Submarine Operational Effectiveness in the 20th Century: Part Two (1939-1945)

By Eldridge, Golda | Air Power History, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Submarine Operational Effectiveness in the 20th Century: Part Two (1939-1945)


Eldridge, Golda, Air Power History


Submarine Operational Effectiveness in the 20th Century: Part Two (1939-1945). By John F. O'Connell. New York: iUniverse, 2011. Diagrams. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 325. $21.95 paperback ISBN: 978-1-4620-4257-9

This is the second of three planned works on submarine use in the 20th Century. The first took the reader from the beginnings of submarine warfare in World War One to just before the beginning of World War Two. This second book is dedicated entirely to the Second World War, which makes sense given the conflict's scope and the huge amount of submarine activity.

All major combatants used submarines during World War II. The war's geographic expanse was far greater than that of the first war and involved submarines in virtually every corner of the earth. Operations in both wars were similar in many ways including attacks against enemy shipping and warships, scouting, and covert activities.

O'Connell organizes the narrative by country (including independent Vichy French and Free French forces who sided with the Allies) and then discusses operations chronologically. The overall perspective is broader than the first book, focusing more on strategy and less on technical data and exploits of commanders and crews. This focus is entirely appropriate given submarine impact on operations worldwide. The work's main theme compares two strategies for submarine use: attacks on the enemy battle fleet versus those on enemy shipping. The first follows naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan's concepts of control of the seas. Simply put, the idea is that your navy must defeat or bottle up the enemy navy giving you freedom of action on the seas. You can then attack when and where you want, and your merchant shipping can move unfettered. The submarine's role was to give its side an advantage by sinking as many enemy warships as possible prior to the decisive fleet engagement. The US prior to the war and Japan throughout the war followed this strategy. The alternative is to destroy enemy shipping. Without ships, raw materials cannot get to the factories and finished products to the warfront eventually forcing your enemy to capitulate. The Germans in both wars and the Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor practiced this approach. …

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