Black May: The Epic Story of the Allies' Defeat of the German U-Boats in May 1943

Michael V. Gannon, Author HarperCollins $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-017819-2
Combining scholarship, storytelling and analysis, Gannon (Operation Drumbeat) delivers a compelling, comprehensive account of the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic in May 1943. Gannon integrates coverage of the North Atlantic convoy battles with the Bay of Biscay offensive simultaneously mounted by RAF Coastal Command. The book's focal point is the epic story of Convoy ONS 5, which included 43 merchantmen (ships used in commerce) and a half dozen escorts. ONS 5 was sailing to Halifax, and most of its ships were in ballast. But cargoes were less important than tonnage for German Admiral Karl Donitz's U-boat wolf packs. Gannon takes readers from the decks of merchantmen to the bridges of warships, to the conning towers of U-boats in a kaleidoscope whose final pattern was as much a function of skill and determination as of weapons systems. Thirteen merchantmen were sunk. But a half-dozen U-boats went down as well, and seven more were so crippled they had to return to base. U-boat captains were like fighter pilots: a relatively small number scored a disproportionate number of victories. By May 1943, many of the original ""aces"" were dead. Their successors were generally less willing to push attacks against escorts whose crews, techniques and tactics had exponentially improved since 1940. Meanwhile, civilian analysts had developed an operational model indicating that by concentrating on the choke point provided by the Bay of Biscay, RAF Coastal Command would be in a position to paralyze the U-boat offensive. When implemented, the plan's verifiable figures matched the projected numbers. Few men fought better in an evil cause than did the U-boat crews. But, as Gannon shows in his excellent book, none performed better in a good one than those who defeated them. 40 b&w photos. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/30/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
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