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 Post subject: shadow voyage
PostPosted: Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:15 pm 
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:48 am
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Location: Broomfield, Colorado
Author Peter Huchthausen is a retired US naval officer with several histories to his credit, most notably K-19: the Widowmaker, which was made into a movie of the same name starring Harrison Ford and Liam Nesson. In Shadow Voyage, Huchthausen takes on the Bremen, a North German Lloyd passenger liner that left New York harbor at the outbreak of WWII, evaded patrolling Royal Navy warships, and eventually made it back to Germany. The story is interesting enough; as war neared, Bremen was originally ordered to return to Germany; her Captain Adolf Ahrens elected to continue to New York with his load of passengers. Once there, the neutral but pro-British US did everything it could to delay Bremen; Customs and port authorities were much more thorough than usual in their inspections and there were unusual delays in fueling and provisioning. The Bremen’s officers practiced some deception by radioing in the clear to Berlin that they didn’t have enough fuel to make a European port and intended to head to Havana when they were cleared to depart; nautical charts with a course plotted to Havana were left displayed on the chart table for the US officials to see and the purser ordered suntan lotion and other tropical supplies for the crew. The US eventually ran out of reasons to hold the Bremen and she was cleared to depart; she did so at 18:00, August 30, 1939. The crew – there were no passengers – assembled on the deck and sang the Horst Wessel Song and Deutschland Uber Alles, gave the Nazi salute to the Statue of Liberty, and proceeded on a course for Havana; as soon as she was out of sight of any ships she extinguished all lights and turned around heading north.

The Royal Navy cruisers HMS York and HMS Berwick were on station in Halifax; they were ordered to proceed south and try to shadow the Bremen (war was not declared until September 3). Bremen’s radio room intercepted messages in the clear from the cruisers that allowed the Bremen to slip inshore of them; then she took advantage of bad weather to evade the USCG Campbell, which was inbound to St. Johns from Norway, transporting Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Campbell received orders to report Bremen’s position if she saw her – including transmitting it to the Royal Navy – although Bremen passed with 10 miles of Campbell, visibility was two miles.

Although everyone was understandably nervous – ship was prepared for scuttling - there were no further incidents and Bremen arrived at her ordered destination – Murmansk - on September 6. After enjoying Soviet hospitality for two months, the Bremen prepared to take advantage of the long northern winter nights to dash back to Germany. The Soviets obliged by removing all radio transmitting antennae from other foreign ships in the harbor, and prohibiting any ship to leave until three days after Bremen departed; however as usual word got out and the Royal Navy prepared to intercept her. The Kriegsmarine deployed in support, with U-boats stationed along the Norwegian coast to supply radio beacons and airplanes ready to cover her as she got in range. The Bremen evaded the Royal Navy surface vessels by hugging the Norwegian coast, but everything came to a head as she neared Germany. The RN submarine HMS Salmon was stationed west of Denmark and told to expect Bremen; on December 4th, Salmon had sunk U-36, one of the boats heading north to assist Bremen, with all hands. On December 12 at about 09:30, Salmon, Bremen, and a patrolling Dornier 18 flying boat sighted each other in quick succession. The Salmon surfaced and prepared to fire a shot across Bremen’s bow; the Bremen telegraphed her engine room for maximum speed; and the D-18 started an attack run on Salmon. Royal Navy rules of engagement at the time did not allow torpedo attack on passenger liners unless they were obviously armed or under escort; the Salmon’s captain had a few seconds to decide if the presence of the D-18 meant the Bremen was “under escort”; he decided it did not and let her go (Huchthausen doesn’t speculate what the chances of a torpedo attack would have been under the circumstances; the Bremen was making 30 knots and the Salmon was astern). At any rate, the Admiralty approved Salmon’s decision (although the British press was critical). The Bremen made it safely into Bremerhaven; two years later, while under conversion to a military transport, she caught fire and was a total loss. Apparently, wreckage is still visible at low tide,

Well done; my main quibble is Huchthausen makes a lot of assumptions about the actions and motivations of various parties. This makes the book more readable and exciting but less of reliable history (as one example, he has the captain of the U-36 leaving the bridge to get a sandwich just before she’s torpedoed by Salmon). Huchthausen is also a little tentative about writing a book in which the heroes are WWII Germans; he notes periodically that the crew of the Bremen were not necessarily enthusiastic Nazis (although the officers all had to join the party); that Captain Ahrens was still flying the Weimar tricolor rather than the swastika national flag; and that the Bremen’s passenger service hostess had quietly assisted Jewish passengers on the trip to New York. On the other hand, he also notes that many of the Bremen’s crew were SA Bordsturm members. This is a little puzzling; I was under the impression that the SA had more or less disappeared by 1939, and cursory googling doesn’t disclose any SA subdivision named “Bordsturm”; it seems like they were specifically assigned to merchant ships to enforce Party discipline but I’m not sure. More research required.

Photographs of the Bremen and a set of plans (although the scale makes them difficult to read). Adequate maps although they are as little strange; they use very large drawings of the Bremen to indicate her position; these seem completely out of scale although it’s just an aesthetic thing; the maps are readable enough. Adequate index and references.

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