Author Topic: Sink the escorts!  (Read 2751 times)

Offline mdgiles

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Sink the escorts!
« on: July 01, 2012, 08:16:32 AM »
I've asked this question on a number of different forums, and I've never gotten a good answer. Why didn't the U-boats concentrate on sinking the escorts first. Why didn't the escorts have priority? Some convoys only had four escorts when attacked by 10 or 20 U-boats. If they sink all the escorts first then the convoy was at their mercy. Besides, it takes longer to build an escort vessel and train an escort crew than it does to build a cargo ship or train the crew. I don't think the British early in the war could have dealt with constant attrition of escorts. So was Doenitz suffering from tunnel vision in his fixation on cargo tonnage; or was there some other reason?
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Online Solar

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2012, 08:45:08 AM »
I would imagine the enemy had attrition in mind, in hopes of scaring merchant seaman from seeking employment.
But the mass production of relatively cheap American built escort carriers and operated by the Navy made sinking escort vehicles a waste of time, for every one sunk, three could replace it, but cutting supply chains was more important to the overall effect of the war.
Get in, take your best shot and get the Hell out of there.

That is my best guess.


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Offline mdgiles

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2012, 09:54:02 AM »
I would imagine the enemy had attrition in mind, in hopes of scaring merchant seaman from seeking employment.
But the mass production of relatively cheap American built escort carriers and operated by the Navy made sinking escort vehicles a waste of time, for every one sunk, three could replace it, but cutting supply chains was more important to the overall effect of the war.
Get in, take your best shot and get the Hell out of there.

That is my best guess.
It is far more difficult to build warships than it is to build merchant ships. And it's more difficult to train effective crews - especially when the experienced sailors that would have trained them are dead on the bottom of the Atlantic. Remember early in the war Britain was desperate for destroyers. So desperate the made a deal to acquire WW1 vintage four stack American destroyers. As soon as the Germans acquired the French ports they should have made sinking escorts a priority. And as I said, after you sink the escorts, the convoy is at your mercy. Think entire convoys disappearing might frighten the merchant sailors?
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Offline Shooterman

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2012, 09:54:10 AM »
I've asked this question on a number of different forums, and I've never gotten a good answer. Why didn't the U-boats concentrate on sinking the escorts first. Why didn't the escorts have priority? Some convoys only had four escorts when attacked by 10 or 20 U-boats. If they sink all the escorts first then the convoy was at their mercy. Besides, it takes longer to build an escort vessel and train an escort crew than it does to build a cargo ship or train the crew. I don't think the British early in the war could have dealt with constant attrition of escorts. So was Doenitz suffering from tunnel vision in his fixation on cargo tonnage; or was there some other reason?

My opinion only; some escorts were hit, of course. That was inevitable. The escorts were constantly on the move and were considerably faster and quicker that the cargo ships, mostly Liberty class cargo ships as the war wore on. Eight to ten knots was the speed of most of the heavily laden ships.

After Coral Sea and the subsequent loss of a couple of carriers, the tanker my Dad was on was dry docked and retrofitted as a 'baby carrier'. ( Some of the Liberty's were sectioned, with an additional section placed in the middle, to make small escort carriers ) He, in turn was assigned to a Destroyer Escort pulling convoy duty in the North Atlantic on the Murmansk Run. It was tough, cold duty as he remembered. Eventually, when his DE was dry docked for maintenance, he was sent to engineering school, made Chief, and went to the Pacific and served aboard a minesweeper.

Basically, though, it was a matter of attrition. The hunter wolf packs could and did sink a lot of shipping that eventually would have been used in Europe. The more that was sank, the less they faced in combat. Those escorts could only cover so much area in the protective sweeps and it made more sense to slip into the convoys, sink what they could, and get away in the ensuing confusion. After all, the escorts could fight back. Besides, they could hit the convoy again, especially if it was split up.

As the war wore on and we developed long range sub hunter aircraft, the U Boats were considerably more vulnerable. 
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Online Solar

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2012, 10:17:56 AM »
It is far more difficult to build warships than it is to build merchant ships. And it's more difficult to train effective crews - especially when the experienced sailors that would have trained them are dead on the bottom of the Atlantic. Remember early in the war Britain was desperate for destroyers. So desperate the made a deal to acquire WW1 vintage four stack American destroyers. As soon as the Germans acquired the French ports they should have made sinking escorts a priority. And as I said, after you sink the escorts, the convoy is at your mercy. Think entire convoys disappearing might frighten the merchant sailors?
As Shooter pointed out, the escorts were much faster, and had better armor, compared to the lumbering merchant ship, so one well placed target, and your mission was complete.
Get in a fight with a faster convoy with sonar, and your fate was all but sealed.
Remember, they only needed to wait you out when the batteries fail and your air runs out, yoo're a sitting duck on the surface.

