Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942

Clay Blair, Jr., Author Random House (NY) $45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-394-58839-1
Everything about this book is big: its page count, its thesis--and its shortcomings. Blair is a respected authority on submarine warfare whose Silent Victory, a history of the U.S. submarine service, remains a widely cited work. He is also a master of operational narrative, a writer who can put readers in a destroyer's bridge or a U-boat's conning tower as convincingly as many novelists. Here, in the first of two projected volumes, Blair employs a comprehensive mix of German, British and U.S. sources to argue that the German U-boats have been mythologized, their successes overstated and their threat to the Allied war effort exaggerated. While U-boats delayed and diminished the arrival of supplies to Europe, 99% of all ships in transatlantic convoys reached their destinations. For Blair, that is a sizable margin of acceptable loss. He even stands foursquare behind Admiral Ernest King's reluctance to organize merchant convoys after Pearl Harbor. German U-boats operating off the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean accounted for about a quarter of all tonnage sunk during the war, but even these losses could be replaced. Blair compares by implication German failures in the U-boat war to the U.S. submarine campaign in the Pacific, which succeeded in strangling Japan by mid-1945. But to assert, as he does, that the U-boats never had a chance seems to fly in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence that cannot be dismissed as retrospective mythmaking. Even before the climactic convoy battles of 1943, the Allied navies were morally and materially stretched to near breaking point. Though richly informed and a pleasure to read, this volume ultimately provokes without convincing. Photos and maps not seen by PW. History Book Club selection. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996
Release date: 10/01/1996
Hardcover - 909 pages - 978-0-679-45742-8
Paperback - 864 pages - 978-0-679-64032-5
Ebook - 762 pages - 978-0-307-87437-5
Paperback - 944 pages - 978-0-679-64033-2
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