World War II was fought over every terrain. From mountains, to deserts, to jungles. From fareast Europe to the south Pacific. World War II was fought virtually on every single continent in the world. One of them was the Atlantic ocean.
As Hitler was in the midst of taking Poland, a number of passenger ships were desperately trying to send European citizens back home to Canada or the U.S. On board of one ship was 1,102 passengers with 315 crew members. The name of the ship was the Athenia.
A U-Boat commander Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp sighted the ship 250 miles off Ireland. He maintained radio silence to achieve surprise and surprise is what happened. The British just declared war on the day of September 3, 1939. Just under 12 hours later, a U-30 had sighted a passenger ship. Eager to get the war underway, Lemp ordered his men to fire on the ship. Four screaming torpedos crashed into the sides of the unarmed passenger ship.
The ship exploded immediately killing all but 112 people. Lemp later claimed that the sinking of the Athenia was an accident, and that he didn't know it was unarmed. He thought it was an armed merchant ship. German command told Lemp to forget about it, and destroy all evidence he had of the sinking. This included diaries, papers, and any other article mentioning the sinking. The Germans were then going to blame Winston Churchill for the sinking of the ship. The Germans stated that Churchill had ordered the ship to sink to get the U.S. into the war.
The U.S. and British did not believe this story. Soon, the Americans and British forces learned the quest for independence in the seas was going to be a long one.
After the sinking of the Athenia, the world was in an uproar. The Germans weren't pleased. They wanted to sink a ship that actually had an effect on the war. It came on September 16, 1939 as a German U-Boat caught an aircraft carrier called the Courageous near Ireland. The U-Boat fired it's torpedoes and sent the ship sinking in the Atlantic Waters.
On October 14, 1939 a U-47 snuck into the Scapa Flow in Orkneys, Scotland. Soon after, the Royal Oak was sinking from German fire. The Royal Oak was a key ship to the British and it's sinking would be remembered. The commander of the vessel, Lieutenant Prien, snuck into the harbor and back narrowly escaping detection. Prien later died on March 17, 1941 in a watery death.
The Graf Spee was a German pocket battleship. The ship was light, heavily armored, and delivered a mean punch for it's size. She was armed by her 11-inch guns and eight torpedo tubes. On top of that, she could cruise at 26 knots. The ship was under Kapitšn Hans Langsdorff and had a crew of 1,107. She cruised around the south Atlantic Ocean, sinking any vessel it saw.
On December 13, 1939 the Graf Spee was sighted off the coast of Uraguay by 3 British cruisers: The Exeter, Achilles, and the Ajax. The Graf Spee went for the attack. The Exeter fired onto the ship and caused terrible damage to the ship. Graf Spee turned it's guns on the Exeter and damaged it beyond repair. After 14 hours, the ship went to seek refuge in the southwest Atlantic. They finally found a neutral harbor in Montevideo harbor. Over 30 crew members were killed in the attack.
Kapitšn Langsdorff had two days to get repairs done, and took supplies from the Tacoma, a German freighter. The British opposition was still waiting outside the harbor, and reinforcements were being sent in. On December 17, 1939, the Graf Spee started to head out to sea. The battleship then slowed to a stop. Then the explosion occured and the ship was sunk. The sinking was intentional, however. All the crew escaped safely.
Kapitšn Langsdorff explained that the reason he sank his own ship was not to risk valuable German secrets, crew, and weapons. On December 20, 1939, wrapped in a German flag, Kapitšn Langsdorff shot himself in the head.
Hitler gave the order to destroy the ship because he didn't want the ship to be sank in defeat. It was the end of the Graf Spee.
It started when the great German battleship Bismarck and several other warships left Bergen. The Bismarck was traveling with Prinz Eugen along side it. They left on orders to destroy a British convoy of ships. But they were spotted by planes and the British started in on them. The first ship to reach them was a battle-cruiser named Hood. On the coast of Greenland, the battle started. Hood lost as it received a deafening blow to it's armor and sank. The death shell was believed to have pierced through the ship's weapons supply full of powder.
