The USN in WW II
The Atlantic War
symbols: after a DVD, (N) = available from Netflix (L) after a book, = Ham Co Public Library; # =
number of copies at the Ham Co Public Library. Abe=AbeBooks.com; followed by price
My “office hours” are 24/7 at e-Mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to e-Mail any questions, requests or suggestions
You can review any session you miss at www.slideshare.net/jbpowers
―The U. S. Naval Institute, based in Annapolis, Maryland, is a private, non-profit, professional
military association that seeks to offer independent, nonpartisan forums for debate of national
defense and security issues. In addition to publishing magazines and books, the Naval Institute
holds several annual conferences.
Established in 1873, the Naval Institute currently has about 50,000 members, mostly active and
retired personnel of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The organization
also has members in over 90 countries.‖—Wikipedia
USNI publishes a huge collection of biography and history books covering every aspect of the
history of the USN & USMC. It began its mission in 1873 in the era when every American
profession was founding learned societies to enhance the expertise of its members, e.g., the
AMA, AHA, & many others. If a particular aspect of the USN in WW II interests you, look no
further than its catalog of publications @ www.usni.org They currently have a sale on the
Morison volumes (below).
Samuel Eliot Morison, Jr., the standard work on the subject: ―In 1942, Morison met with his
friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt and offered to write a history of United States Navy
operations during the war from an insider's perspective by taking part in operations and
documenting them. The President and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox agreed to the proposal.
On May 5, 1942, Morison was commissioned Lieutenant Commander, US Naval Reserve, and
was called at once to active duty. The result of Morison's proposal was the History of United
States Naval Operations in World War II, published in 15 volumes between 1947–1962,
documenting everything from strategy and tactics to technology and the exploits of individuals—
a work which British military historian Sir John Keegan has called the best to come out of that
They are available at the Hamilton County Public Library
―Victory at Sea is a documentary television seriesabout warfare in general during World War II,
and naval warfare in particular, as well as the use of industry in warfare. It was originally
broadcast by NBC in the USA in 1952–1953….The original TV broadcasts comprised 26 half-
hour segments—Sunday afternoons …—starting October 26, 1952 and ending May 3, 1953. The
series, which won an Emmy award in 1954 as "best public affairs program", played an important
part in establishing historic "compilation" documentaries as a viable television genre.‖—
Wikipedia The complete series is available new at Amazon for $4.99 and used there starting at
$2.03 (!) (N) on 4 disks. The Atlantic War ½hour shows are: 1, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 22 &
The text I used at U.S. Naval Academy is E.B. Potter and Chester W. Nimitz, Sea Power; A
Naval History. Prentice Hall, 1960. I bought my current copy from Abe. They are now selling
for $15.96 (2 copies) The period we study is chaps 26-43 of the 46 chapters of the text. There are
later editions which take the story further.
“Sea Power develops six main themes: (1) the influence of sea power upon history (2) the
reasoning behind strategic decisions (3) the characteristics of successful leadership (4) the
evolution of naval weapons (5) the evolution of naval tactics (6) the evolution of amphibious
―It is the duty of every person interested in the national defense to read and understand such a
book as Sea Power.”Chester w. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN‖—op. cit.
Our sessions ii-iv are aimed at the British sea war before the USN joins action. The standard
work for this is Stephen W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-1945 , 3 vols (1954-61), L (1)
For a recent overview of the whole of World War II, I recommend Paul Collier, Alistair Finlan,
et al., The Second World War; A World in Flames—Forward by Sir Max Hastings. Oxford :
Osprey Publishing, 2004.
I. Why England [and America] Slept
Potter and Nimitz, Chap. 26, Disarmament and Rearmament, pp. 476-490
This introduction begins with the post-war decisions which left the democracies so unprepared to deal with
the fascist militarists. “Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”—Santayana
Kennedy, JohnF. WhyEnglandSlept. 1940 L 2 ; Abe way too expensive!&c.. Since the
author became rather well known, the book is something of a collectors item. JFK makes the
case that what Graves & Hodges referred to as The Long Weekend (1919-1939) was a period
when the democracies took a holiday from the real world. He explains why ’31-34 was a period
of disarmament. And why, when the rearmament began, it was ―too little,too late.‖Pretty
impressive for a 20-year-old author. (I’m guessing there was help. ;-)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Naval_Treaty.a nice description of causes,
terms and results here. I was interested that the author listed Sea Power as one of his
sources! Similar wiki entries are available for all the facts, persons, documents, &c.
