Background: The Nazi Party’s Central Propaganda Office, the Reichspropagandaleitung, published a monthly bulletin for speakers. It was designed to be kept in notebooks, divided by subject area. This is material issued to speakers early in 1943. Stalingrad had fallen, and there was little good news to be had — so propaganda emphasized one of the few areas where Germany was still having success. When this material appeared, the U-boats were still a grave danger to Allied shipping. By summer of 1943, however, the Allies developed effective ways of combating German submarines — leading to the “Black May” of 1943, when German U-boat losses became unsustainable. See also June 1942 lead article by Joseph Goebbels on U-boat warfare.
I have a large collection of this material, which can be rather hard to find, so I have posted an index to my collection.
The source: Aufklärungs- und Redner-Informationsmaterial der Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP.,Lieferung 2 and 3 (February and March 1943), pp. 3-6 (See).
Naval warfare can take two forms. It can be conducted either against enemy naval vessels or against enemy merchant shipping. The decision by the naval leadership as to which method to use depends on the strategic and geopolitical situation and the balance of power between the warring parties. In the wide spaces of the Pacific Ocean, battleships and aircraft carriers, heavy naval forces, are at the center, just as in traditional naval strategy, while in the Atlantic commercial warfare predominates.
The balance of forces in the Atlantic rules out a decision through open battle. And the strategic situation for commercial warfare by U-boats is extraordinarily favorable for two reasons. First, the enemy needs a continuing strong flow of ship traffic, which provides rewarding targets for U-boat attacks, and second, the distances involved are easily handled today by our U-boats. The prospects of U-boat operations in the Atlantic are therefore particularly promising. After the loss of its European supplies, England is entirely dependent on supplies from overseas, which must pass through the North Atlantic. Since the Mediterranean Sea is blocked, the route to the East also must pass through the Atlantic, i.e., the Cape. England cannot avoid the North Atlantic, which today more than ever is Great Britain’s lifeline, and the connection between the plutocratic-Bolshevist Allies. They themselves say that their alliance is only as strong as their sea routes.
Germany, therefore, fights these trans-Atlantic sea routes, which are the weakest point in the enemy’s defensive system. Today, one can call the trans-Atlantic sea routes England’s throat, which German U-boats attack. German U-boat warfare, therefore, is gaining an increasing strangle-hold on England!
England can do without the Mediterranean for the time being, as we can see, because it has a substitute route in the Atlantic, even if this costs three to four times as much tonnage. But England can never do without the Atlantic! If it can no longer use it, it will lose the war. There are, to be sure, enough routes for convoys across the Atlantic, but there are still certain points that have to be used at the beginning and ends of sea travel. That is where the attacks are strongest. England’s supply situation stands and falls with the maintenance of its trans-Atlantic shipping. Its fighting strength, and that of its allies, depend on the support and mutual assistance provided by shipping. In this sense, the U-boat battle is really “the battle of battles,” because it threatens the enemy’s very existence. Offensives by German, Italian, and Japanese U-boats, therefore, contribute indirectly to weakening enemy fighting strength on land and in the air.
It makes no difference where enemy merchant shipping is sunk. The main thing is that it is sunk and that the sinkings sufficiently exceed the opponent’s new construction. That is still the case. British and American shipbuilding together is not enough to replace the ships that are sunk. The announcements by the USA of records in ship building are nothing but a bluff for the public. Even the English press rejected the unbelievable claim by the Jewish shipping magnate Henry Kaiser that he launched a ship in eight days. He neglected to admit that finishing the individual sections of a freighter takes just as long as with any other ship. No one is deceived any more by such statistical sleight-of-hand. We know the high productive capacity of American industry, but we also know its economic weak points, including a shortage of skilled labor and the limited production of its factories. The Canadian armaments minister’s statement that sinkings are twice production tells us enough.
