Black Flag (2009)



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
196 pages.
Illustrated throughout.

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.
Judging criteria:
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. 

Black Flag: The Surrender of Germany's U-Boat Forces
Paterson peppers his excellent book with first-hand accounts from captors and captives.
  Navy News- Nov 2009
A most interesting record.
Baird Publications – Nov 2011
Reviewed Colonel P.J. Williams
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.
Strongly recommended.

Cover painting by Anthony Cowland.
Cover painting by Anthony Cowland.

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Foreign edition (and yes, they spelled my name wrong)