Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Laughing Cow

A U-boat Captain's Story

Metzler, Jost

2004, Kimber

Type. Personal Narrative
Pros. First hand account, written with passion
Cons. Kept me wishing for more detail

This is the first-hand account of the commander of the U-69, Jost Metzler, who made this U-boat and its exploits famous before leaving it to become Flotilla Commander.

Metzler took the U-69 on its maiden voyage from Kiel to hunt convoys in the North Atlantic and was very successful from the outset. During this trip, he and his first officer Bade, both experienced merchant marine officers familiar with African seaways, contemplated the idea of mining African harbours. They developed their plan and upon return to France proposed the idea to Adm. Dönitz. The plan found approval and morale soared as the crew was honoured to be given such an important task.

After successfully mining the harbours of Takoradi and Lagos, right under the noses of the sentries, they torpedoed a ship laden with cargo in the harbour of Accra. Metzler was also responsible for creating an international incident during this mission when he torpedoed and sank the Robin Moor, an American ship (which at that time was still neutral!) carrying military cargo.

These successes and good fortune seemed to create a confidence in the crew bordering on arrogance. Deciding to destroy the famous lighthouse at Ascension, they had to abort due to lack of fuel. This didn't diminish their enthusiasm, however. Besides being credited as being the first U-boat to mine African harbours and sinking a U.S. ship, Metzler decided (against better judgment and without any "tin fish") to mount a surface attack with the ship's 88mm gun. Days later the U-69 found their target and sank what turned out to be a heavily armed auxiliary cruiser. Once again, they received a hero's welcome when they docked in their homeport.

The U-69 continued on its quest for more victories but had to abort its next mission after a few days as Metzler was taken seriously ill. He was transferred to a post on land. The U-69, under their new commander, Zahn, was not as successful as before. Under "Kaleunt" Graf, who took over from Zahn, it finally found its watery grave in the North Atlantic.

This book is written by a warrior, not an author, and sometimes leaves the reader wishing for more detail. Having said that, it is nevertheless an excellent account of the thrills of underwater warfare - the horrible weather in the North Atlantic, the constant threat of air attack, the nerve-wracking attacks with depth charges by destroyers, but also the thrill of sighting a convoy and the agony of getting in position for the attack. Metzler has great passion for his crew, their job, their U-boat, and their comrades in the U-boat fleet. He is honest and justly proud of what they achieved. The surviving crewmembers undoubtedly captivate their children and grandchildren with the stories of their exploits and thanks to their commander we get a glimpse too.

Review written by Stevin Oudshoorn.

Published on 1 Dec 2000.

This title is highly recommended.

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