British anti submarine tactics 1926-1940

Franklin, George Dunford (2001) British anti submarine tactics 1926-1940. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[img] PDF (scanned version of the original print thesis)
Download (10MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


Most of the published literature on the 1939-1945 Battle of the Atlantic follows the line established by the official historian, S W Roskill, that overconfidence in the Asdic submarine detection system led the inter-war navy to assume that the submarine menace had been mastered. The argument continues that this led to a neglect of anti submarine tactics, especially in defence of merchant ships, between 1919 and 1939, and on the outbreak of war in 1939 the Royal Navy was forced to improvise and develop tactics. It is also argued that the German use of surfaced night attack, against which there was no effective countermeasure, was unexpected.

This thesis examines the development of tactics from 1926 to 1939, drawing on official and private contemporary sources. It aims to determine whether the Royal Navy made proper and effective efforts to study the tactics and strategy of potential enemies, and whether appropriate exercises and trials were devised to counter the anticipated threats. It also aims to establish whether the information so gleaned was properly disseminated within the navy and to associated government departments. Finally, wartime experience is studied to establish the accuracy of the predictions and the actual effectiveness of the measures which were devised.

It is established that much work was done on anti submarine tactics and that, by 1939, trained and experienced specialists were in place to provide operational commanders with tactical guidance. The view of those who understood anti submarine matters was that the Asdic sensor did not allow ships to sweep even small areas of water clean of submarines, but that it would allow a ship within about ten miles of an accurately reported submarine to hunt that submarine with a fair chance of success. In the specific matter of surfaced attack the dissertation argues that the RN was aware of the threat but the state of technology prevented an effective countermeasure until the introduction of radar.

A study of the first nine months of the U-boat war shows that where a U-boat revealed itself by attacking or allowing itself to be seen on the surface in the vicinity of Asdic fitted ships, there was a good chance of it either being destroyed or damaged.

It is concluded that an organisational weakness in the structure of the Naval Staff meant that the strategic planners and operational staffs were under the impression that Asdic would allow offensive searches of wide areas of ocean, and as a result of this misconception ships which might have been more effectively used for convoy escort were directed to largely unprofitable patrolling operations. This was in spite of the fact that the anti submarine experts at sea and in the tactical development organisations, having worked hard to optimise Asdic tactics in the inter-war years, were aware of the limitations of the equipment.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-83200
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2022 07:20
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2022 07:21
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83200

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year