By Ken Brown
To the wider world, America appeared clueless during its own “Phoney war” from 1939 until it fully entered World War II at the end of 1941. In particular, it failed largely to understand or recognise the threat of Hitler’s U-Boats to European shipping and especially to its own.
It continued to misunderstand the extent of its U-Boat problem until well into 1942. Meanwhile, American shipping suffered massive losses as U-Boat captains enjoyed very easy pickings.
America also failed to understand the strength of the German “fifth column” in its midst and particularly in New York, its most important city, shipbuilding centre and port. Eventually, the negligent government even had to work with the mafia to improve security around the port. So, as the author relates, it was not just an appearance of cluelessness, it was a tragic and very expensive reality.
Of course, with its enormous and unprecedented economic power, America recovers quickly when it eventually and belatedly sees the light. That, combined with German strategic errors started to reduce and ultimately eliminate the U-Boat problem from mid-1942. However, for America it was a very steep learning curve.
This is a most interesting study of the bureaucratic inertia, political blindness and wilful ignorance that so often affects governments. It is probably a vain hope that this valuable book might be studied by the rulers of a number of democratic countries including most of Western Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Sadly, it probably won’t be.
Available from Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, UK.