06 August 2022

Improvised Invasion Fleets, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 335-337):

The Allies’ material shortages, especially in shipping, compelled them to improvise. The British had three full-sized aircraft carriers and three smaller ones to cover their assigned targets, but the Americans had only the Ranger. To supplement her, they constructed flight decks atop four oilers and redesignated them as auxiliary carriers. Significantly smaller than regular carriers, and lacking a hangar deck, they could still embark thirty planes each, though all of them had to be carried on the flight deck.

Troop transports were another problem. What few landing ships the British possessed had been lost at Narvik and Dunkirk, and many of the American transports were half a world away, running supplies into Guadalcanal. It was a zero-sum game: ships needed for one undertaking necessarily had to come from someplace else. As the official British history of the campaign puts it, “The transports, store-ships, and auxiliaries of all sorts which had to be taken out of circulation seriously upset the Allied shipping programme throughout the world.” The Allies cobbled together what they could. To carry soldiers to North Africa, they relied heavily on prewar cruise ships; the British even commandeered ferryboats from the Glasgow-Belfast run. Similarly, American civilian cargo vessels metamorphosed into “attack transports.” In effect, the invasion fleets for Torch were jury-rigged (as the Americans put it); in the British idiom, they were “lash-ups.”

Of course, the packed troopships and laden cargo vessels required a substantial escort in order to cross the several thousand miles of hostile ocean to the invasion beaches, and that, too, meant withdrawing forces from other theaters. Britain could escort its contingent only by relying heavily on the Home Fleet, as it had for Pedestal, committing three battleships (Duke of York, Nelson, and Rodney), the battlecruiser Renown, five cruisers, and all five of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers plus thirty-one destroyers. To obtain them, the Royal Navy reduced the escorts for the transatlantic convoys and suspended convoys to Russia altogether. The escorts for the American troopships, which would sail directly to North Africa from the East Coast of the United States, included three battleships (Massachusetts, New York, and Texas), seven cruisers, and thirty-eight destroyers. More destroyers would have been desirable, but in the late summer of 1942, destroyers were in demand everywhere, including the Solomon Islands.

Once the troopships and cargo vessels arrived at the target beaches, there was the additional problem of getting the men, their equipment, and their vehicles from the transports to the beach. The Marines who had landed at Guadalcanal had benefited from years of practice landings during the 1930s, and their assault on Guadalcanal had been almost routine; they merely had to climb over the sides of their landing boats and wade ashore. The assault in North Africa, however, would involve soldiers, not Marines, and on a much larger scale. To get them from ship to shore, they would have to climb down rope or chain nets from the transports into small plywood boats that would carry them several miles to the beach.

The vessels needed to accomplish that were also in short supply. The British version of this type of small landing boat was called “landing craft, assault” (LCA), and the American version was called “landing craft, personnel” (LCP). Each was capable of carrying thirty-six soldiers at a time, and their navy crewmen were to shuttle back and forth between ship and shore until the landing force was established. Because the American LCPs had been designed and built by Andrew Jackson Higgins, nearly everyone called them Higgins boats (a practice that will be followed here). Later in the war, both the British and American versions would have armored drop-front bows that would enable the soldiers to run directly from the boat out onto the beach, but the early models were simply rectangular plywood boxes with a motor on the back, and when they ground up onto the sand, the men, each of them carrying between sixty and ninety pounds of gear plus their rifle, had to climb out over the sides into waist-deep water before making their way to the beach, as the Marines had done at Guadalcanal.

