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Athenia Torpedoed (Hardback)

The U-Boat Attack that Ignited the Battle of the Atlantic

Maritime Submarines

By Francis M. Carroll
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 232
ISBN: 9781781591710
Published: 2nd January 2013

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This book is an account of a disaster at sea, the sinking by a German submarine of the passenger liner Athenia sailing from Liverpool to Montreal, loaded with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, attempting to cross the Atlantic before the outbreak of war. Although 112 people were lost, of whom 30 were the first Americans killed in the war, 1,306 were rescued. Housewives, children, college students, scientists, actresses, and Jewish refugees were among the victims, and even young John F. Kennedy was called on to give assistance. The drama, tragedy, and triumph of their experiences are a central part of the story. But of course the book is also about war and politics. Indeed, this is actually where the Second World War began. Here Germany, having already invaded Poland in what was expected to be a limited war, first struck the western Allies, Britain and France. This was the first blow, fired without warning, just hours after war was declared. For Britain, the sinking of the Athenia was seen as both a violation of international law and a return to the kind of total war Germany had waged in the Great War.

The sinking of the Athenia immediately pushed Britain to adopt convoys to protect shipping, and it served from the first to shape British public opinion toward the war. In Canada the sinking of the ship and particularly the death of the innocent, ten year old Margaret Hayworth, became emotional issues around which much of the nation could rally in support of the decision of Parliament to go to war. In the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt was too wary to make the sinking of the Athenia the counterpart of the sinking of the Lusitania in the First World War. However, the Athenia exposed Germany in the public mind as a serious threat to Americans, and provided the opportunity for President Roosevelt to open direct communication with Winston Churchill. The Athenia helped to change public opinion in the United States sufficiently to amend the existing Neutrality Laws to allow the country to sell munitions and supplies to Britain and France—a supportive first step to meeting the Nazi threat directly. So the sinking of the Athenia is a tale full of meaning and passion that deserves to be known.

A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the subject. It is an expertly researched, very informative but most of all, highly readable book that sheds new light on this controversial incident that marked the beginning of the Battle of the Atlantic and of the Second World War.

Warship Annual 2014

The war between Britain and Germany was just a few hours old when the submarine U-30 torpedoed the Athenia. The Nazis, in their wisdom, spent the next six years denying it but it was pretty obvious and fantastical claims that the British were perfidious enough to sink the ship themselves never stood up except in the minds of a pro-German and Anglophobic element, especially in the pre-Pearl Harbor United States. The sinking of the Athenia cost the lives of over a hundred people, a fair number of them women and children and more importantly for the politics of the time, many were American citizens sailing away from the European war.

My wider point is to illustrate the superb standard of research carried out by the author to produce this very entertaining book. He covers all the bases and really gives us a full broadside of facts and eye witness statements. The affect is to tell a story that cracks along with complete confidence and takes, us, the reader with it.

The Canadian author is a prolific writer and academic and his experience and quality shines through. This is masterful story takes us into the uncertain atmosphere of a curious and fearful world just at the moment when the wheels came off. I like the fact this book has very much a New World perspective. It is refreshing and is probably the basis of what makes it so good. You should read it. You will not be disappointed.

www.warhistoryonline.com

Gives voice to those aboard, while setting the disaster in the context of Great Powers at war.

Navy News

This book is an account of the sinking of the passenger liner Athenia which had been sailing from Liverpool to Montreal, loaded with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, at the time of the outbreak of war.

Britain at War

This work does an excellent job of placing the tragedy and human drama of the sinking of the passenger ship Athena on September 3, 1941… The author constructs an excellent narrative derived from hundreds of first – hand accounts found in letters, news accounts and other documents. He gives a vivid account of the attack of the ship, the transfer of passengers and crew to boats… the summary is very useful.

Nautical Research Journal

He has extensively researched this book and it includes 32 pages of detailed footnotes a large bibliography and list of references, and an appendix with statistics on the passengers and crew A number of interviews with survivors were included in his research.
This is a very detailed but readable account of an important but almost forgotten tragedy at sea. The author notes that this cruel attack without warning and the resulting loss of life rallied support for war against Germany on both sides of the Atlantic. The personal stories of the innocent survivors and victims are moving. The 93 passengers who lost their lives included 8 men, 69 women, and 16 children; the death of ten-year old Margaret Hayworth is particularly poignant. I learned a lot from this book and I recommended it highly.

Power Ships

…an account of the sinking by a German submarine of the passenger liner Athenia sailing from Liverpool to Montreal, loaded with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, attempting to cross the Atlantic before the outbreak of war. Although 112 people were lost, of whom 30 were the first Americans killed in the war, 1,306 were rescued. The drama, tragedy, and triumph of experiences are a central part of the story. But of course the book is also about war and politics. Indeed, this is actually where the Second World War began. Here Germany, having already invaded Poland in what was expected to be a limited war, first struck the Western Allies, Britain and France. This was the first blow, fired without warning, just hours after war was declared. For Britain, the sinking of the Athenia was seen as both a violation of international law and a return to the kind of total war Germany had waged in the Great War.

World Ship Review

On the evening of 3rd September 1939, just hours after World War II was declared, passengers on board the ocean liner Athenia were enjoying their Sunday dinner when the ship was rocked by explosions. Germany had struck its first blow of the war by firing a torpedo without warning from a submarine, U-30 launching the Battle of the Atlantic.
Athenia was a British ship loaded with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans attempting to cross the Atlantic from Liverpool to Montreal before the outbreak of war. As the ship sank, 1306 were rescued but 112 people were lost, including thirty Americans.
The outcome of this disaster served as a catalyst to shape the British public opinion of the war. In Canada, the death of a ten year old passenger caused by the sinking became an emotional issue and the country supported Parliament’s decision to enter the war. In the United States, the attack exposed Germany as a serious threat and changed public opinion enough to allow the country to sell munitions and supplies to great Britain and France.
This is an excellent book on a ship too rarely covered. I would very highly recommend it.

Shipping – Today and yesterday
 Francis M. Carroll

About Francis M. Carroll

Francis M. Carroll, Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, was educated at Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, and Trinity College Dublin. He has published ten books and is the winner of the J.W. Dafoe Prize and the Albert B. Corey Prize. He lives in Manitoba, Canada.

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