“Shadow Over The Atlantic” (The Luftwaffe and the U-Boats: 1943-45) is pretty much the story of Fernaufklarungsgruppe 5 of the Luftwaffe tasked to provide surveillance of the Allied convoys in the Atlantic and inform the German Navy’s U-boats packs about their movements. Admiral Karl Doenitz, the creator of the U-boat fleets, realized the value of air reconnaissance and surveillance far more than his counterparts in the Luftwaffe did. He knew they could be a potent weapon which could give timely information to his U-boat commanders of enemy shipping, their numbers, composition and direction. This would enable him to assign the nearest U-boat pack to attack the convoy.
The author Robert Forsyth acknowledges just how valuable material in German from the diaries, notes and records of Oskar H Schmidt were in the making of this book. This surveillance unit of the Luftwaffe was equipped with the gigantic Junkers Ju 290 which flew from their base in Western Europe to spend endless hours in the cold of the Atlantic hunting for tell-tale signs of a convoy. The book explains how constrained the crews were and how brilliant a job they did despite having problems ranging from a lack of co-ordination at the very top between the German Navy and the Luftwaffe, the dreadful weather for most of the time, and the reconnaissance equipment which used high-end technology still in its infancy.
Everyone know how much Nazi Germany owed Admiral Karl Doenitz for the initial successes in 1940-42. He used his U-boat packs so effectively that at one point of time it was feared that he might succeed in starving the island kingdom to submission as very few convoys carrying food and armaments from the United States were able to reach British shores thanks to the relentless attacks by his U-boats.
In the period between 1943-45 the tide had begun to change. The Americans and the British were far more aware of the U-boat tactics and devised their own systems to thwart them. Many successful U-boat commanders had died in action and the new ones were far less experienced. The Luftwaffe could not deliver on its promises to guide the U-boat packs to vulnerable convoys.
The book is rich in detail. Indeed if there was one criticism of the book , I would say parts of it read like a catalog of aircraft specifications. While that may be fascinating to readers who have great interest in such detail, for the average reader it is too much of overkill on engine speeds, wing spans, torques and what have you. I was also disappointed, though that is not the fault of the author, that there wasn’t as much as I expected about battles at sea. There was heaps though on the techniques for surveillance, and on the development of aircraft in the Luftwaffe during those years.
If you are an avid aviation history fan you would like the mass of detail but otherwise I felt there was just too much of it in the book.