Find and Destroy
Antisubmarine Warfare in World War 1
Author: Dwight R. Messimer
Reviewed by: Franklyn Brown
Two hundred ninety eight pages of text, plus ten pages of photographs and eighteen pages of maps, drawings, and diagrams, supplemented by an epilogue, appendices, notes, annotated bibliography, and an index.
Commentary: literature research, and is vital to anyone involved in investigating the origin, development, and concepts of Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW). The subject is competently divided between the varying political, organizational, and technical aspects of ASW, which rose in the early years of World War 1. The focus is on the 1914 through 1918 era.
Although the adversaries were collectively known as the Central Powers (principally Germany, Austria, and Turkey ) and the Allied (or Entente) Powers (principally Britain, France, and Italy ), the vast majority of ASW activity was conducted by the Germans and the British.
Naval records and histories, both in the U.S. and in Europe, in an even-handed manner, recognizing the virtues and the vices of both sides. He is to be lauded for avoiding prejudicial observations and for presenting unbiased revelations of little known facts.
Our mentor sets the political stage by explaining how the need for ASW (which was virtually unknown prior to 1914 ) arose from the 1909 Declaration of London, in which eight major sea powers agreed to abide by regulations covering the conduct of naval engagement. One section of the Declaration permitted the belligerents' naval vessels to stop and board any vessel in international waters, including merchantmen, passenger ships, and neutrals, and search for contraband. If any were to be found, the vessel could be seized and, controlled by a Prize Crew, sent to a friendly port for disposition. If the naval vessel were to be considered to be in danger, however, the seized ship could be sunk, but only after the passengers and crew had been taken off in lifeboats and arrangements made for them to be transported to safety ashore. Such mandates were known as The Prize Regulations. In 1914 the Regulations were impractical for German submarines, and consequently they were assigned to attack Allied naval ships and troop transports only, and principally in the English Channel where there was heavy traffic in troops and materiel from England to France. Therefore those submarines presented little or no threat to ships of any country while on the high seas. Thus ASW was launched to counter German submarine activity in the English Channel. ASW at the outset consisted of only deck guns and ramming. But soon hostilities inevitably escalated as the original Prize Regulations were perceived to become bent, broken, or ignored by both sides. Restricted submarine operations became unrestricted submarine warfare. The military behavior became mutually less civilized and more brutal. This in turn motivated the accelerated development of ASW on both sides.
When considering WW1 naval operations, a common misconception is that of submarine operations being exclusively German and/or Austrian. But the British and the French ( and later the Italians ) used submarines as well, although on a far lesser scale. Therefore the Germans became involved in their own form of ASW.
Its subsequent technical innovations and development, including successes and failures. Liberal use is made of excerpts from the Log Books of active duty submarines. Thus we realize the experiences of the prey of ASW.
Both German and British ASW activities seemed to be quite similar. Earliest efforts, in addition to ramming and gunfire, soon included mines, nets, the use of neutral flags, etc. Later came depth charges, decoys, auxiliary patrol vessels, convoys, and the arming of non-naval vessels. In early 1917 the U.S. entered the war and supplemented the development of hydrophones,aircraft, convoys, and find-and-destroy tactics. The differences between the opposing ASW efforts were influenced by tactical, logistical, and strategical circumstances and priorities such as the early conflict between the German politically sensitive civilian leaders and the victory-driven military leaders ( in which the military ultimately prevailed ). The general feeling is that as a deterrent, the convoy system was the most effective tool, while the most effective destructive weapon was the depth charge.
The text is structured into six well defined parts, each of which is further sub-divided into shorter keenly focused chapters, twenty eight in all. The main text is enhanced by an epilogue, appendices, notes, a bibliography, and an index. The technical discussions of the tactics and hardware involved are well directed and easily understood, and avoid tedious details while still imparting much interesting and useful information. The revealing historical discussions are illuminating to historians in general, not only to naval historians, as demonstrated by the discussion of the Prize Regulations constraints, and by the tie-in to the Mediterranean operations in which the Germans actually shipped eight smaller submarines by rail from North German ports to Austrian ports on the Adriatic Sea for assembly to be used in the Mediterranean area, including Gallipoli.
The entire book is a researcher's dream, being generously sprinkled with footnotes grouped in a separate section which is referenced by chapter numbers. It would have been less disconcerting, however, if the footnotes were indeed footnotes and therefore placed at the foot of each page as they apply. This would have avoided much flipping back and forth between the note's reference number in the main body of the text and the remotely located "Notes" section.
The bibliography alone is invaluable to interested researchers, be they amateur or professional. The sheer magnitude of the listed references and of the source literature, apparently well indexed by the author, D. Messimer himself, is outstanding. Its value could only be improved by repeating it, but indexed by title rather than by source or author.
The major drawback is not in the subject material or in its organization and presentation, but in the physical design of the book. It is here suspected that D. Messimer had little to do with the layout. Although he furnished ten pages worth of photographs and eighteen pages worth of maps, drawings, and diagrams,it seems that the publisher elected to lump all the well captioned photographs into one ten-page section (whose pages, incidentally, are not numbered) and which is not referenced in the text, Nor do the photographs refer to the pertinent pages of the text. at all. The well captioned maps, drawings, and diagrams are similarly mishandled. There is no tie-in between these two remote, valuable but unconnected, sections and the text. The reader is left to discover these two vital groupings virtually by accident.
To finish on a positive note,the author closes with an excellent brief epilogue comparing ASW states-of-the-art in World War 1 and in World War 2.
Published by: Naval Institute Press
ISBN Number: 1-55750-447-4