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Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II
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Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  2,042 ratings  ·  131 reviews
The Battle of the Atlantic was one of the most savage and strategically significant campaigns of World War II: 28,000 out of 39,000 men in the German U-boat force disappeared beneath the waves. Herbert A. Werner, one of the few surviving German U-boat commanders, served on five submarines from 1941 to 1945. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, from the English Channel t ...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published June 6th 2002 by Da Capo Press (first published November 30th 1968)
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Average rating 4.31  · 
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 ·  2,042 ratings  ·  131 reviews


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Rob
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war
This book is an incredible true story about a U-boat captain who survived the entire war, one of about two dozen to do so. I had previously read Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim many times, which describes the German point of view of the Battle of the Atlantic circa late 1941. Iron Coffins completed the picture, and showed both the early phase of the battle, when the U-boats nearly swept the Allied convoys from the Atlantic, and the end-game phase of the battle when most U-boat crews were sla ...more
John Valesano
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-ii
An amazing memoir of Captain Werner's experiences in the German U-boat campaigns of World War II from its early glory days to its near anhilation by wars end. His writing is so vivid and engaging that you feel like you're in the U-boat with him fearing for your life listening to the screws of the Allied destroyers and depth charges that are searching to sink your sub and send you to your grave in an iron coffin. You can almost feel and smell the damp moldy foul air of a sub that has been out at ...more
John Humber
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I was a boy of about 13 a Royal Navy submarine came to the port where I lived. This was unusual as it was a commercial and fishing port rather than a naval port. There was an open day and it was possible to go aboard the submarine. I was fascinated and have remained fascinated by submarines ever since.

Because it was a port my home town was heavily bombed and my generation (post-war baby-boomers) grew up with empty, derelict spaces in the streets where bombs had fallen. Largely because of th
...more
Fire-fish
Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best war story of all times. A story by a man who was a german submarine captain and survived... it is more then a story of the war: it is a story of challenge, accomplishment, love, complete loss, and discovery .. at the setting of an immanent death.
Carol Storm
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant first-hand account of German submarine warfare in World War II. A must for anyone who has ever seen DAS BOOT!
Leonard Mokos
Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my faves. Authentic, first hand, chock full of useful catch phrases to bandy about the house, such as, "Get those eels out of those tubes!" As with most German memoirs, it is exceedingly well written.

Interestingly, this Uboat captain, an ace, ended his career being depth charged to the surface by an American destroyer. Half a lifetime later, he's selling his sailboat I think in Florida, and the man who comes to buy it turns out to be the officer from the destroyer that captured him. How s
...more
Jonathan
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwii
Absolutely phenomenal, amazingly written and such a page turning story. Truly one of the best memoirs I have ever read. A no holds barred look at the U-Boat war from the happy times to the last desperate gasps. Highly recommended.
Sean Chick
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Memoirs are a difficult beast, and many a historian does not use them, particularly memoirs written by those in high places who often pick scapegoats for their failures. All of that said, those by soldiers, slaves, and others on the lower rung are treated far kinder. What about men such as Herbert Werner, who are basically the middle management of the Nazi war machine?

Iron Coffins is an impressive read. There is an honest earnestness to it. Werner talks about his feelings freely. He does not hid
...more
Tim
May 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very well-written and interesting account of the wartime experience of a U-boot officer. Werner starts us out in the "Happy Time," when the U-boots were decimating the lend-lease convoys and the Kriegsmarine had the upper hand. Then in the middle part of the book "Disaster from the air," the tide starts to turn. Not only are the crash dives and tactical back-and-forths amazing, but we also see the mental gymnastics that the U-boot men go through to maintain faith in their cause. Durin ...more
Edward
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is decent read, but take some parts with a grain of salt. For example, he claims to taken part in the attack on Convoy SC122 and says that U239 sunk several ships. But U230 not recorded as having sunk anything in this convoy. In fact, there is no record of U239 actually attacking the convoy, though he peripherally took part in the operation. "Iron Coffins" contains less details about life on U Boats than about his travels on leave through France and Germany. I would have liked to see more ...more
Nathan Trachta
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it

Recently I decided to take the dive into submarine warfare again and in doing so I decided to read this classic; honestly this was my first time reading it though I've known about since I was a kid in the 70s. Of all books on submarine warfare in WWII this is the gold standard. Leutnant ser See Wener's personal account from induction and service as a junior officer through being a captain of his own boat to capture is truly a great book, worthy of 4.5 stars. The honesty he shares with us about h
...more
Tomi
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a hard book to read - not that it isn't eminently readable, because it is. But it also drew me in to the point of hoping the narrator (a U-boat commander in WWII) would be safe...even though he was sinking Allied ships! This book helped me see what it was like for an ordinary German serviceman during the war (although every time he was upset with "the enemy" I muttered, "You guys started it!"). Werner explained how obedience and duty are ingrained in the German people; so when the U-boats w ...more
Nevrlost
Aug 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A very complete book of the various stages of the Battle of the Atlantic from the perspective of a U-boat captain that survived. As with many WWII books, various aspects of training, equipment capabilities, and tactics are presented throughout the book. What I was unaware of was how intense the attacks on U-boats by Allied forces were during the last stages of the war. It was a miracle for any U-boat just to make it out to sea and return to base safely.
Padraic
Dec 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book following Werner throughout the war from the highs of the German uboat campaign int he eary years of the war to the disaster to the uboat service by eventual Allied air and naval supremacy. Another great read.
Stephen Curran
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My favourite submarine book, written by a man who was one of the few to survive the war serving on German U-boats during World War 2. A very honest and frank depiction of one mans war.
James Bascom
Iron Coffins is a superb memoir of the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II through the eyes of Herbert Werner, a German U-boat captain. It is a gripping but ultimately tragic story of early successes, apocalyptic defeat, and miraculous survival.

