On the eve of Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz commanded thousands of loyal and active men of the U-boat service. Still fully armed and unbroken in morale, enclaves of these men occupied bases stretching from Norway to France, where cadres of U-boat men fought on in ports that defied besieging Allied troops to the last. At sea U-boats still operated on a war footing around Britain, the coasts of the United States and as far afield as Malaya.
Following the agreement to surrender, these large formations needed to be disarmed – often by markedly inferior forces – and the boats at sea located and escorted into the harbours of their erstwhile enemies. Neither side knew entirely what to expect and many of the encounters were tense; in some cases there were unsavoury incidents, and stories of worse. For many Allied personnel it was their first glimpse of the dreaded U-boat menace and both sides were forced to exercise considerable restraint to avoid compromising the terms of Germany’s surrender.
One of the last but most dramatic acts of the naval war, the story of how the surrender was handled has never been treated at length before. This book uncovers much new material about the process itself and the ruthless aftermath for both the crews and their boats.
Originally published by Seaforth Publishing, 2009.
ISBN 978 1 84832 037 6
This book was nominated for The Mountbatten Maritime Award Nominee (2010)
The Award is made to the author of the work of literature published in English during the qualifying period that, in the opinion of the Awards Committee, has contributed most significantly to public awareness of maritime issues. Eligible work must have a maritime focus, and includes scholarly or popular non-fiction on a technical, scientific, environmental, economic, industrial, legal, administrative, social or defence-related theme, as well as works of biography, history, fiction and poetry.
Depth of understanding of the maritime subject
Literary quality, and clarity of exposition
Accuracy of factual content
Influence on the public understanding of current maritime issues
Available from the Pen & Sword website and other book outlets.
Navy News- Nov 2009
Baird Publications – Nov 2011
There is a photo found in many books about the Battle of the Atlantic. It depicts a U-boat pulling up alongside a jetty in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, at war’s end in 1945. A young boy watches from dockside. The crew members are deliberately avoiding the camera, and are all staring down at the deck, and in the various captions accompanying this photo are “crestfallen” or are “in sullen grief.”
Black Flag: The Surrender of Germany’s U-Boat Forces tells the story of the events leading up to the scene depicted in this iconic photo (which, ironically, was not reproduced in this book) and what happened to the men and their boats afterward.
Lawrence Paterson is a well-established writer on the Battle of the Atlantic, and focuses mainly on the German perspective in what was the longest campaign of the war. As with his previous works, he has made extensive use of oral history provided by participants in the events described in this book. Appendices at the end of the book list the U-boats at sea (some 59 of them) when Admiral Karl Dönitz issued the order to cease fire. The appendices also include the surrender instructions, which among
other things directed U-boats to surface and to fly a large black or blue flag by day, and to burn navigation lights at night.
The book is divided into several sections. These sections cover the actual surrender at sea, the surrender on land (in which some U-boat bases on the French Atlantic coast held out until the very end), the subsequent imprisonment of the crews by the Allies and the destruction of the U-boats in what became known as Operation Deadlight, the terms of which had been agreed upon by the Allies at war’s end. The fate of each boat is briefly described.
Not all U-boats fell into Allied hands however. On 2 May 1945 within days of the German surrender, Admiral Dönitz issued the codeword for Operation Regenbogen (Rainbow), the scuttling of the German fleet, an order followed by some 217 U-boats. Paterson has introduced new material into the book. He describes in some detail a German plan to mount missiles on U-boats, as there were lingering rumours at war’s end of German plans to launch ballistic missiles from sea at Allied cities. In addition, he covers events surrounding a massacre of six Norwegian civilians by German sailors on 6 May 1945.
Given the key role the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) played in the Atlantic campaign, I was rather hoping for a detailed account of the part the RCN played in these events, but given the author’s British heritage, it is perhaps understandable that he did not include such an account.
That said, Paterson does describe the surrender of U-889 to the Canadian escort group W6 off Flemish Cap on 10 May, as well as that of U-190, the working periscope of which can be viewed at the Crow’s Nest in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Canada also provided one of the escorts along with one each from the Royal Navy and US Navy, to the formal surrender ceremony of the U-boat to Admiral Sir Max Horton, Commander in Chief Western Approaches, at Loch Foyle, Scotland, on 14 May, 1945. As part of the division of the spoils, so to speak, at war’s end, Canada did receive U-889, which was commissioned into
the RCN for experimental purposes, before being transferred to the United States. U-190, which had sunk HMCS Esquimalt, the last Canadian warship to be lost in the war, was taken to the same spot where she had sunk her quarry and was dispatched by rockets.
Paterson is a very good storyteller. He takes what could have been a very dull and technical event and makes it something more than a mere footnote to the Atlantic campaign. He tells the often very human story of what happened after the shooting stopped. One gets the impression that the author has somewhat of a soft spot for the U-boat crews, who in his words were “never fully defeated
in battle until ordered to lay down their arms by their Commander in Chief.” One also wonders whether our veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic would hold the same view.
Foreign edition (and yes, they spelled my name wrong)