Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Sinking of the Montrolite

An Internet Odyssey of Discovery Uncovering the Story of a Fateful Night in 1942.

Constant, Alan R.

2002, Alan R. Constant
ISBN 0968927114
Paperback, 102 pgs, photos and official documents

Type. WW 2 History / How To Research It
Pros. Good but brief analysis of what happened; an excellent guide on how to research wartime history by using the web and e-mail almost entirely from a distant location.
Cons. A modest story, with family history, of a single ship loss. No analysis to speak of. For the research knowledgeable not much new.

This is an interesting approach to a wartime history. It doesn't tell us much more than is available in some other Merchant Navy histories, although some errors are corrected. Montrolite, a Canadian Imperial Oil tanker, was sunk by U-109, KL Bleichrodt, on Feb. 4th near Bermuda when traveling northbound with a cargo of light diesel fuel from Venezuela to their terminal in Halifax. While 3 boats and all the crew got away in very stormy weather on a black and rainy night, the boats were soon separated and two never seen again. They had held 28 men - 27 crew and 1 DEMS gunner. In the third boat, under the 4th engineer, were 20 survivors, including 3 DEMS. They drifted north for almost three days until sighted and picked up by the British freighter Winkleigh and taken to Halifax.

Constant has unearthed a few details either not available or incorrect in other reports and histories, and in his crew list there are two minor spelling errors. But the big value is in his careful detailing of how he, not an historian and with little previous naval or wartime Merchant Navy knowledge (although he sails in a large Great Lakes ferry from Tobermory, Ontario) tracked down every available detail of this loss, which included his twin great uncles. This was his starting point - a bit of family lore, some of it wrong. From that modest beginning, he used the internet to obtain crew lists on sailing, details of the ship and its sinking, of U-109, of KL Bleichrodt, newspaper articles of the day, copies of the U-boat's log, and even family photos no-one knew of. Apart from the story of her sailing and loss, which take up not 10 pages, the rest is a very useful guide for anyone who faces the same sort of problem, and has access to the Internet.

As Appendices, apart from a list of the men lost and saved, the photos and a (re-typed) copy of the Naval report of the loss, he includes copies - in German and English translation - of Bleichrodt's actual appropriate log pages, diary pages of a U-boat crewman and interview notes of some of Montrolite's crew, and, the real value, all his references with their e-mail or web sites. He does caution that these may have changed in the past 2 years, but for anyone wanting to emulate his trail for another ship, in particular a Canadian one, this is a first class guide. He made extensive use of Horst Bredow's U-bootarchiv at Cuxhaven, of course, and of other Canadian, German, American and British government and departmental archives, which he carefully records - both how he found them and what their assistance was - or on occasion was not!

Not great history, but interesting, a valuable user's guide. More should do the same thing. The quality of the publication is good, and he has done his best with sometimes less than perfect copies of reports and photos.

Purchase information: $29.00 (Cdn.) from Alan R. Constant, 175 Warner Bay Road, Tobermory, ON, Canada, N0H 2R0.

Review written by Fraser McKee, Ontario, Canada.

Published on 17 Jan 2003.

This title is highly recommended.

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