THE SUBMARINE COMMANDER: POCKET MANUAL 1939-1945

Reviewed by: Michael Harris

This ‘manual’ is a compendium of extracts of British, American and German books and instructional manuals published during and just after the Second World War. If you want to know the nuts and bolts of how a pre-nuclear submarine operated, using the weapons available to it at the time, it will be of use to you. Its shortcomings lie in poor proof-reading, and jumbling an uneven mix of history, tactical manuals and mind-numbingly dull drill books, the latter of US Navy extraction, together with little linking material.
The basis of the editor’s introduction is taken from an excellent history of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Branch, The Submarine at War, written by Professor A.M. Lowe in 1941. Low, an engineer and physicist by profession, was a prolific writer of books on all things technical, who had invented an early form of television in 1914, and became best known as the ‘father of radio guidance systems’. Low’s book is complemented by a soft-covered booklet, His Majesty’s Submarines, prepared for the Admiralty by the Ministry of Information and sold for 9 pence in 1945. It tells the operational history of the RN’s submarine branch in the Second World War and thus acts as an addendum to Low’s book which describes patrols which took place in 1939 and 1940 using the limited information available at the time.
Perhaps the most interesting source is an American translation of the 1943 edition of the German Navy’s U-Boat Commander’s Handbook which followers of the second series of the TV drama Das Boot will have seen being studied at sea by the U-Boat’s CO: not that far-fetched as General Service officers were being drafted into submarines at that stage of the war.
Suffice it to say that chapters four and five provide a fascinating insight into how a U-Boat was fought in World War II, not least the detailed tactics and procedures of their Wolf Packs, whilst chapter three, on US Navy submarines, should be obligatory reading for scriptwriters of American submarine dramas of that era.
All in all, this small and reasonably priced book provides much specialist information not readily available elsewhere.