Book Review: Athenia Torpedoed: The U-boat Attack That Ignited the Battle of the Atlantic


by Francis M. Carroll

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 220. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1591141486

The sinking of the British steamer Athenia on Sept. 3, 1939, the first day of hostilities between Britain and Germany in the Second World War, initiated the Battle of the Atlantic.  

In Athenia Torpedoed Prof. Carroll (emeritus, Manitoba), gives us a very detailed look at the incident and its implications.  He tells the story largely from the perspective of the Athenia’s passengers and crew, with to a lesser extent the men of the U-30.  For the Athenia, Carroll gives us a brief history of the ship, and then tries to fill us in on their background, and how they came to be aboard the ship that day.  He recounts the details of the ship's torpedoing, and discusses the sometimes desperate escapes from death by passengers and crewmen.  Carroll at the circumstances of their rescue, the international effort to provide relief for the survivors as they made land, and in some cases gives us a look at their later lives.  Although coverage of the Germans is less extensive, we do get a fairly detailed look at the sub’s history, the life and career of her skipper, Fritz-Julius Lemp, and little looks at the crew.  Carroll does a particularly good job of examining the welcome given the crew on their returned to Germany, a confused business, since the sinking had important international repercussions, and there is an interesting account of German propaganda efforts to disclaim responsibility. 

While not a “must read,” Athenia Torpedoed is a worthwhile book for anyone interested in the Atlantic War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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