Battle of the Atlantic

The control of the Atlantic Ocean was very important in World War II. The Allied and Axis powers both fought to control it.

Great Britain and Russia wanted to control the Atlantic because it was an important route of supplies for the Soviet Union (Russia) and Britain in the fight against Germany and Italy.

Depth charge explosion - Battle of the Atlantic

The Axis powers wanted to block these routes in order to limit their supplies.

This battle was called the Battle of the Atlantic, and lasted a whole 5 years, 8 months. From September 3rd 1939 to May 8th 1945, the Atlantic was a battle zone, fought between the Allied and Axis powers.

When the United States joined the War, the battle stretched as far as the United States’ coast and the Caribbean Sea.

Allied Powers vs Axis Powers WW2

U-boats

Germany fought with submarines called “unterseeboot”, or U-boats. In a big push to make the strongest forces, the Germans had built lots of these submarines.

There were hundreds of these underwater vessels patrolling around the Atlantic Ocean.

In the first few years of the War, the Germans were successful in winning many battles because these U-boats could sneak up on Allied ships. They sunk many British ships with torpedoes.

German U-boat with crew
German U-boat with crew

Convoys

The strategy of the Allies was to group together in large convoys. These were large destroyer warships to defend from attacks.

It only worked for a while, though, because German submarines were rapidly growing in number.

To get these convoys, the German submarines would surround a convoy and attack it at once. This was called the “wolf pack” tactic.

U-boat attack

The tide turns: code cracking

By 1943 this battle had grown so huge, mostly because of the massive amounts of German ships. The Allies had learnt the German secret codes through code cracking.

The Allies could then use radars to detect where the submarines were.

There were some other technological innovations too, like new underwater bombs called “Hedgehogs” that could destroy the ships.

US Poster Food Is A Weapon

After 1943, supplies could run more freely across the Atlantic from the United States to Great Britain.

This was important because without important supplies for battle and to nourish people, the Allies might have lost the war and Germany might have taken over all of Europe, as Hitler had planned.

Related: The Battle of Britain

Mussolini Hitler Pact of Steel

Big losses all round

Like in all battles, no matter who wins or loses, there are lots of losses on both sides. Over 30,000 sailors were killed on each side, and the Allies lost 3,500 supply ships and more than 170 warships.

The Germans lost 783 submarines.

Quiz Time!

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How long did the Battle of the Atlantic last?

Why was control of the Atlantic Ocean important in World War II?

What were German submarines called in World War II?

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How many sailors died on each side?

How many submarines did the Germans lose?

World War 2