Shadows on the Horizon Book Review

Shadows on the Horizon: The Battle of Convoy HX-233

By W. A. Haskell

Hardcover in dustjacket, 192 pages, appendices, sources, photographs, and index

Published by Naval Institute Press, March 1999

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-55750-887-9

ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-887-4

Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches

Shadows on the Horizon describes in great detail the sailing of Convoy HX-233 in April 1943, and its subsequent interception by eight German U-boats.  By this time the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic was turning against the Germans.  The Allied production effort was in full swing with new ships, both merchants and escorts, coming into service at a blistering pace.  Added to the sheer numbers of vessels were several technological advances in weapons and sensors.  Allied aircraft harassed the U-boats as they transited to and from operating areas, and groups of anti-submarine ships patrolled the Atlantic, acting independently to hunt U-boats or coming to the aid of convoys as needed.  In addition, the Allies had broken the German codes, giving advanced warning of their intentions.

In many ways HX-233 was a typical formation for the spring of 1943.  It consisted of fifty-eight merchant ships arranged in twelve columns, escorted by nine warships.  In addition, a support group of four Royal Navy destroyers supplemented the dedicated escorts during a portion of the transit.  Opposing them were a total of eight German U-boats which were vectored into position to intercept the convoy.

This book is a detailed technical assessment of the voyage of the convoy, and can be seen as a representative engagement of the Battle of the Atlantic during the spring of 1943.  The author has drawn on the national archives of the many nations and logs of the ships involved along with a plethora of interviews and other sources.  The appendices provide technical details and reports.  For the wargamer, this book supplies enough information to construct a Battle of the Atlantic convoy scenario.

While in reality a technical history, the narrative is interesting enough that the presentation does not bog down and remains engaging throughout.  The author’s inspiration is that he was serving aboard one of the merchant ships in the convoy, but this is not a personal narrative.  Several details were new to me, such as the organization of the merchant ships in the convoy and their Armed Guard detachments, along with the experiences of the survivors of U-boat which had been sunk.  Recommended.