If the u-boat operations of World War II interest you, then I strongly recommend this book to you. Author Melanie Wiggins covers an often forgotten theater of the war against the German u-boat force, the Gulf of Mexico. Wiggins also provides a look back in time at the Gulf coast community of Galveston, Texas and the effects the war had on this beachfront community.
Packed with archival photos, first hand action reports, detailed shipping losses listed by u-boat and black and white maps, Torpedoes in the Gulf in an in depth and often entertaining look at the men of the u-boats who hunted the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the brave men that made the hunters the hunted.
Chapter Overview, in Brief...
The first three chapters of this account are the Preface and the preparation of war by both sides. Melanie Wiggins explains how the Gulf Coast was covered by a ring of spies from the consulates of the European nations at war with England and France. Read how the German consul general used deep sea fishing trips to map the shipping routes and ports of the Gulf coast. Wiggins later goes on to tell how the community of Galveston began preparing for war and how those efforts were increased after December 7, 1941.
Next, we move on to the “meat” of the book, the entrance of the u-boats in to the Gulf Sea Frontier, as the Kriegsmarine so named it. Sail with U-507 as she patrolled the Gulf waters and the paranoia of the Gulf Coast residents wondering if the German Consul General was again sailing the warm waters of the United States third coast, this time in a submarine. Patrol the coastal shipping lanes with U-106 and U-753 and then go to the Todd Shipyard on Pelican Island as repairs are made on torpedoed ships.
The next two chapters detail the stain the loss of oil tankers is having on the States and the further successes of the German u-boats. In the chapter “Fortifications”, see how Galveston Island was transformed into an unsinkable battleship with the building of gun emplacements and bunkers, some of which are still visible today.
Chapter 11, “Kuhlmann and the Robert E. Lee”, tells the tale of the fateful voyage of the steam freighter Robert E. Lee and it’s tragic rendezvous with U-166 off the coast of New Orleans and the fate of U-166 at the hands of the US Navy. Of note, at the time this book was written, it was believed that the U-166 was sunk two days later by a USCG aircraft some 20 miles south of Isle Dernieres, Louisiana. In fact, the U-166 was sunk by depth charge from PC-566 which was escorting the Robert E. Lee and her wreckage was found close to that of her victim in 2001.
Chapters 12 and13 give the reader a rare look at the home front effort to boost war production. You will read about the need for a pipeline from oil rich Gulf states to the East coast to make up for the losses in Gulf shipping. Wiggins also give an interesting account of Galveston’s contribution to the various war material drives sponsored by the Federal government.
Chapter 14 brings the reader to the last successful months of the Gulf Sea Frontier’s u-boat campaign culminating with the hunters becoming the hunted in Chapter 15, “U-boat Disasters.” Chapter 16 will be of interest to anyone from the Gulf Coast who has experienced the violence of tropical storms and the author tells the account of the 1943 tropical storm that struck the Texas Coast. The accounts of the military personnel stationed in Galveston is very entertaining.
The book winds down with the ill-fated patrol of U-518 and the development of Germany’s new anti-shipping wonder weapon. Wiggins concludes with the fate of u-boat crews held as POWs in the south and a list of merchant ships lost according to the u-boat that sank them.
Overall, this is a wonderful book detailing the u-boat war in the Gulf of Mexico. The author should also be commended for breaking the heart wrenching tales of merchant shipping with the entertaining look at life in a wartime coastal community. The only drawback I see in this book is the incorrect account of the fate of U-166. My book is of the fourth printing from 2004.
As the true fate of U-166 came to light in 2001, the author has had the opportunity to revise the original account. After a visit with the gentleman who discovered the wreck of U-166, I learned that the author has been asked to revise the U-166 account.
I picked up this copy from the Texas A & M Press at the price of $15.95 shipping.
Highs: An interesting account of a seldom documented part of u-boat actions in World War II and a first hand look at a community's contribution to the war effort.Lows: Only one, the inaccuracy of the fate of the U-166.Verdict: Overall, a very informative and sometimes entertaining account of the u-boat war in the Gulf of Mexico. A must for any u-boat historian.
About Kenny Loup (gator) FROM: LOUISIANA, UNITED STATES
I was the kid that his dad would say "Hey, there's a war movie on." and come running. As a kid, I dived head first into military history. We would always have to stop at the USS Alabama on our way to Florida. I also got to visit the Seawolf Park and the Alamo on vacation, too. All things I want ...