The ocean liner Athenia was the first ship sunk by a U-boat after Great Britain declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, and this true story recounts the incident through the experiences of two children who survived the attack.
Eleven-year-old Russell Park and 14-year-old Florence Kelly, both white Americans, were sailing home from summer holidays when a torpedo from U-30 struck the trans-Atlantic ocean liner in the boiler and engine areas. Mullenbach ably describes the prewar environment in both Europe and the United States and the tense days leading to the outbreak of war. She discusses the threats of fascism and militarism in Europe and Japan but does not explain the contexts for their ascendancy. The narrative is most effective in its vivid account of the chaos and confusion aboard the Athenia immediately following the attack and the harrowing efforts to rescue survivors. Mullenbach makes extensive use of firsthand accounts and other primary sources, but details of Park’s and Kelly’s experiences are limited. Of the 1,418 passengers and crew aboard, 128 lost their lives, a sobering fact Mullenbach handles with sensitivity.
An engaging, sometimes-harrowing account of the first casualty in what became known as the Battle of the Atlantic. (maps, photos, timeline, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)