Book Reviews

ONS.5 consisted of 46 merchant vessels escorted by nine Allied combatant ships: one destroyer, one frigate, four corvettes, two trawlers, and one tanker. The convoy assembled in the narrows northeast of Ireland and soon was under way, moving into the teeth of a fierce North Atlantic gale.

Against this convoy, which was arranged in a front of 12 columns spanning more than five miles, the U-boat fleet commander, Admiral Karl Donitz, had deployed 41 U-boats, organized into several wolf packs. His decryption services had told Donitz that the convoy was routed into the far North Atlantic, thence southwestward to Halifax. Donitz deployed his wolf packs across the expected path of ONS.5 and in a location that was mainly in the Air Gap, as it was called, beyond the reach of either Gander- or Iceland-based antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft.

To defeat this formidable array of undersea power, the Allies were just bringing to fruition their combination of antisubmarine weapons—shipboard and airborne high frequency direction-finding (HF/DF) equipment, ten-centimeter radar, improved depth charges and hedgehogs, improved sonar, and a finely honed method of convoy formation and escort.

The battle was fierce and lasted more than two weeks. Gannon describes it in close detail, bringing out each action between the U-boats and the escort group. Through a brilliant combination of ASW forces, the Allies crushed the U-boat offensive. The details of the struggle for ONS,5 make it clear that the U-boats, by the spring of 1943, had become hopelessly outclassed by Allied ASW. Donitz lost more U-boats than he sank merchant vessels-a major defeat for Germany. From that point on, Donitz knew that the Battle of the Atlantic was lost, and he never again undertook a North Atlantic campaign on the scale of the one launched against ONS.5.

Gannon brings out plainly—the factors that defeated the Germans:

  • The U-boats lacked any shipboard radar. Still worse, German submarines had no means of detecting ten-centimeter radar being used against them.
  • Donitz's policy of exerting tactical control of his submarines from his shore-based headquarters in Western France required the U-boats essentially to remain on the surface at all times, so they could send and receive radio traffic quickly and have the speed to move to new positions that he was transmitting continually.
  • Allied escorts had shipborne HF/DF equipment that could detect the U-boats' frequent radio transmissions. They would run down the bearing, locate the submarines on radar, force them down, and then drop a barrage of depth charges before the U-boats had a chance to get much below periscope depth. By May 1943, any U-boat entering a convoy at night was moving into a death trap.
  • Allied land-based aircraft-carrying ten-centimeter radar, HF/DF, heavy loads of depth charges, and increasingly skilled crews—made the Allied ASW threat even more deadly.

In addition to all of these factors, the U-boats were operating with a dwindling supply of human talent. Fourteen of the individual submarine aces accounted for about 20% of all Allied shipping sunk during the war. These aces, the most aggressive of the force, almost always were killed or captured before they could be retired to act as trainers for younger skippers. Thus the U-boat commanders' pool continually was being weakened and diluted. On the other hand, most of the Allied escort and aircraft personnel survived their battles with the U-boats and became more and more skillful.

Black May does the best job I have seen yet of describing in detail why the U-boats lost the Battle of the Atlantic. It was researched painstakingly from both official and private records in Germany, England, Canada, and the United States. It is a significant addition to the history of World War II.

Tomahawk

David Poyer. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 371 pp. $24.95 ($22.45).

Reviewed by Commander Kevin Baxter, U.S. Navy

Tomahawk. The name evokes images ingrained in our consciousness by CNN footage of noisy missiles scooting down the streets of Baghdad, turning left and heading off to blow up another target. But before it became the weapon of choice for international law enforcement in Mesopotamia (with one Balkan excursion), it was a development program with any number of political and technical enemies. David Poyer's latest novel coalesces around this early phase in the life of the Tomahawk weapon.

In the early 1980s, Lieutenant Commander Dan Lenson is a surface warfare officer (SWO) rolling to shore duty after sea tours punctuated by a collision with a carrier, an engagement with the Soviets, the exposure of a traitor, and the departure of his wife and daughter—chronicled in previous novels. To anyone ever sentenced to serve in or around the Pentagon, Commander Lenson's introduction to Washington duty is a shot of deja vu. Poyer vividly describes several aspects of life inside the beltway: as a shipboard integration officer in a program manager's office; as a naval officer; as a bachelor. He is equally specific in his clinical, yet sympathetic treatment of the surface warfare community.

