Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

U-Boats in Camera 1939-1945

Showell, Jak P. Mallmann

1999, Books International, Incorporated
ISBN 0750915579

Type. Pictorial
Pros. Excellent and well-researched coverage of the topic
Cons. Nothing worth noting

Jak Mallmann Showell's father, a diesel Stabsobermaschinist, went missing in action while serving on U-377, three months before Showell was born. Having read numerous books about U-boats, I consider Showell to be one of the best - if not the best - authors of books on the topic. I have read most of Showell's other books and found them to be well-researched, informative and captivating.

My high expectations were fully met after reading U-Boats in Camera, which could best be described as a photo essay. Most of the photos were assembled and reproduced from the collection belonging to the U-Boot Archiv in Altenbruch. This is no mean feat - as anyone who has ever visited this remarkable place will attest - for the collection of photos and information at the Archiv is vast and intimidating in its depth. Choosing a representative cross section of photos from this collection to depict the U-boat war in a 135 page book must have been a daunting task, but Showell has proven that he was up to the challenge.

U-Boats in Camera confirms the old adage that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Better yet, Showell has further augmented the photographs with detailed and informative captions which are obviously based on painstaking, careful research. As an example, on page 10, Showell briefly discusses the difficulties that researchers are likely to be faced with when confronted with some of the names in the U-boat arm, many of which are confusingly similar: Schulte, Schultz, Shultze, Shulz and Shulze are presented as examples to be noted. It is Showell's characteristic attention to such details that gives the reader a high degree of confidence in the veracity of the information presented in his books.

Showell presents a lot of very interesting and little-known U-boat minutiae in his captions, but rather than being pedantic in his presentation, as many "experts" tend to be, he instead adopts a more friendly and instructional approach, e.g., "...the eagle eyed observer will notice..." or "...see if you can spot..." One almost feels like one is reading an instructional manual on the various parts of the U-boat and how to distinguish one type of U-boat from another by examining the key characteristics of each. One also learns how to look for small details which would otherwise be easily overlooked but which reveal a wealth of information.

One item of particular interest is that Showell has included some photographs of U-boats operating, or rather coping, in ice-filled waters; something which is rarely discussed or depicted in books about U-boats. Another noteworthy photograph provides a vivid demonstration of what happens to a U-boat when it gets too close to the turning propellers of a large surface vessel.

Showell has not restricted his photo essay to technology and steel. He also presents many photos of U-boat crewmen and their commanders which help to dispel the popular myth of the U-boat crew as cruel automatons bent on evil and pernicious deeds. Here one sees the U-boat crewmen for what they were: ordinary men caught up in a major world event over which they had no control.

The only criticism - if it can be called that - is that there were no photos of the newer type XXI boats which, granted, did not figure prominently in the Second World War.

U-Boats in Camera is an entertaining photo-essay that will please the casual reader; at the same time, it is also nice a thumbnail pictorial and technical treatise that will appeal to the serious U-boat student. My own technical knowledge of U-boats was significantly enhanced after reading this book. U-Boats in Camera, along with Showell's other works, should grace the shelves of any serious U-boat historian/aficionado.

Review written by Robert Eno.

Published on 15 Jul 2000.

This title is highly recommended.

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