Then there was the issue with aerial surveillance from carrier escorts.
anti-submarine aircraft, Lockheed Ventura, PBY Catalina, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Short Sunderland and Vickers Wellington, all these could pin point a sub in minutes, but having take one single shot at their target some distance away, bought them enough time to escape the area.

Put yourself in the Captains place, take a shot at your objective and cut the supply line, or take out one escort, only to be replaced by a relatively cheap Frigate or possibly run the risk of getting killed by your target because one shot wasn't a guarantee of a kill.

Keep in mind, escorts were constantly moving around the merchant ship, meaning they were moving faster and a harder target to hit..

I know this crap, because my dad was a Merchant Marine between his time in the Navy and the Army.


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Offline mdgiles

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2012, 11:09:13 AM »
As Shooter pointed out, the escorts were much faster, and had better armor, compared to the lumbering merchant ship, so one well placed target, and your mission was complete.
Get in a fight with a faster convoy with sonar, and your fate was all but sealed.
Remember, they only needed to wait you out when the batteries fail and your air runs out, yoo're a sitting duck on the surface.

Then there was the issue with aerial surveillance from carrier escorts.
anti-submarine aircraft, Lockheed Ventura, PBY Catalina, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Short Sunderland and Vickers Wellington, all these could pin point a sub in minutes, but having take one single shot at their target some distance away, bought them enough time to escape the area.

Put yourself in the Captains place, take a shot at your objective and cut the supply line, or take out one escort, only to be replaced by a relatively cheap Frigate or possibly run the risk of getting killed by your target because one shot wasn't a guarantee of a kill.

Keep in mind, escorts were constantly moving around the merchant ship, meaning they were moving faster and a harder target to hit..

I know this crap, because my dad was a Merchant Marine between his time in the Navy and the Army.
Later on in the war, yes. But in 1940 most convoys were being escorted by nothing better that Corvettes. They had one four inch gun, and some 50's, and depth charges. They had sonar - no good when the sub was on the surface, and they had later had radar. They had a top speed of 16 knots. The type Vii German U-boat, the type most used, had a 3.5 inch gun, sonar, and later radar detectors, and a top speed of 17.7 knots.  It was faster and just as well armed as a corvette and originally there were more of them. Which brings me back to my original question. Incidentally when America entered the war US Subs always fired on Japanese destroyers, of course their torpedoes didn't work, but that's a story for another time. When Germans formed wolf packs one of the sub commanders was placed in charge, anti submarine ships being the mortal enemy of subs; why not sink them every chance you got? you mean that never occurred to any of the group cammanders? Was this a conscious decision to only concentrate on merchant shipping, or was this another one of those fixations that German's had - like wasting time and effort on building super cannons?
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Online Solar

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Re: Sink the escorts!
« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2012, 11:24:20 AM »
Later on in the war, yes. But in 1940 most convoys were being escorted by nothing better that Corvettes. They had one four inch gun, and some 50's, and depth charges. They had sonar - no good when the sub was on the surface, and they had later had radar. They had a top speed of 16 knots. The type Vii German U-boat, the type most used, had a 3.5 inch gun, sonar, and later radar detectors, and a top speed of 17.7 knots.  It was faster and just as well armed as a corvette and originally there were more of them. Which brings me back to my original question. Incidentally when America entered the war US Subs always fired on Japanese destroyers, of course their torpedoes didn't work, but that's a story for another time. When Germans formed wolf packs one of the sub commanders was placed in charge, anti submarine ships being the mortal enemy of subs; why not sink them every chance you got? you mean that never occurred to any of the group cammanders? Was this a conscious decision to only concentrate on merchant shipping, or was this another one of those fixations that German's had - like wasting time and effort on building super cannons?
We also had Little Giants even before we entered the war, another reason the Japs went for the bird in hand, rather than the two in the bush.
These were not all that expensive, when you consider they could save on posting several Frigates to guard a handful of merchant ships.


Then with the help of one of these, they could have air support in the air at all times.
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