The Prince of Wales soon joined the battle. It was accompanied by the Suffolk and Norfolk. The Prince of Wales was hit but received little damage. Then the firing came upon the Bismarck. The British ships poured shells onto the great German battleship, but the Prince of Wales was damaged. The rest of the German fleet set out on a war game of hide and seek. They fled towards France. Meanwhile, the British gave orders to every available ship to go after the Bismarck. The ship was later sighted by yet another plane. The British sent everything it had including ships and planes. The Ark Royal, which was supposedly sank by the Germans wanted to prove the rumor was wrong.
On March 26, 1941, the Ark Royal had it's chance. It sent torpedo-planes at the Bismarck with no remorse. The torpedos gave the giant Bismarck a headache as a torpedo hit her stern. This put the Bismarck out of service. It was traveling uncontrollably like an unmanned tractor: spinning in circles.
The Bismarck was only 400 miles from France, but all was lost for the great ship. The British navy soon caught up to the Bismarck and the ship Cossack began to pound it's guns on the helpless ship. To make things worse for the Bismarck, the British ships King George V and Rodney helped to rain shells on the poor ship.
On March 27, 1941, the Bismarck was done. The great German ship was bleeding to death. Smoke rose from the ship as frantic crew members jumped from the dying ship. The Dorsetshire was the only British ship with any torpedos left, so it fired it's death load on the ship. Three torpedos hit, and capsized the ship and eventually sank it. 10:40 p.m. was the time. Only a 100 men were rescued from the dead Bismarck. The British only lost 25 men. The Bismarck would never roam another ocean for eternity.
The Germans now had a major naval force at Norway. Germany had the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen, Tirpitz, Lutzow, Scheer, Hipper, Koln, and the Nurnberg. The British went to oppose and sent 48 ships(including American ships), to Murmansk. Only 40 arrived.
By September of 1943, Stalin(head of Russia) insisted that the Allies help him because the British chose to freeze all sea operations until early August/October. Stalin was rapidly turned into an Allied friend when Hitler took his attack on Russia. On October 1 of 1943, Winston Churchill decided to give Stalin his wish. He said he would send four British convoys, each having 35 Allied ships. He would start the convoys in November, and 1 for each month that followed. In return, Churchill would receive uncensored mail, reinforcement of naval power in Russia, and visas for the men.
The convoys were delivered as promised. The British were not going to take any chances, however. The original convoy set out for Russia was followed by a naval force. Then, far away, but parallel to the convoy, heavier ships sailed just in case. This defense was put to the test on December of 1943. The British convoy had an escort of three cruisers: Belfast, Norfolk, and Sheffield. Along for the ride were 14 destroyers. The heavy unit running parallel was the Duke of York, the cruiser Jamaica and other ships headed by Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. Germans heard about the convoy and reacted swiftly.
Hitler sent the Scharnhorst, a speedy, powerful ship out on Christmas Day. It was accompanied by 5 destroyers. The Scharnhorst and the other German ships found the convoy off of North Cape. Three cruisers went for the attack. The Scharnhorst and the British cruiser Norfolk were damaged. After the Scharnhorst was hit, it took off in a mad dash. More British ships were sent after the huge German ship.
At 4:17 p.m., the Duke of York found the warship. It was detected by radar. The British ship Belfast was there to help. It set up a flare to signal other British ships where the Scharnhorst was, and then it came.
The Duke of York went for the attack. The ships guns blasted the Scharnhorst into swiss cheese. Other British ships joined in the fight and lit up the Scharnhorst like a Christmas tree. Around 7 p.m., the ship began to stop. The British encircled it and rained torpedos and shells onto the the ship. The Scharnhorst met a watery tomb along with 1,934 members of the crew. Only 36 survived the sinking. The Scharnhorst was now a casualty of the Battle of the Atlantic.
