National stereotyping and smoking: Two habits now viewed with disdain. In fact, if you were to flaunt them openly, you would be seen as a pariah to many. Yet as a submarine officer in HMS Seraph during World War II, I saw these two behaviors save 65 men from a horrible death.
It was 9 September 1943, the day after the Allies' peace agreement with the Italians was announced. The Royal Navy was doing its best to destroy Germany's warships and its merchant shipping. The Germans, meanwhile, were doing their utmost to further their cause by controlling the Mediterranean, thereby reigning supreme over the vast lands of North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia with the regions' vital stocks of oil and raw materials.