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The Diary of a U- Boat Commander: A Fantastic Story of Non- Fiction History

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The diary of a World War One U-Boat commander. As well as being a fascinating glimpse of life on the German U-boats during the intense submarine blockade, this also reminds us there were humans involved - on both sides of the action - as we read too of the intimate thoughts and intense love of a man longing for his sweetheart.


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The diary of a World War One U-Boat commander. As well as being a fascinating glimpse of life on the German U-boats during the intense submarine blockade, this also reminds us there were humans involved - on both sides of the action - as we read too of the intimate thoughts and intense love of a man longing for his sweetheart.

30 review for The Diary of a U- Boat Commander: A Fantastic Story of Non- Fiction History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    An underwater experience as documented by a German U-Boat Commander. Very heartwarming yet an underlying tragic, true story of love and the miseries of war.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    No one seems to know if this story is fact or fabrication. No one knows if its fiction or not. Check out the literature surrounding it--no clues. Check out all the reviews--no certainty. The author is sometimes listed as Karl von Schenk, the captain of said U-boat, and sometimes as William Stephen Richard King-Hall, a British naval officer and peer. King-Hall did in fact exist--he was at one time a member of Parliament--but his connection to this so-called diary is in no way clear. He appears no No one seems to know if this story is fact or fabrication. No one knows if its fiction or not. Check out the literature surrounding it--no clues. Check out all the reviews--no certainty. The author is sometimes listed as Karl von Schenk, the captain of said U-boat, and sometimes as William Stephen Richard King-Hall, a British naval officer and peer. King-Hall did in fact exist--he was at one time a member of Parliament--but his connection to this so-called diary is in no way clear. He appears nowhere in it, unless as the editor who signs himself Etienne. And no material in any edition I have seen clears up any of this confusion. Which is one reason I read it straight through. When the diarist is not busy mining harbors or being nearly depth-charged to death by British cruisers--always entertaining--he's falling in love with a woman in Belgium, who refuses his pleas in an extremely confusing way. Which makes the book something of a mystery, too. What the heck is it? By the end, though, with the two main stories of the book ended and loose ends tied up, few will doubt in which category to place this book. Odd that is should persist so long--it was published in 1920--with the story behind it still so mysterious.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Scribblesinink (Scribbler)

    I was never quite sure whether this was an entirely fictional tale masquerading as a biography, or whether there's any truth to the story. Either way, it was a good read, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected. I was never quite sure whether this was an entirely fictional tale masquerading as a biography, or whether there's any truth to the story. Either way, it was a good read, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    Interesting read, loved the mix of war and romance.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    Listened to the Audiobook from LibraVox narrated by Mark F. Smith. I found myself in a moral conundrum throughout the diary. As I listened to the thoughts and emotions of this man, a german captain in WWI, I could not help but empathize with him. His struggles and emotions might be familiar to any man albeit under different circumstances. My struggle was not with his actions in the war, but with my listening to the story itself. Early in the book we learn of how it came out of his possession and Listened to the Audiobook from LibraVox narrated by Mark F. Smith. I found myself in a moral conundrum throughout the diary. As I listened to the thoughts and emotions of this man, a german captain in WWI, I could not help but empathize with him. His struggles and emotions might be familiar to any man albeit under different circumstances. My struggle was not with his actions in the war, but with my listening to the story itself. Early in the book we learn of how it came out of his possession and into ours. It was a terrible thing for the diary’s author and I was reminded of it as the book progressed. With my growing empathy for this captain my sense of trespass was also growing. This may be nothing to many readers but it has left me with plenty to contemplate.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Grossman

