FIPS, the title of Werner Fürbringer’s WWI memoirs, comes from the nickname Fürbringer earned while becoming one of Germany’s greatest U-boat aces (101 ships sunk). During the interbellum years, he was instrumental in rebuilding the German Navy. His memoirs came out during those years and have fascinated readers by both the intimate portrayal of the U-boat service and the picture of WWI submarine warfare.
It has ever been my opinion that Germans should take pride in their U-boat service. Their history in both WWI and WWII displays great gallantry in face of the enemy, and they carried out their duty aggressively despite appalling loss rate of 80% and 75% respectively. These memoirs show Germans adhering closely to prize warfare in the early days of the war (capturing merchantmen before sinking their ships) despite the many more dangers this poses to submarines than to surface warships. Even after unrestricted submarine warfare was declared, they generously helped their victims however they could.
Curiously, there is one major lie within these memoirs. Fürbringer reported to his superiors that he successfully shelled an English factory. British reports from the town’s official record instead reveal that Fürbringer shelled an open field rather than risk harming civilians within the nearby town. He does not tell the true story in the memoirs, but the translator is good enough to note the fabrication. In WWI, such cases of chivalry were not rare!
Some of the most gripping scenes in the memoirs derive from the limitations of WWI U-boats. They had very short effective ranges, small torpedo capacity, a test depth of only 40 meters, and needing to navigate the English Channel twice each patrol. The reader can’t forget the straits his boat entered when the electrical engine stopped working. Without being able to travel submerged, Fürbringer sailed up the English Channel on the surface during the nights and spent the days submerged on the bottom suffering near asphyxiation. His journeys avoiding mines, anti-submarine nets, and patrol boats in the Channel are always exciting.
These memoirs are not too long, but it truly immerses one into the life of a WWI U-boat captain. He served from 1915-1918, when his boat was captured by English warships. (The events following the scuttling of the U-boat are unfortunately not some of the Allies brightest moments.) This book is sure to please aficionados of submarines and WWI history.