In these circumstances the submarine became an important weapon of war. Headed by Karl Dönitz, who would later succeed Hitler as Head of State, the German U-boats gained the initiative in the sea war and from the beginning launched all-out attacks against shipping en route to Great Britain.
At the start of hostilities the Ubootwaffe had only 57 submarines, of which 22 could operate in the Atlantic. The superiority of the British navy led to U-boats playing a leading role in the German war effort, to such an extent that they could have tipped the balance in favour of Germany, had it not been for Hitler’s lack of vision.
Putting aside the question of the regime they defended, over the years no one has doubted the bravery of the men who fought aboard the 820 submarines out of a total of 1,158 that the Third Reich put into service. Their tactics and strategy and their tenacity in battle during operations at sea earned them the admiration of friends and foe alike. Of the almost 40,000 officers and men that took to sea in U-boats, the majority were volunteers, and 30,000 went down with the 785 submarines that were lost at sea, though they managed to sink more than 3,000 merchantmen and 200 enemy warships.
One of the great unanswered questions of the war is what would have happened if Hitler had granted the numerous requests made by Dönitz for more submarines?