Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Attempting To Sell The Idea of the "Basically Decent German Soldier" of the Second World War
on 1 January 2015
In the years after the Second World War two genres of memoirs by Germans who participated in the war attempted to sell the idea that (1) most Germans who fought were decent and all the horrific atrocities were due to a small coterie of Nazis at the top and
and (2) that if only Hitler had let the Generals run the war, the Germans would have won. This book belongs to the first category.
When I started the book I was hoping for descriptions of the training of the U-boat crews, the kind of men who served in that service and how the immense losses affected them and how they related to their senior officers, particularly "Onkle Karl" Doenitz who has developed a reputation among Germany's former opponents as something of a brilliant "noble warrior".. I also was looking for at least some technical descriptions of how the U-boat operated and how the crew interacted in the claustrophobic, filthy environment they lived in for such long periods. Finally, it would have been interesting to hear about the constant back-and-forth technological race between the two sides as each tried to overcome the war machines of the other side,
In reality there is little of these things in this book. All Werner tells us is that he liked the sea, he served for a while in the surface Kriegsmarine (Navy) and then somehow he ends up in the U-boats Most of the book consists of repetitions of descriptions of all the close calls his boats had and his amazing luck in surviving.
Werner emphasizes how patriotic and unquestioning of authority the men supposedly were and it doesn't seen to bother them, except towards the very end, that they were sent on missions in which they had little chance of surviving and how they were even ordered to carry out a kamikaze-like suicide mission where they were supposed to ram an enemy vessel. He says the German soldiers he encountered on leave, seeing the devastating losses they were facing on the various battle fronts and the destruction of their own country along with their friends and relatives weren't fazed by this and didn't seem to think that they would lose the war. This was certainly a change from the end of the First World War when a large part of the German military, particularly the Navy, mutinied even though the situation was not as desperate as it was towards the end of the Second War. Werner gives no real indication of why there was this change, other than they were supposed to carry out orders "without quesstion".
Werner also mentions that he had to get his father out of the clutches of the dreaded Gestapo when his father was arrested for having a Jewish lover and he does admit he was slightly uncomfortable when he saw the destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues after the pre-war Pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, but none of this really seems to have left much of an impression on him. Regarding the "decent German soldier" claim, he says that when they sank a merchant ship and they saw survivors in a life boat, his U-boat did them a favor and radioed an SOS distress call in order to get an Allied ship to pick them up. That is very nice, but on the classic BBC series "The World At War" a British merchant seaman who managed to get onto a life boat after his ship was sunk related how the U-Boat that torpedoed them surfaced, the "basically decent German seamen" laughed at them, refused to give them water and then sailed away. Many of the men on the lifeboat died before they were rescued. So we see that not necessarily all German soldiers were as decent as Werner claims he was.
Finally, near the end of the war, he is asked to come to Onkle Karl's headquarters and he is shocked to see how the beloved Doenitz, who was said to have loved his men as if they were his sons, was living in luxury along with the senior officers which the country was burning around them and his beloved U-boat crews had to make due with inferior equipment and how they they were sent out to die uselessly by their "Onkle". It should not be forgotton that Doenitz was so highly regarded by Hitler that he was chosen to be the second, and last Fuhrer of the Third Reich Finally, when all is lost, Werner decides to steal a U-boat and to head for safety but he doesn't make it,
At the end of the book we are given extensive descriptions of how badly he and other German soldiers who were now prisoners were treated by the victorious Allies. Perhaps he would have found it somewhat easier to understand if he thought about how HIS 'basically decent Germans' treated those in the occupied countries and the systematic dehumanization they perpetrated against the Slavs and Jews who were murdered in the millions.