Although countless books have been written about the U-boat war in the Atlantic, precious few facts have come to light about the men who served in the submarines that wrought such havoc on Allied ships. Eager to get beyond the stereotypes perpetuated in movies and novels and find out who these elusive sailors really were, archivist Timothy Mulligan started searching official records. Eventually he went straight to the source, conducting a survey of more than a thousand U-boat officers and enlisted men and interviewing a number of them personally. The result is this character study of the German submarine force that challenges traditional and revisionist views of the service.
Mulligan found striking similarities in the men's geographic and social origins, education, and previous occupations, particularly within the specialised engineering and radio branches of the submarine force. The information he gathered establishes quantifiable patterns in age, length of service and experience, as well as the organisation's overall recruitment policies and training standards. The numbers and losses of U-boat personnel are also fully examined.
Beyond these objective characteristics, this study lists such subjective factors as morale, treatment of enemy ship survivors and the relationship of the submariners to the Nazi regime, confirming a serious crisis in morale in late 1943. Mulligan concludes that the U-boat arm quickly evolved from a handpicked elite to a more representative sample of the German navy at large but continued to be treated as an elite force.
Timothy P. Mulligan was an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., specializing in captured German and World War II era U.S. military and naval records. He lives in Lanham, MD and is also the author of Lone Wolf: The Life and Death of U-Boat Ace Werner Henke.