Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Naval Officers Under Hitler

The Story of Crew 34

Rust, Eric C.

1991, Praeger
ISBN 0275937097

Type. Group Biography
Pros. Unique look at a single Naval Crew year
Cons. None to speak of

This is a group biography of Crew 34, whose members went on to serve in U-boats, S-boote, the surface fleet, and aviation, and whose numbers include U-boat commanders both illustrious and notorious - Topp, Endrass, Schnee, and Mohr, as well as Eck and Hirsacker. Author Eric Rust (whose father was of Crew 36) follows Crew 34 from enlistment and training through the 1980s, also examining in-depth their family background, childhood upbringing, and motivations for joining the navy. Based on interviews with 78 members of the Crew, as well as his own research, the book examines the men’s similarities to one another, and their differences; and how their paths diverged in training, wartime, and the postwar period. Parents’ politics and professions; places of birth and upbringing; the deep-running sources of tension and rivalry between executive officers (Seeoffiziere) and engineer officers (Ingenieuroffiziere); political views before, during and after the war; and who joined the Bundesmarine and why, are all topics exhaustively analyzed.

The influence of Dönitz, especially for those who spent their cadet cruise on Emden, is discussed, as well as crewmembers' attitudes toward and support of the Grand Admiral after the war. The detailed account of the cadet cruises on Emden and Karlsruhe provides a fascinating glimpse into this bygone era. The predominantly negative view of the much praised (by the U.S.) American reeducation program of German prisoners of war on the part of those who experienced it is enlightening. The effect of navy training, as well as of being isolated at sea during the war, on mindset and views is also explored.

In interviewing members of the Crew, Rust took steps to ensure that their privacy was guarded. Thus, in many cases we are not informed to whom a particular quote or incident is attributed, and our wish to know which two cadets on Emden shaved their heads for a joke, and which man spent some time in the SS, remains ungratified. In other cases, well-known information is connected with a name. All quotes are, however, footnoted and coded. In the author's words, "This code is known only to the author and will be made available to professional historians for the sole purpose of verifying the evidence".

Rust makes a few errors and seems to take Padfield’s book Dönitz: The Last Führer too much to heart. But these are minor points in an otherwise very impressive book, extremely scholarly in nature, yet also extremely interesting, and unique in its contribution to the field.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 4 Mar 2002.

This title is highly recommended.

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