E-Boat Alert: Defending the Normandy Invasion Fleet, by James Foster Tent, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1996, $34.95.
James Tent tells this engrossing tale of a heretofore little-known threat to the thousands of Allied ships that made up the Normandy invasion fleet in 1944–namely, the Schnellbootwaffe, or as they were commonly called, “E-boats.” These craft were roughly the equivalent of the English motor torpedo boat (MTB) and the American patrol torpedo (PT) boat, but only in the sense that a Mercedes is roughly the equivalent of a Ford Escort.
The E-boats could cruise at 38 knots and had an emergency speed of 42 knots. The boats operated only at night, carried superior secondary armament and, most important, were manned by officers and crewmen who were well-trained and experienced. Allied efforts to wipe out or at least suppress the threat posed by these German boats were unsuccessful up to the time of the invasion. In fact, just six weeks before D-Day, E-boats sank two combat-loaded LSTs (landing ships, tank) and damaged a third off the coast of England, resulting in the deaths of more than 700 American soldiers and sailors.
Tent is an excellent writer, and into this history he has masterfully woven a number of converging plot lines, much as one would find in a novel and all of which lead ultimately to the destruction of the E-boats. He reviews at length scientific and tactical developments in Britain’s Bomber Command that enabled it to at last field a true precision-bombing unit. This element is segued into the efforts of an English “boffin” (research scientist) to develop a deep-penetration bomb weighing 12,000 pounds. Finally, it all comes together with a dazzling display of various intelligence specialities helping to put the bombs on target at the right time.
Tent has done some fine research, taking full advantage of formerly classified documents, and he had the good fortune to be able to interview survivors on both sides of the conflict. This book is an informative as well as an exciting read, sure to please most history buffs.
John I. Witmer