Another approach to a deeper look at this period would be the biographies of the key
players in the democracies and the Axis Powers
II. Atlantic Surface Operations, I
Chap 27, pp. 491-502
I will follow the USNA text whichbegins on 1 Sept 39 and traces the course of war from the outset, well before
the USN is involved, even unofficially. This session will follow Germany’s attacks and Britain’s efforts to
contain the threat. It ends with the Norway disaster and the fall of Chamberlain’s government, 10 May 1940
The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf SpeeDVD (N) 1956 --119 min-Inthis
World War II docudrama, the British Royal Navy's Capt. Bell and the crew of the Exeter set out
to destroy the German pocket battleship GrafSpee, chasing the indestructible Nazi vessel and
cornering it in the South Atlantic harbor of Montevideo. There, they wage a fierce campaign
against the notorious battleship. The film's supporting cast includes Anthony Quayle, Ian Hunter
and Peter Finch as the German captain, Langsdorff.)- Netflix summary. This was one of my
boyhood favorites. A nice at-sea refueling sequence 15 minutes in between a US heavy cruiser
representing the GrafSpee and a fleet oiler representing the Altmark. If the well done battle
sequence doesn’t get your heart pumping…
http://www.theartofbattle.com/battle-of-the-river-plate-1939.htm A website with a
battle animation and spoken (and written) commentary. A simple presentation of this complex
Pope, Dudley, GrafSpee : The Life and Death of a Raider. 1957. L 2—a prolific
British writer of maritime history and fiction.
III. Atlantic Surface Operations, II
Chap 28, pp. 503-518
This session concludes the story of Hitler’s surface threat, from10 May 40-the sinking of Tirpitz, 12 Nov 44.
The much more serious and continuing undersea threat in the Atlantic will be dealt with in session V.
Sink the BismarckDVD (N) 1960 --97 min-Wonderful film describing the gallant actions on
both sides as this behemoth is sent to the bottom. Enjoy!
http://www.britishpathe.com/video/after-the-bismark--choice contemporary newsreel.
With such ―Briticisms‖as ―our furstchawnce to get a crack at the Hun‖
http://www.stnazairesociety.org/—another fine website with detailed info on the raid
Pope, Dudley, 73 North : The Defeat of Hitler’s Navy. 1958. L 2—describe the Battle
of the Barents Sea, a turning point in Hitler’s naval strategy.
IV. The Struggle for the Mediterranean
Chap 29, pp. 519-540
Beginning with pre-war Anglo-French plans to stymy the Axis here and concluding with Rommel's defeat at
El Alamein, 23 Oct-15 Dec 42
The Desert Fox: the Story of RommelDVD (N) 1951 --91 min-Terrific job by James
Mason. I remember an 11-year-old kid who watched this 3 times in a row at the Keith theater. It
opens with the raid on Rommel’s Libyan headquarters by the British Commandos in which Adm.
Keyes’son Geoffrey is killed.
The Desert RatsDVD (N) 1953 --88 min-Mason reprises his role here with a young Richard
Burton leading the hit-and-run forces which nipped at his heels.
Victory at SeaDVD (N) 1952 --27 min @—Discs 1 & 2
Program # 5, Mediterranean Mosaic.The weakness of this series is clearly demonstrated here. Lots of
stirring music and footage of the British French and Italian navies in peace and war, intense narration with
lots of ―purple prose,‖but almost no strategic or tactical analysis. Fortunately, this is the low point of the
series. Program # 8 Mare Nostrum. Here the North African desert war is developed and the role of sea
power in cutting off Rommel’s supplies.
Pack, S.W.C., The Battle of Matapan. 1961L (1) A narrative of this critical battle
between the Royal Navy and the Italian Supermarina.
V. The Battle of the Atlantic
Chap 30, pp. 541-564
Central to the European phase of WW II was the task of defeating the Nazi U-boat threat. Without this Hitler
was unstoppable. This session will describe ASW, beginning to end.
Victory at SeaDVD (N) 1952 --27 min @—
The difference of organization is most clear here. The t.v. documentary begins with September, 1939 and
emphasizes the U-boat threat, ignoring the surface commerce raiders entirely. The U-boat threat was
certainly the greater and the longer lasting one. Three shows, 1.Design for War, 2. Sealing the Breach &
16. Killers and the Killtrace the anti-submarine war. The story culminates with Daniel Gallery’s capture
of the U-505, the first enemy warship boarded and captured since the War of 1812.
Das BootDVD (N) 1981—209 min-“Nominated for six Oscars, this edge-of-your-seat dramatic
triumph follows the trials of a German U-boat crew during World War II. Upon its restored re-release in
1997, an hour was added to the original film, which further augmented its impact. It also played as a six-
hour German miniseries. In all its forms, the realistic and gripping battle scenes and palpable human
struggle make Das Boot a critical hit.‖—Netflix
U-Boot Westwärts(YouTube) 1941-A WW II propaganda flick by UFA film corporation, one of
Goebbels’favorites. There is a Wiki article about it which includes a link for the YouTube URL or you
can enter it yourself in your browser window: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmtR9e9IUbA
Monsarrat, Nicholas, The Cruel Sea NYC : Holt & Co.,1951. L (5) also available in
Large Print and as a downloadable e-book.A marvelous classic novel describing the
struggle of a British corvette hunting U-boats in the North Atlantic. A fine film
staring Jack Hawkins followed it in 1953. Unfortunately Netflix lists it as a
“Save,”meaning availability uncertain. Amazon has the DVD at $19.98 and also
viewable in their various formats.
