The Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945)


The “long legs” of the Liberator heavy bomber, shown in an RAF variant, helped close the Atlantic Gap.

The Battle of the Atlantic was a struggle for control of the shipping lanes on the North Atlantic Ocean. Britain desperately needed supplies, particularly from North America. Germany, however, was determined to sink that incoming shipping with their stealthy U-Boats (submarines). It was a no-fail battle and it lasted as long as the war itself.

The RCAF was a key partner with the Royal Canadian Navy in winning the battle. The Allies eventually defeated the U-Boats but not before the Germans had sunk 2,900 Allied ships and 14 million tons of shipping. So feared was this undersea menace that the Allied war leaders at the 1943 Casablanca Conference declared the elimination of the U-Boat threat as its number one priority.

Technological advances such as sonar enabled Allied ships and aircraft to target U-Boats, which had previously operated safely under cover of darkness, for destruction. But it was the introduction of the American-made B-24 Liberator bomber, used by Coastal Command as a long-range patrol aircraft, that helped close the “Atlantic Gap”, the part of the ocean where U-Boats had prowled unmolested because they were out of range of aerial attack. It was a crucial factor in winning the war.

The Battle of the Atlantic is commemorated annually on the first Sunday in May.

Graham Wragg

“VC Attack”, by Graham Wragg, illustrates F/L Hornell’s valiant attack on a U-Boat during the Battle of the Atlantic.