Ireland and the Battle of the Atlantic
2012, Mercier Press
Paperback, 352 pages
The war was only few days old when the liner Athenia was sunk north of Ireland by U-30 (Oblt. Fritz-Julius Lemp) on 3 Sept 1939 and 449 of its 1306 survivors landed at Galway, Ireland on 5 Sept. From then on there was a steady stream of survivors to Irish shores throughout the war which is the scope of this book. Neutral Shores is very well written and researched. I had not read a book written specifically on this subject before and it was a pleasing read.
What separates this book from many is that it tells the story all the way to Irish shores and explains that happened to survivors once rescued. For many being rescued was only the first step in getting home, often going through more hardships en route. Often hundreds of people without papers or provisions were semi stranded and unsure of how to proceed, often putting great strain on the often small communities that did their best to help.
Some great stories are in the book. For example, in a unique and very humane case after U-35 (Kplt. Werner Lott) had sunk the Greek ship Diamantis on 3 Oct 1939 the Germans cared for and then landed all 28 survivors in Dingle Bay, Ireland the next day after deciding the lifeboats were not suitable for reaching shore.
Survivors' stories, obviously, mostly deal with Allied or neutral sailors landing on Irish shores but the last two chapters deal with German destroyer survivors and then the loss of U-260 in March 1945. The chapter on U-260 is very good and provides details not readily seen elsewhere.
17 chapters deal with various stories of losses and shipwrecked people, 2 appendixes list all the ships and explain the convoy routes, a nice glossary is included and finally 20 pages of supporting notes (I tend to read these first when books include them, to get a feel of the research).
The book is very well sourced and noted throughout which is always pleasing to see and its author obviously put a lot of attention to his work. He thanks many people I know to be among the best on the topic which is always helpful, plus he draws on many primary sources. Maps are used very sparingly but when used they show locations of ships sunk that had survivors land in Ireland plus some showing the very lengthy routes some survivors took to Irish shore. There are no photos in the book which is slightly unfortunate as seeing some of the ships mentioned would have been nice, but honestly the excellent narration does not really require them.
With the reviewer coming from a neutral nation it is interesting, but not surprising, to see just how similar the Irish experience was to Iceland's. If you have an interest, or know little about the book's subject, this book is highly recommended.
Review written by Guğmundur Helgason.
Published on 11 Dec 2012.
This title is highly recommended.
Return to our main review page.