Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Enigma U-Boats

Breaking the Code-the True Story

Showell, Jak P. Mallmann

2000, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1557502021
Hardcover, 192 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Many photos, well-researched, interesting topic
Cons. None to speak of

This is a large-format, glossy-paper book which, like some of Showell's previous work, devotes a large percentage of its space to the display of excellent photos, often from the U-Boot-Archiv or private sources and previously unpublished. Two of the chapters (Chapter 5: U-boats at Sea, and Chapter 16: The Enigma Machine) consist entirely of captioned photos with no separate text portion. Showell's engaging style makes even the photo captions interesting and rewarding reading, and ensures that the photos are an integral part of the book, rather than mere afterthought or incidental illustration.

The subject of this book is not merely Enigma, but all manner of intelligence information that was captured, or could have been captured, from U-boats. In addition to detailed retellings of the more famous captures and acquisitions (U-110 (Lemp), U-505 (Lange), U-570 (Rahmlow), and others) and lesser-known but still important achievements (e.g., the recovery of Enigma rotors from pockets of survivors of U-33 (von Dresky), and of documents from the patrol boat Krebs in March 1941 and from the weather ship M√ľnchen a few months later), Showell speculates on some other boarding events that could have led to as-yet-unrevealed intelligence gathering. In this number he includes U-49, U-501, U-175, U-744, and several others. A separate chapter presents the sinking and raising of U-250 by the Soviets, the only case in the war of the raising of an enemy wreck by any nation. U-1024, the last U-boat captured before the war's end, also earns a separate chapter.

Fascinating background on operations at Bletchley Park, and a very clear explanation of how the Enigma machine worked, are also provided. Attempts to salvage U-boat contents by depth bombing the wrecks are also described.

Showell does not neglect the opportunity to differ with other published accounts and to propose his own conclusions on various topics - e.g, the morale situation of U-boat men near war's end, von Dresky's character, Lemp's fate, what led Rahmlow to surrender - in very readable style.

Perhaps most importantly, he emphasizes the truly heroic task that confronted potential boarders - to enter a sinking, possibly booby-trapped U-boat through a narrow vertical passage on a usually heaving sea, unable to see what lay below in the frequently dark and occasionally poisonous atmosphere, with no free hand to carry a defensive weapon. The fact that some of these men lost their lives in the attempt (for example, during the boarding of U-559) in spite of careful planning speaks to the dangerous, unpredictable nature of these missions.

Two extremely valuable appendices are included: Appendix I: Grabbing the Enigma: Occasions Where Allied Forces Boarded German Vessels is a chronological listing with a brief summary of each event. Appendix II: Captured U-boats is a simple table showing these boats, their types, launching dates and builders, followed by several pages of text which provide an overview of boat types and an abundance of technical data (displacement, speed, armament, etc.). An index and bibliography cap this very useful reference.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 6 Apr 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

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