Black May: The Epic Story of the Allies' Defeat of the German U-Boats in May 1943

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9780060178192: Black May: The Epic Story of the Allies' Defeat of the German U-Boats in May 1943

In May 1943, Allied sea and air forces won a stunning, dramatic, and vital victory over the largest and most powerful submarine force ever sent to sea, sinking forty-one German U-boats and damaging thirty-seven others. It was the forty-fifth month of World War II, and by the end of May the Germans were forced to acknowledge defeat and recall almost all of their remaining U-boats from the major traffic lanes of the North Atlantic. At U-Boat Headquarters in Berlin, despondent naval officers spoke of "Black May." It was a defeat from which the German U-boat fleet never recovered.

Black May is a triumph of scholarship and narrative, an important work of history, and a great sea story. Acclaimed historian Michael Gannon, author of Operation Drumbeat, has done enormous research and produced the most thoroughly documented study ever done of these battles. In his compelling historical saga, the people are as significant as the technical information.

Given the strategic importance of the events of May 1943, it is natural to ask, How did Black May happen and why? Who or what was responsible? Were new Allied tactics adopted or new weapons employed?

This book answers those questions and many others. Drawing on original documents in German, British, U.S., and Canadian archives, as well as interviews with surviving participants, Gannon describes the exciting sea and air battles, frequently taking the reader inside the U-boats themselves, aboard British warships, onto the decks of torpedoed merchant ships, and into the cockpits of British and U.S. aircraft.

Throughout, Gannon tells the Black May story from both the German and Allied perspectives, often using the actual words of captains and crews. Finally, he allows the reader to "listen in" on secretly recorded conversations of captured U-boat men in POW quarters during that same incredible month, giving intimate and moving access to the thoughts and emotions of seamen that is unparalleled in naval literature. Rarely, if ever, has the U-boat war been presented so accurately, so graphically, and so personally as in Black May.

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Review:

After a year of terrorizing ships off the coast of the United States, the tide turned against the U-boats in May 1943 when Allied forces sank 41 vessels and damaged 37 others. This frenzy of activity essentially reopened the North Atlantic to merchant shipping and helped clear a path for the Allies' final assault on Europe the following year. Michael Gannon tells his story with wonderful anecdotes from all perspectives--in one scene, he describes a surfaced U-boat crew standing on deck and watching automobile headlights shine through the blackness of night from the New Jersey shore. Few people realize that German naval vessels actually came so close to the United States, but they did--until, as Gannon tells the story, they were finally pushed away, once and for all, in a single hectic month of combat. Although Black May is something of a sequel to Gannon's extraordinary Operation Drumbeat, which described the German's initial successes, it stands on its own as a brilliant work of naval history. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

For two years the German U-boats--the most powerful underwater force ever assembled--turned the seas of the Atlantic into a killing field. Now it was May 1943. The year the Allies struck back. The year the tide of war turned forever.

In one extraordinary month, using new tactics, new weapons, and the coordinated forces of a new generation of submarine hunters, the Allies destroyed 41 U-boats and damaged 37 others in the North Atlantic--sending the Nazi U-boat wolf pack running. Here, distinguished naval historian Michael Gannon captures this epic battle and those who shaped it, from the men who made key command decisions to the sailors trapped inside the steel-hulled U-boats as they were pounded by Allied depth charges. Drawing on never-before-released transcripts of secretly recorded conversations of U-boat POWs, this is the epic story of two powerful enemies going head-to-head in a desperate naval battle, and why one side emerged the victor and the other the vanquished.

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