BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Jacquin Sanders


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On Christmas Eve, 1944 the Leopoldville was ferrying across the Channel some 2000 American troops for the Battle of the Bulge. It was five and one-half miles from Cherbourg, its destination, when a U-boat torpedo hit the Number 4 hold. Jacquin Sanders was on the H.M.S. Cheshire, an escort, at the time. His account of the second worst troopship disaster in history reads as a sickening story of responsibility not taken, leadership abandoned, general incomprehension on the part of major participants. The ship was Belgian, the captain experienced -- but his lack of command of English appears to have been crucial. The Belgian crew made off with the lifeboats, the response from Therbourg was slow in coming, there was never an order to abandon ship -- a ship that men in command must have known was sinking. A few men like Capt. Hal Crian and Lt. Col. rumberg understood and died heroically trying to save the men in the submerged hold. The men who resolutely refused to panic on deck did so once they hit the water when the ship went down. Some had jumped to safety, some to death in the ticklish alongside rescue attempt of the Brilliant. But the casualties, beyond the 300 immediate deaths, by torpedo, came to some 500 more before the terrible night was out. Investigations, says the author, were ""many and minimal"". He tries to give credit where it due and indicate where discredit may lie, but his story is told too far from its time with too little evidence. Only the dreary horror remains. The rest gives painful signs of an attempt to revive a drama with shadowy protagonists mocked up for the show.

Publisher: Putnam