Survivors, G. H. and R. Bennett

Survivors, G. H. and R. Bennett

British Merchant Seamen in the Second World War

Survivors looks at the battle of the Atlantic from the point of view of the merchant seamen who were unfortunate enough to have their ship sunk during the Second World War. The authors look at every aspect of the sinking and its aftermath, from the quality of rescue and survival equipment provided to the experience of the individual seaman.

The book begins with a look at the German U-boat and surface raider campaigns, and the British response to it. This is followed by a series of well organised chapters looking at the events during a German or Japanese attack on a merchant ship: the attack itself, the process of abandoning ship, encounters between the survivors and their attackers, both good and bad, the immediate aftermath of a sinking, with a look at the chances of early rescue (higher than I had realised), the long voyages on rafts or in lifeboats that many survivors and to endure and the process of rescue. Finally, the authors look at the human cost of the battle, and make an attempt to produce a figure for the number of merchant seamen who died during the war.

This is the best book on the battle of the Atlantic and the Merchant Navy that I have read. The use of survivor's testimonies is outstanding, and the choice of examples well balanced. The matter of fact manner in which many of the survivors describe their experiences is humbling.

The authors also manage to provide a balanced account of the behaviour of the ship owners, acknowledging the many good things done by the better ship owners. The trade unions are also seen to advantage, providing good advice and even some free equipment to their members. It is nice to read a book on this subject that does not paint the ship owners as money grabbing villains, willing to sacrifice the lives of their employees to save a few pennies.

This book should be read by anyone with an interest in the war. It reminds us of the real human cost of shipping war, and moves us away from the battle of tonnage figures, U-boat sinkings and technological advances that tends to dominate.

Authors: G. H and R. Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 287
Publisher: Hambledon Continuum
Year: 2007

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