Before reading any factual book, I always glance through the pictures and images. Only very rarely do I learn something important from this initial familiarisation. On this occasion I learned that an unofficial war between the US Navy and German submarines had been ongoing for several months before Pearl Harbour. Perhaps more importantly, apart from the portrait of Dönitz, I did not recognise any of the other photographs used.
This is a book about the men who manned Germany's submarines - her U Boats. It seeks to expose their character, their weaknesses and their strengths - the very "what it was" that made them successful and made them national heroes and occasionally national villains. There are those with whom even the casual reader of U Boat history will be familiar - Prien, Kretschmer and Schepke for example. Then there are those whose exploits, in some cases, were even greater or perhaps more dastardly but, for whatever reason, kept their own personal periscope of exposure well below the surface at all times and are, therefore, less well known - Weddigen (who, in an obsolete, gas-powered U Boat, sank the 3 Cruisers HMS' Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue within 90 minutes in September 1914 and escaped without a scratch), Schwieger (who infamously sank the Lusitania in May 1915 killing 1,198 people) and Lemp (who, within 6 hours of war being declared, sank the Athenia in 1939 and, breaking every rule of warfare imaginable, killed 128 people) to name but six.
It is that indefinable quality which binds together men from diverse backgrounds with very different attitudes, hopes and aspirations to perform a common task. That is what this book is all about and is, therefore essential reading for those with an interest in the U Boat.
On the down side, I found the Athenia's 128 death toll described as "several hundred" - something which may (or may not) reveal a lack of attention to fine detail during the author's research. In addition, that perennial favourite of mine is the inclusion of the hyphen between "U" and "Boat." Whilst many will regard this as VERY "picky-picky," it is a fact that the hyphen does not appear after the letter "U" in connection with U Boats anywhere in original German documents but was added by English language writers. This is not a book about U Boat commanders from a British or American perspective, it is researched in Germany with a cast of former U Boat commanders and it tells their story. Consequently, U Boat, U21 and U47 are quite correct. U-Boat, U-21 and U-47 are incorrect.
Whilst I may be surprised this was not spotted during research in Germany, it should not be allowed to mar the readers enjoyment of the work.