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Hirschfeld:The Secret Diary Of A U-Boat (Cassell Military Paperbacks) Paperback – 6 Jul 2000
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Top customer reviews
Although this is a good read, it does not have the addictive quality present in both 'Iron Coffins' or 'Das Boot'. There is not the same degree of tension in the sea battles, and it not so easy to bond with the crew members. It is very hard to fault the two aforementioned books, 'Das Boot' being my personal preference.
This book was good, 'Das Boot' and 'Iron Coffins' are better. However, if you have the time, I can recommend reading all three.
U-234 sailed from Japan in mid-April 1945 carrying a number of important passengers, some of whom were to help the Japanese produce the Me 262 jet aircraft. The boat also carried some 240 tons of cargo that mainly consisted of spares and general supplies for U-boats, U-boat bases and other German naval stations in East Asia, but also included 93 tons of various items for the Japanese armed forces. For many years, stories about the latter have centred primarily on 560 kgs of uranium oxide and claims that at least one complete example of an Me 262 jet aircraft was aboard. While it is true that U-234 was indeed carrying uranium oxide for the Japanese Army, prompting lurid speculation about its purpose, exactly why it was being sent to Japan is still not known.
The Hirschfeld/Brooks account of the loading of the uranium oxide is fanciful and absurd, to say the least. According to the book, Hirschfeld apparently stood on the bridge watching two Japanese senior officers on their hands and knees on the foredeck yet was able to see them writing "U-235" on ten 9-inch square containers that were then put into one of the vertical mine shaft containers. That Hirschfeld's eyesight was so good is beyond belief, but the episode is complete invention. Ten 9-inch containers would obviously not have accommodated 560 kgs of uranium oxide, nor was it ever in any of the vertical bow containers; it was in fact stored in containers located in horizontal compartments on either side of the U-boat.
As for the claim that an Me 262 was aboard, this is also completely false. I have obtained a number of authentic documents relating to U-234, and where aircraft types are mentioned at all, the documents are perfectly clear in stating that only aircraft drawings - I repeat, drawings - were being carried to Japan, plus tooling for a few components known to be difficult to manufacture. Nowhere in the archives of the UK, US or Germany is there a shred of evidence to support the authors' claims that 'an Me 262 jet fighter in its component parts [was] stowed in the hold amidships'.
Finally, what of that 'secret diary' that Hirschfeld is supposed to have maintained? In his introduction, Brooks writes, 'I have based this book on Hirschfeld's private war diaries...' However, in Chapters 9 and 10, we find that when Hirschfeld was taken prisoner by the Americans in May 1945, most of his personal possessions, including the diaries, were stolen! 'My diaries, U-Boat leathers and fur outfit were gone,' we are told.
It is clear, therefore, that contrary to Brooks' and Hirschfeld's claims, such diaries - if they ever existed at all - could not have formed the basis of this book. Thus, in view of the misinformation and false allegations presented with regard to the uranium oxide and the Me 262, doubt is naturally cast over the accuracy of the rest of the work considering that it is largely based on this non-existent diary. Anyone buying this book is therefore warned to treat what they read with extreme caution and should disregard entirely anything about the Me 262. This is just a myth initiated and repeated by sensational publications such as this so often that it is erroneously accepted as fact. For the reasons given, readers of this book, and any researcher tempted to quote from it, would indeed be naive if, like the other reviewers, they regard it as a reliable source of information.
Hirschfeld's story is an amazing one, and this book could have been four times the size and still been a fascinating read - but herein lies it's problem. It simply isn't detailed enough, and somehow it fails to capture the terror, tension, fear and claustrophobia of U-boat life - something Das Boot (The Boat) captures with incredible and unforgettable force.
The problem may be that this one book covers the whole war, wheras Das Boot covers just one patrol. I also suspect that Buchheim's diary was far more detailed than Hirschfeld's diary - if only because Hirschfeld's was against all U-boat regulations.
If you want facts, figures and dates, however, this is certainly the book to buy. Recommended, but get Das Boot as well.
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