Home > CMH > Vol. 6 (1997) > Iss. 1
During the summer of 1942 the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) destroyed five German U-boats in the space of six weeks. It was a remarkable feat for a small, inexperienced navy. Canadian warships had sunk only two enemy submarines during the first three years of the war, and had not sunk one in ten months. The surprising success of the summer of 1942 was not sustained: after the fifth sinking the RCN did not sink another U-boat for four months. Thus, the summer U-boat kills were an unusual phenomenon which has been remarked upon by Canadian naval historians. Historians have not, however, offered an explanation for the summer successes or studied them in detail. This is generallybecause the actions took place as part of larger convoy battles which have captured the attention of historians and dissuaded study of the U-boat sinkings in relation to one another.
There is, however, good reason for studying the kills in isolation from the larger convoy battles around them because, as Marc Milner has demonstrated, the thrust of RCN training had been the destruction of U-boats and not the defence of convoys. The United States Navy also emphasized offensive anti-submarine warfare in contrast to the Royal Navy (RN), to which the “safe and timely arrival of the convoy” was paramount. Commander J.D. Prentice, RCN, was the architect of this approach in the Canadian Navy and had led the drive for operational training at Halifax and St. John’s since the spring of 1941. Prentice drilled escorts in “the basics of co-operation and teamwork” but the “emphasis was on effective anti-submarine warfare” rather than the protection of convoys. Though many of Prentice’s initiatives were shortlived due to a scarcity of resources and operational necessities, his most ambitious effort to train escorts began in April 1942 and 15 or 16 escorts passed through this training program shortly before the Germans resumed wolf pack operations against transatlantic convoys in July 1942. Studying the sinkings separately from the convoy battles allows comparisons to be made and conclusions to be drawn about the proficiency of the RCN at its chosen task.
Reviewed individually, each kill was made under a unique combination of circumstances revealing the state of the art of anti-submarine warfare among the elite escorts of the RCN. Collectively, the sinkings shed light on a period of transition between the traditional submarine warfare of 1941 and the advanced technological warfare of 1943. They demonstrate that, at this stage of the Battle of the Atlantic, capable leadership could still overcome deficiencies of equipment and weaponry through the application of training, tactics, and experience.
Doary, Christopher "“Miniature Set-Piece Battles”: Infantry Patrolling Ops in Korea." Canadian Military History 6, 1 (1997)