The enemy press itself admits how pressing and catastrophic the shipping shortage is beginning to be, as well as that each ship takes with it not only cargo, but also irreplaceable sailors. In the USA alone, official sources predict a shortage of 90,000 sailors by the end of 1943. There are also complaints about the poor quality of ships that have been built too quickly. The enemy has lost over 26 million BRT. In 1942 alone, the German navy and Luftwaffe sank 8,940,000 BRT. German U-boats sank 1208 ships with 7,586,500 BRT! A further 450 merchant ships were damaged, and out of service for a long period. Some of them, probably, are irreparable.
The loss of tankers is particularly serious for the enemy, since their complicated construction makes them harder to replace than ordinary freighters. The opponent began the war with a large tanker fleet, but has already lost 700 tankers with a total weight of about 5.1 million BRT. That is more than the whole British tanker fleet at the beginning of the war. The opponent’s oil supply has to be suffering because of the high loss of tankers. That is why our U-boats have focused particularly on tankers. It is not enough to possess oil wells. One also has to transport the oil to the various sea, land, and air forces, as well as to industry. What good is it for the enemy to possess rich oil fields if he cannot use them, and if he cannot deliver fuel to his forces with the necessary speed?
Each overseas expedition and conquest of foreign territory and bases increases the opponent’s supply needs. That causes new transpiration difficulties. The occupation of North Africa costs the enemy ships. The Americans, for example, have calculated that they have garrisons at 32 widely separated places on the earth. The Anglo-Americans have stretched their supply routes from Iceland to North Africa, from Iran to Australia, from Dakar to South America. Besides that, Moscow is demanding more and more help, which requires long detours and great sacrifice. In the enemy’s judgment, U-boat warfare today is the same danger for England as it was in 1917. What does that mean? Let us look at what the situation was back then.
June 1917 was the second month in which over a million BRT were sunk. It was the highpoint of U-boat warfare. A council of war was held in London under the leadership of the then supreme commander of the British army, Field Marshall Haig. He left the following note:
“Today, a grave and worrying matter was discussed. Admiral Jellicoe, the First Lord of the Admiralty, reported that Great Britain’s shipping losses due to German U-boats would make it impossible to continue the war in 1918. This news hit like a bomb... Jellicoe commented that there is no point in making plans for the coming year; we will not be able to carry them out.”
There are similar statements by other leaders of the time, e.g., Churchill, Lloyd George, and Admiral Sims, commander of American naval forces in Europe. England stood at the brink of the collapse of its whole military strategy, even though it still had France, Russia, Japan, etc., as allies, and although there were fewer U-boats with worse operational bases than we have today. How much better is our present situation, and how much worse, and therefore dangerous, it must be for England.
Today, Japan and Italy are also fighting England and America. The powerful Japanese navy is striking destructive blows in the Pacific and the Italian fleet blocks England’s route through the Mediterranean, which was open to it in the First World War.
A goal-oriented and determined leadership today guides the use of the German U-boat fleet, without any false restrictions. The number of U-boats is constantly growing, new crews are being trained, and the U-boats themselves are steadily becoming better. The fighting strength and radius of action are therefore greater than that of earlier U-boats.
A new tactic enables a centrally-directed U-boat attack on a convoy. Packs and groups of our brave U-boats attack the largest and best-protected enemy convoys, often completely destroying them. The Luftwaffe and improvements in radio technology makes it easier for U-boats to find the enemy and to maintain contact with the opponent once he has been found. All U-boat operations are guided from land, from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and the South African coast. The U-boat front extends over 17,000 kilometers today, including the entire Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, and also the Mediterranean Sea, which has its own particular requirements. Neither bad weather, winter storms, nor strong enemy defenses can keep our brave and admirable U-boat men from pursuing and destroying the opponent.