Offley, Ed, The Burning Shore : How Hitler’s U-boats Brought World War II to
America NYC : Basic Books,2014. L (3) A fine account of the “Second Happy
Time”(for the U-Waffe) focusing on the lives of the U-boat captain and the bomber
pilot who will sink him. This personal vignette is set in the larger context of the
attacks on America’s coastal waters just after we entered the war.
VI. The Allied Offensive against North Africa
Chap 31, pp. 565-583
Strategic thinking, peripheral vs. continental approaches, begins this session. It concludes with the
destruction of Rommel’s AfrikaKorpsand the Casablanca conference, 14-23 Jan 43.
http://www.liberationtrilogy.com this website supports the Pulitzer-winning trio of
historical studies by Rick Atkinson (below). It contains timelines and film clips as well as all the
excellent maps from each volume.
Victory at SeaDVD (N) 1952 --27 min @—
Program # 9, Sea and Sand.After a brief digression to the East and the call for a Second Front, the session
follows the North African landings through to ―…the end of the beginning‖—Churchill
Atkinson, Rick, An Army at Dawn : The War in North Africa, 1942-1943. NYC :
Holt & Co.,2002. L (7) This first book in the trilogy contains a stirring narrative and
many fine maps and tables. The WSJ reviewer opines his account is the best WW II
History since Cornelius Ryan’s Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, high praise
Roberts, Andrew, Masters and Commanders : How Four Titans Won the War in
the West, 1941-1945. NYC : Harper-Collins,2009. L (7) This account of the entire
wartime four top strategists, civil and military, is valuable for the whole study. But
this session begins by looking at the grand strategic decisions and the men who
made them. WSC, FDR, Alan Brooke, and George Marshall. Dynamite insights into
VII. Operations against Sicily and Italy
Chap 32, pp. 584-604
From the planning stages of Operation Husky against Sicily to the liberation of Rome, 4 Jun 44.
Victory at SeaDVD (N) 1952 --27 min @—
Program # 14, Roman Renaissance.The session begins with Hitler’s visit to Rome in ’43 to buck up his
weak partner. Next, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio & the liberation of Rome.Again, clips of combat footage and
striking narration but weak on analysis. Look for it in our session!
Atkinson, Rick, The Day of Battle : The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. NYC
:Holt & Co.,2007. L (7) This second book in the trilogy contains the same valuable
components as the first. The NYT Book reviewer: “Exceptional…A work strong in
narrative flow and character portraits of the principal commanders…[A] highly
VIII. The Defeat of Germany
Chap 33, pp.605-627
From strategic planning for the final blows to “Mission Accomplished,”V-E Day 8 May 1945
Victory at SeaDVD (N) 1952 --27 min
Program # 15, D-Day.The background and execution of Operation Overlord.Program # 22.The
Fate of Europe.After a brief description of Russia’s maritime operations on the Black Sea as the
Nazis are driven out, the story of French liberation continues with Operation Anvil, the invasion
of the French Mediterranean coast. Yalta is briefly described. The European war ends with the
final German collapse.
The Longest Day DVD (N)also (L)has copies of the DVD 1962 --178 min
Although Saving Private Ryan opens with a justly celebrated grisly opening sequence portraying
Bloody Omaha Beach, the best description of D-Day remains this film version of Cornelius
Ryan’s book of the same title [also highly recommended]. The disk 2 (bonus material) @(N) is
highly recommended, especially the discussion in the segment titled ―The Longest Day: A Salute
to Courage‖(2000) which describes how both Ryan, the author and Zanuck the producer, both
combat vets, were determined to bring out this book/film as a tribute to those who served there.
Along with Das Boot, the film is in running for the best war film ever, certainly the ―biggest.‖I
particularly applaud the decision to film in B & W when almost all flicks were in color, and the
decision to have people speak in their own languages with subtitles.
Here’s Netflix’description. What a cast!!!This Oscar-winning war epic chronicles World War II's
harrowing D-Day invasion. Shot on the beaches of Normandy, France, the ambitious film attempts
to cover the historic day from all perspectives, focussing on both sides of the conflict.
Cast:John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Peter Lawford, Robert Ryan, Sean
Connery, Jeffrey Hunter, Mel Ferrer, Richard Dawson, Steve Forrest
Atkinson, Rick, The Guns at Last Light : The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945.
NYC : Holt & Co.,2013. L (7) This final book in the trilogy continues the high
standards for scholarship and readability which mark its predecessors. The
WashingtonPost reviewer: “Monumental…With this book, Rick Atkinson cements
his place among America’s great popular historians, in the tradition of Bruce
Catton and Stephen Ambrose.”
Beevor, Antony, D-Day :The Battle for Normandy2009. L (20) The number of
copies indicates his popularity. He and Max Hastings (His accounts of both the end
of the European and Japanese war also highly recommended) are the reigning
British military historians. Both have combat experience as well as academic
credentials. Beevor’s book on the final days for Germany is titled The Fall of Berlin
: 1945 2002 L (4)