The vital struggle at the heart of World War II was the Battle of the Atlantic in which British and Canadian seamen on one side, German U-boat men on other, tried to starve their opponents into submission. It lasted for 6 years; 6000 vessels and 100,000 lives were lost; nothing less than the survival of Western Civilisation hung in the balance. By comparison, titanic battles such as Waterloo, Stalingrad and Trafalgar barely count.

         Conditions for the seamen on both sides were atrocious, for much of it was fought up in far Northern latitudes normally shunned by prudent shipping. Tempestuous storms, gigantic waves, icy seas, tiny corvettes and U-boats….only the very toughest of  men fighting for their families could have stuck it.

Journalists and politicians never went out there, while secrecy was vital. So the public was never to learn of the real struggle that would  decide all of  their fates.

         Every ingenuity was sought by both sides to get that decisive edge: code-breaking, bluff, radar, wolf-pack tactics, long range reconnaissance, sonar, acoustic-torpedoes, Huff-Duff, Operational Research, depth charges,  Hedgehog ….. sailors on both sides sought for measures, counter-measures and counter-counter measures which might turn the tide.

         Not only guts, but science, and a scientific attitude towards the evaluation of evidence became vital. The central character Sturdee is a young physicist and amateur sailor recruited into Western Approaches Command, based in Liverpool which was charged with winning the battle for the Allies. He goes to sea to try and find out why the Royal Navy can’t sink U-boats. He flies out to mid ocean with Catalina crews to discover why air reconnaissance is so effective at discouraging U-boats. He analyses convoy escort tactics while in a hurricane at sea and realises that Thucydides’ principle of Concentration in Battle is still paramount. But can he persuade Admirals and Ministers to change their minds? A shy lad at the outset he has to become a dogged, astute and relentless  man, not only to help win the battle at sea but to persuade his landlady, the formidable Joan, that she’s actually in love with him, and not with her far more glamorous fiancée. The Odds are against him all round but…… imagination and tenacity may sometimes succeed – in love as in war.

         I have been fascinated by this epic since growing up during the war close to a beach in Wales where all the sad detritus of that struggle washed ashore: life-rafts, charred timbers, oiled up sea birds, bodies, oranges, mines…..    and later, as a scientist myself, I came to realise that the innumerate historians’ accounts of the epic most often missed the point. By April 1943 the US Navy had given up, the wolf packs were ravaging Allied convoys, the casualties were appalling – all seemed lost; even the Admiralty despaired. A month later it was all over and Admiral Doenitz recalled his U-boats. What turned the tide? Was it code-breaking, science, admiralty……. or just plain guts?

         The book came out on Amazon as a paperback in 2021. Readers who enjoyed ‘The Cruel Sea’ (Nicholas Monsarrat) or the television series Das Boot might enjoy this also. The author, besides being a Space astronomer is a sucker for the Hornblower novels (CS Forrester) which he’s re-read many times. Go to the Amazon website to find out more about this, and other books by the author. [450 pages, £12.50 paperback, £3.99 e-version.]

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