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Deadly Seas: The Story of the St Croix, the U-305 and the Battle of the Atlantic

by David J. Bercuson and Holger H. Herwig

Deadly Seas is a good idea. David J. Bercuson is a Canadian military historian with over 30 books to his credit and Holger H. Herwig is one of the world’s foremost German naval historians. Together they present the stories of a Canadian destroyer and a German U-boat and what happened when they met one night in September 1943. They write in the present tense and mix historical fact and dramatic dialogue in an attempt to give the tale a vivid immediacy more common to a fictional thriller. For the most part they succeed.

The dual aspects of this book work well. The North Atlantic, after all, was just as miserable for the poorly equipped Canadian crew of an antiquated, accident-prone convoy escort as it was for the German submariners locked in a stinking, claustrophobic hull beneath them. The seesaw struggles to break the opposition’s codes and develop electronic detection and evasion devices are also well told, as is the background on the Battle of the Atlantic. Bercuson and Herwig also manage to present some new information on a well-covered topic. But there are a few problems.

The use of the present tense is sometimes invasive, and the prose is weakened by being overdone in places, as when the combatants are likened to bolero dancers. There is also the problem common to all docudrama: where do you draw the line between fact and fiction? The facts are remarkable, but is it necessary to recreate and dramatize the thoughts of the opposing commanders in situations where they could never have been reported?

Deadly Seas is an exciting popular history that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Second World War. Its flaws are minor and, overall, it is a riveting account of a dramatic period in both Canadian and German history.