The U-boat campaign within the Mediterranean has been frequently written off as an irrelevant sideshow to events in the Atlantic where the convoy war would be decided. However, though perhaps a misguided diversion of U-boat strength, it is unfair to say that nothing was achieved by the Mediterranean boats in what was a very difficult environment in which to fight. I enjoyed writing this book on a subject never really looked at properly before. Amongst the people that helped me with research I have to mention Gerhard and Traudl Buske. Herr Buske had been IWO aboard U223 that fought and was sunk within the Mediterranean. A remarkable man he was full of information and always ready to play tunes on his trusty harmonica at any given moment. Sadly he passed away on 16 March 2015.
The campaign waged by German U-boats in the Mediterranean was one of the hardest-fought of the war at sea. In confined clear waters, facing often overwhelming Allied naval and air superiority, a relatively small number of U-boats caused considerable losses to the Royal Navy and its allies. Indeed in total U-boats sank 38 warships; one battleship, two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, one large fast minelayer, sixteen destroyers or destroyer escorts, one frigate, one sloop, one submarine depot ship, one corvette, three minesweepers, five LSTs and two ASW trawlers.
However the U-boats of the 23rd and 29th U-Boat Flotillas based between France, Italy and Greece failed to significantly impact Allied convoy traffic trailing from the Middle East to Gibraltar. Likewise, despite the impressive tally of destroyed warships, the U-boats were an unsuitable weapon to use against a seaborne invasion force whose escort ships were actively seeking them out. Attempts to attack Soviet shipping in the Dardenelles also failed – largely because the Soviets did not rely on such merchant transport.
The Mediterranean became a ‘mousetrap’ for Dönitz’s U-boats; only a single one managing to exit the Mediterranean again after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar in 1939.
This book places the campaign into its strategic context, showing both how it affected and was affected by the fortunes of Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the Western Desert and the U-boat battle within the Atlantic.
Originally published by Chatham Publishing, London, 2007.
Available from the Pen & Sword website and most book outlets.