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The War with Hitler’s Navy

Adrian Stewart was educated at Rugby School before taking First Class Honours at Caius College, Cambridge. Caius is also the alma mater of the broadcaster David Frost, physicist Stephen Hawking, and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stewart lives near Rugby a market town in Warwickshire, West Midlands, England, close to the River Avon. He is a prolific author with 15 published works since 1980, all on World War II subjects, mostly in the European Theater and about half with Pen & Sword publishers, which is an amalgam of a newspaper, Barnsley Chronicle, and Leo Cooper military history imprint, so that Pen & Sword specializes in all areas of military history, naval and maritime, aviation, and local history, among other subjects, currently publishing more than 350 books per annum., a book review and recommendations site, rates Stewart’s books 4.01 out of 5.0 average ratings based upon 348 ratings and 12 reviews. Many copies of these are available from third-party sellers; some of the earlier books are currently available from second hand sellers at extremely low prices.  A list of his books follows this review, see: Adrian Stewart’s Books.

Stewart’s The War With Hitler’s Navy was published on 1 December 2018 in the Pen & Sword Maritime series, and is a compilation of secondary sources published on the Kriegsmarine. Stewart’s “Bibliography” (pp. 193-196) lists 85 sources, 67 of which are books published in Britain or Australia by British authors (the exceptions are two Americans: David Kahn’s The Codebreakers, 1973, Weidenfeld & Nicholson; and William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1960, Seeker & Warburg). Eighteen other sources are articles from Purnell’s History of the Second World War, 1966 ff. (reprinted in the 1970s) Phoebus Publishing Ltd in cooperation with the Imperial War Museum, which provided research facilities, expert advice, official statistics and photographs. Sir Basil Liddell Hart and later A.J.P. Taylor assembled prominent historians as authors, among them John Keegan and Dudley Pope to prepare Purnell’s History. This was an enormously successful weekly anthology publication covering all aspects of World War II; 128 articles were ultimately published. Among the most cited British authors are Donald Macintyre (6 sources), P. K. Kemp (5), and S. W. Roskill (4). Stewart’s book is for general consumption rather than for scholars; no archival sources are documented. There are some bibliographic endnotes but no innotes while the citations to the sources used by Stewart tend to be book titles without pagination, see the citation to Kemp pp. 7-8 as an example. Hence, it is often difficult to discern what Stewart has written or if it has been copied from his secondary sources.

However, in spite of these concerns, Stewart appears to be the first author to compile secondary sources to create a comprehensive British perspective on the Royal Navy’s war with the Kriegsmarine.  There are many books that deal, with aspects of the conflict such as particular battles, or naval vessels, or naval personnel but Stewart has done readers a service by assembling a treatise on major subjects from the rise of Hitler’s Navy to its ultimate demise. His book is organized in the form of nine topical chapters of a dozen to twenty-five pages each plus two indices: “Index” (pp. 197-204) and a valuable “Index of Ships” (pp. 205-212).  Therefore, this compendium appears to fill a need in historiographical studies. In general, he focuses upon the political history between Britain and Germany and their respective naval strengths.  Interested readers may wish to consult volumes listed in: Select Books Not among Stewart’s Sources and Warships of the Kriegsmarine Series: Gerhard Koop and Colleagues.

