Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Learn and Adapt: Defeating the Submarine Menace in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1940-1943
Abstract: Despite Germany's Kaiserliche Marine unleashing the terror of unrestricted submarine warfare upon the world's oceans in World War I, the Allied navies proved victorious in November 1918. To defeat the enemy submarines, the Allies had to actively learn and implement changes to mitigate merchant losses and actively search and destroy their undersea opponents.

The postwar German Navy, shaped by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, would be forbidden to possess submarines. Overconfident about the development of new technologies in the interwar period, the lessons of antisubmarine warfare from 1914-1918 faded from memory as the German threat was seemingly kaput. However, following the outbreak of war in September 1939, the rearmed German Kriegsmarine engaged in unrestricted submarine warfare. The Allied navies' overconfidence cost them dearly in blood and treasure. As with the First World War, peacetime learning and adaptation after the outbreak of the Second World War proved essential to turning the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic.

This panel presents three papers oriented around the subject of antisubmarine warfare in the Battle of Atlantic's 1940-1943 period, examining where American and British learning and adaptation played vital roles in halting the German submarine offensive and subsequently defeating it. Drawing upon new scholarship or reevaluating previously dismissed primary sources, these papers illuminate facets of the larger history of overcoming technical and material difficulties, miscommunication and misinterpretations to bring peace above - and below - the seas.
Frank Blazich, National Museum of American History
Participant's Paper Title: Red Epaulets and Real Bombs: Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Operations, 1942-1943
Participant's Paper Abstract: In March 1942, unarmed light civilian aircraft crewed by civilian volunteers began flying daylight coastal patrol flights along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Funded by a consortium of oil companies and reluctantly approved by the Navy Department, this civilian aerial coastal patrol, organized under the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), developed out of an urgent necessity to stem the tide of German submarine operations inflicting heavy losses on coastal shipping. Largely unfunded and initially with inadequate training, the operation proved successful and by September grew to number 21 CAP coastal patrol bases flying approximately 425 privately-owned, armed aircraft on continuous daytime coastal patrol from Maine to the Texas-Mexico border.

Following the discontinuance of the CAP coastal patrol operation in late August 1943, scholars have all but ignored or discredited the CAP contribution in the Battle of the Atlantic. Drawing from unpublished and previously unavailable archival material, this paper will reevaluate the CAP coastal patrol operation from March 1942 to August 1943 and place the volunteer civilian contribution to antisubmarine warfare in perspective with the American military's actions. Furthermore, the paper will use the CAP coastal patrol experience to illuminate the contribution of present-day civilian volunteers assisting the armed forces in domestic defense.
Corbin Williamson, Air War College
Participant's Paper Title: U.S. Navy Observers and the 1942 German Submarine Campaign off North America
Participant's Paper Abstract: The spring and summer 1942 German submarine campaign off the eastern seaboard of North America sank massive amounts of Allied shipping before the U.S. Navy organized coastal convoys beginning in May 1942. At the time British naval officers criticized their American counterparts for this delay in creating a convoy system and British historians have echoed this criticism in the years after the war. A central feature of this critique rests on the reports of dozens of American naval officers who observed British naval operations beginning in September 1940. British officers believed that the U.S. Navy should have recognized the importance of convoys based on the reports sent back to Washington from American observers. However, scholars have not examined these reports to determine if the Americans reported what the British thought they did. This paper examines reports by American observers to assess the validity of the British critique of the U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare in the spring and summer of 1942.
Richard Hammond, King's College London
Participant's Paper Title: Inter and Intra-Theatre Learning and British Coastal Air Power during the Second World War
Participant's Paper Abstract: Historians have not yet attempted to integrate the global nature of Britain's involvement in the Second World War with the process and outcome of military learning, and British approaches are generally presented as being compartmentalised within each theatre. This paper demonstrates that in the crucial field of coastal air power, while intra-theatre learning processes were important, the British were indeed capable of inter-theatre learning. A symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship evolved between the Home/Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres that contributed positively to its development in each via a mixed methodology. They were able to do this despite the two theatres offering very different environments for warfare, yet they failed to create a similar arrangement for the Indian Ocean, which could only act as a receptor for externally created knowledge.

Cognisance of these inter-theatre links helps us to understand the cause of Britain's vital success in the maritime environment, which was utterly essential to Allied victory in the Second World War. It also offers a wider insight into British approaches to learning during the war.
Ryan Peeks, Naval History and Heritage Command

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