Importance of timing a strategy

A lesson in the importance of timing in strategy from World War 2.


You might have the best plan on paper but how and more importantly when you implement it matters a lot.


During the WW2 U-boats were an impressive part of Germany’s arsenal.


An unwritten rule that civilian boats wouldn’t be attacked was broken by a German submarine commander which gave importance to Germany in building their fleet of U-boats.


After the attack and the sinking of the British passenger ship SS Athenia, the battle of the Atlantic had begun.


Britain reacted by imposing a Naval blockade on Germany ensuring the Kriegsmarine didn’t launch its warships and cut off the merchant line hampering the supply to Germany.


A reaction to this was implementing the U-boat fleet to literally sail under the Naval blockade pretty much undetected.


Now back to my headline, Admiral Karl Donitz was the commander in chief of the U-boat fleet at this time. Donitz was very convinced that U-boats would make the biggest dent in the enemy's defence and would be the largest influence on the spread of the Third Reich. His strategy was to astronomically increasing the fleet numbers and attack the British Naval ships crippling food and fuel supplies eventually starving Britain to surrender.


He sought 300 U-boats from Hitler to achieve this goal, 100 out in the Atlantic destroying the enemy, 100 in transit to replace the active ones and 100 in maintenance and training. He only got less than 50 in total as his ask was blocked by the Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine, Admiral Raeder who believed in ships attacking ships and didn’t buy into the U-boat strategy.


On Raeder’s advice, Hitler backed the big battleships. This mistiming also gave Britain to counterattack by using anti-submarine mines and Turing’s cracking of the Enigma which gave out the submarine locations was detrimental to the U-boat fleet.


Admiral Raeder on the other side suffered a huge defeat with his battleship strategy and the furious Fuhrer dismissed him promoting Donitz as the Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine. Donitz finally was able to get what he always wanted, the 300 U-boats but a bit too late. The Allies had advanced technologically and destroyed 40 U-Boats in May 1943 (known as Black May) alone. With the access to the Enigma machine and newer radar detection systems the Allies handed the German Navy a crushing defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic.


As more U-boats were destroyed Dontiz’s incoming crew were getting more inexperienced, and the fleet was practically wiped out including the personal loss of his son who was in a U-boat sunk by the British Navy.



Winston Churchill is known to have said that the only thing that kept him awake at night was the damage the U-boats were causing.


If Admiral Donitz had access to his 300 U-boats in the initial phases of the Battle of Atlantic as requested, the world would have been a very different place today and I can only be happy that his timing sucked.