The Story of Wolfgang Luth
U.S. Naval Institute, 1990
reviewed by RADM M. H. Rindskopf, USN(Ret.)
“Wer Ga” — Who goes there’! – “Wer Ga”. No reponse to the sentry’s cry. Important, indeed! But that’s the end of “U-Boat Ace”, not the beginning.
It is coincidental, or perhaps ifs the in thing, but this is the fourth U-boat treatise I’ve read in three months. Each is interesting, even gripping, in its own way but each author has an additional message for his readers, beyond a recitation of attacks and counterattacks.
Operation Drumbeat was written by a University of F1orida professor of history, Michael Gannon, after some five years of research. It is the story of U-Boat operations off the East Coast of North America during the six months after the United States entered the war. In it Gannon carefully describes the planning which went into DRUMBEAT strategy, the assembly of the force, the deployment of the boats, the final directives from BdU (U-Bootwaffe Command), and the inordinately lucrative results achieved. He does this by riding U-123 with Reinhard Hardegan, the skipper. These operations were rewarding because … and this is the author’s added message … the U.S. was woefully remiss in developing an effective ASW strategy to protect the tankers and other coastwise shipping until months and months had elapsed. He names names, and does not spare Admirals King, Stark, Low, Andrews, and more.
Gannon discusses· actions of many other U-Boat skippers who comprised the DRUMBEAT forces. He included two references to Hardegan’s friend, Wolfgang LOth — one related to LOth’s strict rules for upholding crew morale at sea; and the other on the final page of the story itself.
In sum, Gannon gets high marks for realism in putting the reader on the bridge in heavy weather, wet through after five minutes of the mid-watch; and for his re-creation of the tension of depth charging. He spent many hours with Reinhard Hardegan, including aPR tour of the U.S. to sell the book, and with several members of the crew of U-123. He tells the story from the submariner’s viewpoint.
Slide Rules and Submarines by COL Montgomery C. Meigs, USA, approaches World War ll submarine warfare from a different direction. It is ably summarized in the January 1991 SUBMARINE REVIEW by Lt. Daphne Kapolka, USN, now at the PG School. It is less a re-telling of the U-Boat overall campaign or its massive efforts against convoys, or the exploits of one or more individual skippers. Rather its message is the relationship of scientists to the tactics and hardware which were offered to the Submarine Force. In passing, Meigs criticizes the rigidity of the Navy ASW high command, though not quite so forcefully as Professor Gannon.
The U-Boat War in the Atlantic 1939-1945 adds yet another dimension to the complete story. This three volume work was analyzed well by Captain Charlie Rush in the April 1990 SUBMARINE REVIEW. It is a German analysis of the UBoat war from German sources alone. However, with the assistance of such as Jurgen Rohwer (he of Axis Submarine Successes 1939-1945, SU~MARINE REVIEW January 1984), this document contains excruciating detail from Patrol #1 on 21 August 1939 to the surrender of the 43 U-Boats at sea on 8 May 1945. Accompanying this narrative is an unbelievably complex series of 32 diagrams from which the operations of every U-Boat can be traced from base to sea and back (or sunk). In addition, the pertinent operational areas are depicted with U-boat and convoy dispositions minutely shown. It is all there for the reader to spend as much time and effort as he chooses to compare the German analysis with others such as presented in U-Boat Ace.
U-Boat Ace is the story of a hero of the Kriegsmarine UBootwaffe, Wolfgang LOth. It follows him from his enlistment to the end of his career. The author, Jordan Vause, is a 1978 graduate of the Naval .Academy who spent time in destroyers, resigning as a LieutenantGg).
Vause selected LOth because he achieved tonnage sunk second only to Otto Kretschmer; he was one of only two U-boat skippers to be awarded the Third Reich’s highest honor, the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds; he was unique in his approach to his crew and leadership; and finally, because he was one of the few Naval officers who openly professed Nazism. Vause used typical sources in his research – ships logs, German U-boat records, some British corroborating data, and interviews with surviving members of the four boats commanded by LOth. His best source was Theodore Petersen who joined LOth in U-9 as Obersteuermann (clearly the Chief of the Boat although Vause does not equate these titles), and stayed with him in U-138, U-43, and U-181, finally commanding two of his own boats. Inasmuch as LOth made 16 war patrols, and was credited with 47 sinkings, U-Boat
Al;e contains almost too many descriptions of tracking and firing at his many targets. The reader is left with the strong impression that LOth was dogged in his effort to excel, that he trained his crews meticulously, that he was conservative under some situations with respect to the expenditure of torpedoes, and seemingly reckless in others. But, once he had engaged, he was reluctant to let any quarry get away. Vause goes to considerable length to describe several sinkings wherein LOth took great pains to ensure that the survivors were given a fair chance to reach safety, even delivering one crew to a neutral American ship. Then, in contrast, there are a few occasions where LOth apparently lost his cool and poured literally hundreds of shells into burning, sinking hulks giving the crews no chance of survival.
There is speculation for this behavior, but no clear conclusions. His leadership qualities spread far beyond the submarines he commanded. He achieved fame for leadership lectures which were thereafter widely quoted within the Kriegsmarine. He was loved by his crews because he cared for them. He was solicitous of the welfare of the families, and strove to convince the men to avoid the ladies of the night and instead many and beget children. He recognized the relationship of morale to success at sea — and devised means of keeping his men alert with team games, chess, poetry, taped music, contests, special food, and even leave on board especially during transits. (I pursued the same morale building ideas during 11 patrols in DRUM, and I believe that many another U.S. submariner, and German, as well, did the same thing.) However, when we realize that LOth spent 203 days at sea transitting from a French port to Madagascar and environs and back, refueling once, on his last patrol, we can understand his appreciation of the worth of fun and games.
