Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Attack and Sink!

The Battle for Convoy SC42

Edwards, Bernard

1995, New Guild
ISBN 1899694404
199 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Detailed coverage of this battle; engaging writing style
Cons. See below

This book presents the story of SC 42, a 12-column convoy which set off eastward across the Atlantic on August 30, 1941. Many of the ships, U-boats, and people involved are described in detail as the chronology unfolds. The weather itself almost counts as another character, brought to palpable life through Edwards’ engaging descriptions and obvious knowledge.

While written by the same author as Dönitz and the Wolf Packs, this account is much more moderate in tone, with very little recourse to the "good versus evil" theme which characterized the former book. However, some evidence of the author’s negative attitude toward the U-boats is still present, and is especially notable near the end of the book where he states that the U-boats broke off operations against the convoy, not because ordered by Dönitz to do so, but because they lacked the courage to face a newly-arrived group of destroyers:

Dönitz later claimed that the dense fog which set in on the 11th brought with it such a serious danger of collision that he was forced to withdraw his U-boats. As this coincided with the arrival of the destroyers of the 2nd Escort Group, this claim seems to have little substance. It is more likely that, having thus far failed to wreak the havoc in the convoy they should have done, the U-boats simply lost heart and withdrew on their own initiative when the British reinforcements arrived. (page 175)

Apparently the author does not consider that 17 ships sunk and 4 damaged out of 64 merchant targets counts as "havoc", though doubtless those on the receiving end felt differently. In fact, SC 42 posted the second worst losses up to that point in the war in terms of number of ships lost, with only SC 7 surpassing it. In addition, the idea of multiple members of a wolfpack breaking off operations "on their own initiative" is unthinkable within the context of the German military system, where success and tenacity were rewarded, and failure to press on against the enemy, whatever the odds, could result in a death sentence (a famous example being the case of Kplt. Heinz Hirsacker (U-572), who was charged with "Cowardice in the face of the enemy" after failing to press home several attacks; incidentally, Hirsacker participated in the action against Convoy SC 42).

In spite of these occasional spurious assertions, in general this is an absorbing and detailed account of the action occurring in this multi-day conflict. U-boats discussed extensively include U-82, U-85, U-207, U-432, U-501, and U-652. The odd case of Hugo Förster, who leaped from the deck of U-501 to that of Moose Jaw at the height of battle when the two vessels were in close proximity, receives considerable attention. In addition to a summarizing chapter and epilogue, the book includes a map of the convoy with the original ships’ positions, a map of the convoy route, an index, bibliography, glossary, and details of the Beaufort Wind Scale.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 10 May 2002.

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