The hell and high water raised by this harrowing account of a WW II maritime disaster is reminiscent of the contemporary...



The hell and high water raised by this harrowing account of a WW II maritime disaster is reminiscent of the contemporary flap over Peter Wright's Spycatcher. In the event, the long-suppressed text proves well worth the wait. In 1967, Irving(The Trail of the Fox, 1977; The War between the Generals, 1981; et al.) published his meticulously detailed log of how an Anglo-American convoy bound for Russia during the summer of 1942 came to grief in the Barents Sea. At the time, the author could not reveal all he knew because England's Official Secrets Act precluded disclosure of still-classified information on, among other things, the Allies' ability to decipher German radio traffic. Publication of F.W. Winterbotham's The Ultra Secret in 1974 effectively removed these restrictions. In the meantime, however, Irving had been sued for libel in the UK by a destroyer captain who eventually won his case, in the process enforcing a global ban on the book. The current edition, apparently to be promoted as a vindication of the author, includes Ultra and other material previously subject to security strictures. At best, the litigation now seems a delaying action; at worst, it was part of a determined cover-up. At any rate, Irving documents in consistently absorbing fashion how the Admiralty misread intercepted signals on the intentions of the Norway-based Nazi battle fleet and ordered convoy PQ-17 to scatter. Stripped of their cruiser screen and close escorts, the lumbering freighters (and often mutinous or cowardly crews) were easy prey for German aircraft, surface vessels, and U-boats. All told, only 11 of the 35 merchant ships that left Iceland made it through to Soviet ports with their badly needed cargo. Irving marshalls evidence from a wealth of archival and eyewitness sources (including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who kept a diary) to provide a vivid, definitive narrative record of an inglorious chapter in British naval history, which resulted in substantive political as well as logistical losses.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Richardson & Steirman--dist. by Kampmann (9 East 40 St., New York, NY 10016)

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1987