The Pacific theater is the staple source of World War II articles for Naval History, and rightfully so given the enormous effort and sacrifice the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard made in defeating Japan. The massive scale of the Pacific war, however, overshadows a more critical naval theater: the Atlantic, where U-boats, convoy escorts, and merchant ships engaged in a 5??-year campaign. An Axis victory there meant the defeat of Great Britain, and German—or perhaps eventual Soviet—domination of Western Europe for the foreseeable future.
While the Royal Navy was the senior partner in the Atlantic theater, the contributions of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were vital to the Allied effort. For years the tide of the campaign shifted back and forth before definitively turning in the Allies' favor 65 years ago, during battles in the North Atlantic. That anniversary offered us the opportunity to feature this underrepresented theater of the war.
Compressing the history of the long campaign into four articles, however, often seemed as daunting as escaping a U-boat Wolf Pack unscathed. Sources frequently differ over facts; merchant ships and escort vessels continually joined and left convoys; and the Battle of the Atlantic featured myriad important facets—from the number of rotors in an Enigma enciphering machine to the value of Huff/Duff detection sets. Moreover, the campaign had its own language—the convoy identification system. (A guide to transatlantic convoy IDs appears on page 15.) Inevitably, we couldn't include all aspects but believe we've come up with an engaging and informative introduction to the Battle of the Atlantic.
Our coverage begins with Canadian historian Marc Milner's "A Battle That Had to Be Won," an operational history that puts the Allied campaign in its proper context as a British-led struggle in which the U.S. Navy and Royal Canadian Navy played key roles. Jeffrey Barlow's "The Navy's Atlantic War Learning Curve" then focuses on the U.S. Navy's evolving part in the campaign—which began well before the country was officially at war—and its major contributions.
Desperately short of Atlantic warships, the Navy subsumed the U.S. Coast Guard—including its big 327-foot Secretary-class —in late 1941. In "Dangerous Duty in the North Atlantic," Michael Walling recounts the "327s'" role escorting convoys and battling U-boats. Our final Battle of the Atlantic article, Adam Lynch's "Kill or Be Killed? The U-853 Mystery," focuses on the campaign's last fight in U.S. coastal waters.
As you've probably already discovered, our 65th anniversary coverage also includes a bonus. Based on your positive feedback for the Guadalcanal gatefold in the August 2007 issue, we've again included a foldout guide—"A Closer Look at the Atlantic Campaign." Many people deserve credit for this effort, starting with Associate Editor Jim Caiella, who put in long hours researching and drawing the warships and weapons. Design Director Kelly Erlinger drew the tactics diagrams, and cartographer Bob Pratt created the Convoy ONS 5 map as well as the charts and smaller maps. And finally, Senior Editor Fred Schultz provided invaluable research help by untangling the history of ONS 5.
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