Peter Padfield

More a Database Than a Book

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939-1942


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 809pp £30 order from our bookshop

This is the first of two projected volumes devoted to Karl Dönitz’s attempt to win Germany’s war against Great Britain, then the western Allies, off his own bat. In an Introduction the author confides that his account is ‘quite different from that of most other historians and popular writers. In a word, the U-boat peril in the Second World War was and has been vastly overblown.’ Oh, dear.

To succeed as a myth-buster, especially in a field so contaminated with propaganda from both sides, it is necessary to detail sources; Blair fails to do this. Where Dönitz himself is concerned, it is not always clear when Blair is using the contemporary war diary, when the postwar memoirs – a potent source of myth. Moreover, he demonstrates early in a prologue to the main action that he has swallowed without a hiccup many more serious myths than he hopes to dispel.

He writes, for instance, of the small ‘apolitical’ navy of the pre-Hitlerian Weimar years. While correct in the sense that naval personnel were not permitted to belong to political parties, it is profoundly misleading. Naval officers as much as army officers considered themselves the elite guardians of a Fatherland betrayed by the politicians who had submitted to the shameful terms of the Versailles treaty, and they formed an anti-democratic, anti-liberal cancer in the body of the Weimar Republic. Apart from this, the navy was intimately involved in the reactionary Kapp Putsch of 1920, the formation and funding of Nazi paramilitary and assassination organisations, and much else.

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