123 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2006
First off, it should be noted that Capt. Werner beat the odds. He survived to tell his tale. 80% of his fellow submariners would perish under the waves as in the later years of the war each mission was essentially a suicide mission. One of these "ramming" suicide missions was even ordered of his boat in the weeks after D-Day, and incredibly, some of his fellow sailors on other submarines would die following these orders.
Werner's odyssey began when, on his first mission, the U-230 got stuck on the ocean floor and the crew spent 16 hours jettisoning water and weight out the torpedo tubes, and then ran from one end to the other to rock the boat free. So started his career. The number of close calls he and his ship would encounter over the course of the war, and survive, is equivalent to winning a lottery. Werner and crew had lady luck on their side at times, but many other escapes were a direct result of his competence and the crews bravery. It is a fascinating tale. The new radar that submarines employed in 1942 was later discovered to be acting like a homing beacon for allied aircraft, leading to the deaths of many crews from giving away their position before this error was discovered and fixed. By 1943 the Allies had prefected their hunt and destroy tactics so that many of these subs were unable to escape when their positions were verified. Many, many last reports from Werners classmates and fellow submariners were received onboard the U-230 before they went down with the loss of all hands. These haunting messages were continually relayed to Werner and his sub and somehow this man was able to keep from being part of the majority of brave sailors who died an anonymous death in the deep waters of the Atlantic ocean.
Simply an unforgettable book to read. One of the finest first person accounts of WWII that I have read to date. Ranks right up there with the works of Guy Sajer and Eugene Sledge.
87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 1999
This is the very best book I have read actually describing the conditions inside a German u-boat during World War II Atlantic Ocean war patrols. It is well written with both action and information in mind. The action standpoint is superb and makes the reader wonder how Capt Werner and his crew ever survived the punishment they took in their little fragile "egg" as aircraft and ships constantly dropped bombs and depth charges on them. From the information standpoint, Werner gives us a very comprehensive and interesting description of what it is like inside the early u-boats. It is hard to imagine how the crew lived like they did in their constantly rocking boat: without bathing for months, eating moldy food, suffering from constant humidity, freezing or roasting as the season might be (no airconditioning or heaters), and not having proper sanitary conditions (using a bucket in rough seas, etc.) Very good detail on u-boat life both aboard ship and in port. From another information standpoint, Werner gives us a good description of what average Germans were thinking as the war progressed, what sort of damage ordinary citizens were taking as the war proceeded in depth over Germany both from the heavy air bombardment plus the advancement of Allied armies from the south, east, and north. Werner is also a "ladies man" so we do hear a lot about the girlfriends in every port, so to speak, plus German submariners' night life in different occupied locations. (They seemed to like France a lot.) It is good that Werner provides you this gamut of information: living inside the boat, dealing with the difficult navy bureaucracy, joys of in-port liberty, his nice but unfortunte family, the Nazi party bother, and so on since it furnishes the reader with a rounded out picture of life during these unusual times. Werner is lucky to have come back alive, and we are fortunate he wrote this book. His family and many of his friends were not so fortunate as the reader will see.
73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 1999
The first time I read 'Iron Coffins', it was for a term paper in high school. At that point, all Germans in WWII were evil Nazi stooges with the mental capacity of a slug in salt. Once I started reading Mr. Werner's excellent book, I actually found myself sharing in the excitement as a U-Boat sank Allied ships. I also found myself feeling the dread as Allied escort ships dropped thier deadly depth charges. Iron Coffins is a fast paced book that is hard to put down. One is able to truely experience what the war was like through Mr. Werner's eyes. Once you've finished, your understand something...that just because you are at war with an evil nation doesn't make it's people all evil. Mr. Werner may not have been a celebrated U-Boat commander, but if it weren't for him, we would never truely understand the meaning of the term 'Iron Coffin.'
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Mr. Werner gives a great book to the reading public of being a submarnier in the German WWII Kreigsmarine. It's an excellent read. Indeed, this book was used as sort of a template for the fair German WWII movie "Das Boot"
Mr. Werner covers the highly technical training he first received in the Kreigsmarine as a cadet. He writes about living in pre-war Germany, a very nice place to live. When he gets his commission and becomes an ensign in the Kreigsmarine his luck is with him and he's assigned to one of the best commanders in the Germany Navy.
Mr. Werner's tale covers the three distinct periods of German's WWII time line. First, he writes of the early successes and victories where a single U-boat would sink 18K to 30K of shipping in a single sorte. Note, while Pearl Harbor was a military disaster for the USA the German U-boats sank dozens of ships in a single month. Mr. Werner was an intregal member of this highly effective team.
The one part of Mr. Werner's book that rings true is the turning of the war in the period of March to May of 1943. In that time frame nearly 100 German U-boats were sunk. In one harrowing patrol their submarine saw no ships and spent all its time being bombed, straffed, or debth charged.
