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Anti-U-Boat Warfare

Volume 390: debated on Wednesday 2 June 1943

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25.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has any statement to make on recent progress in anti-U-boat warfare?

As the answer is very long, I will with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of my hon. Friend, make a statement at the end of Questions.

Later

Yes, Sir. Early in March I told the House that the shipping losses in December, January and February had been much lower than a year before. For a variety of reasons March was a poor month, though not the worst of the war. Indeed, owing to the high output of new tonnage achieved in the United States, there was a substantial net gain in that month. In April and May losses have been reduced again to the level of, the three months December to February, and even below. In each of the first five months of this year there has been a substantial reduction on the figures of the corresponding period of last year, and a saving of more than one-third of the losses over the whole of the five months. With the American merchant ship programme nearing its peak, this improved level of losses has resulted in large increases to the tonnage available to the United Nations.

This improved situation in the Battle of the Atlantic reflects the growing size of our escort forces—both ships and aircraft—and the growing deadliness of our new weapons and devices. The increased escorts available make possible not only a higher scale of protection but also a higher general standard of training, and this in turn enables our ships and the aircraft of Coastal Command and the United States Air Forces to reap, by the harmony and co-operation in which they work, a higher dividend from their constantly improving tactics. The escort carriers, of which several are now in service, have already proved their worth. By these means the curve of U-boat destruction has been kept steadily rising. During the last 12 months the number of kills exceeds that of the whole of the previous period of the war, and in the last six months the rate of destruction has been 25 per cent. above that of the previous six months. Large numbers have been damaged in addition. In the last two months the number of U-boats in the Atlantic Battle appears to have decreased. This has no doubt been due to more than one cause, but principally to the rising rate of "kills" at sea; From the provisional assessments it looks as if the number of U-boats destroyed, in May will exceed the number which the enemy may probably have brought into service. Certainly May is the best month of the war for kills so far. While the changed situation has thus been primarily due to the increased rate of destruction of U-boats at sea, there can be no doubt that the number of U-boats operating has also been affected by the bombing of the U-boat building yards and of the operational bases in the Bay of Biscay by both American and R.A.F. bombers. As time goes on the bombing of the building yards and component factories should have an ever-increasing effect.

We must no doubt still be prepared to encounter setbacks and periods of heavy loss. The enemy are bound to make great efforts to alter the present situation. Nevertheless, the report I have just made discloses a number of favourable tendencies, and I can give the unqualified assurance that the enemy are quite wrong in asserting, as they have done, that the low rate of sinkings in April was due to the small amount of shipping at sea. In that month our imports were the highest since the beginning of 1942.

The general improvement in spite of the tremendous U-boat efforts against us is in itself a tribute to all concerned, including officers and men of the Royal Navy, the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Merchant Navy; the pilots and crews of the Coastal Command and the Bomber Command of the R.A.F.; and officers and men of the Allied Navies and Air Forces. I would also mention the work of the training establishments, the technicians and the scientists, and the staffs and all sections of workers in the shipyards and aeroplane factories. I feel sure the House can rely upon all concerned to continue the good work Without any relaxation of their efforts in any respect until the U-boat menace is driven from the seas.

I am sure that the House would like to join in congratulating all concerned and thanking the members of the Navy and the Merchant Service for the work done. Might I ask the First Lord whether he feels fairly satisfied that the rate of U-boat destruction exceeds that of construction?

I put it rather carefully in the statement I made to the House. I think I gave an indication that, in the month of May, the curves of the two statistical lines had crossed, but we must be quite sure and not let up in any way or let it get into the other direction again.