The story of the World War II effort by Nazi Germany to disrupt Allied shipping with U-boat attacks and the Allied efforts to prevent it.






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Series cast summary:
Chris Broyles ...
 Narrator (3 episodes, 2003)


In the European Theatre of World War II, in no other factor was Britain closer to defeat than in the Battle of the Atlantic. With U-Boats, Vice Admiral Karl Dönitz planned to starve the United Kingdom into submission by sinking vital shipping. This series recounts the struggle of the Allies to find a means to combat this menace with new technology and tactics and breakthroughs in decrypting enemy messages. Taken together, the longest battle of the war is surveyed with the fate of the free world in the balance. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (

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2002 (UK)  »

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The only theatre of World War II that frightened Churchill
16 October 2007 | by (Camden Town, London, England) – See all my reviews

Winston Churchill gave the first public expression to the phrase "Battle of the Atlantic": "Battles might be won or lost, but our power to fight, to keep ourselves alive, rested on the outcome of the struggle for control of the Atlantic." This excellent three-part documentary tells the story of the Battle of the Atlantic which lasted for the duration of World War II, from 1939-1945.

It begins with "The Grey Wolves", the story of Hitler's submarines, the U-boats, and their threat to starve Britain into submission. With the leadership of Admiral Karl Donitz, and his 'wolf packs', they nearly succeeded. Huge numbers of merchant ships were sunk between 1939 and 1942.

The second part, "Keeping Secrets", describes the capture of an Enigma machine - the true story, not that of the feature film "U571" - and the invention of radar.

Lastly, "The Hunted" describes how the tide turned and the tactics of Captain "Johnny" Walker, in HMS Starling, and Admiral Sir Max Horton ashore in Liverpool, together with RAF Coastal Command, and comparable allied services, prevailed to win the Battle of the Atlantic.

Both the Allies and the Germans had a common enemy, of course - the Atlantic Ocean - and the graphic archive footage leaves the viewer in no doubt about the Cruel Sea. Churchill is seen meeting Jolly Jack and US Navy sailors and Hitler meets some of the top U-boat commanders.

As ever, best of all, are the stories told by the men, and women, themselves - the eye-witness accounts of the U-boat commanders, the Royal Navy hunters, the merchant seamen, airmen and code-breakers. This is truly a sea story and the tale of the under-stated heroism that underpinned the Allied victory in Europe. The cost was the loss of more than 30,000 merchant seamen, over 4,700 British flagged merchant ships and many allied surface warships and men. Over 85% of U-boat crews would lose their lives.

The three-part series is available on one DVD as part of the 12-disc boxed set "World War II Collection" (BBC Worldwide, 2005). See also the BBC Timewatch documentary "Forgotten Heroes" (1994), an extra feature on the DVD; in their own words, it tells the story of the merchant seaman in World War II.

The drama documentary "Western Approaches" (1944) will be of interest to those who wish to know more about the Battle of the Atlantic as will, of course, the feature films "Lifeboat" (1944) and "The Cruel Sea" (1953).

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