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Grey Wolf, Grey Sea by E.B. Gasaway
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Grey Wolf, Grey Sea

by E.B. Gasaway

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Gasaway recounts the hugely successful career of U-124, a German submarine used during WWII. Built shortly before the war began, it had no heat or air-conditioning, so in the North Atlantic the sailors were rarely warm,
while in tropical climates they were excruciatingly hot. On one of their first wartime patrols, the crew battled frigid seas and thirty-foot waves between Norway and Britain, the tiny craft bouncing around like a tin can, waves often washing over the conning tower and drenching the watch who were saved from drowning only by the lifelines required of everyone. Needing to stay on the surface when searching for enemy ships, the boat thrashed violently, making sleep difficult at best for the men, who had to remain tensed to keep from being thrown from their bunks. Once, when they did locate a British destroyer, neither could attack the other, because the huge seas prevented any kind of accurate targeting. When battle stations were called during a mealtime, the result was bedlam as sailors raced to their posts, crashing into each other in the narrow confines of the corridors and smashing dishware. It was said that "the number of dishes remaining at the end of the cruise was in inverse proportion to the number of alarms sounded at mealtime." Submariners could always be identified by their smell, a combination of mold, cooking smells, diesel oil, bilge water, and sweat.

The most challenging assignment for a new recruit was learning how to flush the toilet, perhaps the most complicated and temperamental piece of equipment on board. The room was called "Tube 7" -- the boat had six torpedo tubes. The first decision to be made was whether to sit or stand, because once inside there was no room to turn around. The rules for flushing had to be committed to memory; numerous valves had to be opened then shut in a particular order. A common practical joke played on officers coming from the relatively luxurious facilities of a surface ship was not to inform them of the idiosyncrasies of the particular Uboat's toilet mechanism — and each U-boat might be slightly different — with the result that the officer would emerge humiliated, humbled and soaking and still in need of several lessons in how to flush. Admiral Doenitz's strategy was to send the submarines out until one located a convoy (the Germans had broken several British codes, so they often knew where to expect the convoys); then the submarine would follow at a safe distance until others could join the pack. That way even if one sub was forced below, another could remain in contact at all times with the convoy, harassing and sinking as many ships as possible. It was an effective strategy, and 863 U-boats that became operational during the war they sank 2,759 allied merchant ships and 148 warships, for an aggregate tonnage lost of 14,119,413 tons. German losses were high: they suffered a death rate of 82%, 32,000 out of 39,000 officers and men. Schulz, the brilliant commander of U-124, had a humane streak. On at least two occasions, he surfaced after sinking allied ships to provide survivors with food and directions to shore, even fixing a lifeboat in one case. The survivors, recognizing he had saved their lives, and, using the Edelweiss symbol on the conning tower as their only means of identifying the sub, tracked him down and invited Schulz for a reunion in England sixteen years after the war's end.

The boat was later commanded by Mohr, who, though a brilliant commander, was lost at sea with the U-124 later in the war. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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The history of one of World War II's most successful submarines, U-124, is chronicled in Grey Wolf, Grey Sea, from its few defeats to a legion of victories. Kapitanleutnant Jochen Mohr commanded his German submarine and navigated it through the treacherous waters of one of the most destructive, savage wars the world has known.… (more)

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