The last part of the book deals with the destruction of the U-boat arm and Germany. Basically, everything goes into destruction for Germany. The new generation U-boats are too far and too few to change anything. The new torpedos are too few to really matter.
Mr. Werner wrote this book and, at the time, didn't know the allies had captured all the German submarine Enigma coding equipment. The Allies were decoding the submarine messages faster than the Germans themselves in WWII. One reason - discoved by accident - that Mr. Werner's U-boat crew lives is he starts ignoring his orders and does not report in as required by his command. He is not reprimanded. Why? On one German war patrol seven boats are sent out and only one returns. The staff actually has a rare celebration that once submarine actually returned.
Mr. Werner only makes one mistake in his book. American B-24 bombers make his life miserable in the Atlantic ocean. It's British Lancaster bombers that attack his U-boat pens at Brest, France. Since both aircraft look very similar it's an easy mistake to make. Anyway, the Lancaster's bombs are ineffective against the pens but the Liberators are very deadly in the open ocean.
I highly recommend this book to any student of WWII or just to the average WWII reader. Mr. Werner went forth to do the job that was given to him. He does it well. After the period of May 1943 it's all he can do just to stay alive.
This book is a five star book and is one of the better stories of survival in WWII
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 1999
Reading World War II epics is a hobby of mine, and I can easily say that Iron Coffins is my all-time favorite book. I first read it in 1984 and couldn't put it down. I have read it about 15 times, and each time, it never ceases to captivate me at how Werner survived time and time again while the majority of his comrades met their fate at the bottom of the Atlantic. It is as if it was his destiny to preserve in writing this critical campaign of World War II. It tells you in vivid detail, the other side of the story-all Nazis were Germans, but not all Germans were Nazis. They had men, just like us, who would rather be somewhere else than in the heat of combat, wondering when they were going to get theirs. The vivid descriptions, going from Years of Glory to Disaster and Defeat made me feel like I was right there next to Werner, riding out the brutal storms in the North Atlantic, the ceaseless depth chargings, gasping for air, limping back into port, mauled and beaten, yet still alive. They went to war for their country. Nearly all of them perished. Now, read this tragic true story of one of the few U-boat commanders who lived to tell the tale. The Iron Coffin would not claim Herbert Werner's life. His book preserves the saga of Germany's undersea struggle. A masterpiece!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2000
Well written. Werner was in the "2nd wave" of U-boat officers. Unlike the "1st Wave" of professional officers who scored huge successes against lone ships and unprotected or poorly protected convoys devoid of "Ultra" intercepts, 10 cm radar, "Huff-Duff" short signal location, and swarms of aircraft and then took flotilla shore commands, Werner missed the "Happy Times." He incorrectly portrays his first boat (U-557) as partaking in this successful "Happy Time" by sinking 30,000 tons in a convoy attack in the summer of 1942, when convoy battles were getting very dangerous - this he can be forgiven- most submariners overestimated their kills, especially during this transitory time between the easy huge sinkings and the later suicidal convoy attacks. For the most part, the rest is factual. Note that on a scale of 1-10, German Boats went from about a 2 to a 5 and then a 10 by mid 1943, in terms of difficulty against numerous radar and "Ultra" enhanced warships and especially aircraft- giant clumsy American subs that would have been slaughtered from the get-go in the Atalntic (even in 1945, 500 feet was about as deep as they could go and live to tell - many U-boats exceeded 900 feet early in the war, and 1000 feet later. They had it about 3 the whole war, with mines and poor torpedoes their biggest dificulties.) Werner displays execeptional judgement and intelligence - note his deep suspicion of radio reports as a source of Allied detection, location and destructiion of U-boats - other commanders who should have known better guaranteed their destruction with radio reports. This Werner believed in the late '60's - yet the first break in the silence by the Allied intelligence community ("A Man called Intrepid") wasn't until 1974, leading to large (and still incomplete, though getting close) revelations about Allied codebreaking that blows the mind. Like most fighter pilots, Werner did not rack big scores -though he came too late for much opportunity- but like most good pilots, he was a crafty survivor, and one of the most openly disgusted and critical commanders of the German war effort - for which he should receive big credit, as 20 years of additional time since he wrote his book has largely validated his observations. A really good read, and amazing that he survived. Check "U-boat.net.com" - I believe he is reported to be living in South Florida now. I first read this book in the early 70's and still find it a great read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2003
"Iron Coffins," by Herbert A. Werner is a wonderfully written and compelling history based on Werner's personal experience as a U-boat officer and captain from 1942 to 1945, including his periodic leaves ashore in France and Germany.
"Iron Coffins" describes with precision and tense drama Werner's war patrol experiences that mirrored the parabolic history of the overall German war machine from its relentless trajectory to brief domination, followed by a startlingly abrupt containment and gradual reversal, and culminating in its final accelerating decline into virtual annihilation.
