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World War I U-Boat Losses

Messimer, Dwight R.

2002, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 155750475X
Hardcover, 341 pages, numerous b&w photos and maps

Type. General History
Pros. Good introduction work on the subject with excellent citations
Cons. Contains no information on postwar wreck discoveries

The World War One U-boat campaign can be difficult and frustrating to get a grip on. The subject generally is under researched (especially as compared to World War II) and the best sources are in German. Many of the most significant books were also issued long ago and have been, until recently, out of print for many years.

Dwight Messimer's book Verschollen aims to address some of these gaps by providing a well researched, easy to use, introductory work on German U-boat losses in World War I. Messimer's approach is simple enough. He has compared the fate information from the best archival sources on the subject - the German official history series written by Admiral Arno Spindler, notes in the official German records, the two books by Robert Grant, Gibson and Prendergast's The German Submarine War, and selected other works.

A page (or more) in large type is devoted to each boat loss, beginning with date lost, commander, location and position of loss, and the cause of loss. Messimer then presents a short summary of details upon which there is general agreement. This can run the range from just when a given U-boat sailed to details of its destruction. Interviews of survivors are included as well if available. Under "additional information", the author then includes other relevant data, including possible causes of loss for less well understood U-boat losses suggested by various sources.

For those seeking to understand, for example, the intricacies of the sinking of the steamer Aldershot and its impact on our understanding of the disappearance of UB 104 and UB 113, or a new analysis of what might be found where in the Northern Mine Barrage, you won’t find it in Verschollen. Messimer offers little new analysis besides rejecting obviously impossible scenarios that have been suggested at various times in various sources. However, he does recognize the limits of his approach and includes a useful list of citations for readers interested in further researching a given loss.

As useful as Verschollen can be, it also represents a missed opportunity. The World War I U-boat campaign was, by and large, a coastal operation. The majority of submarines were lost in shallow water, within the range of scuba divers. Many U-boat wrecks have been discovered since the end of World War I. One would not know that though from this book; there are only two mentions of boats possibly being found in the 85 years since the war ended. (The author mentions two cases of items allegedly from U-boats lost off the Flanders coast being for sale on E-bay.) At least 10 of the 57 boats listed as verschollen (missing or lost by unknown cause, to translate the German phrase from which the book takes its title into English) in Messimer's book have in fact been located and identified.

The reviewer welcomes comments on this review.

Review written by Michael Lowrey.

Published on 21 Nov 2002.

This title is highly recommended.

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