The severity of the German u-boat campaign on American ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the early days of World War II is often overlooked. Tougias and O’Leary tell that history through the story of the Downs family of Texas as they sail on the cargo ship Heredia from Costa Rica to New Orleans. The ship is destroyed by torpedoes on the May 19, 1942, and the Downs family are separated in the wreck, each having their own survival journey along with some members of the crew. It’s a very gripping tale, but Tougias and O’Leary have a bigger story to tell based on the records of u-boat captains and the crews who were big heroes in Nazi Germany. This means that the Downs’ story is broken up by long sections about the u-boat warfare in general and the experiences of their crew. Perhaps the Downs’ story was too thin to make a book of its own, but the approach taken here makes the narrative very uneven. Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into an overlooked period in American history.
Recommended books: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand