Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Wolf
Reviewed by Bruce G. Sloan

The Wolf:
The Mystery Raider That Terrorized the Seas During World War I

by Richard Guilliatt & Peter Hohnen
The Free Press, May 2011

SMS Wolf at Sea

As a feat of military seamanship, the voyage of the Wolf was so singular as to justify Admiral Holtzendorff's claim that it would never be repeated. Karl Nerger kept his ship at sea for 444 days and traveled more than 64,000 miles in one unbroken voyage, equivalent to nearly three circumnavigations of the earth, without pulling into any port. He traversed three of the four major oceans and evaded the combined navies of Britain, France, Japan, Australia, and the United States, while carrying out a military mission that sank or damaged 30 ships, totaling more than 138,000 tons. When he returned to port, he had lost only a handful of crew and prisoners and had maintained extraordinary discipline on a ship crowded at times with nearly 750 men, women, and children.

Over five years, the authors thoroughly researched the voyage of the Wolf, using official military archives of Britain, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. They tracked down descendants of the prisoners and crew that lived on the ship over 100 years ago and analyzed handwritten diaries, letters, faded black-and-white photographs, strips of silent film, memoirs, and books by the participants.

The Wolf was a warship disguised as a civilian freighter, sent to mine approaches to Allied ports and sink or capture Allied shipping. This is a human story of the crew and prisoners from a multitude of nations, thrown together for months at a time, and how they came to be close to one another, dislike each other, and in some cases, to exhibit racial hatred. They endured extreme mental and physical hardships during the voyage, and almost all survived.

The story is also about how easily the press and public can be manipulated by government secrecy and manipulation. Coupled with fantastical journalism, which also played its role, it is no wonder that the entire voyage was shrouded in mystery.

Even for those who have heard of the voyage of the raider Wolf, this book will be a revelation, as it appears to be the first unbiased account of Kapitän Karl Nerger's incredible odyssey, that of his crew, and the crew and passengers of the victim ships.

This reviewer highly recommends this volume.

Bruce G. Sloan

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