Book Review: War Beneath the Sea by Peter Padfield

Since the publication of War Beneath the Sea: Submarine Conflict During World War II in 1996 it has become the standard text on submarine warfare in World War Two and a must have in any World War Two historian or general naval historian. The position this book has seized has more to say about a dearth of books that deal in depth and scope with that aspect of warfare then the excellence of this book. Which is not to say that War Beneath the Sea in not a good book; it is, but it does have some flaws.

In scope and depth this book is impressive. It covers in great detail the submarine operation of Germany, Britain, Japan and America. Padfield give rather short shrift to the Italian Submarine forces operations. Padfield draws on his vast knowledge of the German Kriegsmarine and how Grand Admiral Donitz absolutely dominated U-boat operations.

Padfield deals with how morale was maintained under the horrible conditions of the submarines of the time, not to mention in the face of rising causalities. The writing is clear and concise and the narration is nicely organized both chronologically and by operational area. He also delivers detailed stories of convoy battles and submarines individual actions as well. It is here that the book becomes almost more than the reader can bear. While the stories are well drawn and interesting, Padfield is unrelenting in his retelling of the death of submariners. The brave men on both sides die by drowning, by fire, by suffocation, by the crushing depths of the sea.

Padfield can be credited with taking no sides in this book, he is critical in his analyses and evaluations of all the major combatants submarine operations. His descriptions of the features and shortcomings of the major weapon systems are uncompromising.

It is fair to say that the book is not perfect. Although mind boggling complete in its depth. It is more of a synthesis of already existing ideas and information and doesn’t even try to break new ground in either description or evaluation of the submarine and its role in World War Two naval warfare, both tactically and strategically.

The book has a comprehensive chronology in the back. Also extensive notes and references are included.

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