Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Decoding History

The Battle of the Atlantic and Ultra

Gardner, W. J. R.

2000, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1557501580
Hardcover, 263 pages, no photos, 9 tables, 18 figures, bibliography, index

Type. Military History
Pros. Detailed overview of the conflict on a theoretical level
Cons. Content doesn't match the title; slow reading

The title of this book is somewhat misleading, as the book doesn't seem to be really about Ultra, but rather a technical history of the Battle of the Atlantic. The author's extremely thorough and exhaustive analysis makes the book rather long and paragraphs rather ponderous. He spends much time on abstract and theoretical concepts - e.g., levels of battle and strategy, types of time, etc. - often seeming to state the bleeding obvious, but repeatedly justifying his close examination of these background topics with the assertion that they are necessary to understanding how the Battle of the Atlantic unfolded.

The first chapter describes the varying ways in which Axis nations and Allied nations related to one other, specifying the differing importance the battle held for the opposing sides and for individual Allied nations. Also explained are the battle's place in the strategic continuum of World War II, and the manner in which land battles were integrated into the sea battle. Chapter 2 recaps Rohwer's and Barley and Waters' eight phases of the Battle of Atlantic. The remaining chapters cover various topics including the chronology of the conflict; the economic aspects of the Battle of the Atlantic; the German point of view of the battle; convoy warfare; technological developments on both sides; signals intelligence; and two case studies of Ultra in the Battle of the Atlantic: 1941, and mid-1942 to mid-1943. A conclusion provides a summary evaluation of the Battle of the Atlantic and its players.

This book is rather difficult to read, due to its wordy style and exhaustive approach. Buried in the lengthy paragraphs are occasional nuggets that provide food for thought. However, the author's comparison of Dönitz to Bill Gates and the U-boat arm to Microsoft seems rather out of place in this otherwise scholarly narrative.

Those who are interested in the abstract science and theory of warfare will find this book worthwhile. Those who simply want an overview of the Battle of the Atlantic and its intelligence aspects would be better served by one of the many other books available on these topics.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 25 Jun 2000.

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