As the reader will quickly see, a better title for this book would be The British War with Hitler’s Navy. Chapter 1: “The Construction of Hitler’s Navy” (pp. 1-12). The 1919 Treaty of Versailles technically ended World War I, however, Germany evaded some restrictions by exceeding tonnage limits on ship construction, increased types and calibers of armaments, built armored cruisers, and enhanced its Submarine Development Bureau before Chancellor Adolph Hitler assumed office in February 1933.  By March 1935 Germany had withdrawn from the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, but signed the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement and began to increase U-boat construction under Admiral Dönitz in the following year. In 1938, Germany altered its borders by moving into Austria (13th March) and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia (30th September).  Britain was alarmed by these political moves and the potential threats of increased U-boat construction and numbers of Luftwaffe bombers being produced; at this time, there were only a few Hurricane fighters and no Spitfires. The remainder of Czechoslovakia was seized in March 1939 and the invasion of Poland followed in September.  Stewart provides little on British political and social history; the reader is directed to my review of an excellent book, Britain’s War: Into Battle, 1937-1941 by Daniel Todman (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), Naval History Book Reviews 66, March 17, 2017. 6 pp.  From 19-29 August, the pocket battleships Admiral Graf Spee and Deutschland put to sea in the South and North Atlantic respectively, along with 23 U-boats, and merchant raiders.  Other major warships were readied including the pocket battleships Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper, two battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, six light cruisers, and 20 destroyers.  With the sinking of the liner Athenia by U-30, the conflict at sea commenced.  Chapters 2 through 8 focus on specific battles and the arracks on Allied Arctic convoys to Russia; Chapter 9 documents the end of Hitler’s Navy. 

Chapter 2: “The Battle of the River Plate” (pp. 13-34, 6 endnotes).  Stewart begins by reviewing the German offensive attacks on the Western Front, notably the Low Countries, noting the attack on Admiral Scheer on 4 September 1939, German mining operations, U-boat attacks on 222 merchantmen, and the sinking of the Royal Oak by U-47 at Scapa Flow. He mentions the early code-breaking efforts on both sides the 1936 breaking of Royal Navy codes by the German Beobachtung-Dienst (Observation Service) and Britain’s Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park successes beginning in 1941.  Most of the chapter (pp. 19-32) is devoted to the Admiral Graf Spee under Captain Hans Langsdorff in the South Atlantic sinking nine vessels (50,000 tons) and the pursuit by Britain’s cruisers from the South American Division of the South Atlantic Squadron under Commodore Henry Harwood.  The Battle of the River Plate and the ultimate scuttling of the Graf Spee are recounted relying primarily on the published works of Pope and Powell.  An untapped source is In the Wake of the Graf Spee by Enrique Rodolfo Dick (translated from the Spanish edition, Tras la estla del Graf Spee by Marilyn Myerscough), Southampton, UK / Boston: WIT Press, 2015. This is an indispensable and comprehensive study for any reader wanting to know more about the before, during, and after the Battle of the River Plate, the naval tactics that were employed, the games of diplomacy, the honor of the captains and crews, and the German ground-breaking technology involved.  Stewart also recounts the fate of the German supply ship Altmark with 299 prisoners which cruised north to a Norwegian fjord where she went aground and the prisoners rescued by a British boarding party.  Refloated and renamed Uckermark this German supply ship journeyed to Yokahama, Japan where she was destroyed by an accident in November 1942. The August 2019 issue of the journal Naval History 33(4):14-19 has a very interesting article, “A Battle Badly Fought,” written by Alan D. Zimm in which he critiques the British actions against Graf Spee, taking issue with Harwood’s actions at River Plate.  Zimm is also the author of Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions (Philadelphia and Oxford: Casemate Publishers, 2014) reviewed by me in Naval History Book Reviews 45. 6 pp. (December 5, 2014).    

