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Book Reviews

the battle of the atlantic

by Marc Milner
St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing Limited. 255 pages, $39.95
Reviewed by Lieutenant-Commander Greg Hannah

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BookcoverWhy yet another book on the Battle of the Atlantic? Marc Milner answers this question in the section: “Afterword and Acknowledgements,” which really should be read first. There, Milner indicates that the only new, but as yet largely unknown, body of professional scholarship is Canadian. He contends this work, to which he has contributed, has probed most aspects of the campaign for at least the past two decades, while British and American literature has been Anglo-centric and moribund. Milner, citing several convincing examples, illustrates that much work remains to be done to develop a “modern paradigm” for the Atlantic battle. For Milner, the new paradigm requires examination and analysis of “the efforts of the contending forces at the critical points and the strategies and, operations, tactics, equipment and doctrines employed by both sides to achieve their desired goals.”

The framework of The Battle of the Atlantic is the shooting war between the two main protagonists, the British and the Germans, in the primary theatre of the broad North Atlantic. There is nothing surprising or new here. However, drawing on modern Canadian scholarship, Milner has taken a more “mid-Atlantic” approach, and is able to provide new insights about Canadian and American contributions to the campaign. The real focus of the book, however, is an analysis of the impact of technology on the course of the war in the Atlantic. It has always been generally understood that technology was a key ‘enabler’ that permitted the Allies to prevail in this theatre. The book shows that, from the outset of the war, the Allies clearly saw the battle of the Atlantic in terms of technology, while the Germans did not. The Battle of the Atlantic is innovative, however, in that the broad details of the Atlantic campaign are juxtaposed with the specific details of technological changes. As a result, Milner is able to show the process of how technology, throughout the ebb and flow of the campaign, precipitated changes in strategy, and developments in tactics and doctrine. The reader will find the pictures and diagrams useful in gaining an appreciation of some of the more technical aspects of these discussions.

The Battle of the Atlantic is a highly readable, general overview of the war in the Atlantic that is not choked with the minutiae of convoy battles. It is not, however, just another book on the battle of the Atlantic; Milner’s work is concerned with developing a modern paradigm for understanding the war in this theatre. By choosing to focus on the impact of technology in what was arguably the longest, most geographically diverse, and most complex campaign of the Second World War, he has increased the breadth and depth of our understanding of it.

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Lieutenant Commander Gregg Hannah is an Assistant Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.