The Battle of the Atlantic was known as the longest military campaign in World War II, lasting the duration of the War and seeing the sinking of over three and a half thousand Allied ships
With a substantial fleet of deadly U-boats, Nazi Germany was attacking the convoys heading eastward from North America across the Atlantic to resupply war-torn Europe.
Over 6 arduous years and often in appalling circumstances, thirty-six Fleet Air Arm Squadrons played a vital role in contributing to the diminution, mastery and then eradication of the German threat. Swordfish, Albacores, Avengers, Martlets and Sea Hurricanes all flew some of the most hazardous missions. Extreme exhibitions of courage in the face of both adversity and enemy action were commonplace.
By February 1942 the UK’s critical lifeline of food, oil and military supplies was in danger of being severed. 30,000 merchant seamen had lost their lives, 100’s of 1000’s of tons of shipping had been sunk and Britain was losing the logistics battle. Failure to maintain this supply line would render us unable to continue the fight in Europe.
The last week of May in 1942 was the vital watershed after which every Atlantic convoy had air cover. Slowly but surely the tide turned and more and more arms, ammunition, fuel, trucks, tanks, aeroplanes, food and troops were able to cross the Atlantic enabling Britain firstly to feed and defend itself and, ultimately, to take the battle back onto mainland European soil. The RAF fought the Battle of Britain – but, for a prolonged and extremely costly sixty eight months, the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Allied Forces fought the Battle for Britain.
The unsung heroes who provided the crucial air cover and helped turn the tide of the War were Naval pilots, many of whom joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) at the start of the war, flying the obsolescent Fairey ‘Swordfish’. These flimsy biplanes and their aircrews, with an average age of 21, flew from the pitching decks of merchant ships, in all that the Atlantic could throw at them, including mountainous seas and bitter cold. They patrolled in an area known as the mid-Atlantic gap, the 500 mile wide gap in the middle of the Atlantic, out of range of land based Allied aircraft. Here the U-boats had almost complete freedom to operate; freedom to surface and recharge their batteries and to communicate by radio with their brother wolves, their home bases and their long range Condor bomber aircraft scouting for convoys.