Monday, January 22, 2018
Books

Review: Dimbleby's 'Battle of the Atlantic' focuses on U-boat warfare

From 1939 to 1943 the fierce, relentless Battle of the Atlantic between the Allies and Nazi Germany was one of the most crucial confrontations in modern military history.

According to writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, if the Atlantic lifeline, which enabled the United States to deliver food, oil and industrial and military materials to England, was severed, then all of Europe — and eventually, perhaps, North America — would have come under Hitler's domination.

Dimbleby, author of Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and Its People (2010) and Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein (2013), focuses in his new work, The Battle of the Atlantic, mainly upon the deadly German U-boat threat in the first half of World War II. By war's end, an appalling 3,000 Allied vessels had been sunk and 30,000 Allied seamen had perished. Germany too paid a terribly high price: 75 percent of all its officers and men — 27,000 souls — in action in the Atlantic died.

However, while the U-boats severely jeopardized England's very survival, at the war's start in 1939 the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, took few steps to directly counter the onslaught. German battleships and destroyers were his chief concern, and in the following year, as prime minister, he came to believe that the aggressive use of air power — the bombing of German industrial centers and civilian populations — was the key to winning the war.

Dimbleby carefully examines the German side of the Battle of the Atlantic. He informs us that it was Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who was the chief proponent of the U-boat war of attrition, which, he believed, would eventually starve out Britain.

Using diaries and letters from participants, the author vividly describes the Battle of the Atlantic in harrowing human terms. We meet Barbara Bailey, the 34-year-old daughter of a London lawyer and a passenger aboard the SS Athenia when it was torpedoed on Sept. 3, 1939, by U-30 just hours after the declaration of war. She was present as 118 people died — some "hysterical," some "too stunned to move," according to a witness — as the Athenia reared up and slid under the waves.

We observe the British battleship HMS Royal Oak as, on Oct. 14, 1939, it is torpedoed by U-47 in the Shetland Islands' Scapa Flow. Within moments Surgeon-Lieutenant Dick Caldwell found himself clinging to the hull, then falling into the water where "I gulped … filthy … black oil that smarted my eyes. I … floundered … heard cries round me, saw black heads bobbing." Eight hundred and thirty-three of his comrades on the Royal Oak drowned.

Through Dimbleby's highly detailed account of the battle we also learn what it was like to be in a submerged U-boat while it experienced a prolonged enemy depth charge bombardment. After attacking four Allied vessels in June 1940, Commander Otto Kretschmer was forced to submerge his U-99 to 700 feet — 150 feet below the ship's maximum depth — because of a passing Allied convoy above.

Over and over, Dimbleby tells us the depth charges continued to assault the shuddering ship — for 14 hours. At the bottom of the sea, with U-99's power batteries almost drained and fearing the crushing outside pressure, the captain tensely wrote "Each noise was strange, and every roll and crack inside the U-boat seemed to herald the end."

And there are horrific lifeboat tales, such as the one of the survivors of the September 1940 City of Benares sinking, in which six young boys spent eight days in the Atlantic. Or the terrible Arctic Sea survival tale involving a lifeboat from the British warship Hartlebury, sunk by U-355 in July 1942. Languishing for 25 days on a frigid sea, 20 men slowly froze to death in their boat.

The Battle of the Atlantic eventually would be won through President Franklin Roosevelt's March 1941 Lend-Lease Program, in which the United States "loaned" warships and bases to England, and through the use of navy warships as protective escorts for merchant vessels in convoys. Also, in the spring of 1943, Churchill and Royal Air Force chiefs finally embraced the idea of using bombers to defend Allied shipping. These actions would not only win the Atlantic battle, but would pave the way for the June 6, 1944, invasion of Europe (D-day) and ultimate victory in Europe in May 1945.

Definitive and filled with human drama, The Battle of the Atlantic is "must read" military history.

Comments
‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

‘Year in Provence’ author Peter Mayle dies at 78

Peter Mayle, whose international bestseller A Year in Provence sent countless tourists to the vineyards and lavender fields of Southern France, has died.In an email, Mr. Mayle’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, reported that he died Thursday in a hospital...
Published: 01/18/18

Events: Bob Woodward to speak at Mahaffey

Book TalkAuthor and journalist Roy Peter Clark (Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer) will lead a workshop, "How to Read Like a Writer," at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets $5.Bob Woodward ...
Published: 01/18/18
Notable: Books from those countries

Notable: Books from those countries

NotableBooks from those countriesHere are books by immigrants from some of the countries recently disparaged by the president. Americanah (Anchor) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a brilliant novel set in this country and in the author’s native Nigeria,...
Published: 01/18/18
Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

Review: Tim Dorsey’s ‘The Pope of Palm Beach’ reveals a sweeter side of Serge Storms

It’s an odd thing to say about a book in the Serge Storms series, but The Pope of Palm Beach is really kind of sweet.Serge might not want to hear that. He does, after all, kill people, in highly creative ways, when he’s not in manic pursuit of his pa...
Published: 01/18/18
‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

‘Fire and Fury’ burns up bestseller lists

When author Michael Wolff was interviewed on the Today show about his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Savannah Guthrie asked him how he felt about President Donald Trump’s attacks on it. Wolff responded, "Where do I send the box of ...
Published: 01/17/18

Events: Writers in Paradise features Banks, Lippman, more

Book TalkThe Writers in Paradise evening readings continue this week. All readings will take place in the Miller Auditorium at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Books will be available for purchase on site. All readings are free and o...
Published: 01/11/18
Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

Notable: Books on Trump, one year in

NotableOne year inWith the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration approaching, here are new books about him. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt) by Michael Wolff is the incendiary look at the administration that provoke...
Published: 01/11/18
Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

Andre Dubus III reads to ‘sink more deeply’ into the human condition

NightstandAndre Dubus IIIEckerd College’s Writers in Paradise conference takes place this week, and one of the returning faculty members is Andre Dubus III. Dubus is the author of six books, including Bluesman, Townie and two novels turned films, The...
Published: 01/11/18
Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

Steph Post’s Florida noir ‘Walk in the Fire’ a sizzling sequel to ‘Lightwood’

In Steph Post’s new novel, Walk in the Fire, there’s a young aspiring criminal with a gift for astute observation. Asked to describe the tiny Central Florida town of Silas, where much of the book takes place, he says, "You drive through and it’s like...
Published: 01/11/18
Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Former Times columnist Klinkenberg named Florida Folk Heritage Award winner

Raise a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and toast former Tampa Bay Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg. This week, he was announced as one of three 2018 winners of the Florida Folk Heritage Awards.The awards honor outstanding folk artists and folk ...
Published: 01/10/18