Teddy Suhren’s Memoirs

Suhren’s memoirs, Teddy Suhren, Ace of Aces: Memoirs of a U-boat Rebel, stands as a very interesting, but all too short, German submariner’s reminiscences of the Second World War.  Suhren’s real first name is Reinhard.  His nickname Teddy comes from his days in basic training, when his comrades noticed that he marched like a teddy bear.  And so, the name stuck.  The officer in charge of his training remarked to Suhren later in the war that he succeeded in training many thousands of young men, but Suhren was the one recruit in whom he did not succeed!  Despite his lack of polish, Suhren excelled in his U-boat training, became one of Admiral Karl Dönitz’s best U-boat captains, and was promoted out of the boats to be a section commander in Narvik, Norway during 1942.

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Suhren’s promotion occurred just when the Battle of the Atlantic turned against the U-boats.  For this reason, Peter Cremer’s U-boat Commander is a much more compelling memoir: in warfare which claimed the lives of 75% of German submariners, Cremer became one of only two captains made in 1942 to survive the war.  Cremer’s memoirs also contain far more detail about the difficulties posed by Allied destroyers and anti-submarine planes and the progress in U-boat technology.

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A Brief Review of Run Silent, Run Deep

I just had the pleasure of finishing Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward L. Beach.  The author has many works on submarines, including Salt & Steel and Submarine.  This work, a classic of naval literature, happens to be the first fictional work of his I’ve read.  Both this novel and his non-fiction reveal an excellent touch for both narrative and historical detail.  Run Silent, Run Deep starts off slowly with training at the submarine base in New Haven, CT, and the action slowly builds from more normal submarine patrols until the latter missions become reminiscent of the escapades of the U.S.S. Tang.  The final patrol includes a hunt for a deadly anti-submarine vessel and her captain.  The characters are easy to relate to, and the prose is quite readable.

Run Silent Run Deep

Now, this book has long been on my list of things to read because of my lifelong love for the memoirs of WWII submariners; but, Run Silent, Run Deep is an excellent thriller, and many of my dear readers would love it for that reason alone.  As may be expected from an Annapolis graduate of the class of 1939 and submarine officer, Beach adds a ton of realism to this gripping narrative.  It is important to keep in mind that the U.S. submarine force sustained the highest losses by percentage in WWII of any department of the armed services.  So, when so many of the characters’ friends are reported missing, that’s the kind of news one would be bombarded with after a patrol: a constant sense of loss.  In one regard, that makes certain events in the final patrol more understandable.  The novel is an excellent way for people to understand what it was like to serve on a WWII submarine without having to read a more ponderous memoir or history written by an academic.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery: More than the Author of the Little Prince

Since my partner has started posting again, I feel like it’s time to breath life into this blog again.  A while back, the distinct pleasure of reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s A Flight to Arras fell to my lot.  I stumbled upon this work in the WWII section of my local library, its yellow spine sticking out like a sore thumb.  Since I loved The Little Prince but had never heard of any other works by this author, I avidly snatched it from the shelf.  (Not that it was in danger of being snatched away by someone else.)  It proved to be a great and fast-paced read.  Certain philosophical sections of the work tended to drag, but Saint-Exupéry’s use of his reconnaissance flight to frame the story created an atmosphere of suspense throughout the work, which kept the reader moving at a swift pace even in its densest places.

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At any rate, the story begins with the fact that Saint-Ex. (I shall use this abbreviation from now on–it’s from the book) has been given a reconnaissance mission from which he is not likely to survive.  He simply responds “Yes, sir” and prepares for the mission, as all his fellow pilots do and as he has done dozens of times before.  Saint-Ex. even refuses his Major’s offer to decline the mission.

This was the last kind of plane Saint.-Ex flew during the war.

This was the last kind of plane Saint.-Ex flew during the war.

This event sparks a meditation on the futility of the French Army’s resistance to the Blitzkrieg.  Much of the philosophical digressions of the work attempt to find the reason behind this seeming futility.  In regard to this particular mission, Saint-Ex. must avoid three levels of fighter coverage around Arras–an almost impossible feat–and have his navigator photograph enemy positions, which will likely not be the same tomorrow and the photographs of which the General Staff is unlikely to receive in the confusion of the French retreat anyway.  How to draw reason out of this insanity of the French Army merely “playing war” and making useless sacrifices of men, material, towns, and villages?

Saint-Ex. has some wonderful passages describing the lethality of fighters.

Saint-Ex. has some wonderful passages describing the lethality of fighters.

For Saint-Ex., reason is incapable of solving this dilemma.  He even refers to temptation as when intellectual arguments try to overcome the spirit.  (I love how he wrote, “I know as much about temptation as a Church Father.”)  He resolves the dilemma of the intellect seeing nothing but futility by showing how faith and simply living overcome all these doubts and give a super-rational motivation for carrying on a futile conflict.  The effect is so beautiful and compelling in the work that one almost shouts “Vive la France!” by the end of it.

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I say, “Vive la France!” because no other author combines French thought from medieval to modern into such cohesive beauty as Saint-Ex.  He’s a stout Catholic, but he takes principles from French Existentialism and the Lost Generation writers and brings forth light in these schools of thought, where authors like Camus and Sartre could only see darkness.  Narrative is unique because it can show meaning in a way that academic articles cannot come close, and Saint-Ex. combines narrative and philosophy in an inimitable combination.  This work could easily bear and third or fourth reading, and I hope to reacquaint myself with it in the future.  What a shame that this author died in 1944 at the age of 44!

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