Getting armored vehicles ashore was a bigger problem. The campaigns in France and Flanders in 1940 had demonstrated that ground combat in the Second World War meant the use of armored vehicles, specifically tanks. Getting tanks from ship to shore was a far more difficult problem than carrying soldiers. The British had experimented with tank-carrying ships that were converted from shallow-draft oil tankers used on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. Like so many innovations, this one had originated in the fertile mind of the prime minister, and the vessels were dubbed “Winstons” (smaller versions were called “Winettes”). What made them distinctive was their massive bow doors, which opened like a giant cupboard. After running up as close to the beach as they could get, they opened their big bow doors and deployed a long ramp. In theory, tanks and trucks could then drive out from their commodious hold directly onto the beach. The concept was certainly valid, as later models of such ships demonstrated. The early versions, however, were cumbersome and difficult to unload, and they had proved disappointing, and nearly disastrous, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe.

The Americans attacked the problem differently, appropriating a large cargo ship, the Seatrain New Jersey, that had been designed to carry railroad cars from New York to Cuba, and modifying it to carry tanks. She was not a true amphibious ship, however, since her deep V-shaped hull did not allow her to steam up onto a beach, and she could unload her cargo of tanks only if she had access to a working harbor.

Carriers, battleships, cruisers, troopships, cargo ships, destroyers, and landing craft: altogether, the British and Americans employed nearly six hundred ships, plus the small Higgins boats, to execute this first major strategic counteroffensive of the war. From the start, the commanders had to scramble to find the manpower, the equipment, and especially the shipping to make it happen. The nickname “Operation Shoestring” that had been used to describe the Guadalcanal landing might just as easily have been applied to Torch.

05 August 2022

U-Boats Off U.S. Coastline, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 251-255:

On December 9, 1941, the day Hitler unleashed the U-boats for use against American shipping, Dönitz asked OKW to release twelve of them for a campaign in American waters. The German high command allotted him only six, keeping the rest for service off Gibraltar, further annoying an already disgusted Dönitz. Moreover, one of the six boats developed an oil leak, so that in the end, only five of them departed in December to take up positions off the eastern coast of the United States. Dönitz also sent ten of the smaller Type VII boats, packed with extra fuel and supplies, to the waters off Nova Scotia, which was just within their operational range. Those fifteen boats represented a substantial portion of his entire U-boat flotilla.

Crossing the Atlantic in a surfaced U-boat was harrowing. Peter-Erich Cremer, skipper of the U-333, recalled that “the waves were as high as houses.” The boats pitched wildly, banging down on each successive wave with a jarring thump, often knocking crewmen off their feet. They also rolled side to side by as much as 120 degrees. When the seas became so violent as to threaten the safety of the boat, the captain could submerge into the relatively calm waters below the raging surface, but that reduced the boat’s speed to about five knots, which dramatically lengthened the transit time and used up precious fuel, food, and water supplies. Dönitz wanted all of the boats to begin simultaneous attacks on January 13, and running submerged for any length of time jeopardized meeting that deadline.

...

While the British and Americans squabbled, Operation Paukenschlag [Drumbeat] got under way, though not quite with the kind of devastating impact Dönitz had envisioned. Mainly this was because the five Type IX U-boats did not all manage to get into position by the target date of January 13. Hardegen’s U-123 sank the Panamanian tanker Norness off Long Island on the fourteenth, but the last of the five boats did not arrive at its assigned position off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, until the eighteenth.

The Carolina capes constituted a critical choke point for American coastwise trade. In January 1942, 95 percent of the oil pumped from the Louisiana and Texas oil fields made its way to the Eastern Seaboard in tanker ships that necessarily had to pass around Cape Hatteras, where the shoals narrowed the shipping channel to a mere thirty miles. Eventually the United States would shift much of its domestic oil transport to rail cars and pipelines, but when Dönitz’s U-boats arrived off Hatteras on January 18, the shipping there was so abundant that upon surfacing, Hardegen was astonished to see “no fewer than twenty steamers, some with their lights on.” That night he sank four of them.

