Battle of the Atlantic

Johnny Walker, Looking out from the Mersey

Battle of the Atlantic

Western Daily Press, 15 March 1941


Naval Command to meet Nazi spring attack

A new naval appointment to meet the much boosted Nazi spring offensive by U-boats was disclosed by the Admiralty last night in the announcement that Admiral Sir Percy L. H. Noble has recently taken up the appointment of Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches."

The appointment means that Sir Percy will lead Britain's naval forces in the titanic struggle be waged against enemy raiders harrying British, Allied, and American shipping in the Atlantic. The Western Approaches Command has long existed, but has been extended to meet the German threat, and a new title has therefore been given to the post.

Admiral Sir Percy Noble, who was 61 in January may properly be described as "just the man for the job" He is a strategist a "strong man" a diplomat and a great leader with a reputation for thinking and planning well ahead.

Western Morning News 19 March 1941


Confident That We Shall Overcome Dangers

"We welcome you here, Mr. Winant," continued Mr. Churchill, " at the moment when a great battle in which your Government and nation are deeply interested, is developing its full scope and severity.

The Battle of the Atlantic must be won in a decisive manner. It must be won beyond all doubt if the declared policies of the Government and the people of the United States are not to be forcibly frustrated.

"Not only German U-boats, but German battle cruiser have crossed to the American side of the Atlantic and have already sunk some of our independently routed ships not sailing in convoy. They have sunk the ships as far West as the 42nd meridian longitude.

"Over here upon the approaches of our island an intense unrelenting struggle is being waged to bring in the endless stream of munitions and food without which our war efforts here and in the Middle East, for that shall not be relaxed, cannot be maintained.

"Our losses have risen for the time being, and we are applying our fullest strength and resource and all the skill and science we can command in order to meet the potentially mortal challenge. Not only, does our shipping suffer by the attacks, but also the fertility of its importing power is reduced by many of the precautions and measures which we must take to master and dominate the attacks which are made upon us. But our strength is growing every week

"The American destroyers which reached us in the Autumn and winter are increasingly coming into action. Our own flotillas are growing in number. Our air power over the island and over the seas is growing fast. We are striking back with increasing effect. Only yesterday I received the news of the certain destruction of three German U-boats. Not since October 13 1939 have I been cheered by such delectable tidings of a triple event.

"It is my rule not to conceal the gravity of the danger from our people and therefore I have the right to be believed when I also proclaim our confidence that we shall overcome them. But anyone can see how bitter is the need of Hitler and his gang to cut the sea roads between Great Britain and the United States, and, having divided these mighty powers to destroy them one by one.

"We must regard the Battle of the Atlantic as one of the most momentous ever fought in all the annals of war. Therefore Mr Winant you come to us at a grand turning point in the worlds history

Mr Winant in reply

"It is the honour and destiny of the British people to man the bridgehead of humanitys hopes. It is their privilege to stand against ruthless and powerful dictators who would destroy the lessons of 2000 years of history. It is your destiny to say to them, "Here you will not pass" You have said so little, you have done so much. So far as your people and our people are concerned, I hope that we may work together.

"May we help one another to build a new world, happier than the last, so that earths future children will not live in fear. It was the American people with their labour and resources, would provide the tools, ships, planes, guns, ammunition and food for all those everywhere, who defended with their lives freedoms frontiers. The world had never known tyranny more cruel and absolute or as relentlessly organised.

For Nazi-ism has stolen and run amuck with the great inventions of free and inquiring minds, and has set out using them, not to liberate but to enslave the human spirit. The road ahead is hard, the lost years are gone. A new spirit is abroad, Free people are again co-operating to win a free world and no tyranny can frustrate their hopes. Those who now suffer and die in this effort do so for the common good of the free people of the earth who shall follow after them and who with the help of God, shall build from these sacrifices a citadel of freedom so strong that force may never again seek its destruction.

21 March 1941

The Battle of the Atlantic has begun and is " developing its full scope and severity." It is Hitler's desperate bid for decision, one of the most momentous battles ever fought in all the annals of war."

Upon winning this battle our survival depends. So also in the long run does the security of the American continent. About this the people of the United Stats have no illusions. That is why without having declared war on Germany, they are nevertheless now virtually in with us, and will remain so with increasing intimacy to the end which can be no other than victory.

