Grey Wolf -- A Novel in History is about life on a German U-Boat at the start of World War II. Oskar Keppler, the commander of the sub, was a veteran of World War I who developed the "wolfpack" tactics used in submarine warfare. The book is about his life and his men as well as some of the British opponents.
When the war started, the U-Boat packs began sinking British and Merchant Marine ships. The first vessel that they sank was a tanker. It was unarmed. The sub surfaced and fired a warning shot. Their target stopped and the crew evacuated before the Germans opened fire.
The U-Boats ran on the surface at night to charge their batteries and go twice as fast. During the day, the remained submerged. Most of the crew never got to go topside. Living conditions were cramped and there was little privacy. The officers' mess was between two beds in an aisle. They stayed out 6 weeks at a time. To conserve fuel, they did not run the electric heaters which made their living quarters miserably cold. The food was good at first, but the longer they were at sea, the less appetizing it became. After a few weeks, they made do with moldy bread and canned goods.
They didn't have many torpedoes, so they used them judiciously. The boats were vulnerable to attack from the air since they had to spend so much time on the surface. Interestingly, early in the war, they could see the stacks before they could see the ships themselves.
The first voyage, the subs in the pack were too far apart. They were heading back after sinking 3 ships, when they heard that another U-Boat had sunk a tanker. The survivors were in the water and oil was burning all around them. Enlisted personnel bunked forward and the officers had to remove the table in the corridor so that they could pass. The sub was picking up the swimmers when they were spotted by carrier scout planes. The pilots radioed the carrier for orders -- should they let the U-Boat rescue the survivors or should they sink the submarine? The order came back, "Sink them!"
The U-Boat submerged and started evasive actions. The carrier sent its escort ship to help find and destroy the sub. This left the carrier unprotected and the protagonist had the opportunity to go after the big target. Although almost out of fuel, the U-Boat sank the carrier. As a result, carriers stayed out of the open ocean during the remainder of World War II.
At the end of the book, the U-Boat crew returns to Germany and a hero's welcome -- but the story is far from over.
This was a very enjoyable read... historical fiction is a good way to learn about little known aspects of momentous events. Most of the events described in this book were taken from actual German war diaries. I was already interested in U-Boat warfare before I read this book, so I was an eager audience. Having said that, I highly recommend this gem of a read to anyone. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading the promised sequels.
Reviewed by: Buddy Cox (2010)
World War Two is about to begin and a German Naval Officer is going to war. Again. Oskar Keppler, a U-boat veteran of the Great War, takes command of the Type VII submarine U-115. Based on the actual War Diary of a German U-boat at the outset of World War II, this novel presents the U-boat experience from the perspective of those who lived it. Vivid descriptions of life in a diesel-electric powered submarine: day after day of mundane drilling, horrendous smells and ever deteriorating food are punctuated by moments of action, elation, terror and dread. In perhaps the most important single patrol of the first half of the Battle of the Atlantic, a handful of men will change the balance of power, and strategic capabilities of their adversary, for years to come.