Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Survivor

The True Story of the Sinking of the Doggerbank

Herlin, Hans

1995, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 0850524091

Type. Personal narrative
Pros. Very well-written account
Cons. None to speak of

The original German title for this book was Letzte Mann von der Doggerbank (Last Man of the Doggerbank). The title of this English translation, Survivor, is definitely apt, as Fritz Kuert most assuredly was that. Having already experienced four previous sinkings before the German blockade runner Doggerbank was mistakenly sunk by U-43, Kuert persisted in trying to survive even when the situation looked hopeless. Approximately one half of the book consists of an account and analysis of the events leading up to the sinking, while the remaining part relates how the original large group of survivors of the sinking dwindled to a single man.

One of the main questions the book poses is, how did the sinking of the Doggerbank by U-43 come to happen? Doggerbank was not expected to be in the area of the sinking; in fact, an order had been sent advising her to avoid the area. Was the order simply not received? Or did Doggerbank’s commander Schneidewind decide to proceed on his own initiative, as other blockade runners commonly did? Because Doggerbank was not supposed to be in the area, U-43 did not receive any warning to avoid sinking unidentified ships there. However, Schwantke’s behavior seems to indicate he may have been overeager for a kill, using three torpedoes when one would have sufficed, and firing after tracking the ship for some hours, during which time the Doggerbank tried to signal the U-boat (or another in the Tümmler wolfpack), displayed recognition signals, and did not take any evasive action. The possibility that Schwantke suspected Doggerbank of being a decoy ship, and other theories as to the possible chain of events, are discussed in the book.

Fritz Kuert was picked up by a Spanish tanker after 26 days in an open boat with no food and only rainwater to drink. The Spanish were obliged to turn him over to the Americans at Aruba, and after a long hospital stay he was transferred to a United states military hospital and then to an interrogation camp. To add insult to injury, he was returned to Germany in a prisoner exchange solely so that the German authorities could try to hush up his story.

This book is based on ten hours of interviews Hans Herlin conducted with Kuert, interviews with surviving crewmembers of U-43, and the transcript of the inquiry into the sinking. Its put-you-in-the-action style and the amazing incident itself make for a gripping story. I opened this book one evening intending to read a chapter or two, and did not put it down until I had finished it a few hours later.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 10 Nov 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

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