Chapter 3: “The Battles of Narvik” I, II, and III (pp. 35-59, 7 endnotes).  The author discusses the importance of the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, the Swedish iron ore mines at Gälliware which exported its ore through the Norwegian ice-free port of Narvik. The iron ore was a significant resource for Germany and the aggressive Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy engaged in three separate naval actions; German B-Dienst intercepts playing a role.  The British destroyer Glowworm was sunk but rammed and damaged Admiral Hipper (called a heavy cruiser here), and British submarines and mine-layers, and the Royal Air Force also had noteworthy successes.  The complex battles 9 April-8 June 1940 are well-detailed with submarine attacks by both sides, cruiser battles, and the loss of German merchantmen and tankers. The first battle (10 April) resulted in the British and Germans each losing two destroyers sunk, the British had one destroyer heavily damaged and the Germans had four destroyers damaged.  The Germans also lost an ammunition supply ship and six cargo ships sunk.  The second battle (13 April) was a decidedly British victory although three destroyers were damaged; the Germans lost eight destroyers sunk or scuttled, and one U-boat was also lost.  The land campaigns, not mentioned here, were fought between Norwegian, French, British, and Polish troops against German mountain troops, shipwrecked Kriegsmarine sailors and German paratroopers from the 7th Air Division.  Although defeated at sea off Narvik, losing control of the town of Narvik and being pushed back towards the Swedish border, the Germans eventually prevailed because of the Allied evacuation from Norway in June 1940 following the Battle of France.  Lastly, on 7 June the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and two escort destroyers were sunk but the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were both torpedoed by British aircraft.  The Allies had sea and air superiority until the very last stage of the operation, but did not take full advantage. The Germans lost the naval battle, but achieved the main goal — the success of Operation Weserübung and occupation of Norway.

Chapter 4: The End of the U-boat Aces” (pp. 60-79, 4 endnotes).  Stewart recounts the “Happy Time” from June through October 1940 when Dönitz’s U-boats had great success against merchantmen in British supply routes.  The Germans faced problems of ineffective torpedoes, a lack of air reconnaissance (insufficient numbers of Fw-200 Condor aircraft), changes in British naval codes, the adoption of the convoy system, and the fact that construction of new U-boats wouldn’t begin until mid-1941. Advantages included the Fall of France which provided the Germans with three U-boat bases on the Atlantic coast, Royal Navy losses at Dunkirk, inadequate protection of British convoys, and that British radar was inadequate for anti-submarine work.  The well-known “Lend-Lease” agreement of 5 September 1940 between the United States and Britain (British Caribbean bases for old US destroyers) had a distinct disadvantage between rates of fuel consumption and speed – limitations on the ASDIC systems (an early form of sonar used to detect submarines) on the destroyers.  The exploits of major U-boat commanders such as Prien, Schepke, and Kretschmer are described, and the successes of wolfpacks against convoys SC7 and HX79 are documented. The end of the “Happy Time” was marked by the losses of boats and commanders, notably U-47, U-100, and U-110, and the recovery of Enigma cypher machines, rotors, and codebooks – a major change in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Chapter 5: “The Battles with the Bismarck” (pp. 80-105, 5 endnotes).  At the beginning of the war, the Germans sent six disguised armed merchantmen on cruises to intercept Allied and neutral merchant vessels and capture or sink them.  Typically, these raiders had 6-8 guns, torpedoes, and seaplanes. The British used letters to designate these ships and Stewart begins the chapter with by documenting the cruise of Pinguin (Raider F) from March to July 1940, then discusses the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer’s success against convoy HX84, and the exploits of the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Admiral Hipper in the North Atlantic.  The bulk of this essay is the tracking of the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in May 1941 and their successful attacks on the Hood and Prince of Wales, and chase by cruisers HMS Norfolk and Sheffield.  The effective torpedo attack from Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal is also reported as is the damage to Bismarck’s steering gear and final fate.  Much of this is cobbled together from the accounts by Ballantyne, Grenfell, Jameson, Kemp, Moffat, and Poolman, among others. Stewart also reports on the activities of two other raiders, the Kormoran versus HMAS Sydney off the coast of western Australia, and the Atlantis caught by the HMS Devonshire while refueling U-126 in the South Atlantic.

