Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Merchant U-boat

Adventures of the Deutschland, 1916-1918

Messimer, Dwight R.

1988, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 0870217712
234 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Well-written and informative
Cons. None to speak of

This book describes an interesting interlude during World War I when cargo-carrying U-boats attempted to break the British blockade and bring needed war materiel to Germany. The Deutschland was merely the first of a projected fleet of eight merchant U-boats, most of which ended up not actually being used for that purpose. In 1916, she made two trips to the United States. On her first voyage she was welcomed as much for her cargo of high-quality dyestuffs, which had been unavailable to the US since the war's beginning, as for her novelty value. Her captain and crew were feted; she was a media field day for nearly a month and a propaganda coup for Germany. Her second cruise was less of a success; she was greeted more coolly by the Americans, and had a run of bad luck including overrunning and sinking her tug at the start of her return journey.

One chapter in the book focuses on the secrecy with which she was built, and the need to ensure she would be viewed as a merchant, i.e., civilian, vessel, rather than a warship. However, in spite of all precautions, the British learned of the building program, and knew perfectly well when she set off on her first trans-Atlantic cruise.

Other chapters provide details of the Deutschland's adventures on her two voyage of commerce, and on the possible fate of her sister U-boat, Bremen, which vanished without a trace on her maiden voyage.

The resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February, 1917 rendered the Deutschland obsolete in her role of commercial carrier, but she was quickly converted to a war U-boat, U-155, and achieved a number of sinkings and captures, while surviving a series of breakdowns and brushes with disaster. The book's epilogue recounts the postwar fate of U-boat and crew. An appendix detailing her specifications rounds out this interesting book.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 18 Apr 2002.

This title is highly recommended.

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