    The Great War broke out in 1914 as a result of a complex set of circumstances: European Great Power competition characterized by especially aggressive imperialism, a rigid alliance system, mediocre political and diplomatic leadership, and an ongoing arms race on a grand scale. Deeper forces, however, would sweep away the nineteenth-century Old Order: growing social and national unrest in Europe would lead in the twentieth century to the rise of socialism and nationalism, and its brash stepchild The Great War broke out in 1914 as a result of a complex set of circumstances: European Great Power competition characterized by especially aggressive imperialism, a rigid alliance system, mediocre political and diplomatic leadership, and an ongoing arms race on a grand scale. Deeper forces, however, would sweep away the nineteenth-century Old Order: growing social and national unrest in Europe would lead in the twentieth century to the rise of socialism and nationalism, and its brash stepchild -- totalitarianism. Old enemies would again face one another in the Second World War. The Great War pitted the old methods of military warfare against the new -- human wave infantry and cavalry charges against machine guns and artillery -- and was of such horror and magnitude that its incomprehensibility left a lasting impression on that generation. It is therefore not surprising that the Great War inspired a rich literature. Diary of a U-boat Commander (1918) by Stephen King-Hall is a fictional story written as if it was a German submarine officer's diary. Actually, this is a love story that focuses on the hero's infatuation with a beautiful and mysterious woman, with the U-boat war serving as the backdrop. The fact that we could easily confuse it with being non-fiction and are kept in anticipation till the end to learn the finale attests to the author's art. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this short book, especially to readers who would have interest in the realistic war scenes. We initially encounter a young patriotic German naval officer, Karl von Schenk, from a well-established Junker family, optimistic of the Fatherland's imminent victory. At its outset, the war for Karl is detached and impersonal. He views some land battles at a distance. Enemy soldiers charging forward are mere specks, and their being swallowed up in the furious smoke-filled explosions of friendly artillery fire or scrambling back in retreat is satisfying. Nowadays we would say he was sort of playing a digital war game. Having a land-based commission, he becomes impatient with his own inactivity and grows anxious to see real action and make his patriotic contribution to the war effort. His application for U-boat service is accepted and, after training, he sails as second-in-command of a mine-laying submarine off the English coast; eventually, he rises to command a U-boat of his own in significant and dangerous action in British waters and in North Atlantic shipping lanes, sinking several ships. On shore leaves, he meets and becomes infatuated with Zoe Stein, the young wife of an older German Colonel who is frequently away at the front. Karl and Zoe are completely harmonious, virtually of one soul. Karl pursues Zoe and Zoe is willing, but Karl rejects consummating the relationship till Zoe will consent to wed him. He proposes to her but is rejected. When Zoe’s husband is killed in action, he is overjoyed and expectant. He proposes again to Zoe and is inexplicably rejected again. It appears that the affair has ended, but when he returns from especially grueling action and suffers a nervous breakdown, it is Zoe who finds him and nurses him back to health in her forest lodge; but still, she refuses to marry him. He returns to active service but becomes more and more disenchanted with the war. He views pursuit of the war as pointless, and where it may be 'grand' to politicians and high officials far away from dangerous action, to front-line soldiers it means just useless suffering and death. In his last submarine actions, his alienation from the senseless war effort is manifested by his clandestinely avoiding engagements with the enemy, although he pretends to make great efforts to sink ships to satisfy his patriotic crew. There are also entries about real events: the German Navy's revolt and the Kaiser’s abdication. His last command is to sail his submarine to England and surrender it. It is only at the end of the book, in a letter from Zoe, that her enigmatic behavior is explained. We learn that she was the orphaned daughter of a Polish aristocrat recruited as an English spy to connect with high German officers and pass on relevant German war-effort information. It is because of her love for Karl that she refused to marry him or taint him by any hint of her subversive activity, which would have sealed his doom as well, if she had been discovered. In fact, she was discovered and executed, although Karl, at great personal risk, made a supreme effort with the German authorities to save her. Stephen King-Hall utilizes the persuasive trappings of a diarist to be convincing: the “diary” includes an explanation of how the English editor obtained it; end notes on submarine warfare that elucidate technical and chronological entries in the fictional diary; credible breaks in the narrative due to naval or personal circumstances; and important letters packaged with the diary are “reproduced” for the reader. An unwitting reader could believe that this is indeed a true story. Stephen King-Hall (1893-1966) brings an impressive resume to this story. He published his own wartime diary describing his naval action in the North Atlantic from 1914-1918, and he also wrote a professional report on submarine warfare for the British government in 1922. In later years, he was a respected commentator on military matters and successful author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    A.Rowe

    I only did it for the few and far between details on technical nature of submarines. They still remained the only noteworthy paragraphs after I was done. (view spoiler)[The surprise was that it's a pretentious romance about a man whining all too early about not owning a woman (one he barely knew and barely succeeded at learning anything about), followed by hopes that if she doesn't love guy A, the "logical" deduction is she has to be crazy about guy B, because that is all she's into in these time I only did it for the few and far between details on technical nature of submarines. They still remained the only noteworthy paragraphs after I was done. (view spoiler)[The surprise was that it's a pretentious romance about a man whining all too early about not owning a woman (one he barely knew and barely succeeded at learning anything about), followed by hopes that if she doesn't love guy A, the "logical" deduction is she has to be crazy about guy B, because that is all she's into in these times of war. It's further washed down by dramatic and overlong ending, in which the guy gets exactly what he wanted, all too late for the effect. Which makes this diary instantly publishable it seems. (hide spoiler)]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katia M. Davis

