The Battle of the Atlantic
“The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome”
On the high seas, the Battle of the Atlantic pitted the Royal Navy against Hitler’s U-boats. Britain as an island nation and fighting alone against Nazi aggression relied on goods from the USA, both military equipment and food. Merchant shipping needed to cross the North Atlantic. Lessons learnt in WW1 meant that the convoy system of merchant vessels with a Royal Navy escort was the most effective means of delivering goods to Britain. Inevitably, there were heavy casualties amongst the Merchant Fleet and Royal Navy as the U-boats and other ships of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) and the Lufftwaffe (German Air Force) held the upper hand during the early years of the struggle. When the Soviet Union joined the Allies, convoys headed for ports at Archangel and Murmansk in Northern Russia, through the north Atlantic between Iceland and Norway into the Arctic Circle.
Secrecy was the order of the day and certain information was not made available for public consumption. One such story was the surrender of U-boat 110 and the capture of the German navy code machine, “Enigma”. Able Seaman Vince Gardiner served on HMS Bulldog between 20 February 1941 and 7 December 1941. He was a member of the Torpedo Party. From March 1941,the destroyer was based at Reykjavik, Iceland deployed on convoy defence in the NW Approaches.
9 May: whilst escorting Convoy OB318 off Iceland with HMS Broadway, U-boat 110 was attacked and forced to the surface. A boarding party searched the submarine and an “Enigma” coding machine and some documentation was discovered, taken and passed onto the intelligence staff at Bletchley Park. This is generally regarded as the most significant event which assisted their work and the breaking of the “Enigma” code. This gave the Allies a great advantage over the Germans for the remainder of the war. The facts behind the breaking of the “Enigma” code were kept secret for many years after the war. Even 17 years later, when Capt. S.W. Roskill published the official history of the Second World War, the author could only give a hint of the U-110 story.
Vince’s brother-in-law, Telegraphist J.T. Cramman served on HMS Southern Prince, between 20 June 1940 and 29 January 1942. An auxiliary minelayer, she joined the 1st Minelaying Squadron and helped lay a mine barrage across the Northern Approaches.
The outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic was a strategic victory for the Allies. The German blockade failed. The cost to the Allies was great, 3,500 merchant ships sunk and the loss of 36,000 merchant seamen, 175 warships sunk and the loss of 36,200 sailors. The Germans lost 783 U-boats and about 30,000 sailors.