Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Navy's Here!

Frischauer, Willi and Jackson, Robert

1955, Gollancz, London
Hardcover, 255 pages, 12 b&w photos, 4 maps, 1 drawing, 1 plan

Type. General History
Pros. Uses much information from diaries and interviews
Cons. No bibliography or index

This book relates the actions and fate of the Graf Spee, as well as of the Altmark and its complement of British prisoners, also contrasting commander Langsdorff of Graf Spee with Heinrich Dau of Altmark. Langsdorff is portrayed as cultured, honorable, apolitical, and refined; Dau as a convinced Nazi who hated the British and was a strict disciplinarian and petty tyrant toward his crew and harsh toward the prisoners. As one example, Dau refused to allow his men to conduct the ceremony to mark the ship's equator crossing because of the ostensible need to remain on guard against possible enemy action, while Langsdorff in the same waters allowed his crew to perform it.

After the Graf Spee was cornered and scuttled, her support ship Altmark, carrying a large complement of prisoners from vessels sunk by the raider, eventually set off on a return voyage to Germany. The book vividly describes the trials of the prisoners in their under-decks captivity, the contrasting treatment they received on the two ships, the efforts of a few Germans on Altmark to be kind to them, and the punishment of solitary confinement in an empty fuel tank which was doled out to prisoner and crewman alike. Attempts at sea to attract attention by throwing notes in bottles overboard, and attempts in Norwegian waters to attract the attention of a Norwegian officer who had boarded the Altmark by making noise, were thwarted by the Germans. Finally, after months of captivity, the prisoners were liberated by boarders from the Cossack under Vian.

The book includes diary accounts of prisoners and of the Altmark crew, and is based in large part on interviews with and diaries of thirty individuals from both sides of the affair; at the time of the book's writing, official British records were still sealed. The author uses a great deal of reconstructed conversation to tell the story, presumably developed on the basis of the interviews and diaries. J├╝rgen Wattenberg, navigation officer on the Graf Spee and future U-boat commander, appears a few times in the narrative.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 1 Dec 2000.

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