Book reviews


Dönitz and the Wolf Packs

The U-boats at War

Edwards, Bernard


1999, Cassell Academic
ISBN 0304352039
Paperback, 240 pages
book is in English language

Type. General History
Pros. Overall accurate; interesting narrative
Cons. Stereotypical good-versus-evil point of view
Rating.


This book covers the major convoy battles of the U-boat war in the North Atlantic. As such, it does a pretty good job, with dramatic language calculated to hold the reader's interest. Each chapter ends with a brief summing up of the convoys discussed in terms of the victories and failures of both sides, and whether a turning point was reached. The convoys covered are HX 92, SC 2, SC 7, ONS 92, ONS 100, ON 113, ON 115, SC 94, SC 97, ON 127, SL 125, HX 217, ONS 154, SC 118, ON 166, SC 121, HX 228, HX 231, ONS 5, HX 237, SC 130, and ONS 18/ON 202.

Overall the convoy battle data is accurate in terms of dates, U-boats involved, tonnage of ships sunk, etc. One problem is that the author sometimes (but not always) uses the U-boat commander's terminal rank rather than his rank at the time of the action in question. For example, Otto Kretschmer is almost always referred to as Korvettenkapitän, even though the actions under discussion occur before he reached that rank; however, at one point he is referred to by his correct rank at that time, Kapitänleutnant. The author does not explicitly state that he is choosing to refer to commanders by their terminal wartime rank, which creates a misleading situation for those not well-acquainted with the U-boat war.

One aspect of the book which is slightly annoying is its overemphasis of the "ravening wolves harrying defenseless flock of sheep" metaphor. Given that Dönitz himself popularized the "wolfpack" image, repeated use of words such as "cunning" and "slink" are perhaps not out of place here, although the frequent use of words such as "savage", "cruel", "barbaric", etc., to describe the U-boats soon becomes tiresome. In fact, in general the author uses a good-versus-evil or hero-versus-villain approach, where the merchant seamen and their escorts valiantly face the unequal opposition of the ruthless, efficient, Nazi killers. Two Monsarrat-esque phrases from the conclusion sum up the general tone of the book:

"the submarine has always been regarded by professional seamen as an unethical weapon to send against a merchant ship"

and

"to die facing an enemy was one thing, [...] but to fall to an assassin who hid under the sea was a cruel and undeserved fate"

Even so, Edwards is an engaging writer, and his accounts of the major convoy battles of the U-boat war are quite accurate, with the exception of the problem with commanders' ranks noted above. If you can get past the rather one-sided approach (and it does ease up after the first several chapters), then this is a worthwhile, informative, and entertaining book.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

This review was published on 28 Apr 2002.

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