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Total Undersea War (Hardback)

The Evolutionary Role of the Snorkel in Dönitz's U-Boat Fleet, 1944–1945

WWII Seaforth Naval German Forces & Weaponry in WWII

By Aaron S Hamilton
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 416
Illustrations: 50 b/w photos and line drawings
ISBN: 9781526778802
Published: 17th June 2020

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During the last year of World War II the once surface-bound diesel-electric U-boat ushered in the age of ‘total undersea war’ with the introduction of an air mast, or 'snorkel' as it became known among the men who served in Dönitz's submarine fleet. U-boats no longer needed to surface to charge batteries or refresh air; they rarely communicated with their command, operating silently and alone among the shallow coastal waters of the United Kingdom and across to North America.

At first, U-boats could remain submerged continuously for a few days, then a few weeks, and finally for months at a time, and they set underwater endurance records not broken for nearly a quarter of a century. The introduction of the snorkel was of paramount concern to the Allies, who strived to frustrate the impact of the device before war's end. Every subsequent wartime U-boat innovation was subordinated to the snorkel, including the new Type XXI Electro-boat ‘wonder weapon’. The snorkel's introduction foreshadowed the nearly un-trackable weapon and instrument of intelligence that the submarine became in the postwar world.

This exhaustive study, the first of its kind, draws upon wartime documents from archives around the world to re-evaluate the last year of the U-boat's deployment, all its key technological innovations, the evolving operations and tactics, and Allied countermeasures. It provides answers to many long-standing questions about the last year of the war: How and why did U-boats patrol so close inshore? How effective was acoustic and anti-radar camouflage? Why was U-boat wireless communication so problematic? How did U-boats navigate so effectively submerged? What were the health implications of staying submerged for a month or more? What does an accurate snorkel-configuration look like? This new study is destined to become the authoritative reference for all these issues and many more.

What I liked is the amount of pictures and schematics in the technical section, which gives a more clear perspective on the snorkels at that time. How rapidly the technical changes happened was astonishing. I’m not technically minded and it was nice to see comparative pictures of different models of snorkels and pictures with men, for comparison. Some things mentioned in the book are really intriguing, like the fact they used a covering to absorb radar waves, making it harder to detect. I didn’t imagine such a thing was even possible.

Besides the pictures, there are wartime documents mentioned in the book and quotes from them, which again, give a more wholistic view on this subject. As one can imagine, considering the title and the size of the book, it is not aimed at the general public. But, for historians or people interested in technological advancement in the 20th century, I would recommend it.

5/5 stars

Read the full review here

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