In accordance with Dönitz’s suggested protocols, the U-boats lay quietly on the bottom of the continental shelf during the daylight hours, surfacing at night to look for passing freighters, and especially tankers. Not only did the targeted ships proceed independently, but many, as Hardegen noted, still had their running lights on, making them irresistible targets. Even those ships proceeding blacked out were often starkly silhouetted against the lights that were still burning on shore, since most cities from Miami to New York did not enforce nighttime blackouts. German U-boat skippers, who had been at war for more than two years, were dumbfounded by such carelessness, and bemused by the sight of car headlights passing along the coastal roads. Peter Cremer, commanding the U-333, recalled that “through the night glasses we could distinguish equally the big hotels and the cheap dives, and read the flickering neon signs.” Peering into New York harbor through his binoculars, Hardegen jokingly told his crew that he could see dancers atop the Empire State Building. In such an environment, the U-boats, few as they were, had a field day. In the last two weeks of January, they sank twenty-three ships, thirteen of them tankers. Counting the ships sunk in Canadian waters by the smaller Type VIIs, the U-boats of Operation Paukenschlag dispatched forty-one Allied ships displacing 236,000 tons in just two weeks. The losses were shocking, all the more so in that many of them occurred within sight of the American coastline.

04 August 2022

Atlantic Convoy System, 1939

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 107-110:

The British response to the U-boat threat was to establish a convoy system. Though convoys had been used by maritime powers to protect trade since the Age of Sail, the Admiralty had been initially reluctant to embrace the concept during the First World War. After all, a convoy conveniently clustered all the merchant ships together, thus creating a target-rich environment for a stalking U-boat. Then, too, convoys necessarily had to proceed at the speed of the slowest vessel. Despite these apparent defects, however, the events of 1917–18 had proved that convoys were by far the most effective countermeasure to a U-boat threat, and in 1939 the British established a convoy system even before the war began.

From the start, each convoy was identified by a code that indicated its origin, destination, and numerical sequence. The first outbound convoy from Liverpool, for example, was OB-1. Eventually, regular convoys were established for routes from Gibraltar (HG), Jamaica (KJ), Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL), and scores of other places, though the busiest and most important route was the transatlantic one between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and either Liverpool or the Firth of Clyde (Glasgow) in Scotland. Eastbound convoys from Canada to Britain were designated as HX convoys (homebound from Halifax), and westbound convoys were ON convoys (outbound to North America). Typically they consisted of twenty to forty merchant ships organized into seven to ten columns of four or five ships each. To avoid collision in rough seas or heavy fog, the ships in each column steamed at intervals of four hundred to six hundred yards, and the columns themselves were a thousand yards apart. As a result, a forty-ship convoy filled a rectangle of ocean five miles wide and two or three miles long, an area as large as fifteen square miles.

The merchant ships were under the supervision of a convoy commander, a civilian who was usually a retired Royal Navy officer and who rode one of the merchant ships as commodore. His job was to maintain order within the convoy and issue the periodic course changes by flag hoist or blinker light that kept it zigzagging across the sea, a protocol designed to throw potential attackers off their stroke. Maintaining order in a convoy was often difficult since civilian merchant captains were unused to making the precise tactical maneuvers required to reorient forty ships simultaneously on a new course. The commodores necessarily had to adjust their expectations of instantaneous execution when ordering a course change.

In the van and on the flanks of this large rectangle of ships, and often maneuvering independently as well, were the armed escorts. If Dönitz was frustratingly short of operational U-boats, the British were equally deficient in the number of available escorts. Destroyers were the most effective convoy escorts, but destroyers were needed everywhere, and the heavy losses during the Norway campaign and especially off Dunkirk meant that the Royal Navy had a severe shortage of these critical workhorse warships. To make up the shortfall, all sorts of vessels were called into service for escort duty.

...

