Iron Coffins

Iron Coffins (1969) by Herbert Werner is a remarkable memoir of a WWII German submariner. The book is a crisp, well written story that describes the incredible conditions that the U-boat crews served under. Being a U-boat sailor was amongst the most deadly places to serve anywhere in WWII. 80% of the crews died.
Werner was born in Freiburg and was a 19 year old ensign when the war started. On his first voyage the boat he was in almost sank and spend hours on the bottom. He went on to serve on during the highly successful phase of the War on the Atlantic between 1939 and 1942.
Werner became executive office in 1943 when the tide turned against the German U-boat fleet as the Allies became organised at sea and began to use Radar and Sonar more effectively as well as travelling in guarded convoys. The boat he was on was ordered to break through the Allied defenses at Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean which it remarkably did. During 1943 Werner also returned to Germany to find his girlfriend had been killed in a bombing raid and that is father had been arrested by the Gestapo for hiding a Jewish woman with whom he had been having an affair.
Also in 1943 Werner was then promoted to Captain and got command of his own boat that he would take on patrol including a mission to lay mines in Chesapeake Bay. Werner continued to captain U-boats through the incredible losses that the U-boats were then taking. The change in 1943 and then the final battles in 1944 show how it was possible to serve on U-boats, until the last 2 years of the war the odds, while poor, were not like there were later in the war. Also new technology in snorkels and the vastly improved Type XXI boats that would fundamentally alter submarine conflict were appearing.
Following missions from France and then a remarkable break to Norway Werner continued to Captain his boat, eventually getting a snorkel for himself. During this time his parents and sister were also killed in an air raid. The book also continues after the war with Werner as a POW. He repeatedly escapes and finally succeeds.
The book provides insight into the remarkable life of a U-boat officer. The recollections of how tough life was along with the views of returning to France and Germany during the war are startling.


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