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by David Stevens
Allen & Unwin 1997
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|U-Boat Far From Home
The Epic Voyage of the U-862 to Australia and New Zealand
If we were to ask anyone in Australia today about enemy submarine activity off the Australian coastline during the Second World War, we would definitely hear one name – Sydney. Others may make mention of the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur; and an even smaller group may acknowledge the various shellings of Australian townships by Japanese submarines.
However, it would be an extremely small minority who would mention the effort played by the German Kriegsmarine during the Pacific campaigns of the Second World War. David Stevens finally brings this theatre to light in “U-Boat Far From Home”.
It is a relatively well known fact that a handful of German navy vessels operated in the Indian Ocean during the pre-Pacific days of World War Two (1939-1941). Probably the most famous incident of this time would have been the Kormoran’s sinking of HMAS Sydney in November 1941, where all crew members aboard the Sydney were lost.
Stevens concentrates on the later German campaigns in the Indian and Pacific Oceans – that of the small U-Boat force known as Monsun. After the U-Boat’s reign had been brought to a halt in the Atlantic Ocean, the Kriegsmarine decided to look for more easy convoy targets around the world. The relatively safe waters of southern Australia and New Zealand were chosen.
The book revolves around one of these Monsun submarines, U-862 commanded by Heinrich Timm. This U-Boat, amongst others, created havoc around Australia and New Zealand, sinking both American ships Peter Silvester and Robert J Walker. Searches for U-862 tied up Allied (mainly RAAF) training, reconnaissance and bomber aircraft which could have otherwise been used against the Japanese war machine in the South Pacific.
The Monsun operations also created what was probably the closest operational collaboration between Germany and Japan during the Second World War. The German submarine force was based in the Japanese occupied provinces of Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia).
The story of U-862 did not end with the capitulation of Germany in May 1945. Instead of returning to Europe or being handed over to the Allies, both U-181 and U-862 were transferred to the Imperial Japanese Navy as I-501 and I-502 respectively.
Having been introduced to Second World War history with an interest in German European operations, this book helped bring my attentions to the Pacific theatre of the Second World War and introduced me to what is almost a totally unknown German campaign.
Review by Daniel Leahy
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