A number of opposing forces are at work in Dan Lenson's life. He is ambivalent about the Navy but loves going to sea. He has come ashore following battles between ships and battles between individuals, but he is drawn to the arguments of the peace movement. He is trying to improve himself by working toward a masters degree, but he is self-destructive in his drinking. All of these come into play, often all at once, throughout the course of the book, as Lenson struggles to fix a badly damaged Tomahawk program, his badly damaged career, and his badly damaged personal life. Of the three, as is so often the case in real life, the Navy program reaps the benefits while the other two take a backseat.

David Poyer is obviously as comfortable on the bridge as he is in the world of program management. His descriptions of life at sea—the little details that one eventually takes for granted but that really define the nature of a SWO—are real enough to touch. There is a palpable affection for sailors and the sea in the recounting his hero's underway time. Dan Lenson's enthusiasm both for the profession of arms and going to sea is evident. But while their inclinations may lie with the fleet, the author and Dan Lenson spend most of their time nearly buried in the stultifying minutiae of program management and technology.

Tomahawk is a book of many levels. On the surface, it is a book of suspense—spies, secret missile strikes, murder—and lots of inside details about the missile, the program, congressional hearings, shipboard emergencies. Dig a little and you find a hero who is hard to get close to. He is inclined to shoot himself in the foot—self-inflicted podicide. For example, as an officer tasked with making a nuclear system operational, he consorts with anti-nuclear activists—in uniform, no less (B in judgment there) and falls in love with one. Dig a little further, and there is an officer who is troubled deeply by the effects of the weapons that he is developing, but one who fully understands and even lauds the advantages that it can confer on his compatriots and former shipmates. If you go deeper still, you find a man whose courage and conviction brought him a Silver Star but who nearly destroys his career and himself, through self-doubt and alcohol.

So what's the bottom line? As one who is intimately familiar with Tomahawk both from inside the beltway and as a shipmate, and as a SWO with a lot of time at sea, I can vouch for the authenticity of the book. I related to it closely—technically and viscerally. Because I am comfortable with the technicalities, the plethora of details in the book did not slow me down—they are second nature to me. The less-initiated easily could get bogged down. This book serves, however, as a parable for the angst that the United States is undergoing in the wake of the Gulf War: concerns over "collateral" damage; intolerance to friendly losses; the limits of usefulness of our power. Dan Lenson may not be much of a positive example in this installment of his life, but in many ways he is superior to most heroes because he succeeds and even excels in spite of his shortcomings. If you are a fan of David Poyer's already, you will enjoy this book. If you have not yet read Poyer's work, get to know Dan Lenson while he is at sea; I suppose that if you do, Tomahawk will make much more sense.

Archie Smallwood and the Marine Raiders: A Rifleman's Brief .30-Caliber History of the 20th Century

Verle E. Ludwig. Santa Barbara, CA: Fithian Press, 1998. 272 pp. Notes. $15.95 ($14.35).

Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Seamon, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

Novelists often inject the names of real people into their stories to generate a certain verisimilitude. Mr. Ludwig, a former Marine and a professor at various universities, including the National War College, takes the practice to an extreme. Almost all his characters except the hero and his family are lifted live and thoroughly believable from the pages of 20thcentury military history.

Archibald Smedley Smallwood was born in China in 1910 (and named for two great Marines because his birthday coincided with the Corps' 135th). His father, a World War I Marine intelligence officer, later became a South Pacific shipping tycoon. His mother, a Manchu princess, was poisoned to death by her sisters for having married a round-eyed barbarian. Perhaps the most important influence on his life was his grandmother, a formidable Quaker lady who was pragmatic enough to know that wars sometimes have to be fought. She admonished Archie that turning the other cheek was acceptable in the right place and at the right time, but turning "all four cheeks" was foolish. It was more important to strike back and live through this violent century. Live through it, Archie did, and he had a high old time along the way.

