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Ship Losses

Several recent threads on various Lists and Newsgroups about shipping losses in World War II prompted me to assemble these resources for further investigation. The titles below, taken together, give a fairly comprehensive account of ships sunk, but of course there is no single "magic bullet" book containing the specifics for every vessel that went down. Thus, these books tend to complement each other with relatively little overlap since they mostly approach the subject from different perspectives.

  • Alden, John D. US Submarine Attacks during World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press: 1989. 285 pages.

    In a format very similar to Rohwer's Axis Submarine Successes (see below), Alden provides in tabular format the facts for every attack made by US subs, plus attacks made by British and Dutch subs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In chronological sequence he lists: date and (sometimes) hour of attack; name of sub; patrol number; longitude and latitude; claimed ship type of target; estimated tonnage of target; type of attack with light conditions, surface or submerged, gun or torpedo, etc; claimed results; source for verification; actual name, type, and tonnage of target; actual extent of damage; location given by enemy sources; and other comments.

    Appendices detail US submarine minelaying activities and skippers of US, British, and Dutch subs which appear in the tables. Japanese vessels are indexed alphabetically for easy access in the tables. Unfortunately, US subs are not indexed, so they can only be found by skimming through the chronological tables.

    This is a good volume to have handy. One of the best features of Alden's book is an enlightening description of the sources he used, including discussion of the limitations of the JANAC report Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses during World War II by All Causes (see below).

  • Brown, David. Warship Losses of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 256 pages.

    Part One presents a chronological listing of every "...loss, whether by enemy action or accident, of all ocean-going purpose-built warships of all navies, combatant and neutral, between August 1939 and September 1945." (Submarines are not included, but a companion volume is due to cover them.) Each loss contains information on the ship's nationality, type, name/designation, date of loss, theater, location when sunk, cause of sinking, and who received credit for the sinking.

    Part Two contains a wealth of information about specifications for warship classes, warship armament, maps of naval theaters, and a section on statistics concerning lost warships.

    Everything is fully indexed, an introduction provides a 20-page overview of the war at sea, and there is a brief but useful list of sources.

    Recommended. Brown's book is a very handy guide and readily available through sources of new and used books. As with all these books, though, its focus is very specific; there is no information on warships merely damaged or on any merchant losses.

  • Cassells, Vic. For Those in Peril. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1995. 269 pages.

    Royal Australian Navy vessels lost and damaged from World War I through Vietnam with ship specifications, battle history, casualty lists, etc.

  • Franks, Norman. Search, Find and Kill: The RAF's U-Boat Successes in World War Two. London: Grub Street, 1995. 274 pages.

    Very narrowly focused on Axis submarines sunk by the RAF, this volume still covers almost 250 sinkings with precise details in tabular format and narrative, sometimes with recollections of aircrew involved. Revised and expanded from an earlier edition.

  • Holmes, Harry. Last Patrol. Annnapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994. 212 pages.

    Similar to United States Submarine Losses, World War II (see below) with information on US subs lost during the war.

  • Naval History Division. United States Naval Chronolgy, World War II. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1955. 214 pages.

    More than just a chronology of naval operations, this Navy Department publication also includes information on US naval (including Coast Guard) vessels damaged or sunk (with data for cause and location) during the war. Similar information covers enemy warships sunk by American action. "No amphibious types smaller than the Landing Ship Tank (LST) have been included with the ship casualties."

    The Navy's data seems to be accurate for its own vessels. There are, however, some inaccuracies in the reported sinkings of enemy warships. (For a better overall chronology, see Rohwer and Hummelchen below.)

  • Naval History Division. United States Submarine Losses, World War II. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1963. 244 pages.

    Originally published in 1946, this was revised in 1949, then revised and enlarged in 1963. The book provides a chronological diary of US subs sunk by all causes during the war, with anywhere from one to four pages per sub. Each entry gives an overview of the sub's operational history and details concerning the loss (where known). Most also include a photo of the boat, photo of the skipper, and a crew roster annotated with information on those who survived, those who died in POW camps, etc.

