he has included these words. When Hitler embarked on a major naval building programme he was taking over planning that pre-dated the Nazi’s rise to power. Having greater interest in the Army, Hitler continued the existing programme, only adjusting it for a major war in 1944, which is when he expected to be strong enough to take on Britain and France in direct warfare. The plan was for a complete traditional fleet with battleships and aircraft carriers to replace that scuttled in Scapa Flow after its surrender to the British at the end of the 1914-1918 War. This envisaged a full range of surface warships capable of a fleet action against the Royal Navy and commerce raiders including diesel fuelled pocket battleships. Clearly, the German planners envisaged surface ships as being best able to destroy the Atlantic convoy routes and achieve tactical supremacy to cover an invasion of Britain. There were provisions for a small fleet of submarines but they received a lower priority for resources than their later performance in battle merited. When Hitler miscalculated in his invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war in support of their treaty obligations to Poland. Their actions may not have directly assisted the Polish Forces, but by declaring war in 1939, they caused major problems for the German war production programme and forced action before many of the advanced warships Germany intended to build even reached the stage of keel laying. Of the handful of U-Boats initially available, most were Type II small training boats suitable only for coastal warfare. The Type VII was beginning to arrive in increasing numbers from the shipyards, but even this type, which was to provide the backbone of the Germany submarine force throughout the war, was based heavily on the U-Boats built for the 1914-1918 War. It was a competent design but still a diesel powered torpedo boat that could submerge and attack or escape using battery supplied electric engines. Its crew suffered very cramped conditions and even when Germany had use of the French Atlantic ports, a war patrol was limited by the capacity to carry fuel, torpedoes and supplies for the crew. For the first part of the war patrol, every space, including one of the two heads, was crammed with food and the gangway through the boat from bow to stern was festooned with food hung from the many overhead pipes and fittings. Later, supply submarines were used to take fuel, torpedoes and other supplies out to remoter parts of the Atlantic to re-supply fighting boats and delay their need to return to base. The Allies concentrated hunter killer efforts first on sinking the supply submarines and forcing them to operate further from the convoy routes, so requiring fighting boats to break off early from action to seek supplies. Originally, it had been hoped that the potent 88mm deck gun could be used to sink Allied merchant ships but it was soon found that gun actions would be rare and the primary weapon would have to be the heavy and bulky torpedo with which the early U-Boats had only a small number. The result was that the Type VII was successful because of the determination of the crews and the early lack of air cover for Allied convoys. As the Allies reduced and then eliminated the Atlantic air gap, and increased the number of anti-submarine escorts, the U-Boats started to suffer appalling losses and the tonnage they sunk reduced below the rate at which new merchant ships could be built. As the war progressed, the Type VIIs were forced to spend more time submerged where their speed was often less than three knots. Eventually the snorkel became a vital piece of equipment that meant the Type VII would spend almost the whole patrol underwater, nervously raising the snorkel when the air became foul and the batteries needed recharging. Even then Allied airborne radar could still detect the snorkel unless the U-Boat captain was extremely cautious. As escort carriers and anti-submarine warship building exceeded the needs for close convoy escort, vessels and aircraft could be assigned to the Allied hunter killer groups roaming the Atlantic, making life impossible for the Type VII. The real success of the Type VII was that it was built in increasing numbers, was strongly and competently built, and was adapted with the fitting of the snorkel air mast and an increasing number of progressively heavier anti-aircraft guns. As U-Boat losses increased significantly, it became harder to find new crews for the replacement boats and in the late stages of the war, a typical crew included only a few experienced officers and hands, the numbers being made up with raw recruits, many of whom were still learning on the job when they were sunk and killed. Although the Type VII was improved and adapted over the period, it was still basically a WWI design and there has been much speculation as to the likely outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic had the revolutionary Type 21 been available, which it might have been had the war begun in 1944 as the Nazis originally anticipated. However, the Nazi’s inefficiency would probably have seen less progress being made in submarine design during the period of lower pressure that an extended period of relative peace would have produced. In balance, the success of the Type VII was that it existed, it was bravely crewed and ever gram of extra capability was squeezed from the design in an attempt to keep losses at an acceptable level. It operationally failed because Allied surface vessel, weapon systems and aircraft were able to develop faster, the U-Boat yards were under 24 hour bombing, the Germans were short of many vital raw materials, and Allied industry was able to produce merchant ships and warships faster than the Type VII could sink them. When event the Royal Navy’s stately Swordfish biplane could fly off escort carriers with depth bombs, rockets and radar, a surfaced U-Boat was doomed. The author has done an excellent job of describing the Type VII and its place in the history of warfare. This is probably the finest book on German submarines of WWII available in print.