U-Boats of the Second World War, Their Longest Voyages...

...from Fonthill Media

Title: U-Boats of the Second World War, Their Longest Voyages
Author: Jak P. Mallmann Showell

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-634-4

Another fine book on the subject of the German U-boats in WW2 from the author, who is the son of a U-boat diesel mechanic who failed to return from a mission just a couple of months before he was born.  In this one he gives a detailed account of a particular aspect of the U-boat war which is just that bit different to the story of the boats in the Atlantic, with the long range missions to America, Africa and Far East.  Throughout the course of the war the balance changed between the U-boats and the Allied submarine hunters.  The fortunes of war meant that the success of the U-boats had, dare I say, its' ups and downs (sorry about that).

The book tells us about the design of the larger Type IX long range boats, and how they were adapted to carry cargo between Germany and Japan.  They could take out technology and raw materials that the Japanese needed, and bring back valuable raw materials that were needed in Germany.  They couldn't carry the quantities that a cargo ship could have done but the chance of a cargo travelling successfully from Japan to a German or even French port were slim.  Accounts of various voyages make interesting reading, and clearly the information held in the U-boat Museum in Germany is a marvellous source.  An equally interesting level of detail they didn't have, the details of cargoes carried on different voyages were not recorded, but they are listed in the book as they were found in the records of the Code Breakers at Bletchley Park, where the U-boat codes had been cracked.

The chapters detail the various missions, which boats made them,  their successes and failures.  It tells us what life was like on these voyages, how supplies were stowed, and the conditions the crews had to tolerate on these long trips.  Not just enemy attacks, but the ever present smell and film of oil, issues over water supplies for washing and what can be described as primitive toilet facilities.  Added to this the noise from the diesel engines and once in tropical climes, the heat and humidity within the boat and the effects on both men and food.  Add to this the story of two boats powered by no less than six E-boat diesel engines that made them the fastest U-boats but with mechanical issues that made them unreliable.

Amongst the story there is an account from a U-boat survivor who records his experience of the boat being sunk after hitting a mine, and the use of escape equipment to get out to the surface, while other crew members from the stern of the sub had been unable to escape.  The other detail in the final chapter covers the use of the unpowered autogyros, towed by a submarine on the surface to get an observer up to a greater height, to increase the visual range for the lookouts to spot enemy ships.

All in all this makes for fascinating reading, and reflects how the U-boat arm had to adapt as the war went through various changes of fortune, the relationship with Japan, the opportunities offered by going beyond the North Atlantic convoy routes, the changes in technology and above all, for me, the conditions these crews had to face, which they did willingly.