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Execution for Duty (Hardback)


By Peter C Hansen
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781844153220
Published: 20th October 2005
Last Released: 1st August 2007



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Oskar Heinz Kusch, joined the German Navy in 1937. He worked his way successfully through naval college and eventually volunteered for duty in U boats. During this period the underwater service was causing havoc to Allied shipping in the Atlantic and was highly regarded as an elite force. He had an exemplary service record, and eventually he gained his own command in the 2nd U boat Flotilla. Before his second operational voyage as Captain three new junior officers joined the submarine, they were confirmed Nazi patriots and not popular aboard, constantly praising all the heroes of Reich and never conceding that the demise of the U boat was approaching due to the increased use of more sophisticated radar techniques used by the Allies. The voyage was to prove unsuccessful in terms of Allied ships sunk and unbeknown to Kusch the three hatched a plan to dishonour their Captain and accuse him of treason. The trial was corrupt and rigged. No latitude was given from higher authorities and no account of his previous unblemished career was taken into consideration. To the amazement of the court, orders were given that Kusch was to be shot.

Asked why he should want to resurrect the case of 0skar Kusch after so many years, author Peter C. Hansen replied that not to bring the truth about such a great injustice to light would be inexcusable, and it was this passionate belief which led him to conduct extensive research into the matter by means of interviews and documentary sources, often accessed with considerable difficulty.
0skar Heinz Kusch was born in 1918 and joined the German Navy in 1937, volunteering for service on U-Boats. In January 1944, however, he found himself before a naval court on trumped-up charges that were essentially politically motivated and had developed out of a clash between three junior officers with fanatical Nazi beliefs and Kusch himself aboard U-154 of which he was by then commander. The travesty of justice that followed lies at the centre of this sombre but compelling drama. Hansen (who met Kusch) shows how the denouncers were able to turn their grudges into proceedings and what really went on behind the scenes, when the judges retired to consider sentencing. The peculiarities of the WWII naval judge advocate and military court system, often bewildering to outsiders, are clarified and explained in non-technical language. The progress of the case is cleverly interwoven with events on the wider plane so as to enable the reader to view them in their proper historical context and it is Hansen's unique achievement to be able to do this without overloading his text with detail. The author is clearly at pains to debunk caricatured notions of the German naval men of that era as "pirates, killers and murderers". The reality was (he says) a good deal more complicated than that, and such a large body of men more diversified. We encounter hitherto unknown personalities that throw the picture into sharper relief, and gain additional insights into conditions at sea, naval innovations in warfare (some quite eccentric!) and odd disasters befalling other U-boats (see pp. 67-68).
The characters of Grand Admirals Doenitz and Raeder are compared and contrasted and the question of relations between the Navy under Doenitz and the Nazi Party explored, with interesting results. Why didn't Doenitz intervene to save Kusch? What was the Admiral's attitude toward Hitler and National Socialism? What became of the hated "political denouncers", and where did the "Hamburg Gang" of 0tto Kranzbuehler fit into the story? All is revealed as the saga unfolds and the case resurfaces in the postwar years. With an unexpected outcome.

Stephanie A. Jefford
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