World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia

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Although they were hampered initially by the lack of well placed ports from which to operate; that changed when France fell in and Germany took control of all the ports in France and the Low Countries. The U-boats had such a high success rate at first, that the period to early was known as the First Happy Time.

The Kriegsmarine was responsible for coastal artillery protecting major ports and possible invasion points, and also handled anti-aircraft batteries protecting major ports. In — German shipyards launched 1, U-boats, of which were destroyed during the war at sea along with 30, crew.

The British anti-submarine ships and aircraft accounted for over kills.

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At the end of the war, U-boats surrendered to the Allies, while the crews scuttled others, chiefly in German ports. In terms of effectiveness, German and other Axis submarines sank merchant ships totaling The use of convoys dramatically reduced the number of sinkings, but convoys made for slow movement and long delays at both ends, and thus reduced the flow of Allied goods. German submarines also sank Allied warships, mostly British, with 52, Royal Navy sailors killed. The German fleet was involved in many operations, starting with the Invasion of Poland.

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As a result of the earlier changes the Royal Navy entered the Second World War as a heterogeneous force of World War I veterans, inter-war ships limited by close adherence to treaty restrictions and later unrestricted designs. It remained a powerful force, though smaller and relatively older than it was during World War I. Its first task remained the protection of trade, since Britain was heavily dependent upon imports of food and raw materials, and the global empire was also interdependent.

The navy's assets were allocated between various fleets and stations. There are sharply divided opinions of Pound's leadership. His greatest achievement was his successful campaign against German U-boat activity and the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Axis Alliance in World War II

Winston Churchill , the civilian head of the Navy —40 and of all the forces as Prime Minister —45 worked with him closely on naval strategies; he was dubbed "Churchill's anchor". However his judgment has been challenged regarding his micromanagement, the failed Norwegian Campaign in , his dismissal of Admiral Dudley North in , Japan's sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales by air attack off Malaya in late , and the failure in July to disperse Convoy PQ 17 under German attack.

During the early phases of World War II , the Royal Navy provided critical cover during British evacuations from Norway where an aircraft carrier and 6 destroyers were lost but , men were evacuated , from Dunkirk where 7, RN men were killed and at the Battle of Crete.

In the latter operation Admiral Cunningham ran great risks to extract the Army, and saved many men to fight another day. The prestige of the Navy suffered a severe blow when the battlecruiser Hood was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in May Although the Bismarck was sunk a few days later, public pride in the Royal Navy was severely damaged as a result of the loss of the "mighty Hood ". In the attack on Taranto torpedo bombers sank three Italian battleships in their naval base at Taranto and in March it sank three cruisers and two destroyers at Cape Matapan.

The RN carried out an evacuation of troops from Greece to Crete and then from that island. In this the navy lost three cruisers and six destroyers but rescued 30, men. The losses in Operation Pedestal were high but the convoy got through. The Royal Navy was also vital in guarding the sea lanes that enabled British forces to fight in remote parts of the world such as North Africa , the Mediterranean and the Far East.

Convoys were used from the start of the war and anti-submarine hunting patrols used. From , responsibility for the protection of Atlantic convoys was divided between the various allied navies: the Royal Navy being responsible for much of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Suppression of the U-boat threat was an essential requirement for the invasion of northern Europe: the necessary armies could not otherwise be transported and resupplied.

During this period the Royal Navy acquired many relatively cheap and quickly built escort vessels. The defence of the ports and harbours and keeping sea-lanes around the coast open was the responsibility of Coastal Forces and the Royal Naval Patrol Service.


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Naval supremacy was vital to the amphibious operations carried out, such as the invasions of Northwest Africa Operation Torch , Sicily, Italy, and Normandy Operation Overlord. The use of the Mulberry harbours allowed the invasion forces to be kept resupplied. There were also landings in the south of France in August.

During the war however, it became clear that aircraft carriers were the new capital ship of naval warfare , and that Britain's former naval superiority in terms of battleships had become irrelevant. Britain was an early innovator in aircraft carrier design, introducing armoured flight decks, in place of the now obsolete and vulnerable battleship.