    This was interesting from an 'inside the mind' perspective. It wasn't terribly long, and a portion of it is missing, the gap being bridged by a letter from the commander's sweetheart. In fact, he spends rather a lot of time talking about his sweetheart. I can appreciate why, but it did drone on a little! Definitely some U-boat commander love drama going on there. Read this if you are interested in a first person accounts of life during WWI. This was interesting from an 'inside the mind' perspective. It wasn't terribly long, and a portion of it is missing, the gap being bridged by a letter from the commander's sweetheart. In fact, he spends rather a lot of time talking about his sweetheart. I can appreciate why, but it did drone on a little! Definitely some U-boat commander love drama going on there. Read this if you are interested in a first person accounts of life during WWI.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Very compelling and tragic. A quick read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Noel Mc Murray

    Whether the book itself is true fact or fiction, it is a good story. I like the way the journal unfolds the plight of the writer into a very real quandary between the devastation of war, coupled with his emotions of love that were it seems, equal to that of his primary aim in wreaking havoc against his enemy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Julian Schwarzenbach

    Fictional account of a WW1 U-Boat Commander and his love affair with an Allied spy. For me it failed to work on most levels - not enough feel for life as a U-Boat commander as the novel the inspired Das Boot. The love story part of it read a bit like Victorian melodrama. Overall, a disappointment.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I haven't read too many diaries, but this was fascinating. The unvarnished self-worth and belief in the superiority of his name, family, and race was simply something I perhaps had never truly believed possible. I haven't read too many diaries, but this was fascinating. The unvarnished self-worth and belief in the superiority of his name, family, and race was simply something I perhaps had never truly believed possible.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wynsum Wise

    Although fiction, it could be considered somewhat historically accurate rendition of a WWI German submarine. The author was a British U-boat commander so would have known many of his enemies' experiences. Although fiction, it could be considered somewhat historically accurate rendition of a WWI German submarine. The author was a British U-boat commander so would have known many of his enemies' experiences.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Darren Nelson

    Not as much hardcore u-boat action, but the love story was nice and the ending was bittersweet

  15. 5 out of 5

    Waqar Ahmed

    Quite Tragic. Sometimes boring.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tricia

    I love hearing the protagonist's arrogance dwindle through the course of the story. In the beginning, he's a pompous, bloated ass; in the end, he's much more humble and human. I love hearing the protagonist's arrogance dwindle through the course of the story. In the beginning, he's a pompous, bloated ass; in the end, he's much more humble and human.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    This was fascinating after reading about the sinking of the Lusitania

  18. 5 out of 5

    Beri

    great book. Describing the extremes of both war and love.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Was ok but more of a military love story than a book about military history. The love story makes up 80% with 20% military matters

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Slawdog

    When I downloaded this book I didn't realize it was about WWI U-boats...I actually thought it was from a WWII U-boat captain. I was actually pleasantly surprised that it was a WWI book, although it unintentionally became the third WWI book I'd read this year. As other reviewers have mentioned, this diary is half about war and half about a love story and how they intertwine. There seems to be much debate as to whether or not this book is fiction. I honestly believed it was a true diary until I go When I downloaded this book I didn't realize it was about WWI U-boats...I actually thought it was from a WWII U-boat captain. I was actually pleasantly surprised that it was a WWI book, although it unintentionally became the third WWI book I'd read this year. As other reviewers have mentioned, this diary is half about war and half about a love story and how they intertwine. There seems to be much debate as to whether or not this book is fiction. I honestly believed it was a true diary until I got to around the 90% point, and without spoiling the story, some of the events and occurrences seemed too Hollywood-esque. I'm sure the debate will continue, but this was an entertaining book regardless. The entries from when Von Schenk was at sea, while not overly technical or tactical in their discussions, do give a pretty good idea as to what the experience of sailing was like in that era. Von Schenk does detail his operating areas and targets, as well as interjecting his feelings about the war, which unsurprisingly do change as the diary progresses. In this regard he does seem human and not entirely a caricature, although his early entries are a little narcissistic. The love story entries are a different sort of interesting. On the one hand you can relate to Von Schenk's dilemma, although on the other it does seem to be a troubled arrangement from the beginning. Overall the romantic aspect didn't slow the book down or detract from anything else, and even if this all was fiction I feel it does give some insight as to what life was like for normal German sailors, namely from the officers' perspective, in those extraordinary times.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Josh Hamacher

