Activities

“A War of Wits”: Anti-Submarine Warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic

Guiding Question:

How did the Allies overcome challenges posed by German U-boats to defend their convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic?

Overview:

Using materials from the American Battle Monuments Commission and primary and secondary source documents, students will determine how U.S. forces developed ways to locate German U-boats and protect their convoys from attack. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will place themselves in the role of a U.S. Navy sailor, attempting to tell family and friends about how the Allies dealt with the challenges of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Activity

Historical Context

The Battle of the Atlantic was, in reality, a campaign that lasted the entire length of World War II. Between 1939 and 1945, German U-boats prowled the seas, attempting to locate and sink the merchant ships whose precious cargo of personnel, weapons, and supplies were helping maintain the Allied war effort. The Allies suffered unsustainable losses in the early years of the war. They developed new ways to detect and track the U-boats in order to defend their convoys from attack. After 1943, the U-boats increasingly found themselves on the defensive until Germany’s surrender in May 1945. The efforts of the Allied navies and air forces to overcome the threat posed by the U-boats and win the Battle of the Atlantic significantly contributed to victory in World War II.

Objectives

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Analyze data related to the loss of Allied shipments to U-boat attacks and draw inferences about Allied success in the Battle of the Atlantic over the course of the war;
  • Describe the role of HF/DF, RADAR, SONAR, and Ultra Intelligence in determining the location of U-boats, and assess the effectiveness of each of these tools;
  • Describe how the Allies used naval and air forces to escort convoys in an effort to defend them against U-boat attacks; and
  • Assess the consequences of Allied success in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions;

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g. sequentially, comparatively, causally);

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g. in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts;

Connections to C3 Framework

D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts;

D2.His.14.6-8. Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past;

Lesson Preparation

Procedure

Activity One: Setting the Stage (10 minutes)

  • Project World War II: A Visual History Interactive Timeline. Click “enter,” then click “1941” on the bottom of the page. Then click “United States Antisubmarine Campaign” in the center of the screen.
  • Show the video clip and read the text aloud to the class.
    • Teacher Tip: Stop at the conclusion of the sentence reading, “The success of the Allied war effort depended on moving troops and supplies across vast oceans.”
    • Ask students:
      • What does this sentence suggest about the location of much of the fighting relative to the United States?
      • What was the only way that adequate numbers of U.S. troops, weapons, and supplies could be moved to take part in the fighting?
      • How did the Germans attempt to prevent that from happening?
    • Project Sketch, German type XXI U-boat (NH 96068). Explain that a U-boat is a submarine, and that it can operate on the surface of the ocean, as well as underwater.
      • Ask students:
        • Based on the film clip, can you suggest any advantages a submarine might have over a ship?
        • Why would these advantages make a submarine more challenging to find and fight as compared to other naval vessels?
      • Inform students that today they will be learning about the Battle of the Atlantic. As they do so, they will consider how the Allies, and the U.S. Navy in particular, sought victory in their desperate struggle against the U-boats.

Activity Two: Document Analysis (30 minutes)

  • Move students into groups of two or three students.
  • Distribute one Battle of the Atlantic Document Packet to each student.
  • Assign students to review each document in the Battle of the Atlantic Document Packet and complete all questions.
    • Review the first set of questions associated with figure one. Determine which columns contain the information that you will need to answer each question.
      • Teacher Tip: You may choose to answer the first question together. Important columns include “Allied Shipping Sunk.” “New Construction - Total,” “Net Gains or Losses,” and “German Submarines Sunk.” You may wish to point out that any time there is a negative number in the “Net Gains or Losses” column, more Allied ships were sunk than built during that period of time. If there is a positive number, more Allied ships were built than were sunk.
    • Direct students to continue to figure two, carefully reading each quote and answering the associated questions. Review responses to make sure all students are on track.
    • Explain the directions for figures three through seven. In this section, students will analyze tools used to fight German submarines.
    • Circulate around the classroom, providing support or redirection as needed.

Activity Three: Drawing Conclusions (10 minutes)

  • Complete the following tasks as a class:
    • Draw a horizontal line across the chalkboard to represent a scale, with the left-hand side labeled “Least Specific” and the right-hand side labeled “Most Specific.”
    • Say to students, The documents showed you that the Allies came up with many ways to find German U-boats. Some of these tools gave more specific information about the location of German U-boats than others. Which of the items that you saw in figures three through seven would give the Allies the best information about the U-boats?
    • Review each item from figures three to seven. Ask students to vote by raising their hands where they believe each item belongs on the scale. Place each item on the scale according to the majority vote.
    • Ask students, How do these sources help us understand how the Allies won the Battle of the Atlantic?

Assessment Materials

  • Move students into groups of two or three students.
  • Distribute one Battle of the Atlantic Document Packet to each student.
  • Assign students to review each document in the Battle of the Atlantic Document Packet and complete all questions.
    • Review the first set of questions associated with figure one. Determine which columns contain the information that you will need to answer each question.
      • Teacher Tip: You may choose to answer the first question together. Important columns include “Allied Shipping Sunk.” “New Construction - Total,” “Net Gains or Losses,” and “German Submarines Sunk.” You may wish to point out that any time there is a negative number in the “Net Gains or Losses” column, more Allied ships were sunk than built during that period of time. If there is a positive number, more Allied ships were built than were sunk.
    • Direct students to continue to figure two, carefully reading each quote and answering the associated questions. Review responses to make sure all students are on track.
    • Explain the directions for figures three through seven. In this section, students will analyze tools used to fight German submarines.
    • Circulate around the classroom, providing support or redirection as needed.

Methods for Extension

 

Adaptations

  • Teachers may adapt the final assessment to creating comic strips or other artistic works that allow students to storyboard what they have learned.
  • Teachers can adapt the lesson to older or more advanced learners by making the final assessment into a series of memos that outline the progress of the anti-submarine war in the Atlantic.
    • Memo One: Challenges Faced By the Allies
    • Memo Two: Ways the Allies Addressed the Challenges of Anti-Submarine Warfare
    • Memo Three: Importance of Success in the Battle of the Atlantic

Sources

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Primary Sources

Other Sources