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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 2 June 2006
I have read loads of books on WW2. It was such a huge event.Yes, of course, being a world war thats obvious. But my point is that there are so many many aspects and stories that I doubt we will ever learn everything that happend in the vastness of WW2.

This book has left me in sheer awe and wonder. Awe in as much as what Herr Kapitan Werner endured throughout the years of the war firstly as an officer aboard a U Boat following training at the Naval College then eventually as Commander.

In the first years of war we hear of the battle in the Atlantic where convoys were very easy pickings for the 'wolfpacks'. We learn that the 'tide soon turns' and following the joining of the USA and advances in allies technology, the hunter becomes the hunted. U Boats become easy pickings for allied destroyers.

There is no doubt that Herr Werner was an extremely skilled commander but it will leave you in wonder at how he survived against all odds throughout the war. His survival includes overcoming the madness and senseless orders of U Boat Command and the sheer arrogance and mindlessness of senior officers (those in the main having seen little if any action other than indulging in their own oppulence).

We also hear of the heartbreak and loss as families of Herr Werner and his crew are wiped off the face off the earth by allied bombers.

Irrespective of which side they were on, there were millions of extremely brave and courageouse men and women during WW2 and this book provides an amazing story of just some of those. When the book brings us to the wars end you will no doubt breath a sigh of relief for the safety of the Commander and his loyal crew. Rest not....following capture and becoming a prisoner of war the story continues to have the reader glued to each page.

Believe me....fiction could not better this incredible story.
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This author commanded a series of German U-Boats throughout WW2 and this is his own personal story. The photographs are also from his own personal collection and are, therefore, unlikely to have been published elsewhere. The Maps, however, could so easily be improved.

In Part One of this book, Herbert Werner takes the reader through the glorious years of success after success for both Germany and her U-Boat offensive. In Part Two, however, we reach that turning point in the war which he aptly describes as "Above us Hell." Finally, Part 3 is equally effectively described as "Disaster to Defeat."

An interesting and well written account of the U-Boat war of WW2 - not only because the author actually took part, but also because he was fortunate enough to survive that war and relive his experiences so that we might read and learn.