Among them was a new type of small warship called a corvette. Because the first generation of corvettes were all named for flowers, they were known as Flower-class ships and they bore such unwarlike names as Azalea, Begonia, Bluebell, and Buttercup. At only 940 tons each, they were tiny and carried only a single 4-inch gun on their foredeck plus twin .50-caliber machine guns; against virtually any conventional warship they were all but helpless. They were not only small, they were also slow. With a maximum speed of sixteen knots, corvettes were no faster than a surfaced U-boat. They were nearly as uncomfortable as well, especially in the volatile North Atlantic, where even in a moderate sea they bounced around like so much flotsam. A crewman on the Rhododendron recalled that being on a corvette “was like a terrier shaking a bit of rag. The old ship [would] corkscrew up on top of a wave and you’d be up and you’d look down into this trough and you’d think crikey, and the next thing you’d be down in there and a bloomin’ great wave’d come over the top.” That, plus the fact that a crew of fifty men was crammed into a 190-foot hull made service in a Flower-class corvette a challenge to one’s constitution and endurance. The novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, who served three years in corvettes, vividly recalled the challenge of simply eating a meal: “When you drink, the liquid rises toward you and slops over: at meals the food spills off your plate, the cutlery will not stay in place. Things roll about and bang, and slide away crazily.” Standing topside watch was an ordeal. “Every night for seventeen nights on end,” Monsarrat wrote, “you’re woken up at ten to four by the bosun’s mate, and you stare at the deck-head and think: My God, I can’t go up there again in the dark and filthy rain, and stand another four hours of it. But you can of course.”

On the plus side, the corvettes were inexpensive, could be built quickly, and had both Asdic [early sonar] and depth charges. Churchill extolled them as the “Cheap and Nasties,” meaning that they were cheap to build and nasty to the enemy. Fifty-six of them were laid down prior to September 3, 1939, and forty-one more soon after the war began. Eventually, Britain and Canada built 269 of them, including 130 for the Canadian Navy. Despite their floral names, minimal armament, and cramped quarters, they played a crucial role in sustaining Britain’s maritime lifeline to the outside world.

03 August 2022

December 1941 Turning Points

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 208-209:

None of the celebrating pilots aboard the six Japanese carriers could possibly have known that just the day before, on the other side of the world, Marshal Georgy Zhukov had directed a counterattack of half a million Russian soldiers against German forces outside Moscow. Before the winter was over, the Russians would push the Germans some two hundred miles to the west. Japan had joined the war at almost the precise moment that the German juggernaut was exposed as vulnerable after all.

...

However tactically successful, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor stands alongside Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union as one of the most reckless and irresponsible decisions in the history of warfare, and along with the Russian counterattack outside Moscow marked a decisive turning point in the Second World War. It brought the United States and its vast industrial resources fully into the conflict and galvanized American public opinion in such a way as to ensure not only an eventual Allied triumph, but what Roosevelt in his December 8 speech to Congress called “absolute victory.”

In view of that, it is easy to overlook the fact that the raid on Pearl Harbor was only one element of Japan’s grand strategy. In fact, the Japanese began to seize the southern resource area—the actual target of all their planning—at virtually the same moment their aircraft were crippling the American battle fleet. On December 4 and 5, as Nagumo turned his carriers to the southeast (and Zhukov assembled his divisions outside Moscow), Japanese invasion flotillas left Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, and Cam Ranh Bay, in Indochina, to steam southward into the Gulf of Siam. Even as the first plane lifted off from Nagumo’s carriers, a Japanese invasion force of twenty-one transports, escorted by a light cruiser and four destroyers, began landing soldiers on the north coast of British Malaya at Kota Bharu, just below the border with Thailand (formerly Siam). Ninety minutes later (as Fuchida’s planes were lining up for their attack run on Battleship Row), a second invasion force of twenty-two transports, escorted by a battleship and five cruisers plus seven destroyers, began landing soldiers at Singora Beach inside Siam, 130 miles up the Kra Peninsula.

