Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Milk Cows

The U-Boat Tankers at War 1941 - 1945

John F White

2009, Pen and Sword
ISBN 184884008X
Hardcover, 272 pages

Type. Historical narrative
Pros. Detailed and complete, story flows naturally

A new title on the U-boat war is always a treat – and one covering the oft-overlooked U-boat tankers is especially so. The author, John F. White, is a PhD in another field than history and clearly applies exhaustive research methods to this work. This book is an extended and revised work based on his 10-year old title “U-boat tankers” (see our previous review).

The book contains 29 photographs, many operational maps and a few illustrations. The maps and illustrations help explain the strategic situation and technical aspects of the U-boat tankers while the photos illustrate nicely life on board, reloading and refueling process and the final fate of some of the boats. Many of the photos have been shown before elsewhere but many are new and interesting.

The U-boat tankers enabled the attacking U-boats to stay longer on patrol and thus be more effective in their role to sink Allied shipping in the North Atlantic and distant areas. Attack boats, types VII and IX, could stay out longer, spend more fuel hunting convoys and only return to base when their torpedoes were spent. Another benefit was to greatly extend the range of the attacking boats, opening up previously safe areas for Allied shipping such as South Africa and the Caribbean. German surface raiders also supplied the U-boats early in the war and they are also mentioned in the book.

White begins the book with the origins of the U-boat tanker concept and its benefits and then goes into the initial stages of the U-boat war before focusing more on the tankers and their operational history. When the book speaks of the tankers not only the special tanker type XIV is covered but also the large mine layer XB that refueled many boats.

This book gives a detailed overview of the tasks the Milk Cows had and the immense hunting they faced 1943 onwards. The maps are helpful to piece together the operations and the text is very descriptive and complete.

The supply boats were slow and sensitive boats to aircraft carriers and hunter-killer groups but nonetheless escaped many times from the Allied hunters. Their luck ran out eventually with the last two being sunk in late 1944 (6 type XIV were lost in mid 1943).

This title is very highly recommended.

Disclosure: was provided with a free review copy.

Review written by Gudmundur Helgason.

Published on 2 Oct 2009.

This title is highly recommended.

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