The successful invasion of Europe reduced the European role of the navy to escorting convoys and providing fire support for troops near the coast as at Walcheren , during the battle of the Scheldt. Despite opposition from the U.

The Battle of the Atlantic - WWII Documentary

This required the use of wholly different techniques, requiring a substantial fleet support train, resupply at sea and an emphasis on naval air power and defence. In 84 warships and support vessels were sent to the Pacific. It remains the largest foreign deployment of the Royal Navy. Their largest attack was on the oil refineries in Sumatra to deny Japanese access to supplies. However it also gave cover to the US landings on Okinawa and carried out air attacks and bombardment of the Japanese mainland.

At the start of the Second World War the RN had 15 battleships and battlecruisers with five more battleships under construction, and 66 cruisers with another 23 under construction. To destroyers with 52 more under construction a further 50 old destroyers and other smaller craft were obtained from the US in exchange for US access to bases in British territories Destroyers for Bases Agreement. There were 60 submarines and seven aircraft carriers with more of both under construction.

During the war the Royal Navy lost major warships [47] and more than 1, small ones. There were , men including reserves and marines in the navy at the start of the war, which rose to , by the end. The Royal Marines reached a maximum of 78, in , having taken part in all the major landings. Finland's defensive war against the Soviet invasion, lasting November to March , came at a time when there was a lack of large scale military action on the continent [48] called the " Phony War ".


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Attention turned to the Nordic theater. After months of planning at the highest civilian, military and diplomatic levels in London and Paris, in spring, , a series of decisions were made that would involve uninvited invasions of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark's Faroe Islands, with the goals of damaging the German war economy and assisting Finland in its war with the Soviet Union.

An allied war against the Soviet Union was part of the plan.

The British Ministry of Economic Warfare stated that the project against Norway would be likely to cause "An extremely serious repercussion on German industrial output The British military leadership by December became enthusiastic supporters when they realized that their first choice, an attack on German oil supplies, would not get approval. Winston Churchill , now head of the Admiralty, pushed hard for an invasion of Norway and Sweden to help the Finns and cut the iron supplies.

Likewise the political and military leaders in Paris strongly supported the plan, because it would put their troops in action. The poor performance of the Soviet army against the Finns strengthened the confidence of the Allies that the invasion, and the resulting war with Russia, would be worthwhile. However the civilian leadership of Neville Chamberlain 's government in London drew back and postponed invasion plans. Neutral Norway and Sweden refused to cooperate.

Battle of the Atlantic

On March 20, a more aggressive Paul Reynaud became Prime Minister of France and demanded an immediate invasion; Chamberlain and the British cabinet finally agreed and orders were given. The Germans successfully repelled the Allied invasion. Despite Iceland's plea for neutrality, its occupation was seen as a military necessity by London.

Operation Sea Lion was Germany's threatened invasion across the English channel in The Germans had the soldiers and the small boats in place, and had far more in the way of tanks and artillery than the British had after their retreat from Dunkirk. However, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were fully prepared, and historians believe that an attempted invasion would be a disaster for the Germans.

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British naval power, based in Scotland, was very well-equipped with heavily armored battleships; Germany had none available. At no point did Germany have the necessary air superiority. And even if they had achieved air superiority, it would have been meaningless on bad weather days, which would ground warplanes but not hinder the Royal Navy from demolishing the transports and blasting the landing fields.

With a wide range of nations collaborating with the Allies, the British needed a way to coordinate the work. The Royal Navy dealt smoothly with the navies-in-exile of Poland, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece using a liaison system between senior naval officers. The system produced the effective integration of Allied navies into Royal Navy commands.

When France fell in June , Germany made the soldiers into POWs but allowed Vichy France to keep its powerful fleet, the fourth largest in the world. The attack killed men and sank one or badly damaged three of the four battleships at anchor. The Vichy government was angry indeed but did not retaliate and maintained a state of armed neutrality in the war. When Germany occupied all of France in November , Vichy France had assembled at Toulon about a third of the warships it had started with, amounting to , tons.