The siege of Peking occurred ten years before he was born, but in vivid detail from his grandparents' stories and journals, he learned about the Boxer Rebellion that almost wiped out the foreign legations. Almost as if he had seen it himself he could later recall the relief columns—a motley group of European soldiers and U.S. Marines—and how an American engineer named Herbert Hoover borrowed a rifle to help liberate the city. From Peking it was on to Paris where grandmother, with young Archie in tow, busied herself rounding up medical supplies in the dark days of 1917. " Est fini, la guerre ," a bone-weary French trooper called out to them as he straggled back along the Paris-Metz road. " Pas fini !" called back a Marine marching east toward the front. They must have been quite a sight, those men about to turn Belleau Wood into La Bois de la Brigade Marine . Best described by a Marine company commander, the skilled writer and artist John W. Thomason, Jr., who was there along with Archie's father, those were the files of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments. "There were North-westerners with straw-colored hair that looked white against their tanned skins, and delicately spoken chaps with the stamp of Eastern universities on them. There were large boned fellows from Pacific coast lumber camps, and tall, lean Southerners who swore amazingly in gentle drawling voices . . . And there were also a number of diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders and a bone deep sunburn, and a tolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth.... Their talk ran from the Tartar Wall beyond Peking to the Southern Islands down under Manila; from Portsmouth Navy Yard— New Hampshire and very cold—to obscure bushwhackings in the West Indies. . . Rifles were high and holy things to them.... They were the Leathernecks, the Old Timers . . . the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home and war as an occupation; and they transmitted their temper and character . . . to the high-hearted mass which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade."

That scene and the memory of his father, an intelligence officer who conned a censor into passing Floyd Gibbons's famous report from the front, the dispatch that so irritated General Douglas MacArthur by glorifying the Marines, helped head Archie toward the Corps.

An enlisted hitch in China (where he was Smedley Butler's chauffeur) was followed by college and Parris Island and a commission as a second lieutenant. It was in China that he met and traveled with Evans Carlson and Agnes Smedley, where he saw Mao Tse Tung practice Western dancing with a lovely actress who had made the Long March with him. Archie's efforts to teach her another, more intimate, form of dancing were cut short when the Chairman's wife stormed into their Yen'an cave screeching Chinese curses. In the ensuing melee, Agnes decked Mao's wife with a wicked right.

Women were always falling for Archie and when he was caught in flagrante with a missionary's wife in a Washington hotel room he wound up before a court-martial board. Of course, he happened to know the president of the court, a future Commandant named Lemuel Shepherd, and of course his father provided just the right lawyer, Emil Zola Berman, who got him acquitted with an amusing, if hardly believable strategy.

Teamed with Carlson again Archie had a long friendly visit with President Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs before being sent to Hawaii. Like his father he was now an intelligence officer thanks to his fluency in Chinese, to say nothing of assorted other Asian and European languages. But duty at the headquarters of Commander in Chief Pacific, could not save him from assignment to Carlson's Raiders. In the raid on Makin Atoll he had his baptism of fire, learned that the crack of bullets you hear are from those that have passed you by, and, more important, saw Colonel Carlson as a confused and incompetent commanding officer for all his gung ho preaching.

There were indeed Marine officers who disapproved of Carlson—of his politics and of his tactics in the field. But there were other men who served with and revered "the old man." If the author seems unduly harsh, that is a small flaw in an otherwise immensely entertaining and instructive picaresque novel. There is history here and philosophy. Carlson and Agnes Smedley argue eloquently about the relative merits of Christianity and Socialism; Grandma Smallwood exalts her Quaker faith. Here also are the towns and stations of a Marine career: the dry, brown hills of Southern California where green life returns with the winter rains, the harsh Yen'an caves of Mao's North China, and the manicured old city of Peking before the devastation brought by the Japanese and later the Cultural Revolution. The clean beaches of Honolulu before the high-rise hotels were built are here along with the magnificent view from the long porch of Admiral Nimitz's wartime quarters at Makalapa. Military camps and military battlefields eventually disappear, according to Archie Smallwood, but the "ceremonial religion" of the Corps remains. "It's not a rational thing, I can tell you, but it gets in your blood."

 

 
 

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