02 Dec 22

Lavishly illustrated, packed with facts, figures, and historical narration, this book is a superb reference work for historians of World War II naval history. The opening chapter sets the context perfectly, with an abbreviated history of Hitler’s navy from his rise to power through to the maritime battles of war.  Having established this context, the meticulous research then comes to the fore in the heart of the book – the detailed descriptions of ships, submarines and coastal forces craft.  Each class is credited with its own section that outlines the origin, functions in combat, design criteria, and insignia.

The descriptions of each class of craft flow easily, with common threads including Radar fits, camouflage schemes, armorial crests, and even the evolution of bow design; many larger German ships were built with ‘Straight Stems’ appropriate for the North Sea, only receiving the more elegant (and less wet) ‘Atlantic Bows’ after Hitler’s navy started to foray into the harsh oceanic conditions of the North Atlantic. Tables accompanying each class (and in many cases, each ship within a class) then detail the more commonly searched attributes of size, armament, propulsion etc. The detailed lists of Commanding Officers for major warships adds to the catalogue of relatively unique attributes this book presents.

This reviewer found the whole book an easy and flowing read.  Especially fascinating is the chapter on ‘Service in Hitler’s Navy’, which eloquently describes recruitment, training and esprit-de-corps in a German warship, submarine, or ancillary unit in this period.  The book is also highly educational, with the January 1945 description of the sinking of the accommodation ship Wilhelm Gustloff reminding the reader of the greatest ever maritime loss of life in a single incident – about 9,400 souls being lost when this one ship was torpedoed by the Russian submarine S-13 in the freezing winter waters of the Baltic.

As a reviewer, I am duty bound to point the tiny flaws in copy editing – the very first table detailing a ship’s attributes states that the beam of the pre-Dreadnought Schleswig-Holstein as 7.6 metres … rather narrow for a ship of 125.9 metres in length. (Her beam is actually 22m). This obvious faux-pas caused me to examine all the hundred-or-so tables in considerable detail, and I can report there are no more errors I could find, although there is one transposition of MHz for KHz. Thus, with a couple of tiny typographical exceptions the book is indeed superb.

I can heartily recommend this excellent book both as a vital reference document for those studying the maritime history of World War II, and also as an intriguing and engaging nautical read.