A documentation of the sinking of the German U-550 on April 16, 1944, in the North Atlantic and the gutsy American crew of deep-sea divers who finally located it in 2012.
Working closely with the team of divers assembled by New Jersey attorney Joe Mazraani to locate the lost German submarine, crime novelist and journalist Peffer (Screams & Whispers, 2011, etc.) has fashioned an intriguing look at what happened the night the U-550 tracked the U.S. convoy of oil tankers leaving New York Harbor bound for England. After firing at one of the tankers and sinking it, the German U-boat was struck by the convoy’s accompanying destroyer escorts and sunk, south of Nantucket Island—to the loss of 40 German crewmen, although 13 were rescued, one of them the captain, the battle-hardened Klaus Hänert. The German submarine, launched from a U-boat base at Kiel, Germany, was one of the last of the Type IXC/40 long-distance cruisers to be employed by the German Reich, much beleaguered by April 1944 and no longer the threat that it had been two years before in the North Atlantic. (Five thousand Allied ships were sunk during the Battle of the Atlantic, notes Peffer.) The author re-creates a kind of Das Boot camaraderie among the German crew stuck inside the “iron coffin” while also delineating the Allied convoy system and the sense of peril involved in being pursued by a menacing submarine. Moreover, Peffer ably conveys the lures and danger of the sport of deep-wreck diving, where avoiding nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity requires huge, costly precautions that are always taken in moments of excitement or precipitous action underwater, resulting in many deaths. Peffer tempers the excitement of coming upon a “virgin wreck” with the dreaded responsibility of learning what happened to the lost crewmen.
A nicely handled work that moves back and forth between the two narratives and provides suspense and also a sense of compassion for the victims.