Saturday, somewhere on the Gold Coast of Mexico….thinking through a book review for another book I had trouble putting down. I read most of it between Christmas and New Years while we gently swung at anchor in Bahia Tenacitita just north of Barra de Navidad, comfy just keeping an eye on things while I digested the factual nature of the adventure covered within it’s pages.
The book: Shadow Divers was written by Robert Kurson and published in 2004 through Random House Inc. New York. The book is a non-fiction true story based on actual facts, newspaper articles and original journals to reconstruct the last voyage, sinking and subsequent stories of discovery and provenance of the Type IXC U-Boat U-869. My copy of the book is paperback with 390 pages. The book includes pictures and interviews with relatives of the crew, an interview with two scuba-divers who discovered the U-Boat and a study guide if the book is used as a text.
Without giving up all the details of the book, this is the story of two underwater adventurers who pioneered deep diving techniques with multiple year dives on the same target at over 340 feet off the shores of New Jersey, on a submarine that no one knew was there and no one could identify…to the point of telling these two guys that there WAS NO submarine (especially a U-Boat from WWII) in the area. After exploring the wreck over a period of years and doing meticulous research including combing the national naval archives, traveling to Germany, contacting various veterans groups and consulting with the US Navy…they could not ascertain which submarine it was. Complicating matters more is the fact the crew is still onboard, meaning the wreck is a war grave and specific physical evidence can’t be touched or moved. Even more complicating is when diving below 300 feet, most divers only have about 20 minutes of bottom time and the wreck is a labrynth of dangerous, narrow and completely dark submarine tunnels, sitting on it’s side in dangerous currents in complete darkness. After years of working the wreck at the whims of men and Atlantic weather, the loss of several divers and fraying marriages exacts it’s toll but the search isn’t stopped, as it’s become a quest. For Richie Kohler and John Chatterton…the quest will only end with their deaths or final rest and acknowledgement for the crew of one of the last (unaccounted for) U-Boats of WWII.
My book reviews don’t always go into too much detail because I want you to read the book for yourself. I loved getting to know Richie and John and figuring out what drove them…along with the various tragedies that shaped their personal lives. Although it’s obvious that U-869 defined and shaped a period in their personal and professional lives; you also need to realize that both of these driven men had full time jobs and families during the period this book was written about and they still managed to identify and prove to the world that U-869 was sunk off the New Jersey shore and bring closure to the lives of over 50 different families who lost men on the submarine as it plummeted to the bottom of the cold dark Atlantic Ocean. You can grab the book from Amazon via the Amazon link or you can pick it up at your local bookstore. Give it a try, I think you’ll be fascinated.
Epilogue: Both Richie Kohler and John Chatterton picqued my interest so much I was interested in what they would go on to do after they discovered the truth about U-869, so I went out and picked up another book about deep ocean diving and discovery, titled Mystery of the Last Olympian by Richie Kohler and Charlie Hudson. This is the true storie about the life, sinking and various expeditions to find the truth on the Britannic (Titanic’s sister ship) sunk in WWI. Check out my next book review about this book, next Monday.