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Reviews (by Author)

Reviews (by Title)


Title:  The German Fleet at War 1939-1945

Author:  Vincent P. O’Hara

Publisher:  Naval Institute Press

Reviewer: Roger L. Conlee – AAA Member

Vincent P. O’Hara’s “The German Fleet at War, 1939-1945” (Naval Institute Press) is an impressively researched and highly informative look at a subject known to few American and British World War II buffs.

Most students of the war, even serious ones, believe that after the sinking of the Graf Spee and the Bismarck, Germany’s naval war was almost exclusively carried out by its U-boats. O’Hara demonstrates that not only is this not the case, but that Germany’s surface forces continued to battle the Allies until only weeks before the May 1945 Nazi surrender. His book includes excellent maps and some rare old photos.

Among the many surprising findings in “The German Fleet” are:

  •  Germany dominated the waters of the English Channel for almost four years. It was still winning victories there in late 1943 despite Britain’s ability – thanks to “Ultra” – to decode their messages.

  •  The sinking of the Bismarck in some ways was a German victory, causing the British to overreact and tie down precious resources, more usefully employed elsewhere, against a perceived battleship threat in northern waters.

  •  The naval hero Lord Louis Mountbatten, who later became Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia and Britain’s First Sea Lord, was earlier a flop as commander of a destroyer flotilla.

  •  Nazi surface forces fought the Allies to the very last in Norway’s coastal waters and in the Mediterranean off a portion of northwest Italy they still held.

For all but the most informed naval specialists it is illuminating to learn how poor gunnery and torpedo marksmanship often was, that a great many shells were duds, that near-misses could knock out a ship’s radio communications or radar, and that firing of a ship’s guns could cause similar damage to its own systems.

O’Hara fudges a bit in saying that his book describes sixty-nine battles between “large” German and Allied ships. Some actions described are between torpedo boats, minesweepers, converted trawlers and destroyer escorts, certainly minor naval skirmishes, though meticulously researched and still interesting to read. Excellent maps make the actions easier to follow and understand.

O’Hara succeeds in creating a comprehensive, authoritative volume that can meet the standards of the most exacting scholar and yet provide interesting reading for the casual war buff. “The German Fleet at War, 1939-1945” belongs on the shelves of World War II enthusiasts.


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