Book Review: Hitler's Gateway to the Atlantic: German Naval Bases in France, 1940-1945


by Lars Hellwinkel

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014. Pp. vi, 234. Illus., maps, diag., notes, index. $49.95. ISBN: 1591141648

Building the Bases for the Battle of the Atlantic.

The old saw about “amateurs" study tactics, while professionals study logistics” is perhaps even more applicable to naval warfare than to land operations; navies require elaborate basing, repair, and supply installations in order to project power over the seas, but these hardly ever find much attention in most histories. Hitler’s Gateway to the Atlantic, however, is precisely about those boring shore-side facilities that played an essential role in the Battle of the Atlantic. 

German naval historian Hellwinkell opens with a look at the interwar period, which saw German naval strategists reviewing their experience in operating U-boats from Channel coast bases during the First World War and began thinking about the possibilities if another war would come, a matter tested in wargames. 

Hellwinkell then examines the campaign in France in 1940 and the decision to establish an extensive system of naval bases on the French coast. . His discussion of the development and operation of these bases includes the role of French collaborationists, some of whom were actually serving the Resistance, and life in the base areas under the Occupation. Hellwinkell then discusses how, in the aftermath of D-Day and the Allied drive across France, the base areas became fortress zones, supporting the Reich’s war effort, some holding out until after the surrender of Germany.  His final chapter looks at the state of the installations today, some of which are still in use and some merely deteriorating relics of the Third Reich.  

Hitler’s Gateway to the Atlantic is not only an important read for those interested in the Battle of the Atlantic, but is particularly so for students of naval infrastructure and logistics.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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