Chapter 6: “The Attacks on the Arctic Convoys” (pp, 106-128, 6 endnotes).  When Russia became a British ally in June 1941, two supply lines were established. One through occupied Iran provided an overland route from the Arabian Sea northwest into Russia and would account for five million tons of supplies; the second was the North Atlantic sea route through the Norwegian Sea to Murmansk by which 40 convoys accounted for four million tons (another 800,000 tons was lost to enemy action). Stewart sees this as a continuation of the Norwegian campaign, for example the British cruisers Nigeria and Aurora versus the gunnery training ship Bremse near the North Cape, and the escapes of Prinz Eugen and the Gneisenau to Brest.  The focus of the chapter is on inbound convoys PQ12 and PQ13 and outbound convoys QP8 and QP11 and the significance of German intelligence efforts.  Also described are the convoy attacks by Tirpitz and the Admiral Hipper versus the cruiser HMS Sheffield, and Convoy PQ17 with the loss of U-88, U-457, and U-589.  Admiral Raeder resigned and Dönitz replaced him but retained his role as C-in-C of U-boats.  Because of the heavy losses of capital ships, Hitler made the decision to scrap all warships larger than a destroyer (p. 126) although half of the Kriegsmarine’s destroyers had been lost in the earlier Norwegian campaign.

Chapter 7: “The Defeat of Grand Admiral Dönitz” (pp. 129-149, 6 endnotes). The primary sources used are Frank, Gretton, and Kemp. Stewart’s chapter begins with a description of the seizure of U-110’s Enigma cypher machine in May 1941, and he correctly reports the fact that German surface vessels and submarines were being constructed at a rate faster than inexperienced crews could be trained (analogous to the situation in the Luftwaffe).  U-boat successes against the HMS Ark Royal and antiquated battleship HMS Barham would be short lived.  An advantage for Germany was that the long-range Fw 200 Condors were assigned to seek and report Allied convoys but the development of Canadian corvettes provided additional security against U-boat attacks.  One case study is Convoy SC42 which faced a wolfpack of 17 U-boats, while Convoy HG76 resulted in the loss of four U-boats: U-131, U-434, U-567, and U-574.  U-boat successes in the western Atlantic during the “Happy Time” were mitigated by the use of the convoy system and Allied coverage of the “Greenland Air Gap” by long-range aircraft. However, the duels between scarce corvette and destroyer escorts versus the U-boats were aided by German B-Dienst and survivor information.  In early 1943 Dönitz was promoted to Grand Admiral and seemed on the verge of victory when the British changed Royal Naval codes, American frigates with Huff-Duff, radar, hedge-hog mortars, and more and better antiaircraft armament entered the fray on anti-submarine patrols and convoy escort along with long-range Liberator bombers equipped with radar.  In the month of May 1943, 34 U-boats were lost despite the deployment of schnorkel U-boats and the use of acoustic torpedoes; hence, the U-boats were unable to mount wolfpack attacks thereafter.

Chapter 8: “The Battle of the North Cape” (pp. 150-172, 6 endnotes). The primary sources are Bekker, Kemp, woodman, and Woodward as well as Admiralty records such as the Official History. The Battle of the Atlantic was won as U-boats retreated from the North Atlantic and troopships and cargo vessels readily traveled to from the United States to the United Kingdom.  Among these were the converted liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth sailing at 28 knots and carrying up to 15,000 troops – just in time for Operation Torch in North Africa. Nonetheless, the German surface navy still posed a major threat: Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, Lützow, Admiral Scheer, Admiral Hipper, and Prinz Eugen and cruisers Köln, Nürnberg, Emden, and Leipzig. Breakouts into the Atlantic involved Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Lützow to Spitzbergen against Arctic convoys but they were vulnerable to Royal Navy midget submarines X-5, X-6, and X-7 (X-6 successfully laid charges against the hull of the Tirpitz). Scharnhorst was sunk by British heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk, Belfast, Sheffield, and Jamaica.  German Destroyers Z-29, 30, 33, 34, and 38 failed to locate Arctic convoys, and control of this route passed to the British. The Tirpitz, repaired from X-craft attacks, was again rendered out of action this time by aircraft attack. New Allied tactics against U-boats continued with success.

