Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Battle of the Atl

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

We’ve carefully selected sources from the Churchill Archive to lead to discussion and debate about the U-boat war. They deliberately cover the whole period from 1939 to 1945 and are a range of source types.

One way into the sources might be to ask students to classify them – letters, official papers, telegrams and so on – and then rank them for utility. You might also consider ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ as a way of establishing utility. It’s much better to use the whole collection of sources rather than split them; it’s essential that students get the ‘big picture’ if they’re to be able to answer the question.

Activity 1:

You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this enquiry. Do the sources support Churchill’s assertion about the Battle of the Atlantic? A simple ‘sort’ activity using a table like this might help get them started.

Once they have sorted the sources it should be relatively easy for them to decide that they do (mostly) support Churchill’s interpretation of the Battle.

Source Support Churchill’s assertion Do not support Churchill’s assertion + and -

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Activity 2:

Next, search the whole archive for documents relating to the Battle of the Atlantic. A ‘search’ finds ninety seven documents. Do all these documents reflect the sources we’ve chosen? Or does the full Archive tell a different story? This helps students realise that archives are a much richer source than any selection and that the full archive might give a very different, perhaps more nuanced, picture of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Activity 3:

Look carefully at Source 2 – a summary of losses throughout the war. Choose a ‘turning point’ in the Battle of the Atlantic and use the sources to investigate that period in more depth. Your group might choose several different turning points thus giving a wider overall picture of the Battle. It might be a time when the Allies were on top, or it might be a time when the U-Boats were winning. Why have your students chosen that particular turning point? What light do the sources shed on it that we didn’t know already? What can you find out from our selection of sources? What can you find out from the rest of the Archive about that particular event?

As ever, in history, there is no one ‘correct’ answer – it all depends on which sources you use and your particular reading of that source.

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