This interview is reprinted with the permission of www.ubootwaffe.net, and Howard J. Cock, who recently interviewed Theodore P. Savas.
In the wake of the success of Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II, Savas has again brought together a team of first class U-Boat experts: Erich Topp, Lawrence Paterson, Timothy Mulligan, Eric Rust, Jak Showell, Jordan Vause, Mark Wise and Keith Gill. Each of these authors can stand alone, but when Savas puts them together the result entirely surpasses the usual U-Boat book.
I asked him some questions about the book, the writers involved, and the subject. Oh, and what about the time he ordered around a certain Admiral...
HJC: Your earlier book, Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II, was quite a success for everyone involved, and from what I can tell Hunt and Kill is shaping up to follow in those tracks. One of the prime reasons for this success is the caliber of the writers you brought together for both projects. What did it take to assemble them for these books?
TPS: Thanks very much for that kind observation. I have to go back in time almost a decade for this to make sense. In the middle 1990s I read Jordan Vause's book U-boat Ace — the one on Wolfgang Lüth — and was pleased to discover he lived just a few miles from me in the San Jose area. We struck up a nice friendship. Our discussion on various commanders helped me flesh out an idea I had been thinking about for some time: that there were many U-boat captains who needed a fuller examination of their careers or some extraordinary achievement, but were not likely to ever receive book-length treatment. I wrote to other scholars in the field, shared the idea and my belief there was a gap in the literature that needed filling, and Silent Hunters (Campbell, 1997; Naval Institute Press, 2003) was the result. In my opinion other aspects of the U-boat war needed similar treatment. I finally got around to making a proposal that we work together again on U-505, many of the same contributors agreed, and here we are.
HJC: You made it clear in both books that you are not a U-boat expert, but every contributor to Silent Hunters and Hunt and Kill is a scholar in the field. What is your educational background?
TPS: It is absolutely is true. I could not have done anything like this on my own. I have a decades-long interest and keen appreciation in the subject, but my real strength is in organization and getting a team to pull in the same direction. I dropped out of my high school German class, so my understanding of the language is rather weak. (laughing) I deeply regret that choice now, but trying to learn German as an adult has taught me I have little talent for picking up other languages. My educational background is in European and American history, and I have a law degree and practiced actively for a dozen years.
HJC: Why U-505?
TPS: What do you know about U-505?
HJC: Well... I suppose the ordinary things most know. It's the boat in Chicago at the museum. It's a Type IXC, and it had some modest success before being captured by Daniel Gallery. That's about it.
TPS: And that's why U-505. Ask most students and general interest readers of the U-boat war what they know about this boat and some will be able to tell you it was captured late in the war, some will be able to name the task group [22.3] and captor, a few will know one of its captains committed suicide during a patrol, and most know it ended up as an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. That's it...
HJC: That is about all you ever read on U-505...
TPS: Yes, most readily available published accounts repeat the same few things over and over. In reality, U-505 had a remarkable three-year war history, had some solid successes, left on many patrols with equipment that was probably sabotaged by French workers in Lorient, and its postwar odyssey that finally ended in Chicago is almost as interesting as its war years. On one of my visits to the boat in the late 1990s it struck me that there was a much deeper story waiting to be told.
HJC: Your brief to the contributors of Silent Hunters was to write about a successful but lesser known commander. The subject matter of Hunt and Kill is focused on one boat in particular, U-505. Given this narrower focus, did you need to assign topics to some writers, or were they all given a free hand?
TPS: What a good question. A little of both, actually. I explained to everyone that U-505 was our topic, I offered a few general guidelines, and they started floating ideas for contributions. My job was to accept, reject, or mold each chapter idea in such a way that the entire puzzle would fit together when a reader picked it up for the first time. These guys are all professionals, and most of us have worked together before, so we have a good idea how to operate as a team. In the end there was one particular gap that needed filling, and Lawrence Paterson agreed to fill it, which is why he has two contributions.
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