Wolfpack (naval tactic)

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The wolfpack was a mass-attack tactic against convoys used by German U-boats of the Kriegsmarine during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Convoy group of vehicles traveling together for mutual support and protection

A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support. It may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas. Arriving at the scene of a major emergency with a well-ordered unit and intact command structure can be another motivation.

U-boat German submarine of the First or Second World War

U-boat is an anglicised version of the German word U-Boot[ˈuːboːt](listen), a shortening of Unterseeboot, literally "underseaboat." While the German term refers to any submarine, the English one refers specifically to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in the First and Second World Wars. Although at times they were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were most effectively used in an economic warfare role and enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada and other parts of the British Empire, and from the United States to the United Kingdom and to the Soviet Union and the Allied territories in the Mediterranean. German submarines also destroyed Brazilian merchant ships during World War II, causing Brazil to declare war on the Axis powers in 1944.

<i>Kriegsmarine</i> 1935-1945 naval warfare branch of Germanys armed forces

The Kriegsmarine was the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire (1871–1918) and the inter-war Reichsmarine (1919–1935) of the Weimar Republic. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches, along with the Heer (Army) and the Luftwaffe of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces from 1933 to 1945.

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German submarines

German submarine U-52 U 52.jpg
German submarine U-52

Karl Dönitz called his strategy of submarine warfare Rudeltaktik, which translates as "tactics of a pack" of animals. It has become known in English as "wolfpack", an accurate metaphor, but not a literal translation.

Karl Dönitz President of Germany; admiral in command of German submarine forces during World War II

Karl Dönitz was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II. Dönitz briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the head of state of Nazi Germany.

Pack (canine) social group of conspecific canids

Pack is a social group of conspecific canids. Not all species of canids form packs; for example, small canids like the red fox do not. Pack size and social behaviour within packs varies across species.

Tactics

U-boat movements were controlled by the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU; English translation: "Commander of Submarines") much more closely than American submarines, which were given tremendous independence once on patrol. Accordingly, U-boats usually patrolled separately, often strung out in co-ordinated lines across likely convoy routes (usually merchants and small vulnerable destroyers), only being ordered to congregate after one located a convoy and alerted the BdU, so a Rudel consisted of as many U-boats as could reach the scene of the attack. With the exception of the orders given by the BdU, U-Boat commanders could attack as they saw fit. Often the U-Boat commanders were given a probable number of U-Boats that would show up, and then when they were in contact with the convoy, make call signs to see how many had arrived. If their number were sufficiently high compared to the expected threat of the escorts, they would attack.

Countermeasures

Convoy escorts and anti-submarine aircraft, November 1941 Convoy WS-12 en route to Cape Town, 1941.jpg
Convoy escorts and anti-submarine aircraft, November 1941

Although the wolfpacks proved a serious threat to Allied shipping, the Allies developed countermeasures to turn the U-boat organization against itself. Most notably was the fact that wolfpacks required extensive radio communication to coordinate the attacks. This left the U-boats vulnerable to a device called the High Frequency Direction Finder (HF/DF or "Huff-Duff"), which allowed Allied naval forces to determine the location of the enemy boats transmitting and attack them. Also, effective air cover, both long-range planes with radar, and escort carriers and blimps, allowed U-boats to be spotted as they shadowed a convoy (waiting for the cover of night to attack).

Radio technology of using radio waves to carry information

Radio is the technology of using radio waves to carry information, such as sound and images, by systematically modulating properties of electromagnetic energy waves transmitted through space, such as their amplitude, frequency, phase, or pulse width. When radio waves strike an electrical conductor, the oscillating fields induce an alternating current in the conductor. The information in the waves can be extracted and transformed back into its original form.

The escort carrier or escort aircraft carrier, also called a "jeep carrier" or "baby flattop" in the United States Navy (USN) or "Woolworth Carrier" by the Royal Navy, was a small and slow type of aircraft carrier used by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War II. They were typically half the length and a third the displacement of larger fleet carriers. While they were slower, carried fewer planes and were less well armed and armored, escort carriers were cheaper and could be built quickly, which was their principal advantage. Escort carriers could be completed in greater numbers as a stop-gap when fleet carriers were scarce. However, the lack of protection made escort carriers particularly vulnerable and several were sunk with great loss of life. The light carrier was a similar concept to escort carriers in most respects, but were capable of higher speeds to allow operation alongside fleet carriers.

