Iron Coffins; Herbert Werner; 1969
Herbert Werner may be the luckiest man in the world. He joined the German Navy submarine force when the war started. He believed in Hitler and the German Reich. He found freedom October 30, 1945.
Werner started his submarine career as an ensign. He went on to captain his own boats. He planted mines in Chesapeake Bay. He successfully attacked convoys in the Atlantic, sinking dozens of ships. He wound up in prison camps after the war, but finally made his way back to Germany after more than 6 years of fighting. His family was killed while he was at sea. And he was depth charged in almost uncountable numbers by ships and planes.
The average U-Boat had about a 20% chance of returning to port on any given patrol. The Germans had three major U-Boat ports: Lorient, New Rochelle, and Breast. They fed out onto the bay of Biscay. Nearer the end of the war, the average U-Boat had a one in five chance of just getting out of the Bay alive. This was thanks to the Allies substantial lead in radar technology. A flying boat could see a U-Boat on the surface with radar long before the plane could be spotted visually. No branch of the German military had a worse chance for survival.
Life on board a U-Boat was awful. Lousy (literally) food, extremely crowded conditions; the smell of chlorine, diesel, oil and sweat everywhere. By comparison, life on an American submarine was like a stay at the Ritz. When the sub went deep, the latrine could not be pumped out, so you can add human waste to the equation.
When the war finally ended, Werner spent 8 months in prison camps until he escaped them, and made it back to Germany proper.
I found the internal workings and tactics of the German U-Boat very interesting.
What was also interesting is what the book lacks. The author never questions the German goal and their ultimate victory until the very end. He believed in Hitler. Doenitz kept sending his U-Boats out until the very end, asking his submariners to commit suicide and ram shipping to buy time for the "secret weapons" to be developed and deployed. The book contained no mention of Nazi policies at all. Not even Hitler's orders to shoot survivors of a sinking ship in the water. No mention of the Jews and other persecuted groups and nations. The book was written in 1969, so the author had plenty of time to think of such things.
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Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.