The Search for a World War II Hero
1999, Sunflower University Press
|Pros.||Unusual storyline and perspective|
This book is rather unusual as it is not so much about the U-boat war itself but rather about 2 personalities who almost met in the war. The former and more visible character is the author’s father, Kit Johnson, who served as a civilian volunteer in aid of the US Coast Guard in early 1942 on this small boat. The latter is Peter Erich Cremer, commander of U-333 at the same time, who torpedoed the tanker Java Arrow on 6 May 1942 off Florida.
Kit Johnson and his aide then rescued over 20 survivors from the presumably sinking tanker (she did not sink as even U-109’s attack on it a bit later, then stationary in the water, failed due to a dud torpedo) almost sinking their small boat in the process.
The book is written in a semi-chronological order, tracing two histories at the same time; the rescue and its surroundings in May 1942 and the time Rody Johnson spent in 1987-9 trying to learn more about this vessel and Cremer and eventually his visit to Cremer in Hamburg.
His account of his relationship with Cremer, via mail, phone and finally in person is very interesting. Some of the items there are not in Cremer’s book U-Boat Commander (see review). Seems like Cremer was a lot more willing to discuss his experiences than even the Americans involved in the attack on Java Arrow (some seemed downright hostile to the author).
This is an interesting book as it focuses almost solely on the human factor and little on the technicalities of the war (although not completely avoiding it of course) and covers two men near the end of their life (both in their 90’s).
Review written by Guðmundur Helgason.
Published on 2 Dec 1999.
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