Luth was a professed Nazi. The impact upon his performance is questioned in the introduction and elsewhere. Yet, aside from the occasional aberrations of his performance, his pressure on his crews to marry and have children, and one incident of anti-semitism, I find little to suggest that he would have acted otherwise had he not been a party member.
The story of successful patrols, and the rewards which were bestowed upon LOth, is the dominant thread of the saga. However, as with wartime submarining in every Navy, there were patrols which were curtailed by mechanical problems, patrols to unpromising areas, assignment to weather reporting or mining, and tours with the Training Command in the Baltic. But the bitterest pill LOth had to swallow was the sinking of U43 in port while the officers and most of the crew were on R&R. He was dressed down by Donitz to his embarrassment, and was off-the-line for more than three months. U-43, somehow without new batteries, was never the same again.
So, a submariner’s premier job came to an end on 11 November 1943 (exactly one year to the day prior to my departure from DRUM), when LOth bid farewell to U-181 and his crew. Donitz had lost Prien and Kretschmer, but he could not Jose Lath. Six months with the Aotilla in Bordeau, and another similar period in command of the Training Aotilla in Memel Jed to LOth’s assignment to the staff of the Marinekriegschule. After his promotion at 30, as the youngest 4-striper in the Navy, he became Commandant. Only ten ·years out of the school, he took the challenge of producing naval officers deeply to heart since he realized it was all but impossible to save his beloved Kriegsmarine.
On 14 May, 1945, the sentry at the north-eastern comer of the school perimeter cried out for the third time “Wer Ga.” No response. One shot rang out in the night.
by Admiral Corwin Mendenhall, USN(Ret)
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991
reviewed by Larry Blair
Beginning in the late 40’s books began to appear relating the shoot-’em-up, macho aspects of undersea battle during World War Two. The drama of depth charging and fascinating tales of underwater/surface action brought home to the reader the realities of what had gone on out there in the far flung Pacific Theater. Authors like Roscoe, Cope and Karig, Lockwood and Beach told of all the brave, young seawolves who were instrumental in bringing the Japanese Empire to its knees. More recently we have seen treatises by skippers who related their own individual experiences: O’Kane, Gugliotta, Davenport, Galantin, Enright and Schratz. Now the latest book on “big” war submarining has been introduced by Admiral Mendenhall. From December 8, 1941, serving as an ensign aboard USS SCULPIN (SS-191) in Manila, three and a half years would pass before he arrived in Alameda, California, having done his job in the war.
During that time “Mendy” was to work his way up the ladder of rank and duty aboard SCULPIN for seven patrols and four more as exec on USS PINTADO (SS-387). What makes this book shades different from the other volumes is the author’s human and philosophical approach to what went on around him. If the reader is looking for a pure blood and guts story, this is not the book for you. This is an insight into the minds and foibles of those with whom he served, from the lowest enlisted man up to the brass in COMSUBPAC. For those who served on submarines then, and who do so now it will come as no surprise the various personality differences and quirks shipmates have. To the lay person however, reading this diary might astonish them to know that submariners have the same frailties as any ordinary Joe.
They are not superhuman as seen in movies or read about in books. Throughout his narrative, “Mendy’s” insight into people and situations is expressed in a down-to-earth fashion. Whether it be below deck, on the bridge or in a rest camp between patrols, a word picture is painted of men under constant stress. Men of discipline or lack of il Men of binding faith and resoluteness. Men with hope, fear, joy and sorrow and their own ways of dealing with those feelings. It is said that airline pilots spend hours of unrelenting boredom, interspersed by minutes of sheer terror.
An apt description portrayed in this work. Here are stories of officers and crew suffering from nervous break-downs, seasickness and other physical ailments, infractions of duty with attendant penalties, poor food, water and air quality and the always prevalent personal hygiene problems. Many of these were made more palatable on later fleet boats such as the author’s second sub, the PINTADO. Infamous torpedo problems which existed during the first two years of the war are dealt with.
The onwthe-scene quick fixes instituted by SCULPIN’s intuitive skipper is an interesting dialogue which shows the utter frustration and anger felt by many captains. The author’s personal relationships with family, friends, wife and submates permeate 290 pages filled with earthy slices of life. Life that seemed suspended in a surreal existence. The roster of characters and names pass before you as ships in the night Some last out the war, others disappear into eternity. “Mendy’s” quest for command was not to materialize until after the war. This pervasive and poignant aspect rears its ugly head many times.
Whether this was by his captain’s design, Navy bureaucracy or command politics can only be conjecture. Undoubtedly you will form your own opinion half way through PINTADO’s four patrols. To quote Corwin Mendenhall, “My eternal optimism, ingrained respect for the Navy and my ship, and deference to authority pulled me through.” SUBMARINE DIARY was published at a most propitious time. December 7, 1991, marks the 50th anniversary of our entry into World War Two. A terse message flashed to all Pacific subs which till this day rings like an anvil to all who served, “Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor, govern yourself accordingly.” This represents a fitting tribute to all who went in harms way under the sea in boats.