Upcoming Meeting - The Battle of the Atlantic: The Turning Point

Speaker: Robin Brodhurst

Wed 13th May 2020; 7:30 pm

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

BMMHS Vulcan Logo V3 Large Cropped
The British Modern Military History Society will this month be hosting a presentation given by historian and author Robin Brodhurst on:-

The Battle of The Atlantic: The Turning Point.

The importance of the Battle of the Atlantic was summarised by the First Sea Lord, Dudley Pound, when he said (on more than one occasion)

“If we lose the war at sea, we lose the war”.

Without victory in the Atlantic there could have been no invasion of mainland Europe. The crisis of the battle came in the spring of 1943 when merchant shipping losses reached a peak of 538,000 tons in March.

Yet within 3 months that had been reduced to 28,000 tons, and in May and June 57 U-boats had been sunk. What had caused this dramatic turn around?

This paper offers a number of causes, all of which came ‘on stream’ at about the same time. This victory was very much an Allied one, and deserves to be celebrated.

A convoy at sea under the protection of RAF Coastal Command aircraft, 1943. © IWM (C 2644)

Winston Churchill

‘… the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’.

The Western Approaches Command Operations Room at Derby House, in Liverpool, with its large map on which small symbols and flags show every move in the Battle of the Atlantic. © IWM (A 4527)

The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was  “longest, largest, and most complex”  naval battle in history, lasting 2074 days: from 3 September 1939, the day war was declared, to 7 May 1945, the day Germany surrendered. Allied ships were sunk with loss of life in the Atlantic on both those days, and on nearly every day in between.

The Scale of the Battle

It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre covering millions of square miles of ocean. The situation changed constantly, with one side or the other gaining advantage as new weapons, tactics, counter-measures and equipment were developed by both sides. 

Atlantic Convoy Crisis

The crisis of the Battle of the Atlantic came in early 1943. Dönitz, by this time commander of the German Navy, now had 200 operational U-boats. British supplies, especially of oil, were running out, and it became a question of whether Allied shipyards could build merchant ships fast enough to replace the tonnage that was being sunk. 

An ammunition ship exploding. 19 OCTOBER 1942. © IWM (A 12273)

Defeating the U-boats

The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming German surface raiders by the end of 1942 and defeating the U-boats by mid-1943, though losses due to U-boats continued until the war’s end.

A picture taken from an Avenger aircraft during an attack on a U-Boat, 3rd April 1944.. Machine gun fire from the attacking aircraft is seen straddling the U-boat near the conning tower. © IWM (A 22859)
U 673 being hunted with depth charges in April 1944, Depth 240m. Source Lara Winkelsdork @winkelsdorf
The Arctic lifeline, December 1941, On the signal bridge of HMS SHEFFIELD, taking a convoy to Russia. © IWM (A 6863)

Event Details and Entry Cost

Entry cost is just £8, payable on the door,  and will include the talk and a Q & A, drinks, light snacks (sandwiches etc.) and a contribution to a military charity. Car parking is available on site.
Do join us for what should be a fascinating talk.  To help us with catering and numbers, please let us know if you are coming either through info@bmmhs.org, or our Facebook Event page. 

We look forward to welcoming you to this meeting.

Meeting Venue: Woodcote Village Hall

Woodcote Village Hall
Woodcote Village Hall
Woodcote Village Hall

If you are unable to attend this meeting but would be interested in attending any of our future presentations or joining any organised trips please contact us on info@bmmhs.org so we can keep you updated.

Western Approaches Command

The steel door bearing the words "Secret, No Admittance", through which the staff directing the Battle of the Atlantic operations go down to the Operations Room in Derby House, in Liverpool. © IWM (A 4525)

Convoy Operations

The Convoy Conference. Captains of Merchant Ships, who keep open Britain's life-lines across the Atlantic. Copyright: © IWM.
The Convoy Conference. Captains of Merchant Ships, who keep open Britain's life-lines across the Atlantic. © IWM (A 4551)
General view showing the convoy gathering at the anchorage. © IWM (A 7219)
Convoy gathering at the anchorage. © IWM (A 7219)
On the bridge during an enemy air attack just after a German JU 88 had crashed into the sea. Left to right: Lieut L Lamb, DSM, RN; Lieut J A MacAllan, RN, of Bromley, Kent; and Captain G S Tuck, DSO, RN, the Commanding Officer of HMS BELLONA. © IWM (A 27583)
Savoia Marchetti SM 79 during an attack on a convoy bound for Malta. © IWM (IWM FLM 3795)
Action Stations aboard the corvette HMS Penstemon during a submarine attack, January 1942., during a convoy to Gibraltar. Re-loading a depth charge thrower, standing by ready to fire a depth charge should contact be made with the U-boat. © IWM (A 7372)


Survivors from an American ship on a Russia convoy being issued with clothes from the British Red Cross, Scapa Flow, 24th September 1942. © IWM (A 11969)
German prisoners, members of the crew of a U-boat, being escorted ashore from HMS VIMY. © IWM (A 15019)

Biographical notes – Robin Brodhurst

Robin Brodhurst was educated at Marlborough College, RMA Sandhurst, Goldsmiths’ College, London and Cambridge Universities. He served for 6 years as an officer in the Royal Green Jackets, and then, after university as a mature student, became a History teacher, ending as Head of History for 22 years at Pangbourne College.

He has published Churchill’s Anchor, a biography of Dudley Pound, and edited The Bramall Papers. He is working on editing a collection of his grandfather’s correspondence with Sir Donald Bradman as well as a volume of documents on Anglo-American Naval Relations between 1939 and 1941. He is a keen cricketer and jazz enthusiast and lives in Newbury.

Click to see full BMMHS event listing page.