Chapter 9: “The Destruction of Hitler’s Navy” (pp. 173-191, 4 endnotes).  Bekker and Woodward are major sources.  The Kriegsmarine was on the defensive and could not prevent the D-Day landing in Normandy.  Six U-boats were sunk in the Bay of Biscay or English Channel and 325 British Lancaster bombers with 1000-lb. bombs attacked the concrete submarine pens at Le Havre multiple times (the Lancasters were from the same squadron as the famous “Dam Busters” who dropped “bouncing bombs” on the Ruhr dams).  Ultimately, 21-ft. long 12,000-lb. “tallboy” bombs were successful.  U-boat and destroyer losses continued in the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean of southern France, and Norwegian coast. Tirpitz was again damaged, this time by “tallboy” bomb s. In the Baltic, Prinz Eugen was hit and Russian MT-boats, submarines, and aircraft damaged the Köln, Nürnberg, Emden, Leipzig, and Admiral Scheer.  The Lützow and Admiral Scheer were reduced to shore bombardment duties against the Russians while German troops were cut off in Estonia by the advancing Russian Army and German citizens fled westward after November 1944.  The hulk of the Gneisenau was used to block the harbor at Gdynia, denying it to the Russians. German transports Wilhelm Gustloff and Goya and hospital ship Steuben while transporting (mostly) German civilians westward were sunk by Russian submarines – 14,000 perished.  US Army Airforce heavy bombers attacked U-boat bases facing the North Sea from January to April, sinking 19 boats.  In late summer, the Sheer and Lützow were sunk and the still incomplete Graf Zepplin, Germany’s only aircraft carrier was scuttled. At the end of the war, at least 221 U-boats were scuttled by their crews and another 156 were surrendered to the Allies.  On 6 May 1945, the Prinz Eugen and cruiser Nürnberg were handed over to the British as the last act by the Kriegsmarine. 

The War With Hitler’s Navy
By Adrian Stewart, Pen & Sword Maritime, Yorkshire and Philadelphia, (2018).

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb, Ph.D. Kolb is a Golden Life Member at the US Naval Institute, an independent scholar, and “accidental archaeologist.” He is the Associate Editor for Archaeological Ceramics at the Society for Archaeological Sciences and served as senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities for 24 years.

Click here to buy The War With Hitler’s Navy now!

Adrian Stewart’s Books

The War with Hitler’s Navy (Pen & Sword 2018)  

Ten Squadrons of Hurricanes (Pen & Sword, 2016)

February 1942: Britain’s Darkest Days (Pen & Sword, 2015)

Carriers at War: 1939-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2013)

Six of Monty’s Men (Pen & Sword, 2011)

The Early Battles of the Eighth Army: Crusader to the Alamein Line, 1941-42 (Stackpole, 2010)

The Campaigns of Alexander of Tunis 1940-1945 by Adrian Stewart (Pen & Sword, 2008)

Early Battles of the Eighth Army: Crusader to the Alamein Line 1941-42 (Stackpole, 2008)

They Flew Hurricanes (Pen & Sword, 2006)

North African Victory: The 8th Army from Alam Halfa to Tunis, 1942-43 (Penguin Classic, 2002)

Eighth Army’s Greatest Victories: Alam Halfa to Tunis 1942-1943 (Leo Cooper, 1999)

The Underrated Enemy: Britain’s War with Japan, December 1941-May 1942 (Kimber, 1987)

Guadalcanal, World War II’s Fiercest Naval Campaign (Kimber, 1985)

Hurricane: The War Exploits of the Fighter Aircraft (Kimber, 1982)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf (Scribner, 1980)

Select Books not among Stewart’s Sources

Barnett, Correlli (1991) Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War.  New York: Norton.

Blair, Clay (1996) Hitler’s U-boat War: The German Navy in World War II. New York: Random House.

Breyer, Siegfried Breyer and Gerhard Koop (1989) The German Navy at War 1936-1945. Volume I: The Battleships, Volume 2: The U-boat.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer. 

Jackson, Robert (2001) Kriegsmarine: The Illustrated History of the German Navy in World War II.  London: Aurum.

