Thursday, January 14, 2016

Operation Drumbeat

Operation Drumbeat ( is an extraordinary book about Nazi submarine warfare in World War II.  Published in 1990, it was written by Michael Gannon – a Catholic priest from Florida.

Operation Drumbeat (“Paukenschlag”) was launched by the Kriegesmarine immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  German U-boats were sent from bases in France to attack merchant ships in the coastal waters of the United States.  In the eight months following Pearl Harbor almost 400 ships were sunk of the US Atlantic coast killing more than 5,000 merchant mariners – more than twice as many as were killed on December 7 in Hawaii.

The astonishing and shocking message of this book is the ineptitude and complacency of the US Navy at the start of the conflict.  The utility of convoying merchant ships had been proven in WWI and by the British experience in the opening years of WW2.  But we Americans seem to have forgotten these painful lessons.  Gannon blames Admiral J. King for the US navy’s inadequate and slow response to the U-boat menace.  Even the mild-mannered General Eisenhower wrote, “One thing that might help win this war is to get someone to shoot King.”

The coastal waters of the Atlantic were left almost undefended for the Nazi U-boats to prey on.   Gannon has closely researched the career of Captain Reinhard Hardegen who skippered U-boat 123 (“Eins, zwei, drei”) in Operation Drumbeat.  On January 13, 1942 a coordinated assault conceived by Admiral Donitz on merchant shipping in American coastal waters began.  Hardegen sunk freighters that were illuminated by the incandescent city lights of New York City – no black out or dim out orders had been given.  Later Hardegen would sink merchant shipping off the coast of Florida during what the Germans referred to as the "Happy Time".

Eventually, the US Navy did improve its performance with the implementation of active convoying and improved air patrols.

By all accounts Hardegen was beloved by his crew, most of whom, against the odds, survived the war.   Unlike many Japanese subs in WW2, Hardegen did NOT order the deliberate massacre of sinking vessels’ crew members.  On the contrary he even stopped in the mid Atlantic to request that a neutral Swiss vessel come to the aid the survivors of the Pan Norway that he had sunk earlier.

Gannon writes an astonishing empathy for Hargen and his crew while noting that the Kriegesmarine was “an armed force in service to objective evil”.  He suggests that “most German officers and ratings went to sea for Navy, not for Nazi, reasons.”
German U-boat, WW2
Gannon destroys many of the prevailing Hollywood myths about submarine warfare in WW2.  U-123, for example spent the vast majority of its multiple transatlantic cruises on the surface and NOT submerged.  On the surface it was nearly three times faster than below.  Nor were all submarine attacks delivered by torpedos.  Hardegen often used his ship’s 10.5 cm deck guns to sink merchant ships.

In many ways the Battle of the Atlantic was the decisive war-winning Battle fought by the Western Allies in WW2.  Without it tons of Lend Lease materials could never have been delivered to the Soviets, the British and other Allies.  Without it the American and Canadian troops that stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944 could never have made it to their staging area in Britain.

This is an important and well-told tale about a vitally important part of WW2.
Captain Reinhard Hardegen, U-123
Reinhard Hardgen, mistaken for an SS officer spent time in jail after the war.  He founded a successful oil company in 1952.  Astonishingly, the former skipper (born 1913) is alive at age 102 and still plays an occasional round of golf!

Christopher Kelly is the co-author, with Stuart Laycock, of America Invades and Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World.

His books can be found
and here...

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