THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC
A major part of the naval history of the Second World War was the Battle of the Atlantic. Included in this theatre of war was the North Sea. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945.
(July to December)
On the 2nd July 1940 Adolf Hitler ordered the German High Command to prepare for Operation Sea Lion. Part of the preparation was that minefields and U-boats would be positioned in the English Channel to limit the threat posed by the Royal Navy.
On the 1st August 1940 the Italian Royal Navy established a submarine base at Betasom near Bordeaux. In accordance with the signing of the Pact of Steel with Germany in June 1939, Italy was expected to participate in the Battle of the Atlantic when they entered the war in June 1940 on the side of the Germans.
A British destroyer flotilla sailed from Immingham to the Dutch coast to lay mines on the 31st August 1940. Reconnaissance aircraft had located a German force heading for Britain. The flotilla was ordered to intercept but before engaging with the enemy they ran into an unchartered minefield. Two destroyers were sunk and another had to be towed back to their base. The German invasion force turned out to be a small mine-laying unit transferring from Cuxhaven to Rotterdam.
American President Roosevelt approved the “Destroyer for Bases Agreement” on the 30th August 1940. America exchanged fifty destroyers for the right to operate, either naval or air bases, on nine various British colonies near the U.S. eastern coastline.
In the month of October 1940 German U-boats inflicted heavy convoy losses in the Atlantic as they sank 39 allied vessels.
Acting Captain Edward Steven Fogarty Fegan was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the 5th November 1940. Fegan commanded the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay who was escorting a convoy of thirty seven ships in the North Atlantic. When they were attacked by German pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer, Jervis Bay immediately engaged with the enemy head on and maintained an unequal battle for three hours. This engagement gave the convoy time to scatter. When the out-gunned and burning Jervis Bay finally sank, the badly wounded Fegan went down with his ship.
During the course of December 1940 a total of forty one ships (234,707 tons) were sunk by German U-boats with a further nine ships (73,141 tons) damaged. The total number of ships damaged or sunk in 1940 was five hundred and sixty three.