Hitler's U-boat War, Vol II
The Hunted, 1942-1945
1998, Random House
Hardcover, 820 pages, 72 b&w photos, extensive bibliography
Blair's second of two comprehensive volumes of operational history complete both a patrol-by-patrol account of U-boat operations in World War II, and his attempt to demolish the "myths" of the Battle of the Atlantic. These "myths" are chiefly that the Battle of the Atlantic could never have been won by Dönitz' U-boats, and that the shipping situation was never as bad as the Allies presented it to be; that, in Blair's words, "it was a classic case of threat-inflation."
While his debunking approach and laborious attention to detail are commendable, Blair's stance as the first author to do so is both inaccurate, as many authors have achieved the same result in fewer pages (for example, Terraine's Business In Great Waters and Tarrant's The U-boat Offensive 1914-45), and insulting to half a century's effort by a very large number of public, official, professional, and amateur historians.
Blair makes the critical error of presenting wartime perception as if it were postwar historical analysis. He appears to feel no fellowship to his numerous predecessors, nor give them any recognition. As a former submariner who never served in the Atlantic, Blair feels qualified to tell this tale, but has only scorn for the hundreds who went before him. Only he, in his opinion, has got it right. Blair has therefore done no more than debunk works which may or may not be well-known to the public, and whose subjects had in any case already been examined by earlier authors.
Michael Gannon's Black May contains several very sharp, pertinent and perceptive criticisms of Blair's first volume. For example, on Blair's defense of King: King held that US army convoys were more important than UK trade ones and held his escorts to protect them, leaving shipping unescorted during Operation Paukenschlag. Blair did not see that ASW was the most important concern on the East Coast from January to June, 1942. Contrary to his assertion, the high shipping losses on the coast were not "offset by the USN success in escorting US troops to Europe." To succeed at one task does not make up for failing in another. King was not forced to choose between supporting USN operations and UK trade convoys: he could have done both - as he did after June 1942, when made to institute convoying.
Blair has thus done little more than trot out the existing American myths of the Battle: that it was not serious, that it was not vital; that it has been blown out of all proportion; and also that US contributions in other areas (i.e., conventional forces in the Atlantic troop convoys) were more valuable than UK trade convoys. Blair fails to recognize that the mainstream American viewpoint is only one among many. To say one is right and the other a myth is to distort the entire campaign.
Blair seems to consider everything about the battle wrong, unless he discovered or agreed with it. He furthermore seems to regard the Battle of the Atlantic as a subject which is well-known and thus, through its myths, widely misperceived. In actual fact it is very debatable whether most Europeans and North Americans are much aware of it at all. Only in the last decade has the Battle begun to move towards its deserved place in the annals of naval history.
In sum, Blair has done nothing in his 1400 pages that others did not do before, and more succinctly. By being exhaustive, he has countered his own argument that the battle was not important: he has blown it out of all proportion by detailing every operation and how much it did not achieve.
Reviewed by Ian Campbell, MA (History), University of Tasmania at Launceston. He welcomes your comments on this review.
Review written by Ian Campbell.
Published on 18 Nov 1999.
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