Book Review: The Gathering Storm: The Naval War in Northern Europe, September 1939-April 1940


by Geirr Haarr

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Pp. x, 528. Illus., maps, tables, appends, notes, biblio, index. $52.95. ISBN: 1591143314

There Was No “Phony War” at Sea

With this volume, Norwegian scholar Haarr adds the “prequel” to the events he treated in his two excellent earlier volumes, on the invasion of Denmark and Norway in April of 1940 and on the Norwegian Campaign of April through June of that year, by providing a detailed account of the naval side of the Second World War prior to those operations.  He opens with a great deal of background information on the development of the various navies to the eve of the outbreak of the war with the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939.  Then, after reminding us that “there was no Phony War at sea,” Haarr gets into the naval campaigns in the Baltic, the North Sea, the Atlantic, and elsewhere, from September of 1939 through the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April of 1940. 

Haarr throws some new light on many operations, offering much greater coverage of some actions that are often overlooked.  So we see get an interesting account of naval operations between Germany and Poland during the first days of the war, the start of the u-boot war, mining operations by both sides, British as well as German armed merchant cruisers, and more.  He not only covers conventional naval operations in European waters, but also the operations of German merchant and naval commerce raiders in distant waters, fitting them into the larger strategic and operational picture. 

Haarr incorporates discussions of new weapon systems into his account.  Some new systems, such as the aircraft carrier, were being used operationally for the very first time naval warfare, and so some events that may seem illogical today, were the result of inexperience, rather than ineptitude.  He also populates his account with little profiles of many of the people who took part in the events.  Haarr makes some interesting suggestions, arguing, for example, that the Germans may have lost the “Battle of the Atlantic” even before the war began, which may seem a curious idea, but is certainly thought provoking. 

Although not a definitive treatment, The Gathering Storm is certainly an excellent account of  the largely neglected maritime struggle during the first eight months of the war.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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