Blimp non-rigid airship

A blimp, or non-rigid airship, is an airship (dirigible) or barrage balloon without an internal structural framework or a keel. Unlike semi-rigid and rigid airships, blimps rely on the pressure of the lifting gas inside the envelope and the strength of the envelope itself to maintain their shape.

American submarines

USS Grayback USS Grayback (SS 208).jpg
USS Grayback

American wolfpacks, officially called coordinated attack groups, usually comprised three boats that patrolled in close company and organized before they left port under the command of the senior captain of the three. "Swede" Momsen devised the tactics and led the first American wolfpack – composed of Cero (SS-225), Shad (SS-235), and Grayback (SS-208) – from Midway on 1 October 1943.

Charles Momsen American pioneer in submarine rescue for the United States Navy

Charles Bowers Momsen, nicknamed "Swede", was born in Flushing, New York. He was an American pioneer in submarine rescue for the United States Navy, and he invented the underwater escape device later called the "Momsen lung", for which he received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal in 1929. In May 1939, Momsen directed the rescue of the crew of Squalus (SS-192).

USS <i>Cero</i> (SS-225)

USS Cero (SS-225), a Gato-class submarine, was the first submarine and second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the cero.

USS <i>Shad</i> (SS-235)

USS Shad (SS-235), a Gato-class submarine, was the first submarine and second vessel of the United States Navy to be named for the shad, a fish of the herring family, common along coasts of the United States.

Cold War

Wolfpacks fell out of use during the Cold War; modern submarines have far better weapons and underwater speed than those of World War II, so there is no need for them to operate in large groups. Instead, the United States Navy deploys its attack submarines on individual patrols, with the exception of one or (rarely) two attack submarines in each carrier strike group.

Cold War State of geopolitical tension after World War II between powers in the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. A common historiography of the conflict begins with 1946, the year U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Moscow cemented a U.S. foreign policy of containment of Soviet expansionism threatening strategically vital regions, and ending between the Revolutions of 1989 and the 1991 collapse of the USSR, which ended communism in Eastern Europe. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the Navy is the third largest of the service branches. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the second largest and second most powerful air force in the world.

American ballistic missile submarines have always operated alone, while Soviet ballistic missile submarines operated in well-protected bastions.

Post-Cold War

With the opening shots of the Iraq War in March, 2003, the term "wolfpack" was brought back into use to describe the fleet of American and British nuclear submarines which operated together in the Red Sea, firing Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets. USS Providence was the first boat to fire its entire load of missiles and earn the nickname "Big Dog of the Red Sea Wolf Pack."

Recently the phrase "wolfpack" has been applied to possible Iranian missile boat tactics in the event of a hypothetical clash with the U.S. Navy; a massive attack of small boats armed with missiles and torpedoes on a single ship, or even a few ships, in order to overrun or saturate the Aegis defense system. Such attacks allow the possibility of effective sacrificial boat deployment.

See also

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The battle around convoys HX 229 and SC 122 occurred during March 1943 in the Battle of the Atlantic, and was the largest convoy battle of World War II. British merchant shipping was formed into convoys for protection against German submarine attack. Kriegsmarine tactics against convoys employed multiple-submarine wolfpack tactics in nearly simultaneous surface attacks at night. Patrolling aircraft restricted the ability of submarines to converge on convoys during daylight. The North Atlantic winters offered the longest periods of darkness to conceal surfaced submarine operations. The winter of 1942–43 saw the largest number of submarines deployed to the mid-Atlantic before comprehensive anti-submarine aircraft patrols could be extended into that area.

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ONS 18 and ON 202 were North Atlantic convoys of the ONS/ON series which ran during the battle of the Atlantic in World War II. They were the subject of a major U-boat attack in September 1943, the first battle in the Kriegsmarine's autumn offensive, following the withdrawal from the North Atlantic route after Black May.

SC 143 was a North Atlantic convoy of the SC series which ran during the battle of the Atlantic in World War II. It was the second battle in the Kriegsmarine's autumn offensive in the North Atlantic.

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Rösing's wolfpack was a formation of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine in World War II, a "wolfpack" of U-boats that operated during the early stages of the Battle of the Atlantic.

HG 84 was an Allied convoy of the HG series during World War II.

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