Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Silent Runner

Wolfgang Heyda, U-Boat Commander

Martin, Rodney J.

2003, Rodney J. Martin
ISBN 0974065102
Hardcover, 200 pages, 15 b&w photos, 3 maps

Type. Biography
Pros. First book to cover this interesting subject
Cons. Nothing major; see below

This book is a biography of Wolfgang Heyda, a career German naval officer whose final command was U-434. His short life was marked by ironies and twists of fate. His brief wartime career was followed by a long imprisonment in a POW camp, where he shared his confinement with Otto Kretschmer and witnessed the famous Battle of Bowmanville. Twice in his naval career, Heyda benefited from being a replacement. The sinking of the sailing school ship Niobe, with the loss of 27 cadets, moved Heyda off the waiting list and into Crew 32. The failure of an escape plan intended to free Kretschmer and three other high-profile U-boat officers gave Heyda the opportunity to make his own escape attempt. Having survived shells, depth charges, strafing, and a dangerous escape, Heyda was struck down by an illness shortly after his release from prison camp, dying of polio a few months before his 34th birthday.

Like all good biographers, Rodney Martin explores the events and issues which shaped the life of his subject, and provides background information on some of the notable figures who crossed Heyda's path. Occasionally it seems that the book is ranging too far afield from its subject, but this really comes down to the reader's preferences: those who are not concerned with a strict focus on Heyda will profit from the extra information, and those who are longing for Heyda to return to the scene will be all the more gratified when he does.

Two of the most interesting aspects of this book are the accounts of the sinking of the Niobe, and of Heyda's escape from Bowmanville. In the case of the former, this book contains the only treatment of the subject of any length available in the English language. Heyda's escape is dramatic and full of incident and suspense; the varying and sometimes contradictory accounts are brought together in a seamless narrative.

The author's research methods are meticulous. In the true investigative spirit, he takes nothing at face value, but uses a variety of primary and secondary sources to try to get at the true story behind often conflicting accounts. These sources include eyewitnesses to the events; official records; wartime and postwar newspaper and magazine articles; standard historical texts; and rare or privately-published monographs. Numerous excerpts from primary sources are provided in the book, and ten appendices provide valuable data.

This book is highly recommended.

Available from the author's web site:

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 13 Dec 2003.

This title is highly recommended.

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