Friday, May 14, 2010

"A Measureless Peril" by Richard Snow

This book kind of ties in with the last one. I read them concurrently and was surprised at how many of the principals of the Second World War had played a large part in the First World War.

After the stunning German Naval Victory at Jutland in 1916, the German Navy did very little. It remained bottled up and neglected, until the point where crews were staging mutinies to avoid going back to sea. As a common soldier, Hitler detested the Navy, and as a Submariner so did German Admiral Donetz. He considered the U-boats to be independent of the Navy. When Hitler made him Admiral,he concentrated on the U-boats to the exclusion of the surface ships.In doing so, he effectively cut the German supply line to the outside world. That they made this mistake two wars in a row, and only 20 years apart, by neglecting their navy is astonishing.

The book chronicles the war in the Atlantic from January 1942 through 1944. Much of the action takes place off Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York where I grew up. No doubt this added to the allure of the book for me. I grew up on stories of ships exploding within sight of the beach and the U-boats that sank them. These stories, no doubt, fueled my desire to go to sea later in life.

It is also the story of the 5 individual U-boats that were doing all this damage 5 miles from our shore. The deprivation, the close quarters, all are written of here in detail, but with a writer's flair for the colorful thrown in. In addition the author manages to encompass the oft untold tale of the more than 40,000 Merchant Mariners who gave their lives transporting the goods of war to the European theater of operations. Without them we could not have won the war.

At the same time, the author is able to give us the history of the Lend lease Act and tell us how President Roosevelt, on the advice of Admiral Stark, met with Churchill and worked it all out. We would begin supplying the British, reducing our status as a "neutral" nation. As a consequence of this, the Germans would henceforth start sinking American merchant vessels. The last one before Pearl Harbor was the Rubeun James, in November of 1941. Woody Guthrie, a merchant seaman himself, wrote the famous song about the sinking, titled "Sinking of the Ruben James."

As if all this is not enough, the book is also about the birth of the modern anti-submarine technology that helped America win the Cold War over 40 years later. New weapons and ships needed to be designed, and built quickly in order for us to not lose control of the Atlantic for the re-supply of our troops. To do so would have brought the war to our shores, with longstanding consequences.

As a former member of the US Navy, and as a licensed Merchant Mariner, I can heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in either the sea, or history. It is obvious that I enjoyed this book.

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