Kriegsmarine Oberkommando (1939-1945) Fuehrer Conferences on Matters Dealing with the German Navy, 1939-[1945]. Washington: U.S. Navy Department, Office of Naval Intelligence, 1977.  Microform.

Kriegsmarine(1978) Die Kriegsmarine: e. kommentierte Ausw. abgeschlossener, unveränd. Beitr. aus d. Propaganda-Zeitschr. d. dt. Kriegsmarine.  Hamburg: Verlag für geschichtl. Dokumentation. 

Levy, James P. (2003) The Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in World War II.  Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lohmann, Walter [VADM] und Hans H. Hildebrand (1956) Die deutsche Kriegsmarine 1939-1945. Gliederung, Einsatz, Stellenbesetzung, etc.  Bad Nauheim: Verlag Hans-Henning Podzun.

Mallmann Showell, Jak P. (2013) Hitler’s Naval Bases: Kriegsmarine Bases during the Second World War.  Stroud: Fonthill.

Mallmann Showell, Jak P. and Gordon Williamson (2009) Hitler’s Navy: A Reference Guide to the Kriegsmarine 1935-1945.  Barnsley: Seaforth.

McNab, Chris (2009) Order of Battle: German Kriegsmarine in WW II.  London: Amber.

Mulligan, Timothy (2005) Records of the German Navy Operational Commands in World War II: Kriegsmarine Oberkommando.  Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration. [Guides to the microfilmed records of the German Navy, 1850-1945].

O’Hara, Vincent P.  (2013)  German Fleet at War, 1939-1945.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Paterson, Lawrence (2017) Hitler’s Forgotten Flotillas: Kriegsmarine Security Forces. Barnsley: Seaforth; (2018) Havertown, PA: Pen & Sword Books.

Porter, David (2010, 2018) World War II Data Book: The Kriegsmarine 1933-1945: The Essential Facts and Figures for the German Navy.  London: Amber.

Tarrant, V. E. (1996) The Last Year of the Kriegsmarine: May 1944-May 1945.  London: Arms and Armour.

Von der Porten, Edward P. (1974) The German Navy in World War II.  New York: Ballantine.

Wagner, Gerhard (1972) Lagevortrage des Oberbefehlshabers der Kriegsmarine vor Hitler 1939-1945. Munich: J. F. Lehmanns.

Weichold, Eberhard (1946) German Surface Ships-Policy and Operations in World War II.  Washington: U.S. Navy Department, Office of Naval Intelligence.  Print volume.

Westwood, David (2005) the U-boat War: The German Submarine Service and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1935-1945.  Philadelphia: Casemate.

Williamson, Gordon (2012) Kriegsmarine Auxiliary Cruisers.  London: Osprey. 

Wragg, David (2014) The Royal Navy’s War against Germany and Italy in World War II.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing. 

Warships of the Kriegsmarine Series: Gerhard Koop and Colleagues

Koop, Gerhard (2014) German Light Cruisers of World War II. Barnsley: Seaforth.

Koop, Gerhard and Klaus-Peter Schmolke (1998) Battleship Tirpitz.  London: Conway Maritime

Koop, Gerhard and Klaus-Peter Schmolke (2014a) Battleships of the Bismarck Class: Bismarck and Tirpitz: Culmination and finale of German battleship construction.  Barnsley: Seaforth.

(2014b) Battleships of the Scharnhorst Class: The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau: The backbone of the German surface forces at the outbreak of war.  Barnsley: Seaforth. 

(2014c)  German Light Cruisers of World War II: Emden, Königsberg, Karlsruhe, Köln, Leipzig, Nürnberg. Barnsley: Seaforth.

(2014d) Heavy Cruisers of the Admiral Hipper Class. Barnsley: Seaforth.

(2014e)  Pocket Battleships of the Deutschland Class.  Barnsley: Seaforth.

Koop, Gerhard, Klaus-Peter Schmolke and Geoffrey Brooks (2014) German Destroyers of World War II.  Barnsley: Seaforth.

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