The best books about U-boats that aren't Das Boot

Lawrence Paterson Author Of Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History
By Lawrence Paterson

Who am I?

I have been writing non-fiction Second World War history books since 2000 and just recently had my twenty-first published by Osprey. Most deal with aspects of the history of Germany’s U-boats. Though I have had a lifelong interest in military history, the desire to write about this topic began while living near Brest in Brittany, France. I am a scuba diving instructor and spent a great deal of time diving on wrecks left behind by the Kriegsmarine, all in the shadow of the huge U-boat bunkers created in Brest’s military harbour. Encouraged by authors Jon Gawne and Robert Strauss I submitted the proposal for the First U-Boat Flotilla to Pen & Sword in 2000…and it went from there. 

I wrote...

Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History

By Lawrence Paterson,

Book cover of Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History

What is my book about?

The Kreigsmarine’s S-boat service mirrors that of most naval components of Germany’s Third Reich. Involved in an unexpected war at a time when their service was barely beginning to recover from the previous conflict, it is a story of often startling military achievement against superior enemy forces before the long inexorable decline toward defeat six years later. While explaining their development from the ashes of the First World War, this book concentrates on their operational activities during the Second. 

It has never been fully covered in the English language, and S-boats and their importance to the Kriegsmarine continue to be grievously overlooked. This was my second book that deviates from my normal subject of the U-boat service. 

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The books I picked & why

Sharks and Little Fish: A Novel of German Submarine Warfare

By Wolfgang Ott, Ralph Manheim (translator),

Book cover of Sharks and Little Fish: A Novel of German Submarine Warfare

Why did I love this book?

 This novel was first published in Germany in 1954, based on the author’s actual experience as a U-boat man during the Second World War. Told through the eyes of the fictional Teichmann, it is a visceral tour-de-force of German naval life beginning on minesweepers and gravitating toward U-boats. A brilliant portrayal of a grim reality.

I read this book during my teenage years and it was one of the first times I can remember reading a book that is grittily realistic; devoid of the 'boy's own' adventure style of many Second World War novels, but nor did it preach an obvious repentance by the German protagonist that also became quite common. In that sense, it’s virtually a dramatized documentary story of the author’s war.

By Wolfgang Ott, Ralph Manheim (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sharks and Little Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This raw, brawling novel, first published in 1957, is a fiercely realistic account of naval combat during World War II--in particular, the hell that was Nazi submarine warfare. "A German counterpart to The Caine Mutiny" (Frederic Morton), SHARKS AND LITTLE FISH is based on the author's own experiences as a young submariner. "It is as uncompromising, vivid, and unfalsified an account of war-time naval life as has appeared." (Times Literary Supplement)

The U-boat War

By Lothar-Gunther Buchheim,

Book cover of The U-boat War

Why did I love this book?

Related to Das Boot this may be (same author, same boat as within the novel) but this is a factual photographic essay of photos taken by Buchheim, predominantly aboard U96 during August-September 1941 as a member of the Propaganda Company. The photographs show life as it actually was in the North Atlantic on patrol, and end with shots taken aboard U309 as it escaped Brest in August 1944 and was involved in the rescue of crew from U981 which sank after hitting a mine with twelve crewmen killed.

This is, quite simply, a brilliant and evocative set of photographs. Buchheim was part of the propaganda machine that he so vocally lambasted in his later years, and, talking to U-boat veterans, opinions of him as a human being were extremely polarised. However, there can be no doubt about his mastery of the visual medium.

By Lothar-Gunther Buchheim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The U-boat War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chronicles submarine warfare in the North Atlantic during the Second World War, and describes the battles above and below the surface

Book cover of Count Not the Dead: The Popular Image of the German Submarine

Why did I love this book?

Hadley’s book examines the popular image of the U-boats and their crews through an examination of their portrayal in film and books as well as any other applicable medium. A brilliantly written analysis of how perceptions towards the subject have been manipulated both positively and negatively, dependent on the period or any intended bias of the creator.

Written examinations of elements of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS can frequently be coloured by either an intrinsic dislike of the subject or, by contrast, an almost messianic apologist's belief in the infallibility of the German military. Hadley deftly and dispassionately separates fact from fiction and highlights the pitfalls of believing too much in the popular portrayal of a complex subject.  

By Michael L. Hadley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Count Not the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Count Not the Dead Michael Hadley explores the complex relationships between political reality and cultural myth, and draws important conclusions about the way Germans have interpreted their past and how present concerns are changing these views.
Basing his study on some two-hundred-and-fifty German novels, memoirs, fictionalized histories, and films (including Das Boot), Hadley examines the popular image of the German submarine and weights the values, purposes, and perceptions of German writers and film makers. He considers the idea of the submarine as a war-winning weapon and the exploits of the "band of brothers" who made up the U-boat crews.…

Book cover of Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II

Why did I love this book?

No such list could be complete without the inclusion of this book written by a U-boat commander of the later war years. Werner’s autobiographical story gives a genuine taste of what it was like, though it is not without its controversies. There is criticism of his factual inaccuracies, but people must understand that this book paints a picture, it is not a textbook. Werner’s opinions may not always completely chime with my own, but he was there. I was not. I have the benefit of hindsight, historical distance, and conversations with some of the men that he did not see eye to eye with at the time. A fascinating book.

By Herbert A. Werner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Iron Coffins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The former German U-boat commander Herbert Werner navigates readers through the waters of World War II, recounting four years of the most significant and savage battles. By war's end, 28,000 out of 39,000 German sailors had disappeared beneath the waves.

Book cover of No Ordinary War: The Eventful Career of U-604

Why did I love this book?

I have a personal attachment to this book, as I knew radio man Georg Seitz from whom this history of U604 originates. It is an incredible story and Christian has diligently woven together the history of what, on the surface, seems a relatively unremarkable U-boat career. It nonetheless carries an engrossing human tale of triumph and tragedy, ending with the boat’s loss in action and the commander’s suicide. Georg then went on to crew aboard U873 which surrendered to the US Navy at the end of hostilities and which carries the terrible distinction of a second commander’s suicide. Many previously unpublished photos from Herr Seitz’s personal albums vividly illustrate the history of U604 and its crew.        

By Christian Prag,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Ordinary War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

U-604 was a standard Type VIIC of which over 600 were built, and at first glance her six war patrols might seem typical - but they were far from ordinary.Using the official war diary and the eyewitness testimony of survivors this book weaves a detailed but vivid tapestry of life and action during some of the fiercest convoy battles of the Atlantic war. Often counter-attacked, but seeming to bear a charmed life, U-604 had her successes, including inflicting the largest single loss of US mercantile personnel in one attack. However, the drama of her career pales alongside the epic story…

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