Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

A Night before Christmas

Sanders, Jacquin

1996, Buccaneer Books, New York
ISBN 1568490127
Hardcover, 320 pages, no photos, no index

Type. General History book
Pros. Excellent coverage of the subject
Cons. No index

The author was on the deck of the troopship Cheshire just 100 yards from the Leopoldville on Christmas Eve, 1944 when the latter was sunk by U-486. At the time, it was not clear to the onlookers exactly what had occurred. Later, rumors arose that not just a torpedo, but Allied incompetence, had caused hundreds of soldiers of the 66th Infantry Division to find a cold and watery death. Sixteen years later, Sanders began to investigate the incident which had been nagging persistently at his memory.

Starting from the premise, common among those who knew something of the affair, that the cowardice of the Belgian and Congolese crew had counteracted the best efforts of the Americans and British to save the men, he gradually discovered that the case was not quite so clear-cut. By tracking down survivors and questioning them on their experiences, he pieced together the story as completely as possible, given that certain British official documents relating to the disaster were (and are still) classified and inaccessible.

The result is a clear, well-written narrative that is objective and understated. From the first paragraph, Sanders evokes an atmosphere of dreariness and doom that effectively conveys the depth of irony, tragedy, cowardice and heroism surrounding the incident. The only flaw in this otherwise excellent book is its lack of an index, which would have eased the task of locating specific individuals' names in the more than 300 pages.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 24 Nov 1999.

This title is highly recommended.

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