U-BOAT 977 (260 pp.)Heinz SchaefterNorton ($3.50).
"We used to have wooden ships and iron men. Now we've got iron ships and wooden men," said the training officer to a bunch of German naval cadets just after World War II began. Cadet Heinz Schaeffer, 18, soon found that officers and NCOs had ways of putting iron into the German navy's new blood. Each man was handed an electrically charged bar. Movies recorded who screamed and who bit his cheeks in the approved stoic fashion. It was deep winter, but at 6 a.m. reveille the cadets fell in on the weather deck of the training ship, stripped to the waist, washed and shaved out of ice-filled buckets of water. On shore the treatment was reversed: pushups with everyone swaddled in three pairs of pajamas, two blue uniforms, a grey overcoat, woolen cap, steel helmet and pack, in a room as hot as a pressure cooker.
Before long, Cadet Schaeffer's group was assigned to U-boat duty, and one day late in 1941 the fledgling submariners heard the speech they had been waiting for, the one that ended: "Go in and sink!"
As a U-boat officer. Author Schaeffer saw the end of many an Allied merchantman. While he rarely tells his story as well as the U.S. Navy's Commander Edward Beach in Submarine!, his book has two special interests: 1) it is the first by a World War II U-boat commander, and 2) its tone of "My fatherland, right or wrong shows remorse only for losing the war.
40 Days to Live. Almost before Author Schaeffer and his sub mates had warmed to the role of ship-killers, they found themselves among the hunted. By Christmas 1942, the U-boats in the Atlantic were already spending much of their time trying to avoid radar and Allied planes. In Schaefler's boat the men got so jumpy they began mistaking seagulls for planes and shelling lighthouses. Once they were pinned down for eight hours while 168 depth charges thundered around them.
Near war's end the British were able to estimate the life expectancy of any U-boat 40 days. "Forty days was generous," says Author Schaeffer. But Admiral Dönitz, who lost two sons in the submarine service, kept sending the U-boats out. Schaeffer was assigned to commanders' training school just before the sub in which he had been on duty was sunk with all hand.
V-E day came before Commander Schaeffer's U-977 had fired a torpedo. Schaeffer assembled his crew, many of them teenagers, and filled them with scary bilge about what they could expect in postwar Germanyhow all its males would no doubt be sterilized and the country turned into a goat pasture. He added another naive touch which he obviously hopes will take in 1953's reader, to the effect that all Allies had fought not out of hatred of Nazism, "as they have pretendedfor Naziism ended with the death of Hitlerbut of the people of Germany themselves." Since "good German" Schaeffer could not bring himself to turn over his sub to the Allies, he asked his crew to vote for a transatlantic dash to Argentina. Thirty-one men voted ja; the rest were put ashore in Norway.