02 August 2022

British Retreat from Greece

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 101-102:

German intervention in the Greek war was decisive. Within days, British and Greek ground forces were in full retreat. If the Germans had failed to provide adequate air cover for Iachino’s fleet, their aircraft proved devastatingly effective in the land war, and Stuka dive-bombers and Junkers level bombers dominated the skies. In a kind of mini Dunkirk, British transports and destroyers sought to rescue the hard-pressed Allied forces. More than fifty thousand men were successfully evacuated from mainland Greece and carried 250 miles southward to the island of Crete, though four thousand British soldiers and two thousand colonial troops from British Palestine had to be left behind to become prisoners of war.

Cunningham issued orders that “no enemy forces must reach Crete by sea.” Nor did they. Absent a surface navy, the Germans could not pursue their foes across the Aegean. But on May 20, thirteen thousand German paratroopers jumped onto the island from the air. The paratroopers suffered horrific casualties, and initially the British and Greek commanders believed they could contain them. But poor Allied coordination allowed the Germans to secure the airfields, and that enabled them to fly in transport planes filled with reinforcements and supplies. Within days, the Allies had to evacuate Crete as well.

As at Dunkirk the year before, every available destroyer was assigned to the task, and as at Dunkirk, the evacuation had to take place at night due to German control of the skies. For four consecutive nights, from May 28 to June 1, the destroyers crept in at midnight and loaded troops from the jetties, putting to sea well before dawn filled with exhausted and hungry soldiers. Some 16,500 men were evacuated, though once again more than 5,000 had to be left behind. The Luftwaffe pursued and attacked the Allied ships all the way across the Mediterranean, and the toll on Cunningham’s fleet was shocking—greater than Italian losses in the Battle of Cape Matapan. Altogether the British lost three light cruisers and six destroyers sunk and sixteen more ships severely damaged, including the battleships Warspite and Barham, as well as the new carrier Formidable. More than 2,400 British sailors lost their lives.

Despite efforts by the Regia Marina, the British still commanded the sea, but the Germans controlled the air, so—much like the Italians—the Royal Navy could not operate effectively beyond the umbrella of land-based air cover. Arthur Tedder, head of the Royal Air Force, observed that “any excursion [by warships] outside a radius of about 150 miles to the east and north of Alex[andria] is an expensive adventure.” The Royal Navy retained its presence in the eastern Mediterranean, but its reach had been severely limited.

01 August 2022

Results of the 1940 Battle for Norway

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 57-60:

Mackesy, with the rest of the Narvik invasion force, landed at Harstad, near Narvik, on April 15. There was more than a little confusion getting ashore, and the landings took longer than anticipated. In one case, it took five days to unload two ships, and meanwhile German aircraft continued their harassing attacks. The Furious, along with the newly arrived Glorious, flew two squadrons of British aircraft ashore, but they had little luck against the Luftwaffe, which claimed six British ships. Pressured by Churchill, [Admiral of the Fleet Lord] Cork urged Mackesy to undertake a land assault, but Mackesy, whose troops were floundering in snow up to their waists, was not to be hurried, and instead began a slow encirclement of the city. As he had with Forbes, Churchill then pressed Cork to undertake a bombardment of the town with his big ships. Cork did so on April 24, though with little effect. By the end of the month the British, French, and Poles had thirty thousand men in the Narvik area, yet the Germans continued to hold the town.

Even as the allied buildup continued, unambiguous intelligence began to arrive in London that a far more serious buildup was taking place on the Continent, where German armored divisions were gathering along the border with France and Belgium. Though the land war in Europe had remained quiescent since the fall of Poland in September, it now appeared that the Germans were about to initiate a major offensive. That led Chamberlain and the rest of the cabinet, including Churchill, to wonder if the Royal Navy was not overextended in Norway. As early as April 24, the day that Cork’s naval forces bombarded Narvik, the cabinet secretly voted to terminate the Norway campaign. The government shared this decision with the French, though they did not tell the Norwegians.