9 October 1941

Skipper Tells King of Escape from Nazis

The King visiting Liverpool yesterday heard from a ship's skipper, Captain Henry, how he was taken prisoner by the Germans at Narvik and eventually escaped. For 17 days we were at Narvik" said the captain, all we had was two slices of brown bread and two cups of cold ersatz coffee each day, and 149 of us had to sleep in the same room, without even a blanket. We made such a fuss of the starvation diet that the Germans who could not get food, let a large number walk over the frontier into Sweden.

After several months Captain Henry with 70 other British sailors and a number of Norwegians escaped. They sailed across to Britain without seeing sign of the enemy. The King spent the whole day with officers and men of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy.

He went aboard a destroyer, a corvette, and a minesweeper, lunched with Admiral Sir Percy Noble C-in-C, Western Approaches and met Norwegian and Dutch skippers and men, as well as British and Indian sailors.

The King, who drove through some of the most badly damaged parts Liverpool, was given a tremendous welcome by dock workers and ships crews.

21 October 1941

Atlantic Battle

While there is reason for confidence, and the help given by the American Navy is invaluable, the Battle of the Atlantic will not be won until the last U-boat or raider has been sunk, it was stated in London to-day.

The battle continues, but our convoys continue to pass across, and the strength of our escorting forces is increasing day by day.

Western Gazette 13 February 1942

British Legion's Post-War Role

Admiral Sir Percy Noble, C-in-C , Western Approaches, opened Liverpool's first national dock fire station on Friday. About dozen other dock fire stations are being built.

Evening Telegraph, 3 April 1942

" Well Done, Convoy Escorts "

Admiral Sir Percy Noble Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, has sent the following signal to all ships under his command states the Admiralty

" An exceptionally rigorous winter is now over and the manner in which ships of the Western Approaches Command have not only weathered it but afforded such successful protection to the convoys throughout these trying months is a source of great pride to me, and reflects great credit on all. "I congratulate all concerned, and the senior officers of the groups in particular"

3 August 1942


Threat Of New U-Boat Hordes

" New hordes of U-boats," are coming to fight in the Battle of the Atlantic, according to Admiral Doenitz, commander of Germany's U-boat fleet, in an interview published in the Svenska Dagbladet in Stockholm

Stating that it was by no means an easy matter for U-boats to operate in American waters. Admiral Doenitz said :-

"American dwarf Zeppelins [blimps] unquestionably have a certain defence value. The Americans have very quickly created a defence which calls for respect, and which permits us to draw positive conclusions about the crews fighting spirit. I am not inclined to underrate our opponents. It is our intention to meet these methods, and this fighting spirit, with new hordes of U-boats and a still higher German spirit of attack.

"There are no U-boat bases in neutral territory, nor floating oil depots. They are not necessary in view of the vastly increased range of the U-boats, made possible by eliminating all luxury and comfort for the crews.

"And reports that U-boat crews are now being recruited by the Gestapo are laughable, all U-boat men are volunteers"


19 November 1942

Liverpool gave the King and Queen one of their biggest receptions since the war yesterday at the star of their two day tour of the North-west. Crowds turned out in such numbers along the whole of the route of 10 miles, cheering and applauding, that the King ordered the car to drive slowly, their Majesties arrived at the station to rejoin the Royal train 50 minutes late.

They paid a farewell visit to the retiring Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, Admiral Sir Percy Noble, who showed them some of the secrets of the war against the U-boats, and explained how convoys approaching and leaving are directed.


Afterwards, in the Mersey Docks, they talked to officers and men of escort ships and merchant ships. Purser John Ackerson, who stands 6ft 3inches and comes from New Jersey made them laugh when he apologised for appearing bareheaded and not in proper uniform. “You see your Majesties I was so busy on board this morning, I didn't have time to grab my clothes, so I came as I am" he said.

"That's all right" said the King, "We are glad to see you"

The Queen asked Ackerson how he liked this country, he replied, "We've all had a grand welcome."

Twenty-four Dockers, each with a specially good record were presented. John Beans explained that he and six others had worked for five days as stevedores and five nights fighting fires without a break. "Then we had to go home through a thick fog" he added, to the King's amusement.


After lunching with the Lord Mayor and the Earl of Derby in the Town Hall, their Majesties visited a big factory where they saw gyro-compasses, radio transmitters and other equipment for Stirlings and Halifaxes being made. They talked to five blind workers, one of them 20 year old Rosalie Scott who informed the Queen that the tiny casting she was working on is an important part for a bomb release.