After the catastrophic defeat of all German naval power, the Tirpitz was the only battleship left to defend Nazi Germany. The ship had an astonishing speed of 31 knots, and had eight 15-inch guns to defend her. With 2,200 men, this battleship was capable of destroying anything in it's path. She was to destroy the convoy headed for Murmansk described in the sinking of the Scharnhorst. Unfortunately, there wasn't any luck for the German battleship and came up empty. However, the British didn't. The Royal Air Force spotted the ship and shot their torpedos at the heavy battleship. None of them hit. The Tirpitz dragged 12 of the planes down to meet the brick hard Atlantic Ocean. The ship then sailed off to Narvik.
On September of 1943, the battleship accompanied the Scharnhorst in an attack on the Allies on Spitzbergen. Later, after docking at Alten Fiord, British submarines snuck into the area and detonated a mine just next to the Tirpitz. This damaged the ship mortally. The turbines and engine were damaged putting the ship out of the war; temporarily.
Six months later, the Germans were ready to set the Tirpitz back into battle. Then, like sudden rain, came bombs that littered the battleship. On April 3, 1944, the British discovered the Germans were releasing the ship and decided to destroy it. Over 15 direct hits were scored, and 168 Germans were killed. Hitler was getting frustrated. He ordered the battleship to Sandesund in Tromso Fieord. Since the ship was now closer to England, the Royal Air Force decided to rain bombs on it for four consecutive months. On November 12, 1944, the British decided it was enough. They sent 60 British Lancasters with huge bombs to hit the warship. The Germans sent their Messerschmitt fighters to meet the invading British fleet. Half of them were decoys and prooved effective to the enemy. The Messerschmitts followed the decoys, which lead to an open house for the rest with their 6 ton payload. They dropped their bombs and the Tirpitz could take no more. It sank killing 1,400 people. The threat of the navy was almost over.
On the orders of German Admiral Erich Raeder, the German U-Boats were under unrestricted orders to destroy any enemy ship it encountered. Germans were highly out-numbered in the Naval part of their infantry. Germans had to make up for it with surprise attacks from below, and powerful air attacks from above.
When World War II sprung up, Germany only had 22 U-Boats that were operational in the Atlantic. They could only reach 16 knots above surface and only 8 knots under water. The object of the U-Boats was obvious: destroy any and all Allied sea vessels. The Allies weren't exactly happy with the U-Boats either. The U-Boats were a good way to play tag with opponents. Hit them, and if they're still not sunk, run, then hit them again.
The life expectancy of a U-Boat soldier was very small. U-Boats were often hit from the air, or crushed by ships. Approximately 46 men were stationed on U-Boats with hardly any living space, as much of the free space was saved for supplies. The U-Boats were harsh living due to the cramped quarters, the length of duration on the vessel, and the quality of the air.
The U-Boats erupted in a blaze of glory. In the first week of World War II, the U-Boats had sunk an astonishing 12 ships. Furthur on, 67 Allied ships were also sunk after two months. However, the Germans didn't come out of it without losses. Twenty German U-Boats were destroyed.
Allies had measures to deal with a U-Boat. When one was sighted, all available ships would encircle it and destroy it. The Germans had an answer. Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz in June of 1941 ordered the U-Boats to travel in packs. Some packs stretched for hundreds of miles as they wreaked havoc on Allied ships. After France was taken over, the Germans then used that for a port for the submarines.
Halfway into 1942, the German U-Boat strength jumped to 101. In that period of 1942, the Germans managed to sink 585 ships. This wasn't the worst, however. In early 1943, Germans sank 96 warships in less than 20 days. The U-Boat campaign was on.
The Allies later discovered detection techniques. They destroyed U-Boats faster than the Germans could build them, so the U-Boat campaign was moving towards the Allies side. The U-Boat campaign was over with a bang.
With the Allied sinking of major German ships, and U-Boats ineffective, the Allies now had a key vantage point. They were no longer threatened by the German navy. The Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allies.