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Reviewed by:
  • Weapons Used Against U-Boats, and: German Naval Code Breakers
  • Keith W. Bird
Weapons Used Against U-Boats, vol. 2 of U-Boat Archive Series. Edited by Jak P. Mallmann Showell. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Military Press, 2002. ISBN 0-85420-076-2. Index and glossary. Pp. 123. £25.00.
German Naval Code Breakers. By Jak P. Mallmann Showell. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2003. ISBN 1-59114-308-X. Maps. Photographs. Appendixes. Index. Pp. 160. $38.95.

Jak Mallmann Showell, the son of the senior diesel mechanic of U-377 lost in 1944, has become a prolific author of books on the U-boat war and the German navy in general. His publications draw upon the extensive archives of the U-Boot Archiv in Cuxhaven and are characterized by numerous photographs, many of which have never been published. His descriptions of the technical details of the weapons and ships of the Kriegsmarine as well as the men who fought are well written and provide insights into the character of the war that complement more academic accounts. The author's U-Boat Archive Series provides a unique source for both the aficionado of the naval war of 1939-45 and the research historian. Based on the secret Monthly Anti-Submarine Reports, circulated to officers in the Royal Navy's Escort Forces, these reports provided information on weapons and developments in the Battle of the Atlantic. They must be used carefully in regards to the statistical information available at the time, but the inconsistencies, obvious propaganda comments, and omissions (e.g., the acoustic torpedo) are interesting and reveal how much of the antisubmarine research was kept secret from those fighting the U-boats. Using these highly classified reports, the author has gleaned from the few remaining copies, a collection of articles describing the weapons and techniques for fighting the U-boats. (Volume 1, What Britain Knew and Wanted to Know about U-Boats, was published in 2001.)

German Naval Code Breakers follows the author's usual format detailing the often overlooked history and achievements of the German Naval Radio Monitoring Service or B-Dienst (Beobachtungs-Dienst), supplementing the text with extensive photographs and helpful appendixes. Utilizing intercepted scraps of information on ship movements in the various theaters and battles, he demonstrates the importance of the role daily intelligence played in these operations. Although the German naval code breakers had [End Page 271] been recognized as playing a significant role in the U-boat war and in the initial successes of the Kriegsmarine and the invasion of Norway, the publication of books beginning in the 1970s which revealed the "decisive" success of British and Allied code breaking in World War II (Ultra) overshadowed the contributions of B-Dienst (whose record, according to David Kahn's 1978 Hitler's Spies, was unmatched by any other German military or political intelligence service). Given the lack of any detailed monograph on the B-Dienst in English (as well as the paucity of German sources), the author has provided a useful and highly engaging study which should serve to point the way to a more detailed scholarly investigation of this subject. My only quarrel with this book is the lack of significant other sources that could provide a deeper context for the history of German radio intelligence, particularly its successes in direction finding, traffic analysis, and decryption. The assessment of German naval intelligence in my 1985 literature guide, German Naval History, includes a number of key works apparently not consulted by the author. Kahn, in particular, devotes a chapter in Hitler's Spies ("The Codebreaker Who Helped the U-Boats") to the leadership of Wilhelm Tranow in developing the B-Dienst and its contributions in the Second World War. Yet, Tranow is not even listed in Mallmann Showell's index. There are also other more recent books that might have provided additional perspectives, such as Kahn's 1991 Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943: The Battle of the Atlantic and Signals Intelligence: U-Boat Situations and Trends, 1941-1945 (ed. by David Syrett, 1998); or, even more notably, the 1999 revisionist work of W. J. R...


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pp. 271-272
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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