The decisive factor today is our improved strategic situation. In the First World War, German U-boats had to pass through the narrow North Sea through the dangerous English Channel or north of Scotland, which demanded nerve, time, and valuable fuel. Today, such detours are not needed. Because we occupy Norway and France, the German naval command has valuable bases that lie as close to operational areas as one could wish. Today’s German U-boat bases on France’s Atlantic coast are the foundation of the great successes of our current commercial warfare. We owe that to the brilliant campaigns of our army and Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940. From France’s naval wars, we know the great strategic significance of France’s coasts along the Atlantic and the English Channel. We can exploit them systematically today.
There is a further factor today that increases the range and endurance of our U-boats: the use of U-boat tankers that are able to supply U-boats fighting in distant areas with fuel, munitions, and food supplies. These floating bases have significantly increased the fighting strength and endurance of our U-boats. They can remain much longer in their operational areas, since they are spared long trips to and from their bases. These floating bases are almost invulnerable, since they become invisible to the enemy when they dive. One should not underestimate the difficulties of delivering fuel and munitions on the open sea or near enemy coasts, but they overcome by our experienced U-boat commanders. The use of U-boat tankers makes a significant contribution to the battle against enemy shipping.
The most important point is always that the technology and tactics of our U-boats remain ahead of the opponent. Today, that is absolutely true. The opponent has not been able to make significant improvements to his defenses, even if he can use aircraft effectively along coastal areas against U-boats. The London correspondent of Geneva’s Suisse recently wrote: “even after 40 months of war, one has not found an effective weapon or method to use against German U-boat activity.”
The much-praised convoy system that supposedly saved England during the First World War, and so far has been thought the best way to protect shipping, has not stood the test, and has been found inadequate. Those in London and Washington are eagerly developing new plans. They are beginning to allow fast freighters to sail alone. In any event, they do not know what to do about the problem. Numerous statements by our opponent underscore grave concerns. The naval correspondent of the Daily Express recently noted that the number of enemy U-boats at sea is much larger than before, and is steadily growing. The evidence suggests that U-boat attacks are growing in intensity, and that the growing range of modern types will extend to all parts of the oceans.
Conservative MP Commander Bower, speaking in Yorkshire, said that not only had the battle on the world’s oceans not yet been won, but that there was no sign of whether it could be won by the English or the Americans. The publics on both sides of the Atlantic have no idea, much less an accurate understanding, of the devastating losses the Allies experience every day, and the dangers resulting from that. Admiral Stark, the USA’s former naval head, says that the most important problem is the Axis’s U-boat warfare, which is impossible to be taken too seriously.
The First Lord of the British Admiralty, Alexander, spoke of the tonnage problem at a dinner in London, saying among other things: “We find ourselves as a very difficult and grave point in the war at sea. I do not want anyone in this country or anywhere else to have false optimism that could lead him to neglect his duties. If we are to hold out in this war, we must continue our exertions until the threat of U-boats on the oceans is completely eliminated. If we are to win this war, this it is absolutely necessary to eliminate this danger.
These enemy statements make clear the great danger caused by U-boats. U-boats are our sharpest and most promising weapon against British-American naval forces. In contrast to the First World War, the successes of our U-boats have increased in the fourth year of war. Energetic naval leadership assures that there are enough U-boats and crews and that the best technology is used to constantly improve this weapon. Our U-boat men can continue untiringly their hard struggle with the greatest confidence.
Let us also not forget the many at the shipyards, factories, and bases who support U-boat activity. Let us not forget the quiet, but sacrificial, work of the surface forces, destroyers, torpedo boats, and minesweepers, the seaplanes, mine clearing vessels, and patrol boats, that keep the coasts safe from repeated enemy attacks, that keep routes free of mines, assuring the safe departure and return of U-boats. One does not often speak of them, or of the coastal batteries that defend the bases, but their work is critical in enabling the great successes of the U-boat war. The navy often conducts hard and sacrificial operations in secret, knowing that it is serving a great purpose. That purpose is and remains the destruction of the enemy at sea. The surest guarantees of victory, however, are the courage, the determination, and the unbending toughness of our courageous U-boats!
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