21 November 1942

Horton takes over Atlantic command

The Navy and the R.A.F, must keep the Battle of the Atlantic within certain bounds or we could lose the war, said Admiral Sir Percy Noble, Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches, before leaving for Washington to lead the British Admiralty delegation. He thanked the men and women of his command, sailors, airmen, Wrens, and Waafs , who have played a big part in the struggle against U-boats.

The flag of Admiral Sir Max Horton was hoisted at Liverpool on Thursday, when he assumed the duties Commander-in- Chief, Western Approaches, and at sunset the flag of Admiral Sir Percy Noble was struck, states an Admiralty announcement.

During the day the flags of both Admirals flew, Admiral Horton's being hoisted in the senior destroyer of an escort group in harbour, a compliment to the small ships now under his command.

14 December 1942

Atlantic Battle

" The danger of the Focke-Wulf has been virtually eliminated, and we are now in almost complete control of the skies over the Atlantic," said Wing-Commander N. M. S. Russell, of Coastal Command, at Liverpool Boys' Lunch Hour Club to-day

The U-boats are becoming more wily, but in spite of this, the Battle of the Atlantic is progressing very favourably. Our coastal fighting patrols are meeting less opposition from enemy patrols‚

Western Morning News 24 January 1944



Yeoman Signals D. M. Carroll, aged 46, of Paddington, has told a " front row" story of the recent Atlantic action, in which , as announced on Saturday, attempts by, strong forces of U-boats and long-range German aircraft equipped with radio-controlled glider bombs to attack an important Atlantic convoy were decisively defeated. Carroll was serving on the sloop HMS Crane and saw the entire action, which lasted for four days and three night. HMS Crane helped by the frigate HMS Foley, probably destroyed a U-boat.

After telling of an inconclusive attempt to depth-charge a U-boat, Carroll said, "We had a shock when we sighted a torpedo about 50 yards ahead and to starboard. The commanding officer put us hard over to port, and thanks to his fine navigation the torpedo passed harmlessly by. It left a perfect straight track in the water about 2 feet wide and we zigzagged along the track in an attempt to pick up the U-boat. We were unlucky and could not contact the enemy. That evening we sighted two more U-boats on the surface, and on being illuminated by our starshell both immediately submerged so we at once made speed to reinforce the convoy escort.

We had a quiet spell, but two nights later three U-boats were sighted by an aircraft and reported approaching from westward. We illuminated with starshell and saw a U-boat on the surface. She was still illuminated when she suddenly dived, and straight away we went into attack. She did her best to dodge us, but we kept her below surface and kept contact until in company with the frigate HMS Foley we went to attack again and after dropping several patterns of depth charges large patches of oil came to the surface. I feel convinced we had sunk her.

After about two hours one of the destroyers reported that she had seen wreckage and clothing and on hearing the news we felt all the more certain that we had destroyed one of the enemy submarines.

The Crane rejoined the convoy some hours later, and from then until we approached the harbour we were shadowed by enemy aircraft, but we were well supported by our planes which kept the enemy at bay."

4 March 1944


Atlantic Battle Has Been Won

Allied convoys, packed with invasion tools and carrying troops, cross the Atlantic with negligible losses. After days aboard convoy bound for England (writes a Reuter correspondent from a British port) we can testify that the Battle of the Atlantic has been won. Our convoy fought off one Nazi submarine and delivered its vital cargo with out losing a single ship.

The submarine never had a chance. It struck at the customary hour of dusk, and as immediately the alarm was sounded, the escort vessels assumed battle positions. The submarine has become so much less that escort ships can now swing from one convoy to another.

Western Morning News, 16 November 1944

Battle Of Atlantic

Adml. Sir Max Horton, Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, said at Liverpool yesterday, "The Battle of the Atlantic is not finished yet. and I don't think the Germans have finished building submarines. We do not expect them to give in until the war is over"

Western Morning News 29 March 1945

Provided Air Cover In Atlantic Gap

In the most critical days of the Battle of the Atlantic a number of British merchant ships were equipped with flight decks for launching and landing defensive fighter planes. These ships, known as " Mac " ships (merchant aircraft carriers) are unique in naval history. They combine the function of laden merchantmen with those of miniature escort carriers.

The original purpose of the "Mac" ships was to provide air cover in the 500 miles air gap in the Atlantic, which was at that time, outside the range of shore based aircraft.

Evening Telegraph, 17 May 1945


Standing in the conning tower of his slovenly U-boat U532 as it was escorted into Gladstone Locks, Liverpool, this morning Kapitan Fregatten Otto Junker saw his dash from Japan with precious war materials end in ignominy. The rusty hull of U532 was low in the water weighed down by a huge cargo of tin molybdenum, wolfram, rubber and quinine. Soon these riches intended for the German war effort were being uploaded for use against the enemy who have provided them, the Japanese. A false keel contained the cargo of tin.

