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Diary of a U-Boat Commander

Sir Stephen King-Hall

Book Overview: 

Captain Karl von Schenk of the Kaiser’s Navy is a stereotypical German nobleman – supremely self-confident, touchy about the divisions of class and any infringement on his place. He thinks he is handsome, has a suitably manly physique, an excellent singing voice, and a facility with writing. His wartime service related in his diary is a series of triumphs over harrowing circumstances, bringing his boat back in spite of the best efforts of the Royal Navy to stop him.

His one vulnerability is a young lady he meets on leave in Bruges, Belgium. Although she is the trophy girlfriend of a German colonel who could cause him much harm if he were to find out, von Schenk pursues his Zoe with Teutonic straightforwardness. And both he and the reader are entirely blind-sided by the unexpected thunderclap that puts an end to the sweet affair.

Stephen King-Hall, a Royal Navy officer during the war and writing as “Etienne”, penned this book as if he had simply discovered it on a surrendered submarine. In fact, some editions of the book list the author as “anonymous.” King-Hall’s knowledge of naval affairs lend authority to this yarn of men that go to the sea in ships that sink… on purpose.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .hat the land was obscured was favourable from the point of view that we were not worried by coast watchers, but unfavourable from the standpoint that we were unable to take bearings of anything and so ascertain our exact position.

The importance of this point in submarine mine-laying is obvious, for, owing to our small cargo of eggs, it is quite possible that we may be sent here again, to lay an adjacent field, in which case it is highly desirable to know the exact position of one's previous effort.

We were somewhat assisted in our efforts to locate ourselves by the fact that a seven-fathom patch existed exactly where we had to lay. We picked up the edge of this bank with our sounding machine, and steering north half a mile, laid our mines in latitude--No! on second thoughts I will omit the precise position, for, though I shall take every precaution, there is no saying that through some misfort. . . Read More

Community Reviews

No one seems to know if this story is fact or fabrication. No one knows if its fiction or not. Check out the literature surrounding it--no clues. Check out all the reviews--no certainty. The author is sometimes listed as Karl von Schenk, the captain of said U-boat, and sometimes as William Stephe...more

Very compelling and tragic. A quick read.

I haven't read too many diaries, but this was fascinating. The unvarnished self-worth and belief in the superiority of his name, family, and race was simply something I perhaps had never truly believed possible.

This was interesting from an 'inside the mind' perspective. It wasn't terribly long, and a portion of it is missing, the gap being bridged by a letter from the commander's sweetheart. In fact, he spends rather a lot of time talking about his sweetheart. I can appreciate why, but it did drone on a...more

Quite Tragic. Sometimes boring.

Fictional account of a WW1 U-Boat Commander and his love affair with an Allied spy. For me it failed to work on most levels - not enough feel for life as a U-Boat commander as the novel the inspired Das Boot. The love story part of it read a bit like Victorian melodrama. Overall, a disappointment...more

I was never quite sure whether this was an entirely fictional tale masquerading as a biography, or whether there's any truth to the story. Either way, it was a good read, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

Surprisingly good

The Great War broke out in 1914 as a result of a complex set of circumstances: European Great Power competition characterized by especially aggressive imperialism, a rigid alliance system, mediocre political and diplomatic leadership, and an ongoing arms race on a grand scale. Deeper forces, howe...more

Interesting read, loved the mix of war and romance.

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