The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

World War II

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Battle of the Atlantic

Tons of American-produced supplies and war matériel, as well as hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, had only one way to get to Europe: in ships crossing the North Atlantic. German submarines, or U-boats, posed a constant threat to Allied vessels, even ships in U.S. coastal waters; by war’s end, more than 2,500 would be sunk. But the deployment of ships in convoys, as well as ever-improving detection technologies and anti-sub weaponry, ensured that thousands of tankers, merchant ships, and troop transports made safe—albeit nerve-wracking—crossings. Allied counterattacks ultimately destroyed most of the U-boat fleet.

Because lone ships at sea were highly vulnerable to attacks by prowling German U-boats, the Allies began to dispatch supply and troop ships in groups. At first, several ships were accompanied by a single destroyer. Soon dozens of vessels, sometimes more than 100, were sailing together with multiple warships. Airplanes acted as spotters, first flying in patrols above coastal waters and later launched from escort ships. Convoys transported everything needed to wage war: an “iron mountain” of weapons, ammunition, equipment, supplies, planes, and vehicles, and tens of thousands of troops.


Exhibition Graphics

Convoy

Convoy

Supplies ready for shipment in convoys

Supplies ready for shipment in convoys

Troops being shipped to Europe

Troops being shipped to Europe

Unloading a jeep

Unloading a jeep

Crew members in Combat Information Centers tracked enemy vessels using visual sightings, radio direction finding, radar, and sonar.

Crew members in Combat Information Centers tracked enemy vessels using visual sightings, radio direction finding, radar, and sonar.

Signalman flashing a coded message

Signalman flashing a coded message


Related Artifacts

Navy Dungarees and “Dixie Cup” Hat
Navy Talker's Helmet

“Damn the Torpedoes!”

Even when traveling in protected convoys, the U.S. merchant fleet of tankers, freighters, transports, tugs, barges, and newly built Liberty ships was vulnerable to attack by “wolf packs” of German U-boats. A torpedoed vessel hit midships in the engine room could sink in less than a minute. Often it caught fire or exploded first, and ships transporting fuel oil or munitions were especially vulnerable. One in twenty-six U.S. mariners died during the war, a rate higher than that of any of the other services. Those who survived the sinkings returned to sea again and again.


Exhibition Graphics

German submarine sighting (targeting) an Allied merchant ship

German submarine sighting (targeting) an Allied merchant ship

Allied tanker sunk by a German submarine

Allied tanker sunk by a German submarine

Aboard a German U-boat

Aboard a German U-boat

U.S. Navy B-24 hunting German submarines

U.S. Navy B-24 hunting German submarines

Sinking of a German U-boat

Sinking of a German U-boat

Rescued at Sea

Rescued at Sea


Related Artifacts

German Binoculars


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