Action in the Dark Days of the Battle of the Atlantic

 

C. S. Forester was one of the most popular authors of the middle twentieth century. He died in 1966. Best known for his Horatio Hornblower novels, he wrote many other books, including mysteries and many other sea stories.

“The Good Shepherd,” by C. S. Forester, was one of those other sea novels. Originally published in 1955, it was adapted into the movie “Greyhound” by Tom Hanks. Released in 2020, the movie led several publishers, including the Naval Institute Press, to republish the book.

“The Good Shepherd,” set in World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic, recounts 52 hours of a 1942 winter crossing of the Atlantic by a slow convoy. It was the worst part of the Battle of the Atlantic. The escort is inadequate; German U-boats numerous.

The story unfolds from the bridge of the US destroyer Keeling. It is told through the eyes of its captain, Commander George Krause. Although Krause has been in the Navy nearly 20 years, this is Krause’s first wartime command, and likely his first completely independent command. Due to his seniority, he is in command of the convoy and its escort. The escort’s group’s other captains have vastly more experience in combat.

Krause must shepherd the convoy through the Atlantic’s Black Pit, where no air cover is possible. He has only five ships in the escort: his own Keeling, a Polish destroyer, two corvettes (one British and one Canadian), and a rescue ship. Between the convoy and Britain are over a dozen U-boats.

The story has plenty of action, fighting the U-boats. Like much combat fiction written about World War II in the decade following the war, the story is competently told. What lifts the book above the run-of-the-mill combat adventure is Forester’s main character, Commander Krause.

Krause, an ordinary and perhaps mediocre officer, is competent, unimaginative, and plodding. His limitations led to his marriage collapsing. His career to date has been undistinguished. He has been passed over for promotion twice. Had the war not occurred he would be on his way to retirement as a Lieutenant Commander.

Deeply religious, Krause draws strategy more from Ephesians and the Psalms than Mahan or Sun Tzu. This was quaint when Forester wrote the book and hopelessly out-of-step today. Forester shows how an ordinary man rises above his limitations to meet an extraordinary situation. This is what makes “The Good Shepherd” worth reading, even, perhaps especially, today.

“The Good Shepherd,” by C. S. Forester, Naval Institute Press, 2020, 280 pages $34.95 (hardcover)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. DaleGustafson Coolidge
    DaleGustafson
    @DaleGustafson

    Read the book when it first came out and reread it when the movie appeared. As with much of Forester the store holds my attention well. From other reading it seems pretty accurate and Commander Krause is portrayed as competent without being extraordinary. Recommend it if you like naval stories, action and ordinary people rising to extraordinary challenges.

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  2. Al French of Damascus Moderator
    Al French of Damascus
    @AlFrench

    Seawriter: the movie led several publishers, including the Naval Institute Press, to republish the book.

    The second time for the Naval Institute, the first being in 1989. I got my copy out and will reread it.

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  3. Amaranth Member
    Amaranth
    @Amaranth

    Not mentioned in the OP is that Forrester wrote two novels set in the Peninsular War as well — Rifleman Dodd and The Gun. In the former, which I highly recommend, Dodd is cut off behind French lines for several months forcing him forage and then join a guerrilla band while harassing French soldiers, all the while seeking an opportunity to rejoin his regiment. Very good stuff!

    • #3