by Robert Kurson
New York: Random House, 2004. Pp. 375.
Illus., references, index. $26.95. ISBN:0-375-50858-9
There were a number of incidents during the Second World War which were confusing or mysterious, many of them immediately presenting a puzzle that took a long time to solve, if there ever was a solution. Shadow Divers is the story of the partial resolution of one of those mysteries.
The book covers a curious incident that uncovered a mystery from the World War II era, one which hasn’t been completely solved and probably never will be. In 1991 a group of deep sea scuba divers, led by John Chatterton, a legendary diver, found a U-boat 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey, in about 210 feet of water. This was about the limit of how deep scuba divers could go in that era, and so the dives were hazardous. Eventually, three men died diving on the wreck. When the wreck was discovered, Chatterton began to attempt to identify the sub, but was unable to do so. When another diver, Richie Kohler, joined the effort, the two men spent a great deal of their time onshore attempting to discover which U-boat this wreck could be, while at the same time trying, when diving on the wreck, to recover an artifact which would settle the controversy. Chatterton and Kohler consulted experts on both sides of the Atlantic, Kohler even traveling to Germany to visit and talk to people, attempting to garner more information about lost U-boats. The solution to the mystery, when it emerged with the discovery of an engine plate that had the boat’s number on it, only partially solved the question. The difficulty is that while the boat’s been identified, how it was sunk is still a mystery because no one survived the wreck.
This is an extremely well-written book, full of the lore of deep-sea scuba diving, and full also of information on World War II U-boats. I would recommend this book to almost anyone interested in the sea, diving, submarines, the Second World War, and frankly to anyone who reads general non-fiction.