Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Black May

Gannon, Michael

1998, Harpercollins
ISBN 0060178191
Hardcover, 492 pages, 43 b&w photos

Type. Historical narrative
Pros. Very detailed and comprehensive
Cons. A bit difficult to read in a few places

This is Michael Gannon's second book dealing with the U-boats of Second World War. The former was the highly successful Operation Drumbeat of 1991 (see our review). This book's topic is the black month of May 1943 where no less than 41 U-boats were lost and they essentially lost the war during.

Opening pages cover items like U-boat detection and anti-submarine weapons during the war which is a nice section to bring people up to speed.

Major part of the book is spent on the fierce battle around convoy ONS.5 where 41 U-boats targeted. 13 ships of 61,959 tons were sunk at the cost of 5 U-boats sunk and many damaged.

Extremely interesting is the section dedicated to the much overlooked Bay of Biscay. Lot of detail is given on the background of the British system to defeat the U-boats in the Bay. This was a unique situation for the British as the entire U-boat force in France had to traverse this relatively small body of water to reach the Atlantic and the shipping they intended to stop.

I've updated the map of the area to show losses by year and you can see the white dots for the U-boats lost in 1943, mostly in the "lane" RAF Coastal Command patrolled so heavily and systematically during the summer of 1943.

Some 50 pages are spent on a really neat section called "Inside the U-boat Mind" that has recordings from captured German U-boat men while in conversation with other German POW's (not other U-boat men but Luftwaffe or army personnel as the British believed the men would rather talk about their experiences and their tactics to someone from other services).

One omission is to be found as the author himself pointed out to me and that is that most of the U-boat index is missing from the index at the back of the page.

One amazing thing is that the paper cut of the printing I have (both copies) is like the printer did not finish the job leaving it difficult to quickly scroll the pages. This is a minor nuance though.

This is a great book and a recommended one if only for the Bay of Biscay coverage. Not quite as enjoyable to read as the Operation Drumbeat but this one is deeper in scope and technicality.

Review written by GuĂ°mundur Helgason.

Published on 23 Nov 1998.

This title is highly recommended.

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