Why did the Germans (and Allies for that matter) not devote more energy to the mining of enemy controlled waters (in the Med, British and North American waters for the Germans and Med, Baltic and Norweigan waters for the Western Allies)?

  • 1
    Which one is your question? (note "what if..." ones are not welcome here) – Voitcus Apr 28 '15 at 15:55
  • "what if" is the traditional beginning for a speculative counterfactual; those are out of scope for H:SE. We deal in the history we have, not the history that we might have had. Having said that, there is a strong tradition of speculative counterfactuals in military history. We'll leave it up to the community. I'm going to offer an edit that I hope will bring you closer to scope. Welcome to H:SE. – MCW Apr 28 '15 at 17:11
  • 1
    I'd also (strongly) back Voitcus' suggestion that you split this into two questions. The second question is, I think, far less speculative, since there may be documents that explain RN strategic choices. – MCW Apr 28 '15 at 17:13
  • As it stands, I would characterize this "question" as opinion-based. Not to mention being "bi-furcated." – Tom Au Apr 28 '15 at 18:34
  • 2
    Given that the U-boat campaign almost knocked Britain out of the war I would hardly call it a waste of resources from the German perspective. – Doug B Apr 28 '15 at 18:49

Mines, like most other passive defense systems, have a limited utility. Mines don't stay in one spot, as storms and currents move them, sometimes into your own areas. Mines fail as sea-water corrodes them. You have to place them in huge areas yet a narrow swept lane negates nearly all of their usefulness.

So unless you already control the seas, your mines will be negated. If you do control the sea, then mines are something of a danger to you!

Subs are more expensive, but can move into contested waters and hunt the enemy. They can be moved from place to place, and keep their weapons in order until needed. If the battleground moves, they can move with it.

  • 1
    Nearly all WW2 mines were moored. – Tyler Durden Apr 28 '15 at 19:08
  • And moorings come undone from time to time. – Oldcat Apr 28 '15 at 21:43
  • Not all mining is defensive. Offensive mining can be done from ships, submarines and aircraft. Sea control might exclude surface mine layers but not submarines and aircraft. Defensive ASW minefields can effectively exclude submarine mine layers from restricted waters but that still leaves air laid offensive mining. – Conrad Turner Apr 29 '15 at 6:13

This is two different questions:

What if Germany as diverted the resources wasted in the U-boat campaign (or at least half) to saturation mining of the Med and British waters?

Kind of a judgemental question, but it is true that more mining might have been effective. The Mediterranean was heavily mined during the war. In general ships had to take very specific routes cleared by minesweepers and constantly patrolled.

Subs could not get into the Mediterranean because of the blockade at Gibraltar. Also, even if you got a sub into the Mediterranean, it was problematic because there were so many mines everywhere. The British could not operate subs in the Mediterranean because of mines.

The coast around Britain was a similar story. It was very heavily patrolled and sea lanes were protected around the clock by minesweepers and destroyers. If the Germans had developed mobile mines or more advanced methods of mine laying it might have had a beneficial effect, but it would have been complex, expensive and time consuming to alter their basic strategy in this way. If the Germans could have established air superiority over all of Britain, it would have been lights out because among other things, that would have allowed them to mine the sea lanes, but that never happened.

Why didn't the RN [Royal Navy] mine the Norwegian coast to stop iron shipments from Sweden to the Reich?

They did attempt to do this in Operation Wilfred which attempted to neutralize the port of Narvik. The invasion of Norway by the Germans prevented this operation from being effective. Even if the mining could have been accomplished, ore could have been diverted through Lulea. Other mines in Sweden were in places which could ship to Germany through German-controlled waters.

  • 1
    I think there is some confusion on your part. The British successfully operated submarines in the Med throughout the war. They lost 45 in that theater, but had great success particularly against Europe-North Africa shipping. The Germans also operated extensively in the Med, slipping through the Gibralter choke point. The sinking of the Barham is evidence of their success. Then there are the Italians - they were more than just midget subs. Most of the Med is deep enough that mines are impractical (different from the North Sea). – Jon Custer Apr 28 '15 at 21:28
  • @JonCuster Out of approximately 1200 U-boats the Germans had, about 60 ever operated in the Mediterranean. I would not call that "extensive". Are you just trying to be argumentative? – Tyler Durden Apr 28 '15 at 22:09
  • 1
    Overall, it was aimed more at the assertion that the British could not operate in the Med because of mines, while all the major combatants operated subs without major interference from mines. – Jon Custer Apr 28 '15 at 22:18
  • @JonCuster I don't consider the British efforts in the sub arena in the Mediterranean to be other than a very minor sidelight in the war that had little practical impact. My understanding is that the total tonnage sunk by them was something like 100,000 tons which if you compare it to the 14+ million tons sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic is basically so trivial as to be inconsequential. – Tyler Durden Apr 28 '15 at 23:00
  • 1
    Through the Italien surrender in September 1943, British subs sank more than 800,000 tons of Axis shipping, which they could ill afford to lose. Supply to North Africa was always a problem during Axis operations there. Yes it was not the battle of the North Atlantic, but it was an active theater of war. Submarines could, and did, operate in the Med throughout the war. – Jon Custer Apr 28 '15 at 23:20

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.