Was Churchill really worried about the Battle of the Atlantic? And if so, why?

The Battle of the Atlantic ran from September 1939 right through until May 1945. Supplies of food and essential war materials from the rest of the world were essential in order to keep Britain’s war effort alive. As in the First World War, Germany used all-out submarine warfare in an attempt to starve Britain into submission.  For much of the war, it seemed to work as this graph, detailing the amount of shipping in tons lost due to enemy attack, shows.  The war was being waged on the Atlantic. 

There was no denying that the U-boat threat was serious. In his memoirs, The Second World War, Volume 2, published in 1949, Winston Churchill confessed: ‘The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.’

Lord-Morley-Letter

This is a draft page from Chapter 30 of Winston Churchill’s book, The Second World War, Volume 2: Their Finest Hour. Chapter 30 was called ‘Ocean Peril’.

Halfway down this page, Churchill writes: ‘the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’.See the full document in the Archive here.

However, Churchill was writing after the war (the first two volumes of his history of the Second World War – which eventually comprised six volumes – were written between 1946 and 1949) and he was well known for exaggerating issues to make a point.

How serious was the U-boat threat in the Second World War, and how worried do you think Churchill really was about this compared to the other challenges Britain and her allies faced?
 

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate.

  • Your challenge is to study the sources in the Source Box and use them to make up your own mind about how serious the U-boat threat was and whether Churchill was really worried about it.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.