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Stalin's Silver: The Sinking of the USS John Barry Hardcover – May 1, 1999
On August 28, 1944, the German submarine U859 sank the U.S. merchant vessel John Barry off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Although the Germans did not know it, the John Barry carried a rich cargo not only of war material but also of silver bullion, whose present value, journalist John Beasant estimates, is about $300 million. The silver was, according to the ship's manifest, bound for British India. It had, however, a destination beyond that. The silver bullion was meant for the Soviet Union as part of Franklin Roosevelt's lend-lease program, through which some $1.5 billion worth of American supplies were delivered to Josef Stalin's government. Roosevelt, Beasant writes, was not shy about publicizing the delivery of steel and weaponry to his Communist ally, but he reckoned the delivery of precious metals and gems to be politically sensitive, and the John Barry's mission was thus shrouded in secrecy. Beasant's recounting of this complicated story involves many strands of narrative; among these are the tangled history of the lend-lease program, the role of the merchant marine in World War II, the dangerous work of U-boat crews, and the techniques of deep-sea salvage. Beasant unravels the mystery not only of the secret transfer of funds from Washington to Moscow, but also of the search for the John Barry's treasure, much of it recovered in the early 1990s. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Beasant's hyperbolic writing betrays his stint as the press agent for the Ocean Group, the company founded to explore the USS John Barry, an American merchant ship sunk in 1944 by a German submarine in the Arabian Sea. To be fair, Beasant has done quite a bit of research into the John Barry, but he hasn't tied all that homework into a cohesive work. The John Barry had long been an enticing mystery to the eccentric and well-funded demimonde of salvage enthusiasts. What was known for sure, when the Ocean Group acquired the salvage rights in 1989, was that the ship had been carrying silver coins minted for Saudi Arabia. But the ship was also suspected to have been loaded with silver bullion for Stalin. When, in 1994, the John Barry was finally salvaged, the Ocean Group found the coinsAbut no bullion. Beasant's narrative bounces among the story of the John Barry, the story of the salvage operation and the story of U859, the German sub that sank the John Barry. During his investigation, Beasant learned that U859 contained 31 tons of mercury, a discovery that led him to investigate the cargoes of other U-boats. He concludes his book with the supposition that, in the last stages of WWII, German submarines were supplying Japan with materials to build an atomic bomb. Despite Beasant's efforts to inflate the importance of the demise of the John Barry and to portray the salvage operation as a rousing present-day adventure, his suggestion that Japan may have been on the verge of assembling powerful new weapons at war's end overshadows the rest of the narrative. That's too bad, because it's the least documented, most speculative part of his book.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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This book is otherwise about the attempted transfer (in 1944) from the US of silver and other "hard assets" to the Soviet Union, under Lend-Lease. I have to wonder why such materials were of interest to Stalin, particularly in 1944 when the German army and Waffen SS was in retreat. Also available in hardcover (0312205902).