This was my first book, written while I lived in France only a short distance from the First U-Boat Flotilla’s base at Brest. I was already writing to the author Jon Gawne (who wrote the most meticulous and accurate account of the American assault on Brest in 1944) when he sent me a microfilm of the flotilla War Diary. I was amazed and spent hours dragging the film strip through an old slide projector and reading the images on my kitchen wall. So began the writing of the book, done in a chronological format to mirror the diary entries.
The U-boat campaign during the Second World War was rated by many, including Winston Churchill, as the single greatest threat to the Allied cause. The Wolf Packs of Admiral Dönitz wreaked havoc within the Atlantic until brought to heel by superior resources, new tactics and breakthroughs in the intelligence war. This book traces the history of the First U-Boat Flotilla from 1935 when the first of the Third Reich’s U-boats were commissioned at Kiel, through the build-up, early successes, the move to Brest and the long unremitting struggle against increasingly overwhelming odds. The infamous ‘death ride’ of the U-boats against the D-Day invasion fleet featured many boats from this unit as did the experiment at developing ‘flak U-boats’. The Flotilla’s history ends in September 1944 with the few surviving sailors fighting in trenches around the Brest citadel.
Many of the Flotilla’s captains such as Otto Kretschmer, Reinhard Suhren, Erich Topp and Adalbert Schnee remain legendary figures to this day. Missions undertaken by the units ranged in scope from minelaying off the United Kingdom, to anti-aircraft traps, Atlantic and Caribbean torpedo patrols and the landing agents on the North American coast.
Available from the Pen & Sword website and other book outlets.
First published by Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books, 2002.
Probably one of the strangest things that happened while writing this book was having a great photograph of a U-boat crew leaving the Reichs Chancellory. I wanted to use it to illustrate the gravitas that was attached to the U-boat service. I identified the SS officer escorting them, no problem, but couldn’t place the crew. Anyway, I labelled them as unknown and, once the book was published, opened the book for the first time at that section. Immediately I recognised Wessels, Endrass and Von Varendorff from U47. It was, of course, Günther Prien’s crew that had just sunk HMS Royal Oak and were in Berlin to meet Hitler and be decorated. How that escaped me until that point (they are probably one of the most famous crews of the war)…I literally have no idea! So, photo number 27 is the crew of U47. Just so you know 😉