In the first week of May, Chamberlain called for a vote of confidence from the House of Commons. Somewhat defensively, he asked members “not to form any hasty opinions on the result of the Norwegian campaign,” which by now had become an apparent quagmire. Chamberlain narrowly won the vote but, recognizing that a change in government might revitalize British morale, he resigned anyway. Most of the errors of the Norwegian campaign could be traced to Churchill’s unfortunate meddling, but his reputation as an ardent and unyielding foe of Nazism (which he often pronounced as if it derived from the word “nausea”), made him the only suitable candidate as Chamberlain’s successor, and on May 10, the king asked him to form a government. As prime minister, Churchill also kept the portfolio of defense minister in his own hands, and of course he continued to exercise significant influence over naval affairs, so throughout the war he had near complete dominance of military and naval strategy as well as government policy.

On that same May 10, German armored columns, backed up by tactical aircraft, charged across the frontiers of France and Belgium. The swiftly unfolding campaign in France necessarily became Churchill’s most immediate priority, though he still hoped to complete the capture of Narvik before withdrawing from Norway. In part, he wanted to destroy the ore piers and railroad facilities there, but he also hoped that the seizure of Narvik would somehow validate the decision to go into Norway in the first place, which would demonstrate that the campaign had not been a complete failure—another Gallipoli. He replaced the cautious Mackesy with the more energetic Claude Auchinleck, and pressed Lord Cork to “get Narvik cleaned up as soon as possible.”

The Allied ground attack on Narvik took place on May 27. Hitler ordered the German defenders to fight to the last man, though they withdrew inland instead, destroying the railroad tunnels as they did so, thus actually aiding the British objective of making Narvik all but useless as an ore terminal. By the next day, Narvik was at last in British hands, though by then its importance had been overwhelmed by events elsewhere, and almost immediately the British prepared to evacuate not only Narvik but all of Norway. Norway’s King Haakon VII accepted a British offer to carry on a government in exile and was spirited out of Tromsø (along with fifty tons of Norway’s gold reserves) on June 1. At least as important, a handful of Norwegian warships and more than a thousand merchant vessels joined him. Given the worldwide dearth of shipping—on both sides—that was a significant boost to the British war effort.

Admiral Raeder had achieved his goal. Norway—or at least the principal port cities of Norway—had been occupied. To accomplish it, however, he had risked most of his surface navy and it had been severely crippled. Three cruisers, including the brand-new Blücher, and all ten of the destroyers sent to Narvik plus a dozen other ships had been sunk, and nearly every major combatant that survived the campaign had been damaged. By June 1940, the Kriegsmarine had fewer than a dozen surface combatants that were fit for service, and it no longer posed a meaningful threat to the Royal Navy in the North Sea or anywhere else. Raeder was also disappointed by the political outcome in Norway. From the start he had hoped that once the shooting stopped, it would be possible to adopt “a warm and friendly attitude” toward the Norwegians. Instead, Hitler’s appointed deputy treated Norway as a conquered province, a circumstance that gnawed at Raeder, who repeatedly tried to convince Hitler to adopt a more conciliatory policy, though with no success.

Finally, and ironically, the circumstances that had made Norway important enough to justify risking the entire German navy changed dramatically almost immediately. Once the Wehrmacht overran France, Dönitz’s U-boats obtained access to French ports on the Atlantic, which made those in Norway of little value, and the seizure of the enormous iron mines in French Lorraine made the mines in northern Sweden far less important. In the end, despite what looked to many like a German victory, Raeder had risked everything, lost much, and gained little.

