Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

U-Boat Commander

A Periscope View of the Battle of the Atlantic

Cremer, Peter

1987, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 0870219693
244 pages, 34 photos

Type. Personal Narrative
Pros. Uses official documents to show both German and Allied perception of events; objective and informative
Cons. None to speak of

In this memoir, Peter "Ali" Cremer describes his naval experiences from the first day of World War II until the last. Beginning the war as gunnery officer on a destroyer, he joined the U-boat arm in June 1940. After six months of training, he became commander of U-152. In July 1941, he took on a new commission, U-333. For most of the rest of the war, he commanded this boat through a series of incredible experiences which would seem to make U-333 worthy of distinction as the most battered boat of the conflict. Although the repeated disasters, mechanical failures and near misses may seem to the reader to represent a run of unbroken ill luck, Cremer was actually considered by his own and other crewmen to be a form of life insurance, because against all odds, he always brought his boat back to base. After being rammed by enemy vessels on three separate missions, being severely wounded in a battle with the corvette Crocus, falling victim to dockyard sabotage and narrowly missing being hit by the torpedoes of the HMS Graph (former U-570), in the end Cremer survived his boat, which was sunk with all hands after he had moved on to a new command. He even avoided being imprisoned by the Allies in May of 1945 due to blind luck - for some reason his name did not appear on the British lists of those to be assigned to camps, and thus he found himself a free man at the war's end.

A counterpoint to Cremer's own experiences is provided by his frequent use of Allied documents and war diaries; Cremer began friendly correspondences with several of his former opponents after the war, and presents their versions of events in comparison with his own. He also documents the technological successes and failures of both sides - HF/DF, Metox, the Gnat torpedo, and the Schnorchel among others.

Cremer makes no effort to deny his mistakes or cover up unpleasant incidents. For the first time in this book was revealed the sinking by U-333 of the German blockade runner Spreewald (which was disguised too successfully for her own good as an Allied freighter) and Cremer's subsequent court martial for this deed; he was acquitted and blame assigned to Spreewald for failing to report her position.

As the only U-boat commander to begin his career at the bases of western France, remain on almost continuous active patrol status, and survive until the end of the war, Cremer has produced not only an exciting and well-balanced memoir, but one which provides a unique perspective on the ebb and flow of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 24 Nov 1999.

This title is highly recommended.

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