British and Allied Submarine
Operations in World War II
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC





ACONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF BOOKS have been published about British submarines during the Second World War, but nearly all of them have been personal accounts by individuals and are concerned with the exploits of a single boat. The only overall account is contained in the Naval Staff History of the Second World War and this was completed in three volumes in 1953-7. These volumes were published confidentially as CB 3306(1), (2) and (3) 'for the use of officers generally who may require to be acquainted with its contents in the course of their duties'. It was subsequently downgraded to a Book of Reference and eventually became available for all in the Public Record Office under the thirty-year rule.

Although in no way wishing to disparage the work of its authors, it was a number of deficiencies in this account that encouraged me to undertake this work. The first deficiency was that it was written by at least three different authors and its style, scope and detail vary substantially throughout the three volumes. These volumes deal individually with the campaigns in Home Waters, the Mediterranean and in the Far East and there is little comment on the strategic inter-relation between these areas. The work seems in general to be mainly a precis of the British patrol reports handed in by the submarines rather than an over-view of the campaigns themselves. In any case there is a tendency in these Staff Histories to concentrate on the successes and not to talk about occasions in which nothing happens or in which the operations fail. It is, however, important to study the failures in submarine warfare as carefully as the successes when the torpedoes hit and this I have tried to do.

It is true that the monologues were completed soon after the end of the war and before most of the official campaign histories had been written. Although the authors caught a glimpse of the draft of Captain Roskill’s ‘War at Sea’, the Staff Histories lack information on how submarine operations fitted into the overall strategy of the campaigns. The early completion of the work also meant that security, notably ‘Ultra’ cryptography, which was a major feature in the submarine campaigns, was not allowed to be mentioned, It was also inevitable that many mysteries of the war would be revealed with time and that the Staff History should have been misled about them. Many of the individual accounts have also been published since the Naval Staff History that would have been enriched
by a study of them. Nevertheless the bibliography included in CB 3306 (1) shows that the monograph used a wide and authoritative base and is consequently of great value.

There were also a number of other important works which have been published since the Naval Staff History and were consequently not available to its authors. These include Captain Bragadin’s ‘The Italian Navy in World War II’; Admiral Ruge’s ‘Der Seekrieg’; Theodore Roscoe’s ‘United States Submarine Operations in World War II’; Rohwer and Hammelchen’s ‘Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939–1945’ and Professor FN Hinsley’s ‘British Intelligence in World War II’. Above all in importance for compiling this account is a complete manuscript list of British and Allied submarine patrols made during the war, and another manuscript list of all the British and Allied torpedo attacks made. From these papers every patrol is recorded in the form of what I call ‘Patrolgrams’ and every submarine torpedo attack, whether it resulted in a hit or a miss, is mentioned in the text. Another document of great interest is the treatise written by Admiral Weichold, the German Admiralty’s representative in Rome during the war and now also in the Public Record Office. In this the enemy side of the campaign in the Mediterranean is clearly set out. Another interesting document, also in the Public Record Office, is the analysis of submarine operations by the Director of Operational Research of the Admiralty.

Although written fifty years after the Second World War, I hope that the fact that I served in submarines for practically the whole of it, with five years in command, will add some authority as well as a personal touch to the narrative. Also I hope that my time as Flag Officer (Submarines)
after the war will have helped to bring some knowledge of naval strategy to the account

Finally I wish to thank Commander Jeff Tall OBE RN, the Director of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport, and his staff for their helpful criticisms and their proof reading of the draft. My thanks are also due to the Naval Historical Section in the Ministry of Defence for their help.

First Published

First published in the United Kingdom in 2001 by The Royal
Navy Submarine Museum ISBN number 0 952669 61 7

Produced by Enigma Publishing, Huddersfield.

© Text – Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC
© Photographs – The Royal Navy Submarine Museum

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum Website