I remember first reading about Werner Henke in a Washington Post article more than 10 years ago. The article may have been a book review. Then, in 2003 while at Barnes & Noble I decided to purchase the book. I'm sorry to say that it took me so long to read it but I'm glad that I did. In the intervening years I've read Peter Cremer's autobiography, Wolfgang Luth's biography and a general U-Boat book called Germany's Last Mission To Japan, by Joe Scalia. This book by Timothy Mulligan is by far the best of all of them.
Timothy Mulligan's book is stellar because it has the advantage of being written 50 years after the events it describes, this allowing for major reflection. The book is littered with quotes and great anecdotes about the life and times of wener Henke, a remarkable man who fought for the wrong cause and unfortunately (For Him) was doomed from the beginning. Serving aboard a U-Boat was a death sentence as the statistics show. 757 U-Boats were sunk out of 1100 built during WWII. 70% of the U-Boaters died (28,000) while 5000 hapless souls were captured by the Allies. That most of his crew survived the war is a testament to Henke's skill and luck. Indeed, the top eight U-Boat aces all survived the war (Luth Survived His Last Patrol Only To be Slain By A Startled Sentry), including 10 of the top 12. I include Henke in this list because he survived to be captured and only died because of an escape attempt which was suicide by guard on his part. The fact that the majority of the best U-Boat captains survived until the end of the war was a testament to their knowledge, experience, guile, gall and luck. All these wer eneeded to survive against the oppressive might of the Allies.
That Henke was not an automaton says something of his character. On page 158-159 Mulligan describes Henke going to the office of Gauleiter Franz Hoffer of Austria Tyrol and dressing down the secretary for the treatment of a decent family at the hands of the Gestapo. This caused him problems and might have derailed his career had a war not been going on. Mulligan also details the one instance of a U-Boat captain firing on helpless refugees from a sunken vessel. Contrary to popular belief, the Germans did not gun down the helpless sailors in lifeboats. The scene in the movie U-571 is bogus for example. The primary sources and secondary sources bolster this book to a level I have seldom seen in a World War II biography. Page 170-171 wa salso fascinating. Oskar Kusch, commander of U-154's fate will be of great interest to those who realize that suppoort for Hitler was far from complete, even whithin the German military. I was frustrated, however, by Mulligan's refusal to name the officer who rated Kush out. It led me to believe that it was the man who subsequently took over command of U-154, but this wa snot the case. I had to find the name of the man from another U-Boat source and even then it is no corroborated in any other book of mine.
Mulligan should be congratulated for constructing a narrarrative that withstands the tests of time and showcases Werner Henke and his family and friends in every possible light possible. Henke was not perfect, but he was not a Nazi monster either. His sinking of the Ceramic was used against him by American interrogators, and as a result of this he feared he would be executed in a show trial in a British courtroom. This is what caused him to commit suicide by guard. Henke served his cause admirably, yet in the end, like all those who fought on the side of the Axis, he played out a losing hand. Yet Henke the officer deserved better. Unfortunately for him he did not live to see the end of the war. Germany could have used men like him in the rebuilding of the nation.
Buy this book and you will not be disappointed.
A. Nathaniel Wallace, Jr.