    I downloaded this for my Kindle somewhat on a lark. It turned out to not quite be what I was expecting. Sure, the "author" (more on that below) commanded a German U-boat in World War One and there are several fascinating sections concerned with the operation of said boat. But the bulk of the book is actually concerned with his ill-fated love affair. All in all, I quite enjoyed this book. It's a very fast read, very well written, and it left me hungry to learn more about WW1-era submarine operatio I downloaded this for my Kindle somewhat on a lark. It turned out to not quite be what I was expecting. Sure, the "author" (more on that below) commanded a German U-boat in World War One and there are several fascinating sections concerned with the operation of said boat. But the bulk of the book is actually concerned with his ill-fated love affair. All in all, I quite enjoyed this book. It's a very fast read, very well written, and it left me hungry to learn more about WW1-era submarine operations. A note about the "author", based on some online research: Stephen King-Hall, an Englishman, claims that the diary fell into his hands from a surrendered U-boat after the armistice. But there is no record of a U-boat commander by the name of "Karl von Schenk" and it seems likely that the story is mostly fiction. But the sections dealing with U-boat handling are supposedly quite accurate so it's surmised that an actual U-boat captain or senior officer was probably involved in the writing. Just how much is real and how much is a fabrication is unknown.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Briley

    I downloaded this as a non-fiction book, supposedly based on the captured diary of a U-boat commander at the end of WWI. About half-way through I became convinced that it was pure fiction. Once I got over the initial annoyance of being lied to, I appreciated it as a good yarn. It is well written, although a bit slow paced in the beginning, and explores the conflicting sentiments of patriotism and horror of war, love and duty from the perspective of a a member of the traditional Prussian nobility I downloaded this as a non-fiction book, supposedly based on the captured diary of a U-boat commander at the end of WWI. About half-way through I became convinced that it was pure fiction. Once I got over the initial annoyance of being lied to, I appreciated it as a good yarn. It is well written, although a bit slow paced in the beginning, and explores the conflicting sentiments of patriotism and horror of war, love and duty from the perspective of a a member of the traditional Prussian nobility. More of tale of human internal conflict that a war book, although some of the descriptions of submarine life ring true. "Etienne" (AKA Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall), the 'translator' (AKA author in my opinion) served in the British Navy or HMS Southampton and on submarines at the end of World War I, he was an aristocrat and had all the experience and situation to make an excellent Karl.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cowdaddy

    I came across this book this morning on my android when I was looking for something to read for a few minutes. I believed it was nonfiction until I was about half way through it. In that sense it kind of reminded me of Robinson Crusoe. After you figure out it's fiction though, you realize the writer went just a little overboard, in that he thinks of a lot of people as "pig" or "swine. But in some sense, this book is brilliant. I haven't read many love stories, so when I say as a love story, it is I came across this book this morning on my android when I was looking for something to read for a few minutes. I believed it was nonfiction until I was about half way through it. In that sense it kind of reminded me of Robinson Crusoe. After you figure out it's fiction though, you realize the writer went just a little overboard, in that he thinks of a lot of people as "pig" or "swine. But in some sense, this book is brilliant. I haven't read many love stories, so when I say as a love story, it is unique--that just means I thought it was different and original. I am giving it 4 stars for the entertainment value. I had no idea that I would read more than ten pages of this book, but I finished it. It is well written and easy to read quickly. I don't consider anybody who thought this was nonfiction--I don't that means they are naive. I'd say it's more real than Robinson Crusoe.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Monte Lamb

    This is a diary written by a German submarine commander who left the diary in his submarine when it was surrendered after the war. I was expecting a finely detailed book on what life was like on the sub. There was some of this, but the book became more of a pining for a woman with whom he fell totally in love. At this point, I found the book to become boring and I almost didn't finish it. However, the ending was so surprising and eventful that I wanted to know more about the commander, his lover This is a diary written by a German submarine commander who left the diary in his submarine when it was surrendered after the war. I was expecting a finely detailed book on what life was like on the sub. There was some of this, but the book became more of a pining for a woman with whom he fell totally in love. At this point, I found the book to become boring and I almost didn't finish it. However, the ending was so surprising and eventful that I wanted to know more about the commander, his lover, and how the events unfolded. From real disappointment to total surprise and curiosity is a big swing in feelings and it happened so quickly that I can suggest reading this book just for the shock value.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Exanimis

