Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

De Kat met de Negen Levens

Claes, Wijnand

Type. Biography
Pros. Well-written, historically accurate, very exciting, and a good overall account of the war from a Dutch perspective.
Cons. No specific mention of author's duties or functions. No pre-character development (the story starts right at training). No mention of what happened to the author or his shipmates postwar.

This is a fantastic book by an author who has a gift for narration and a great style of writing which makes this book an easy but exciting read. All in all, the book depicts the life of a Dutch submariner (Wijnand Claes) from training, although short-lived for Mr. Claes, through battle to the end of the war. The book starts out during the initial training period of Mr. Claes right before the Second World War. The training is ended abruptly by the German invasion and Mr. Claes experiences the onslaught first hand. The whole account of German aircraft bombing the base he was stationed at and the sinking of several ships is first rate and guaranteed to keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. The author is able to escape to England where the remains of the Dutch Navy is being re-assembled and refitted with new ships and submarines. Although small in number, morale is good with the forces and Mr. Claes gives a great account of wartime England. He had a very good time in England and it became his second home.

As part of the crew of O-21, Mr. Claes leads the reader into what life was like onboard a submarine. He does not get into specific detail about operational procedures, but the description of the smells and the feeling of the boat is well portrayed. He also leads us through training exercises and the dangers involved with those types of procedures as O-21 was almost blown up by bombs from Allied craft who did not recognize the Dutch sub.

As known, O-21 is famous for sinking U-95 (Kptlt. Gerd Schreiber). The incident is not described in the expected detail. However, this may be due to Mr. Claes not being on the conning tower at the time. It is nonetheless a good description and the crew were proud of its accomplishment. It turns out that the German submarine thought that O-21 was another German submarine and was signalling as appropriate. This was the biggest mistake that Schreiber ever made. O-21 shot several torpedoes and sank U-95. There were survivors, but unfortunately there was not much written about the interaction and number of survivors taken. In addition, it was unclear what Mr. Claes' duties were on board the ship, but it is the story that counts. However, the feeling of sinking another submarine and bringing home survivors into Gibraltar as proof is well described.

After this incident, O-21 goes on a tour to Australia to patrol the Indian Ocean waters and finally head towards the Japanese offensive. The author has written quite a long section on his experiences in Australia and is quite interesting as everything is very new for this young crewman. An enjoyable account for sure.

After the war, Mr. Claes returns to the Netherlands. The account is very brief and not as detailed as some would have liked. However, it leaves the reader wondering and thinking about the grim situation ahead of these people as they had already started rebuilding their country. Not much is discussed afterwards. The book ends quite suddenly and no further history of his life is noted. It would be nice to see where this person ended up and what happened after the war. But all in all, this is an excellent book. Mr. Claes has done a lot of justice to the bravery of the Dutch Navy submariners and it is a book everyone who is interested in Dutch military history should read. It is important to note that every submariner, no matter if they're Dutch, German, American, or British, experienced the same emotions, the same fears, the same short-lived relationships, the loss of friends and the fight for your beliefs. All these men were brave and should be remembered for what they achieved. Hopefully an English language version will come out.

Review written by Fin Bonset.

Published on 14 Jan 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

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