The Author, Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall, Baron King-Hall of Headley
(1893 - 1966) was educated at Lausanne, Switzerland, and at the Royal Naval
College in Dartmouth. He fought in the First World War with the Grand Fleet,
serving on HMS Southhampton, and with the 11th Submarine Flotilla. He was
awarded the gold medal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for
his 1920 thesis on submarine warfare. During the Second World War, he served
in the Ministry of Aircraft Production as Director of Factory Defence. In 1944
he founded and chaired the Hansard Society to promote parliamentary democracy.
He was created Baron King-Hall in 1966.
The U-boat Diaries
This book is, in part, based on written records found in a u-boat
by King-Hall himself, as he had the task of receiving surrendered U-boats
at Harwich in November, 1918.
In one of them he found diaries of the commander.
The Admiralty told King-Hall to throw them into the sea, but he took them home
and had the idea of writing a novel. He used the nom de plume “Etienne”
because naval officers were not permitted to publish.
Back Cover Résumé
During the 1914-1918 U-boat war to starve Britain into submission, German
U-boat commander Karl von Schenk keeps a record of his adventures — and of
his yearnings and intense love for a woman.
Von Schenk has all the virtues — and flaws — of his class. Supremely self-
confident, an absolute believer in the special destiny of a country forged
in war, he is an aristocratic Ubermensch, whose one weakness is a woman
Von Schenk’s affair with the beautiful and mysterious Zoë runs
parallel to his harrowing life on the edge as he hunts and is hunted
under the sea.
As the whole of modern German history crumbles, von Schenk’s thrilling
journey into love and war drives him to the limits of his physical and mental
Neither von Schenk nor the reader is prepared for the thunderclap that
“I would ask you a favour,” said the German captain, as we sat in the cabin
of a U-boat which had just been added to the long line of bedraggled captives
that stretched themselves for a mile or more in Harwich Harbour, in November
I made no reply; I had just granted him a favour by allowing him to leave the
upper deck of the submarine, in order that he might await the motor launch in
some sort of privacy. Why should he ask for more?
Undeterred by my silence, he continued: “I have a great friend, Leutnant
zur See von Schenk, who brought U-122 over last week. He has lost a diary,
quite private. He left it in error. Can he please have it?”
I deliberated, felt a certain pity. But the fate of the Belgian Prince flashed
through my mind—the ship going down, the capture of the men in the lifeboats,
the lifeboats being destroyed, the abandoned crew left on the deck of the
U-boat as it submerged, the men drowning.
Looking the German in the face, I said:“There’s nothing I can do.”
I shook my head; then, to my astonishment, the German placed his head in his
hands and wept, his massive frame (for he was a very big man) shook in
irregular spasms. It was a most extraordinary spectacle.
It seemed to me absurd that a man who had suffered, without visible emotion,
the monstrous humiliation of handing over his command intact, should break down
over a trivial incident concerning a diary, and not even his own diary, and yet
here was this man crying openly before me.
It rather impressed me, and I felt a curious shyness at being present, as if I
had stumbled accidentally into some private recess of his mind. I closed the
cabin door, for I heard the voices of my crew approaching.
He wept for some time, perhaps ten minutes, and I wished very much to know of
what he was thinking, but I couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to find
out. I think that my behaviour in connection with his friend’s diary added the
last necessary drop of water to the floods of emotion which he had striven, and
striven successfully, to hold in check during the agony of handing over the
boat, and the despair of losing the war, and the defeat of all German ambition.
And now the dam had crumbled and broken away.
It struck me that, down in the brilliantly lit, stuffy little cabin, the result
of the war was epitomized. On the table were some instruments I had forbidden
him to remove, but which my first lieutenant had discovered in the engineer
officer’s bag. On the settee lay a cheap, imitation-leather suitcase, containing his spare
clothes and a few books. At the table sat Germany in defeat, weeping. Not the
tears of repentance, rather the tears of bitter regret for humiliations
undergone, and thwarted ambitions.
Here was the crumbling of the whole of modern German history. And I doubt not
that the cruelty of Captain Werner, who commanded the U-boat that destroyed
the Belgian Prince, leaving the merchant seamen to drown, was also motivated
by this same bitterness of defeat.
They had given their all, even over the generations, only to be put down,
No, this was not a time for pity.
We did not speak again. The launch came alongside, and, as she bumped against
the U-boat, the noise echoed through the hull into the cabin, and aroused him
from his sorrows. He wiped his eyes, and, with an attempt at his former
hardiness, he followed me on deck and boarded the motor launch.
Here then, translated from the German, is the diary this man requested, and
which I denied him — the Diary of Karl von Schenk.