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on 20 September 2002
In the early years of World War 2, the U Boats were hunter killers, domineering the sea, and sending thousands of tons of allied shipping to the bottom of the ocean. They were so successful, they almost achieved their aim of starving Britain into surrender.
As the war progressed, the U Boats no longer enjoyed command of the sea. Use of sound detection gear(sonar), the employment of long range anti submarine seaplanes and heavily protected convoys made life for the crews very perilous.
Herbert Werner was one of the very few U Boat men to survive, ending the war as a Captain. He tells of his life onboard a number of boats, the cramped conditions, the extreme cold and unbearable heat, the camaraderie and fear. The patrols Werner and his crew were involved in are covered in detail. The sinking of allied shipping, depth charge attacks, surface attacks from fighters, he makes you feel as though you were onboard.
Werner tells of the loss of his friends, and the uphill battle they were fighting, not only against the enemy, but also the Naval command. As the war enters its final stages, he struggles to get replacement parts for his boat, and realises that his superiors are under pressure to ensure that as many boats are at sea, even if they are not completely seaworthy. In the end it is clear that no more can be done, there are not enough U Boats left to carry on the fight.
As there were so few survivors, it is a rare treat to be able to read a first hand account of life onboard an 'Iron Coffin'. The U Boat service was recognised as being very dangerous, and life expectancy was much lower than in any other arm of the German military. Even though they were the enemy, you cannot help but admire their determination and courage. A highly recommended and engrossing read.
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on 2 July 1999
This is the very best book I have read actually describing the conditions inside a German u-boat during World War II Atlantic Ocean war patrols. It is well written with both action and information in mind. The action standpoint is superb and makes the reader wonder how Capt Werner and his crew ever survived the punishment they took in their little fragile "egg" as aircraft and ships constantly dropped bombs and depth charges on them. From the information standpoint, Werner gives us a very comprehensive and interesting description of what it is like inside the early u-boats. It is hard to imagine how the crew lived like they did in their constantly rocking boat: without bathing for months, eating moldy food, suffering from constant humidity, freezing or roasting as the season might be (no airconditioning or heaters), and not having proper sanitary conditions (using a bucket in rough seas, etc.) Very good detail on u-boat life both aboard ship and in port. From another information standpoint, Werner gives us a good description of what average Germans were thinking as the war progressed, what sort of damage ordinary citizens were taking as the war proceeded in depth over Germany both from the heavy air bombardment plus the advancement of Allied armies from the south, east, and north. Werner is also a "ladies man" so we do hear a lot about the girlfriends in every port, so to speak, plus German submariners' night life in different occupied locations. (They seemed to like France a lot.) It is good that Werner provides you this gamut of information: living inside the boat, dealing with the difficult navy bureaucracy, joys of in-port liberty, his nice but unfortunte family, the Nazi party bother, and so on since it furnishes the reader with a rounded out picture of life during these unusual times. Werner is lucky to have come back alive, and we are fortunate he wrote this book. His family and many of his friends were not so fortunate as the reader will see.
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on 3 June 2015
The book tells how the officers and crew of the U-Boats felt during their good times and the bad times and as the end of the war come when friends
left port never to return. We must also remember that our submarines crews must have felt the same, a good book thank God I was to young to go to sea at that time.
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on 26 August 2004
I bought this book more or less randomly to make up one of those Amazon 3 for £X deals, and I'm very glad I did.
Werner's writing is solid and descriptive as he tells of his actions during WWII. He was in the U-boot arm of the German navy, and his stories make fascinating reading. His style is very functional, almost stark, but he conveys the excitement, tension and drama of submarine warfare very well. You can't help but root for the submariners, even though they were the 'bad' guys. On the one hand that made me feel 'disloyal' to the Allies, but on the other hand it illustrates that not all Germans were evil Nazis...some were just soldiers doing what soldiers do. It is said that 'victors write history', and for that reason alone I think it's good to read books like this, just to keep things in balance. Besides that, it's a cracking adventure with lots of narrow escapes and daring escapades.
I've always wondered what it's like to be underwater in a metal tube with no windows, and this book definitely shows that you have to be pretty darn brave to do it! Definitely worth reading, even if you're not into 'military' type books.
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on 23 November 2014
Fascinating stuff, although admittedly not a literary classic. I think the main difference between this and Das Boot is that the latter manages to convey the tension of the periods spent at sea out of battle. In Iron Coffins, however, it's pretty much non-stop warfare. I would have liked more description of life on board: what was it like, who were the men, what was the food like, how did they overcome the fear, etc. Still, a highly recommended book.
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on 6 May 1999
Reading World War II epics is a hobby of mine, and I can easily say that Iron Coffins is my all-time favorite book. I first read it in 1984 and couldn't put it down. I have read it about 15 times, and each time, it never ceases to captivate me at how Werner survived time and time again while the majority of his comrades met their fate at the bottom of the Atlantic. It is as if it was his destiny to preserve in writing this critical campaign of World War II. It tells you in vivid detail, the other side of the story-all Nazis were Germans, but not all Germans were Nazis. They had men, just like us, who would rather be somewhere else than in the heat of combat, wondering when they were going to get theirs. The vivid descriptions, going from Years of Glory to Disaster and Defeat made me feel like I was right there next to Werner, riding out the brutal storms in the North Atlantic, the ceaseless depth chargings, gasping for air, limping back into port, mauled and beaten, yet still alive. They went to war for their country. Nearly all of them perished. Now, read this tragic true story of one of the few U-boat commanders who lived to tell the tale. The Iron Coffin would not claim Herbert Werner's life. His book preserves the saga of Germany's undersea struggle. A masterpiece!
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on 20 June 2001
Buchheim's 'Das Boot' may be the most well known book on u-boat life- largely thanks to the excellent TV series/film of the same name. However, despite Buchheim's first hand u-boat experience as a journalist, Das Boot is fiction and contains too many tiresome descriptions of seascapes for my liking. Iron Coffins is just brimming with action from start to finish- I consider this the best book of the u-boat genre.
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on 14 May 2012
This epic account of Werner's life as a U-boat officer and Captain in WWII is an emotional roller-coaster. Besides the gripping tales of near-disasters under water, of action against Atlantic convoys, of being depth-charged by destroyers and bombed by aircraft, it gives us a vivid history of the U-boat war, the happy and tragic events of Werner's life, and a view of the whole ghastly war in general.

Werner's experiences illustrate how the attitude of a german combatant during the war changes as success changes to defeat, and how the attitude of officers of high command changes. U-boat commanders and crews are initially pampered during years of success, and then are used as 'cannon-fodder' for execution of the latest crazy and suicidal plan as things go bad.

The comradeship of fighting men is clear, but once the killing starts, and combatants have lost their comrades, they are bent on revenge and retribution. The man who doesn't want to fight and wants the war to end is regarded as criminal or insane when all those around him are doing things which are insane.

Werner tells the story as he sees it, largely without analysis of moral issues. This is illuminating in helping us to see through his eyes and feel as he did at the time. Despite the obvious impact of the war, he seems to actively avoid a critical appraisal. This lack of appraisal of the politics of his country and of the war is understandable in a youth of 19 in 1939, but not in an officer and commander with 6 years of war behind him in 1945. Does this tell us something about Germany in the 1930s and 40s in particular or about people in general and why they go to war ?

Once you get to the end, I recommend re-reading the first paragraph of Werner's introduction.

In the paperback edition the photos are not well reproduced, nor is the Kriegsmarine Marinequadratskarte which you need if you want to know the locations which Werner often refers to in the text. The map grid is explained here [...]
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