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The U-Boat Attack that Ignited the Battle of the Atlantic
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781591141488
  • Binding: Hardcover, with Ebook Coming Soon
  • Era: 20th Century
  • Number of Pages: 256
  • Subject: World War II
  • Date Available: October 2012
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$29.95 List Price
$23.96 Member Price
Full Description:

Just hours after World War II was declared, Germany struck its first blow, firing without warning on the passenger liner Athenia. The British ship was loaded with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans attempting to cross the Atlantic before the outbreak of war. As the ship sank, 1,306 were rescued but 112 people were lost, including thirty Americans. This account of the disaster, based on new research, tells a dramatic story of tragedy and triumph, as historian Francis Carroll chronicles the survivors’ experiences and explains how the incident shaped policy in the U.S., UK, and Canada. For Britain, it was seen as a violation of international law and convoys were sent to protect shipping. In Canada, Athenia’s sinking rallied support to go to war. In the United States, it exposed Germany as a serious threat and changed public opinion enough to allow the country to sell munitions and supplies to Britain and France.

Francis M. Carroll is professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and the prize-winning author of ten books.

Praise for Athenia Torpedoed

"Athenia Torpedoed is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the subject.  It is an expertly researched, very informative but most of all, highly readable book that sheds new light on this controversial incident that marked the beginning of the Battle of the Atlantic and of the Second World War."

– Warship 2014

"Remarkably, this is the first study of the 'Athenia' sinking to be published in English for half a century.  The author is to be commended for his diligence in researching the incident and for highlighting its importance in the wider history of the war."

– Ausmarine Magazine (Australia)

"Athenia Torpedoed is a meticulously researched, carefully organized, and brilliantly contextualized micro-history that will appeal to readers of maritime and military history, especially those looking for a representative window into the 'lived' Battle of the Atlantic. He situates real people in the twilight between peace and the as-yet-unknown conduct of total war, capturing their dread and uncertainty. Francis Carroll has woven personal narratives and historical analysis into an eminently readable and highly recommended tale that powerfully and sensitively conveys historical significance and emotional resonance."

— The Northern Mariner

In an exceptionally approachable manner, Carroll successfully interweaves an appreciation of the strategic and political context of September 1939 with the personal stories of those who experienced this maritime disaster first hand. The detailed explanation of the rescue effort and the experience of survivors in the lifeboats is particularly well done. Indeed, while much ink has been spilled on the Battle of the Atlantic, comparatively little attention has been paid to the experiences of its victims and survivors. Carroll’s book is therefore a welcome one.”

While there is nothing too terribly revolutionary about this study, Athenia Torpedoed still makes a valuable contribution to the literature and is well worth reading as a solid example of the historian’s craft. Indeed, the writing is so engaging and well crafted that this reviewer easily devoured it in one sitting.”

— International Journal of Maritime History

I was not expecting to find the aftermath covered in such detail as it is, and this added greatly to the overall narrative….I found the author’s prose to be highly engaging and one gets a real sense of ‘being there.’ This book is much more than I thought it would be and is strongly recommended.”

— Starshell

“…The book restores the human face to a tragedy that often receives only a brief mention in many books about the Battle of the Atlantic.”


“This is a very detailed but readable account of an important but almost forgotten tragedy at sea…I learned a lot form this book and I highly recommend it.”

Powership, Spring 2013

"Athenia Torpedoed is a riveting chronicle of this important and tragic event that start the naval hostilities in the most violent conflict of the twentieth century." — The Midwest Book Review

“Carroll has contributed a readily accessible volume for anyone desiring to better understand the opening salvoes of World War II.” — Naval Historical Foundation

“The Athenia’s story has not been told, in English, since 1959. This book remedies that and does so with a deft interweaving of research and unforgettable storytelling…The Naval Institute Press deserves a salute for its continued commitment to supply readers with the tools and resources for further exploration. The notes and bibliography in this volume are superb. The selection of photographs adds another fine dimension… This book is an obvious choice for those interested in the Second World War. But maritime buffs of any stripe will find treasure among Carroll’s cited sources… A perfect read for long winter nights.” — East County Magazine (San Diego)

“Carroll shines a fascinating light on a still mysterious incident in the early hours of the war.” — Winnipeg Free Press

Reviewed in The Galveston Daily News

“…The first meticulously researched and comprehensive recounting of an early German submarine attack during the Battle of the Atlantic…Carroll expertly assesses the event in the context of the beginning of global war and examines all aspects of the sinking…The most poignant of the many stories Carroll shares are those of the families caught in the tragedy, separated during the rush to the life boats, sometimes never to be reunited.”

Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2012

“Athenia Torpedoed is a well-written, original, carefully documented, and highly readable account of the initial German sinking in the critical Battle of the Atlantic.  Highly recommended for readers of naval history or accounts of World War II.”

—Robert Love, author of History of the U. S. Navy

“Carroll has delivered a detailed and well-crafted account of the opening blow of the war’s longest battle:  the Battle of the Atlantic.  Athenia Torpedoed is a fast-paced, appealing work that will delight the ardent student of U-boat operations as well as the aficionado of shipwreck and survivor literature.  Carroll’s extensive use of personal narratives and period accounts brings this tragic event to life and reminds the reader that the greatest of battles are in fact a collection of personal episodes.”

—Vincent P. O’Hara, author of The German Fleet at War, 1939?1945 and Struggle for the Middle Sea: The Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater

“Carroll brings to life in vivid detail the terror and pain of passengers and crew on board the torpedoed Athenia.  It is a dramatic, tragic, and long-overlooked story, engagingly told by the author.  If you have ever wondered what single event rallied the Allies against Adolph Hitler, this is the book for you.  Highly recommended!”

—Robert F. Cross, author of Shepherds of the Sea:  Destroyer Escorts in World War II

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