    Being the diary of a World War One U-boat commander I didn't expect antisemitism, although a single reference describing a tailor as an oily Jew, I was still surprised to see it in this diary. Commander Karl Von Schenk, the writer of the diary, was a scoundrel in every way from my own opinion, the type of individual I would want nothing to do with but his writing of his experiences is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. I wanted to despise the commander but found myself emotionally invested in his Being the diary of a World War One U-boat commander I didn't expect antisemitism, although a single reference describing a tailor as an oily Jew, I was still surprised to see it in this diary. Commander Karl Von Schenk, the writer of the diary, was a scoundrel in every way from my own opinion, the type of individual I would want nothing to do with but his writing of his experiences is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. I wanted to despise the commander but found myself emotionally invested in his story and hoping for a favorable end to his tale. In these pages you find drama, hatred, bigotry and death but you also find pride, patriotism, love and hope. It is a sad tale that for us, the readers, ends in sadness and hope.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zach Lancaster

    Remarkable insight into the personal experience of a U-Boat Commander and his thoughts on WWI and war in general. This is the actual diary of Commander Karl Von Schenk and his letters with beloved Zoe. "Around me in the darkness are the patrol boats, manned by the Englishmen who are seeking my life. Seeking it, not to gratify their private emotions, but because we are all in the whirlpool of War and cannot escape...even if we smash this island Empire and gain dominion of the world, how will it a Remarkable insight into the personal experience of a U-Boat Commander and his thoughts on WWI and war in general. This is the actual diary of Commander Karl Von Schenk and his letters with beloved Zoe. "Around me in the darkness are the patrol boats, manned by the Englishmen who are seeking my life. Seeking it, not to gratify their private emotions, but because we are all in the whirlpool of War and cannot escape...even if we smash this island Empire and gain dominion of the world, how will it advantage me? I can see no way in which I can gain...Do I exist for my country, or does my country exist for me?"

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Odom

    Not a bad story as historical fiction goes, but I don't believe for one minute that it was an actual diary. The complete lack of any technical detail makes it abundantly clear that this is purely a fictional account. Once you realize that, the obvious stereotyping of the German officer becomes more apparent. I can see why people would be confused about this book; according to goodreads, the author is "Karl Von Schenk," the Officer himself, "Anonymous," (how can a diary be anonymous?), and Sir St Not a bad story as historical fiction goes, but I don't believe for one minute that it was an actual diary. The complete lack of any technical detail makes it abundantly clear that this is purely a fictional account. Once you realize that, the obvious stereotyping of the German officer becomes more apparent. I can see why people would be confused about this book; according to goodreads, the author is "Karl Von Schenk," the Officer himself, "Anonymous," (how can a diary be anonymous?), and Sir Stephen King-Hall, who, incidentally also wrote "A North Sea Diary 1914-1918" about his experiences on H.M.S. Southampton.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Oscar Lilley

    I earlier read another memoir of the same period from a French POW. It was an underwhelming piece. I started this memoir with low expectations. It started out with great bluster from a German jingo and ethnic eltitist and ended with love and dissolution with war and government. This memoir, without any added embellishments would make a spellbinding movie or TV series. Indeed, I was so mesmerized with the narrative and wished so much not to be parted from it that I delayed reading the last 10 pag I earlier read another memoir of the same period from a French POW. It was an underwhelming piece. I started this memoir with low expectations. It started out with great bluster from a German jingo and ethnic eltitist and ended with love and dissolution with war and government. This memoir, without any added embellishments would make a spellbinding movie or TV series. Indeed, I was so mesmerized with the narrative and wished so much not to be parted from it that I delayed reading the last 10 pages for a week.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teejaybee

    I "read" this as an audiobook that I specifically downloaded to listen to in the car. I have an interest in military history so I expected to enjoy this book and I wasn't disappointed. Good narrative and scenes of war. Without giving too much away, my opinion of the main character changed through the story and I found the the military aspect became just a backdrop to the fate of Von Schenk. Very good! I "read" this as an audiobook that I specifically downloaded to listen to in the car. I have an interest in military history so I expected to enjoy this book and I wasn't disappointed. Good narrative and scenes of war. Without giving too much away, my opinion of the main character changed through the story and I found the the military aspect became just a backdrop to the fate of Von Schenk. Very good!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    The background of live in WWi Zeebrugge, Brugge and Kiel was fascinating, but not much rich enough to feel the cultural landscape. There is also not enough fighting on the sea for an action thriller, so what remains is the romance between a u-boat commander and a girl he is not supposed to fall in love with. The exasperating tension forces you to read through the book until the girls story is revealed in the end. So a hopeless cheap romance novel can succeed in being read in the end.

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