Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

U-Boats at War

Landings on Hostile Shores

Showell, Jak P. Mallmann

2001, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 155750864X
Hardcover, 160 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Many little-told stories covered here; great photos
Cons. None to speak of

Showell's U-boats at War: Landings on Hostile Shores collects all known instances of U-boats landing on foreign shores during World War II and also attempts to debunk some of the many rumors surrounding U-boat landings, secret bases, and special operations. In order to get as close to the unembellished truth as possible, Showell turned to war diaries and first-person accounts rather than relying on previously published sources.

Following the general format familiar to readers of Showell's previous work, this is a large format book, with space approximately evenly divided between small-print text and black and white photographs. Many of the photos are from the U-Boot-Archiv. Showell's captions adhere to their usual high standard; they are instructive and entertaining, many providing incisive analysis of the photo's content. Seven annotated maps helpfully summarize landings.

Arranged geographically, the book includes chapters focusing on U-boat visits to the shores of Ireland, Iceland, the United States, Canada, Africa and the Mediterranean, Spain, the Canary Islands, and arctic regions, as well as France and Germany during the final months and weeks of the war. Showell's specific focus on these relatively few incidents in the U-boat war allows more detailed attention to boats and events than may be found elsewhere. For example, the notoriously slapdash way in which the German Abwehr went about selecting and preparing their agents has been noted in many a book, but here Showell provides a great deal of background and in-depth descriptions of agents' personalities and personal histories, the aims and ultimate outcomes of their missions, and how their presence on board impacted the U-boat crews.

One interesting chapter is devoted to the fabled subterranean U-boat supply base said to have been located beneath Villa Winter on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Showell convincingly argues that no base could have existed there, based on analysis of wartime records and his own visit to the area.

Accounts of saboteur landings in the United States; similar landings as well as attempts to pick up POWs and installation of a weather station in Canada; supply and repair facilities of Spain; and arctic weather stations are of course included here. Operation Regenbogen, usually earning only brief mention in other books, here receives a chapter of its own, focusing on the rather complicated process of scuttling U-boats off remote coastal German villages, often in shallow water.

One chapter describes in detail U-722's torturous underwater journey from Norway to St. Nazaire, to supply the besieged troops there in the fall of 1944. The account illustrates graphically the physical agony U-boat crews suffered during use of the schnorchel, as well as the additional opportunities for death by human error introduced by this new device.

Unsuccessful attempts to establish networks of agents in Ireland and Iceland are also covered. Another chapter focuses on the landing of agents on the African coast, and a mission to supply munitions to the Afrika Korps which ended in the U-boat being ordered to dump the munitions and instead evacuate land forces; the confusion and lack of coordination made for a difficult few days for U-380, which in the end was able to rescue only four men.

The book closes with two appendices, one listing all boats in boat number order which landed on or approached foreign shores, the other suggesting further reading.

A review of a Showell book cannot be complete without praise for its photographs. As in his previous books, the photos are numerous, well-reproduced, and excellently captioned. The author uses these photos, many previously unpublished, not merely to illustrate but to enliven the text, and many of his selections offer a personal and even a humorous perspective on the experiences of the U-boat crews. (One of my favorites: U-boat commander intent on reaching shore without getting his feet wet, page 127. Also, check out the photo on page 49; the second man from the right bears an uncanny resemblance to the IWO in the movie Das Boot.)

This is both exciting reading and a valuable reference. In addition to its obvious merit of providing an overview of U-boat contacts with foreign shores, an additional value lies in its inclusion of detailed operational histories of many individual U-boats (see the main page for this book for a list of U-boats discussed).

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 23 Aug 2001.

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This title is highly recommended.

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