Book reviews

Q-ships versus U-boats

America's Secret Project

Beyer, Kenneth

1999, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1557500444
236 pages, 16 photos, 7 maps/diagrams, 4 facsimiles
book is in English language

Type. Personal narrative
Pros. Covers the events of spring 1942 from a new perspective
Cons. Technique used to describe the sinking of the Atik is somewhat unusual

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This book covers the initial operations of the American Q-ships Atik and Asterion, pre-World War I era merchantmen originally named Carolyn and USS Asterion. The author, who was supply officer on Asterion, describes how the idea for these mystery ships came into being, their secret staffing and fitting out, and their first mission (and for Atik the last) beginning in March 1942. The actions of the U-boats that came in contact with these vessels, most notably U-123 (Hardegen), U-105 (Schuch), and U-552 (Topp), are also chronicled.

Beyer interviewed Hardegen at length, perused war diaries and official documents, and in general provides a well-documented and objective overview. One unusual aspect of the book is the technique he uses to describe the last hours of the Atik. This vessel was lost with all hands, having broadcast only two radio messages between the time of the first torpedo hit and the final explosion that signaled her end. Nevertheless, Beyer has used conjecture and extrapolation to provide a summary of the "likely" events - not just a bare outline, but specific actions and words of specific men. His intention is to present the truth as he believes it must have happened, and also provide a "word picture" to enable readers to imagine the dramatic sequence of events. It is up to the individual reader to form an opinion as to whether or not this technique is successful.

Another interesting factor is that, by comparing the war diaries of U-123 and U-552, Beyer comes to certain conclusions about the tactical abilities of Hardegen versus Topp, and compares their personalities as well.

Additionally, Beyer proposes that the final blow against Atik was struck, not by U-123, but by U-105, and interesting conjecture which he backs up with plausible circumstantial evidence.

Altogether, this book brings a new and interesting perspective to the events of the spring of 1942 off the U.S. coast.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

This review was published on 24 Nov 1999.

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