The British, too, lost much in the Norway campaign, and for them there was one more tragedy to endure. On June 8, the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, accompanied by two destroyers, Ardent and Acasta, was returning to Britain from the evacuation of Trondheim. The Glorious had just recovered a squadron of Hurricane fighters from Norway that had managed to get aboard despite the fact that RAF planes lacked trailing hooks to catch the arrester wires. With her deck crowded with the Hurricanes, she had no fighters aloft when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau suddenly appeared on the horizon. Raeder had sent the battlecruiser twins to sea four days earlier under Wilhelm Marschall with orders to attack British shipping off Narvik. Though it was too late for that, Marschall stumbled into an unforeseen opportunity. With the Hurricanes crowding her flight deck, the crew of the Glorious could not get any fighters or bombers aloft. There was no explanation at all, however, for the fact that there were no topside lookouts on duty that day; the captain of the Glorious, Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, did not even order general quarters until twenty minutes after the German warships were in sight. The result was that the Glorious achieved the inglorious distinction of being the first aircraft carrier in history to be sunk by surface gunfire. Only thirty-four minutes after the Scharnhorst opened fire, the Glorious rolled over onto her starboard side and went down.

30 July 2022

Seals vs. Cod

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 200-202:

Marine ecology is complex and tightly interwoven. When large factory ships in the North Sea overfish sand eels and other small fish that are ground into fish meal for heating fuel in Denmark, not only cod but seabirds go hungry. In 1986, seal herds ranged south in the North Sea and ate the coastal fish off of Norway because they were famished from the overfishing of capelin. Fishermen were calling for a seal hunt to save the North Sea fisheries from the seal. In 1995, both Norway and Canada rescinded their ban on seal hunting because the populations were growing and they eat cod.

In the late 1950s, Canada’s seal hunt had become a target of environmentalists when high prices for seal pelts and a huge herd had drawn packs of ruthless, unskilled amateur hunters with helicopters to the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts. In 1964, the anger of animal lovers throughout the world was stirred by a film made by Artek, a Montreal film company, that depicted a seal being skinned alive. The international protest did not abate when it was revealed that the skinner had been paid by the film company and that two of the other “hunters” turned out to be part of the film crew. In 1983, after intensive pressure from environmental groups culminated with a European Community boycott of seal products, Canada finally banned seal hunting, a traditional activity in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not surprisingly, the 1995 reopening of the seal hunt met with national and international condemnation from environmentalist and animal-rights groups. The seal defenders claimed that there was no scientific basis for the seal hunt. Some even denied that seals eat cod. Before protecting the seal became a cause célèbre, everyone in Newfoundland knew that seals ate cod. The familiar label of the leading Newfoundland soft-drink company, G. H. Gaden, is a seal on an ice floe with the words keep cool. But in the less politically correct nineteenth century, a cod was in the seal’s mouth.

According to the Canadian government, the seal-hunting ban caused the harp seal population to double to 4.8 million, and if the ban had not been rescinded, it would be expected to be at 6 million by 2000. Seals eat enormous quantities of fish and are particularly disliked by fishermen because they are wasteful. Like the average North American consumer, gray, harbor, and harp seals do not like to deal with fish bones. They tear into the soft belly of the cod and leave most of the rest. “Seals don’t have to eat a lot of cod to have a big impact,” said George Rose. “It doesn’t mean we have to declare war on the seal. But we have to control the seal population.” One Canadian journalist, recalling Brigitte Bardot’s 1977 campaign in which she posed on an ice floe with a stuffed baby seal, suggested that the French actress pose hugging a codfish.

Given the interdependence of species, the fundamental question is whether other species—not just the seals but the phytoplankton, the zooplankton, the capelin, the seabirds, and the whales—will wait fifteen years for cod to return. Nature may have even less patience than politicians. “Whatever will work is going to work. It will not necessarily come out the same way,” said Rose. If the species that were eaten by cod become plentiful because the cod are not there to prey on them, other species may move in, and if the intruders are successful, there might not be enough food to support a large cod population again. Some biologists worry that rays, skates, and dogfish, which are small sharks, may already be moving in.

In addition, an unwanted relative has already shown up: the arctic cod (Boreogadus saida). This may not be bad for the marine ecology, but it is very bad news for fishermen. Arctic cod are about eight inches long and until now have been deemed of little commercial value. Because they are a much smaller fish, the adults do not compete with the Atlantic cod for food, but the young do. Even worse, arctic cod eat Atlantic cod eggs and larvae.