It is believed about 28 German U-boats are still at sea, and have not heard wireless signals instructing them to proceed to allied ports, writes a naval correspondent.

Apart from these scattered U-boats the whole of what remained of the German Fleet has been rounded up.

Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, C in C, of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, yesterday in Washington lifted the veil on the Battle the Atlantic. He told Press representatives that from the time the U.S. entered the war they had sunk 126 U-boats, most of them far from American shores. Including those sunk by the British U-boat losses totalled over 500.

Western Morning News 16 July 1945


"Nameless thousands pulled us through"

Reviewing the six years of the Battle of the Atlantic in a Home Service broadcast last night, Rear Admiral R. K. Dickson, Chief of Naval Information, recalled a night in January 1943, when he stood with Admiral Percy Noble in the war room at Liverpool.

"We were looking at the great map which showed the situation in the Atlantic as it changed hour by hour. I said to Admiral Noble, "When you wake up in the morning and remember again that you are Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, don't you sometimes wonder where you will find strength to carry on through another day ?" And he answered, "Yes, I do, I just don't know how we are going to win this war, but I'm absolutely certain we shall"

"It was the loyalty of thousands whose names we shall never know who pulled us through the longest and most crucial battle of the war."

Western Daily Press, 15 September 1945


Admiral Sir Charles Kennedy Purvis, Deputy First Sea Lord, replying to the toast of the Fighting Services at a London luncheon yesterday, said that more than 48,000- officers and men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines were killed and 14,000 wounded during the six years and we lost 750 ships of all types.

The Merchant Navy lost over 30,000 killed, 4,000 missing and 4,000 wounded. In the six years of the war 75,000 merchant ships were escorted in the Atlantic 2.200 ocean convoys, the largest of which totalled 167 ships. In the battle of the Atlantic 574 merchant ships were lost, one for every 131 that sailed.

Evening Telegraph, 31 January 1946

Navy pays off Atlantic Land-ships

The Navy's gradual reversion to peace time needs is indicated by important changes operating in Plymouth Naval Command.

The appointment of Flag Officer in Charge Liverpool, ceases, and Rear Admiral J. W. Dorling will haul down his flag. There will be a Naval Officer in Charge at Liverpool until the end of February.

At Cardiff and Swansea the appointment of Naval Officers in Charge ceases. The officer commanding the shore establishment HMS Lucifer at Swansea will also have command of minesweepers in the Bristol Channel. The shore establishment HMS Forte, Falmouth, ceases although there are some ships laid up there in reserve. Reductions in all these establishments, which have paid a big part in the Battle of the Atlantic, have been proceeding for some time.

Aberdeen Journal, 1 March 1946


Scheme dropped after Atlantic battle won

ICE-MADE aircraft carriers, weighing 2,000,000 tons, to be used as large advanced airfields, as bases for-antisubmarine warfare, and for providing floating aerodromes to cover Allied landings on the European coast were planned by the Allies during the war.

The final plan envisaged vessels of reinforced ice 2000ft long, 300ft wide and 200ft deep, covered with an insulated skin and kept permanently frozen by refrigerating material.

The main propulsion was to be formed by a large number of widely spaced electric motors on pressure hulls and powered by a series of diesel electric generating sets carried deep in the main structure. The first vessel was estimated to cost between six and ten million pounds. The plan was dropped when the Battle of the Atlantic was won.

Details of the experiments carried out jointly by Great Britain, Canada and the United States on the "Habbakuk scheme" as it was named were released in London, Washington and Moscow last night. The project originated in September 1942, was put forward by Mr Geoffrey Pyke then acting as Director of programmes at Combined Operations Headquarters.

The main structural material was to consist of pykrete which is about 86 per cent ice and 14 per cent wood pulp. In order to build one Habbakuk, it was estimated that 1,700,000 tons of pykrete would have to be produced in one winter. The vessels were to be constructed of 40ft thick blocks of pykrete to give the structure complete immunity from any then known form of air or under-water attack. Experiments showed that the extent of any torpedo damage would be a crater not more than 3ft deep and about 20ft in diameter.

Other features of the vessel included a hangar capacity for 200 Spitfire fighters or 100 Mosquito bombers complete with squadron shops, operational and repair shops.

Captain F. J. Walker [Johnny Walker]


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