THE BURNING SHORE: How Hitler's U-Boats Brought World War II to America. By Ed Offley. Doubleday. 312 pages. $27.99.
In his new book "The Burning Shore," author Ed Offley weaves together the story of a German submarine skipper who attacked shipping along America's shores in the opening months of World War II and the U.S. Army bomber pilot who ultimately destroyed his U-Boat.
The book's main storyline focuses on German officer Horst Degen, the skipper of U-701. The ill-fated submarine made three war patrols off the coasts of the United States, Newfoundland and Iceland in early 1942, including one mission to lay mines at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay as well as target ships off North Carolina's Cape Hatteras.
The second story follows American bomber pilot Harry Kane, a 22-year-old second lieutenant on patrol in July 1942 when he spots and attacks Degen's boat, pummeling the surfaced submarine with depth charges.
After the attack, Kane observed survivors in the water, doggedly radioing in the stricken sub's location so American rescuers could find them. Degen was one of only seven survivors plucked from the waves by American forces two days later after drifting 110 miles.
Exhausted and sunburned, the German officer days later came face to face in a hospital with Kane, where he congratulated the American pilot for his skillful attack. After interrogation, Degen would go on to sit out the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps in Florida and Arizona.
The book concludes with the poignant story of how these two former enemies reconnected 37 years later, beginning a lasting correspondence of their experiences in the war that evolved into a strong friendship.
Offley writes that his interest in the story began when he first learned of it while working as a newspaper reporter in 1974 in Tidewater, Va. He was able over to time to track down Degen and Kane and ultimately produce a three-part newspaper series that served as the springboard for the book.
Offley's story is admittedly a small one, covering just the opening few months of the war, but he does a good job of capturing those frightful earlier days of the conflict. The author of several previous books, including "Turning the Tide" and "Scorpion Down," Offley is a good writer, no where is that more evident than in his dramatic chronicling of Kane's attack on U-701 and Degen's struggle to survive.
Reviewer James Scott is the author of "The War Below" and "The Attack on the Liberty." He lives in Mount Pleasant.