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Cultivated by the Allied press during the war and fostered by films and novels ever since, the image of a U-boat skipper held by many people is the personification of evil: the wolf who stalks the innocents. Quite the opposite image is shared by U-boat veterans and others sympathetic to their work: the knight who endures unrivalled danger and fights nobly. Yet another popular image depicts the submarine operator as a beleaguered sailor swept along by events beyond his control. To see whether a pattern emerges, this book examines the lives of many U-Bootwaffe officers, including prominent commanders such as Karl Doenitz. Drawing on a wealth of primary documents, and also interviews and correspondence with some of the commanders themselves, the book follows individual officers from their youth and early naval training, through their wartime experiences and into the often bitter peace that followed. The close examination reveals that many were extremely different from the pictures typically drawn of them, and as varied in their thoughts and actions as other fighting men on both sides.
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JORDAN VAUSE is a 1978 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He lives in the San Diego area and works as a quality engineer.Review:
Before reading any factual book, I always glance through the pictures and images. Only very rarely do I learn something important from this initial familiarisation. On this occasion I learned that an unofficial war between the US Navy and German submarines had been ongoing for several months before Pearl Harbour. Perhaps more importantly, apart from the portrait of Dönitz, I did not recognise any of the other photographs used. This is a book about the men who manned Germany's submarines - her U Boats. It seeks to expose their character, their weaknesses and their strengths - the very "what it was" that made them successful and made them national heroes and occasionally national villains. There are those with whom even the casual reader of U Boat history will be familiar - Prien, Kretschmer and Schepke for example. Then there are those whose exploits, in some cases, were even greater or perhaps more dastardly but, for whatever reason, kept their own personal periscope of exposure well below the surface at all times and are, therefore, less well known - Weddigen (who, in an obsolete, gas-powered U Boat, sank the 3 Cruisers HMS' Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue within 90 minutes in September 1914 and escaped without a scratch), Schwieger (who infamously sank the Lusitania in May 1915 killing 1,198 people) and Lemp (who, within 6 hours of war being declared, sank the Athenia in 1939 and, breaking every rule of warfare imaginable, killed 128 people) to name but six. It is that indefinable quality which binds together men from diverse backgrounds with very different attitudes, hopes and aspirations to perform a common task. That is what this book is all about and is, therefore essential reading for those with an interest in the U Boat. On the down side, I found the Athenia's 128 death toll described as "several hundred" - something which may (or may not) reveal a lack of attention to fine detail during the author's research. In addition, that perennial favourite of mine is the inclusion of the hyphen between "U" and "Boat." Whilst many will regard this as VERY "picky-picky," it is a fact that the hyphen does not appear after the letter "U" in connection with U Boats anywhere in original German documents but was added by English language writers. This is not a book about U Boat commanders from a British or American perspective, it is researched in Germany with a cast of former U Boat commanders and it tells their story. Consequently, U Boat, U21 and U47 are quite correct. U-Boat, U-21 and U-47 are incorrect. Whilst I may be surprised this was not spotted during research in Germany, it should not be allowed to mar the readers enjoyment of the work. --By Ned Middleton HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
This books deals with the common perception of U-Boat commanders of WWII; before dealing with each of the aces in turn to highlight their differences in personality & ideology; thus highlighting that stereotyping is incorrect. The Aces of the U-Boat service are dealt in detail, with some very interesting stories, such as Victor Oehrn s capture in North Africa. There are also other sections that deal with the debate Karl-Friedrich Merten s & Lothar-Gunther Buchheim s little disagreement over Das Boot . This book is a balanced look at the Commanders and is very well researched and a joy to read. --By "esford2"
Wolf is a departure from many of the submarine books of WWII. Rather than being a cold, dry, analysis of tonnage sunk and mission totals, it looks at the careers of a dozen U-Boat commanders as personal stories, warts and all. Starting with the illegal re-establishment of the Kriegsmarine's U-Boat fleet and particularly the early training, it progresses through the waves of new commanders who took over as their predecessors were either killed or transferred to desk jobs. Vause divides these waves into those who started in U-Boats before the war, those who joined up early and achieved commands in the early days of the war and finally, those who were fed piecemeal into the mincing machine that was the last two years of the Battle of the Atlantic. It was in these final two years when the U-Bootwaffe suffered its worst casualties. For the uninitiated, 36,000 German sailors went to war in U-Boats and 32,000 did not return, the worst casualties of any combat group in WWII. The highlight of the book for me was the odyssey of Victor Oehrn who, strangely for a submariner, was captured by Australian infantry in the North African desert! Without wishing to spoil the story, I can honestly say it would be worthy of a movie script and is very well presented by the author. A great primer for anyone wishing to familiarise themselves with the U-Boat campaign of WWII, it is not intended to be a definitive work and does not get bogged down in cold analysis. Such books have their place but this is the alternative. At times funny, often sad but usually very insightful, it must be recommended very highly. --By John Dynan
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