    The latest edition added three appendices: German U-boat casualties, Japanese submarine casualties, and Italian submarine casualties. Each includes information on name of sub, date of sinking, cause of loss, and position of loss. These are a bonus, but not as definitive as the US material.

    Informative as it is, the material feels like a dusty scrapbook filled with friends and relatives long lost and nearly forgotten.

  • Parkin, Robert Sinclair Blood on the Sea: American Destroyers Lost in World War II. New York: Sarpedon, 1995. 360 pages.

    Chronological listing of each of 71 USN DDs sunk during the war by all causes. Each entry gives ship specifications, biography of the person for whom the ship was named, ship history, and details of loss. Some personal accounts for crewmen, but mostly author's narrative. Includes appendices on destroyer escort losses and on destroyers damaged by kamikazes off Okinawa.

  • Rohwer, Jurgen. Axis Submarine Successes, 1939-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983. 386 pages.

    Coverage of Allied vessels attacked and damaged as well as sunk, including merchant shipping as well as warships. Within each of seven naval theaters (North Sea/Atlantic, Northern Theater, Baltic, Black Sea, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific), Rohwer gives a chronological listing of every successful Axis submarine attack during the war. The information is presented in rigidly formatted but well-structured tables: date/time of beginning of attack; nationality of submarine; number or name of submarine; family name of submarine's captain; position of attack according to submarine; target designation by attacking sub; weapon(s) used by attacking sub; designation code of Allied convoy (where appropriate); date/time of first hit; nationality of vessel attacked; type of ship attacked; name of ship attacked; actual tonnage; position of ship according to ship attacked; explanatory notes.

    The book also contains charts for the German U-boat map grid system, as well as very thorough indexes by submarine, sub captain, convoy, and ship attacked.

    Very similar to Alden's US Submarine Attacks during World War II. Highly recommended. Immense amounts of data organized for easy reference.

  • Rohwer, Jurgen and G. Hummelchen. Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992. 432 pages.

    Rohwer and Hummelchen provide page after page of thorough, detailed coverage of naval operations on a day-by-day basis for every theater. The chronology was originally published in two volumes; the revised and updated edition comes under one cover.

    Not, strictly speaking, a book about lost ships, this is by far the best chronology of naval operations and as such includes broad coverage of losses by all navies by all causes. A must for every WWII library.

  • United States. Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee. Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses during World War II by All Causes. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947. 180 pages.

    JANAC presents information for "a) all Japanese naval vessels known or believed to have been lost, and b) all Japanese merchant vessels of 500 or more gross tons known or believed to have been lost." This means by all causes, not just US action.

    The main part of the book is split into two sections: one for warships, one for merchant shipping. Each section gives, chronologically, details in tabulur format: date, name of vessel, type of vessel, tonnage, location, cause of loss, and nationality credited. This information does not include the specific warship or air group credited, but rather more general terms such as carrier-based air, army air, shore battery, mine, sub, accident, etc. Appendices list US subs alphabetically and show similar details for sinkings credited to each.

    The data in this volume is rather old; collation commenced during the war and was updated with fragmentary Japanese records in the immediate post-war era. Non-American sinkings in particular are less than completely accurate. (See Alden, above, for a volume with a discussion of JANAC shortcomings and other sources.)

  • Young, John M. Britain's Sea War: A Diary of Ship Losses, 1939-1945. Wellingborough, England: Stephens, 1989. 288 pages.

    Another chronological presentation. The author does not state the criteria by which vessels are included except to say "from the British viewpoint", but it seems to be: 1) Every British vessel sunk, 2) Enemy ships sunk by British action, 3) Many British vessels damaged, 4) Some non-British ships sunk in other actions. Information on location, tonnage, route, casualties, etc.

    This is an important reference for ship losses, especially British merchant shipping, but its value would be much increased if the criteria for inclusion were explicitly stated.

    Reviewed 17 March 1996


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