This book surprised me in several ways. That Werner, a U-boat alpha-warrior of exceptional skill, instinct, success and luck, should be also so capable with a pen gives the story a solid foundation of credibility and authenticity, even as Werner's subjective view changes tremendously with the fortunes of war from that of the eager, proud, young super-warrior to the final devastating and very personal realization of the role he had inadvertently played in the destruction of his own family, friends, countrymen, and country. The madness of war becomes clear to the defeated.
Another surprise is the almost unbelievable string of luck that protected Werner and his crews from destruction from a seemingly inexhaustible and relentless stream of depth charges, aerial bombs, and mines, on top of the threat of normal mechanical failures and emergencies that existed in U-boats. That Werner survived to write this book is a wonder. In surviving, he beat odds of several hundred to one against him.
A factual surprise that is made more powerful and dramatic by Werner's personal perspective is the jolting suddenness of the turning point in the Battle of the North Atlantic. On March 26, 1943, Werner triumphantly returned to port in France for repairs and replenishment after another in an uninterrupted string of victorious patrols spent torpedoing tens of thousands of tons of allied merchant shipping. On April 24 he returned to patrol and within days German radio reports of U-boat sinkings started to mount alarmingly and inexplicably. Allied technological advances and its air and naval surface escort superiority had been firmly established over the U-boat wolfpacks in the space of about one month. The U-boats, and Germany, never recovered.
In my opinion, this book ranks at the pinnacle of its submarine warfare history genre alongside the stellar "Clear the Bridge," by Richard O'Kane, one of America's most aggressive and most decorated WWII submarine commanders. Of final interest that reflects back on this story's ending is the fact that Mr. Werner came to the United States in 1947 and became an American citizen.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
This book blew me away. I started my adventure into submarine warfare by reading about the USS Tang, Wahoo, etc., and the US Pacific Submarine Campaign. I decided to buy this book to see how the "other side" conducted their U-Boat war in the Atlantic. From start to finish, this book was well worth the money.
There are many things compelling about this book - and I am sure other reviewers will talk about them - but the biggest single thing to me was that the author actually wrote about his feelings and experiences inside and outside of the submarine. Claiming to not be a Nazi (he enlisted in the navy because he loved to sail and loved his country), his experiences are heartwrenching and paint a picture of what it was like to be a soldier (and citizen) of a nation that was losing a war when the leaders cared more about protecting thier myth than the lives of their soliders.
To me, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", the "Fall of Berlin" and this book are three of the must reads of WWII. That way you can get a very educational and factual glimpse inside the mindset of the country that allowed Hitler to take over; the battle that effectively ended the Reich and resulted in Germany being torn apart for 40 years; and a very personal account of how a soldier watched everything he knew disappear.
Buy it. You won't be disappointed.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2006
Anyone who has read more than one first-person account of submarine warfare in WWII will find this book interesting. It was written by one of three U-Boat captains who survived the war. It confirms that the German High Command never realized the Allies were reading their Ultra signals. It demonstrates that Germany's failure to introduce new types of submarines caused Germany's demise. It reveals Donitz's relation to his men, superb, aloof, aristocratic. It includes many hair-raising exploits, such as the mining of Chesapeake Bay. It establishes that the crash depth of U-Boats was at least 270 meters. And it's written in very good English, since the author emigrated to the U. S. after the war. Of particular interest is the author's treatment as a P.O.W. The French were as vicious and vindictive as Germans, coercing men to serve in the Foreign Legion under threat of starvation.
This book portrays a resourceful man overcoming challenges where failure brought death. What Robert J. Casey (the first correspondent to go on patrol with a U. S. submarine) said about American boats applies to U-Boats as well, "The most impressive thing about these submarines was the men in them, and the most impressive man on board was the Captain." As this book shows, the same was true for U-Boats.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Herbert Werner's book has been printed many times, a testament to its writing and story. Werner joined the German Navy at the outset of World War II, and was able to rise through the ranks fo this extremely dangerous calling to command his own U-Boats by the end of the war. Werner writes his account from a chronological perpsective, from the early, easy successes to the end of the war and the bleak outlook Germany had ahead of them. Key events like the "Happy Time," the sinking of the Bismarck, the Battle of Britain and operation Sea Lion figure in, as do the attacks on Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the waning days of the war.
Iron Coffins also exudes humanity, finding fault with the Nazi high command and the naval leadership that caused too many losses, weakened morale, and doomed Germany's effort. The title itself refers to Werner's view of the U-boats as floating deathtraps for most of their crews (perentage-wise, German U-boat crews had one of the top positions in any list of potential losses).
Werner was lucky to survive, given his job, and we are luckier still to have his account of U-boat work in World War II.