History of War

ORIGINS OF THE WOLFPACK

The origins of Karl Dönitz’s fearsome ‘Rudeltaktik’ – anglicised as ‘wolfpack tactics’ – can rightly be attributed to the Führer der Unterseeboote (FdU, Commander of Submarines) of the previous war – Fregattenkapitän Hermann Bauer. Bauer maximised the potential of this new weapon in the naval arsenal, his U-boats achieving great success, bringing Britain’s merchant shipping balance to near bankruptcy in the first half of 1917. This was achieved with U-boats operating independent of one another or any centralised control. Such fearsome losses prompted the British Admiralty to introduce convoying during that year as a means of ‘collective defence’. In response Bauer submitted a proposal to the German naval staff that U-boats alter tactics and be co-ordinated and concentrated on crucial inbound British convoys. He intended to achieve this level of control by means of a large radio-equipped transport U-boat of the Deutschland class that could operate as a mobile command centre at sea. Staffed by trained wireless and decryption personnel, this U-boat would monitor British radio signals to anticipate convoy movements and direct accompanying combat boats to intercept enmasse. However, despite Bauer’s sound logic, the proposal was rejected.

Ultimately the First World War U-boats were defeated, though their subjugation was no means a decisive Allied victory as just under half of the operational U-boats that had been built remained combat-ready in November 1918. It was not only improved enemy anti-submarine warfare techniques and the introduction of escorted convoys that had beaten their campaign. Germany’s U-boats lacked a powerful charismatic leader capable of forging fresh tactics, rather than accepting the status quo, particularly after Bauer’s replacement in June 1917.

While true that the technical limitations of radio equipment aboard the First World

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