From 1940-1942, the German U-boat war against Allied convoys sent millions of tons of shipping to the bottom of the Atlantic. Britain was utterly dependent on imported goods for survival, such as food, fuel, and raw materials for its factories. If Ger
...more
Finn
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shocking. Fascinating. An inconceivable true story of a U-boat commander who lived against enormous odds. Highly readable, engaging, fast-paced and eye-opening: Werner brings his incredible experiences to life.
Adam Wuiske
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Have read this book four times. It is one of the most amazing tales I have ever read. Cannot recommend this book highly enough.
David
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible book! While this is told over the entire span of Werner's career in the Kriegsmarine and beyond, it never becomes dry and factual. In fact, it's an absolute page-turner. While the subject is sobering and unpleasant in many ways, it reads like good fiction. The tension runs high from start to finish and I truly had a hard time putting it down.

It's not just an endless series of battles, either. It's the complete arc of a young soldier and idealist becoming a hardened veteran "ac
...more
Tijs
Sep 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Commander Werner may have been one hell of a submarine captain, but he's not that great of a writer. That's not to blame the man - I don't expect him to be a brilliant novelist as a sidejob - but it makes Iron Coffins a little tough to go through. The book tells an unbelievable story that sticks with you and makes you think about right and wrong in the face of war and evil, and you keep wondering how Werner and his crew get through all the shitstorms and survive them all as one of the very few t ...more
Gossymotto
This was an incredible book. Hearing the story from someone that was on the loosing side of a war (Is there really a "winning" side?), makes the account much cleaner. There is no posturing, no propaganda, It's simply a soldier's story of how he believed in his country and how he believed he was fighting the good fight and victory would be Germany's because they were the "good guys" just like Britain was convinced that they were right and noble.

As the war drags on though, Werner begins to see thi
...more
Nick
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Authors purpose for writing this book is informative. I was thinking that reading this book would be like reading a text book. It was more like reading a good story that wasn't a real life story. This is about how the people where working on the German U boats and the ridiculous things that the German Generals would tell them to do. The author wrote this book along the lines of historical fiction. The main character was a person who was inside the German U boats. He was on his boat on D-Day ...more
Guy
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is 'the' book about life inside a U-boat during the Second World War.

It is written by Herbert A. Werner and documents his rise from cadet to U-boat commander and recollects his experiences in this titanic struggle from the early 'happy years' to the turning of the tables and ultimate demise of the U-boats.

The book captures the grimness of operating in a submarine perfectly and give the insider a great insight to the theatre - ideal for historian yet 100% accessible and enjoyable for th
...more
Jen
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it's hard to read this book through and not believe that some higher power was watching over Herbert Werner. If the facts weren't well documented, this tale would be completely unbelievable. Every ten pages I would have to stop and share with someone what had just happened; the man went from one incredible exploit or near-disaster to the next. Not only is his story extremely compelling, but his writing style is easy and enjoyable as well. You get an excellen ...more
Nadir
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: military, ww2
This is an excellent personal history of the German U-Boat war during World War II. Much of their operational technique is discussed and in that regard it is very enlightening. Their early successes where they seem to sink Allied shipping at will is matched by their very rapid demise beginning in mid 1943. Their staggering losses after that are such that the reader is amazed their crews continued to leave port.

While the book is entirely about the service of a single German sailor, the book tell
...more
Cam Nelson
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Simply amazing. In a league with Remarque and Juenger... probably superior to them both if one actually sits down and reads their works and compares them to Werner. Nevermind what apprehensions one might have about reading a war memoir, especially one entitled "Iron Coffins"; Werner's book is a moving story of survival and heartbreak both at sea, in port, and on the homefront. The number of times Werner cheated death and escaped from the Allies defies belief. The descriptions of life in port in ...more
Christine
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Engrossing, particularly toward the end when it becomes increasingly clear that the Axis is getting pummeled and the author is being ordered to undertake what amount to suicide missions. And the post-surrender chapter, which deals with prison camp life and his escapes, is fascinating.

I would have preferred less nostalgia about the bordellos and more description of what day-to-day life on the boat was like. (I was expecting the book to be more like Das Boot in this respect.) Thirty to sixty days
...more
Lisa
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My co-worker, Jay, recommended this book to me and I enjoyed it very much. Herbert Werner was an amazing person, and this book succeeds because of his matter-of-fact voice combined with his experiences as a U-Boat captain and his survival. Mr. Werner doesn't embellish his experiences, but lets them stand on their own merits. One of the best books I've read about the experience of war by those who have fought it. ...more
Robert Lewter
May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What a classic. I have read U-boat commanders accounts from WWI, but this is the first from WWII.I knew that the Allies put a beat down on the German Navy, but I had no idea that the German U-boat Fleet was almost totally annihilated. This mans story was truly enthralling. I can see why this book had been read so much that some of the pages had to be taped to stay in. If you are even mildly interested in WWII history, this is a book you should read.
Scott
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
No matter what you think of the Germans during WW II most did not belong to the Nazi party and served as soldiers on both side. This was true of most of German navy. This story from one of the few who survived the entire war serving in submarines is riveting. The story of his life both during mission and between them and the close calls and the sad reality of seeing almost everyone he knew die on subs and in the cities.
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Herbert Werner was a Kriegsmarine naval officer who (by his own reckoning), was one of only about "two dozen captains still alive" at the end of World War II. He served in five U-boats, as an Ensign, Executive Officer and Captain in the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, the North Sea, the Baltic, the Norwegian Sea and the Mediterannean.

He survived the sinking of U-612 in the Baltic and the loss
...more

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