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?

Source 3

Extract from the British government’s weekly summary of the military situation in August 1940


➜ CHAR 23/6 (IMAGES 2-3)

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

Anti-submarine operations.
4. We’ve carried out a number of attacks against U-boats in the waters around our coastlines. We’ve had some success but are not exactly sure how much.

Enemy attacks on our ships
5. U-boats have focused their attacks off the NW coast of Ireland. 2 British (12,516 tons) and 3 Neutral ships (8,523 tons) have been sunk, and 1 Norwegian and 4 British ships damaged.

Original Transcript


SECRET                                                                                                     Copy No. 43C.O.S. (40) 616
(Also W. P. (40) 307)
August 9. 1940

It is requested that special care may be taken to
ensure the secrecy of this document



(No. 49)

of the


from 12 noon August 1st to
12 noon August 8th

[Circulated with the approval of
the Chiefs of Staff.]

Cabinet War Room.


Anti-Submarine Operations.

4 . In Home Waters a total of 15 attacks have been carried out on U-boats, of which 10 were by aircraft. Of the latter, attacks in positions 40 miles north-west of Tory Island on the 2nd, 50 miles east-south-east of Sumbrugh Head on the 3rd, and 80 miles north of Cape Wrath on 4th August, probably inflicted damage. The attacks by naval vessels, included two by Dutch submarines, operating in the North Sea, both of which were unsuccessful.

Anti-submarine sweeps were carried out by pairs of destroyers in the North Minch, East of Shetlands and south-westward of Scilly Isles without result.

In the Red Sea, during an attack on the 4th August on the port of Massawa, 2 bombs were dropped between 2Italian U-Boats lying 60 yards apart and it is thought that considerable damage was caused. In another attack on Massawa carried out on the 6th August a direct hit with a 250-lb. bomb was obtained on a U-boat, but no further details have yet been received.

Enemy Attack on Seaborne Trade.

5. U-Boats have concentrated their attack on shipping off the north-west coast of Ireland, where during the week, 2 British (12,516 tons) and 3 Neutral ships (8, 523 tons) have been sunk, and 1 Norwegian and 4 British ships damaged. Included in the latter were 3 tankers, which were torpedoed but succeeded in reaching port under escort in a damaged condition.

The Yugoslavian S.S.Rad (4,201 tons) was sunk by a U-Boat to the westward of Portuguese Guinea and the Greek S.S. Roula (1,044 tons) south of Crete. Although enemy mine-laying from aircraft has persisted throughout the week, only one ship, the British S.S Wychwood (2,794 tons), was lost. She struck a mine off Harwich.

6 .

What is this source?

This document is a summary of events of the week produced by the Chiefs of staff (the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force) to inform the government about how the war was going. This document is a summary of events of the week produced by the Chiefs of staff (the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force) to inform the government about how the war was going.

Background to this source

The events summarised in this document took place after the Fall of France, when Britain and British Empire forces were standing alone against the Germans and the Italians who had declared war on Britain on 10 June. Earlier in 1940 the British Expeditionary Force had been sent to support French forces but had been driven back and evacuated (from Dunkirk) in May. At this point in time the Battle of Britain was being fought to gain control of the skies over Britain.

Many were expecting Hitler to invade Britain in the very near future. The United Kingdom was desperately trying to import arms and ammunition by sea across the Atlantic to re-equip the British Army before such an invasion took place.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Winston Churchill was so worried about the Battle of the Atlantic. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. According to the source, where have the U-boats been active?
  2. How successful have they been?
  3. How have the Navy been opposing the U-boat threat?
  4. How accurate are the reports of damage to U-boats?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
The information would be damaging if it fell into enemy hands.

The greatest danger to shipping was when ships came close to their destination.

Navy vessels are more effective against U-boats than aircraft.

The summaries of shipping losses appended to the War Cabinet report in this investigation support my inference above. The Chiefs of Staff aren’t particularly worried about U-boat activity.

 Download table (PDF)
 Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • The source gives the list of persons who were meant to read it. This tells us a lot about how important the information in it was.
  • If you imagine the atmosphere in the War Cabinet Meeting as the losses were read out, it may help to imagine how Churchill felt about the U-Boat threat.

 Source 4

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