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The Secret Capture (Hardback)

U-110 and the Enigma Story

WWII Seaforth

By Stephen Roskill
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 184
ISBN: 9781848320987
Published: 31st January 2011



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For fifteen years after the end of the war all official Admiralty records showed the German submarine U 110 as sunk on 9 May 1941 by the surface escorts of convoy OB.318. As this book was the first to reveal, this was a deliberate deception, as the U-boat was actually captured and its contents fully investigated before being allowed to sink a day later, a fact skilfully kept from even the survivors of the submarine’s crew. As the official historian of the naval war, Roskill had followed the party line when writing his authorised account, but provoked by exaggerated claims concerning a US Navy capture of a U-boat in 1944, Roskill decided to set the record straight. His narrative is prefaced by brief coverage of previous submarine captures by the Royal Navy – three Italian and one German – before covering the U 110 operation in great detail, underlining the skill and bravery of those involved.
We now know that the reason for the secrecy was that the U-boat gave up valuable codebooks, charts, ciphers and, most significantly, a complete and undamaged Enigma machine. At the time of the book’s first publication, Ultra was still a secret, so Roskill (who clearly knew about it) had to be discreet about the exact details of what was taken from the submarine while insisting on its crucial value to the war effort. However, a new introduction puts the capture into context, making clear its vital importance in the history of allied codebreaking in World War Two.

The events surrounding the German Uboat U-110, it's enigma machine and the capture of it's crew was kept secret for many years until the facts were slowly release leaving the story tangled in doubt. The Secret Capture reveals the truth and shines a light on what really happened including the deliberate deception of the fate of U-110. With chapters detailing The Atlantic Battle 1941, the enemies in the way and the eventual capture, the book through precise prose and intriguing images finally provides the truth on this controversial yet enthralling event in such a tragic period. Charles Baker-Cresswell is the son of the captain of HMS Bulldog, the ship that captured the Uboat and was also commissioned into the Rifle Brigade. He uses both this experience and his military heritage to keep the readers hooked until the end.

John (Customer Review)

This is the true and gripping story of the British capture of an Enigma machine and associated materials from a captured U-Boat, so glibly traduced by Hollywood with its facile and disgusting pretence that this was an American achievement.

The narrative if all this is clear and coherent and unsullied by typos, and supported by diagrams of the convoy and of the actions against U-110 and three other U-boats.


A new introduction by Barry Gough, brings the book up to date on the ULTRA aspect and a Foreword by Charles Baker-Cresswell adds much to our knowledge of a very capable naval officer.

WW2 talk

The Secret Capture is a real-life boy’s own escapade, telling the absorbing story about the capture of U-boat 110 in May 1941 by the Royal Navy.

First published in 1959, Stephen Roskill’s aim was to put the record straight following an earlier claim by an American to have made the only capture of a U-boat in 1944. It is well-written, in a sometimes breathless style when describing the action, though some of the explanatory asides are laborious and slow down the sequence of events.

This edition has a new introduction by Professor Barry Gough, which is well worth reading as it explains how and why the book was written and the limitations faced by the author – many papers relating to the action were still classified. It is a genuinely fascinating book that feels more like an adventure story than a factual record of historic events.

Defense Focus Magazine

First published in 1959, The Secret Capture an instant success with a second impression being released just a month later and a German translation being issued in 1960. The popularity of The Secret Capture on its first publication is verification to the skill in which it is wrote. The author who was a serving Captain with the Royal Navy was invited by the publishers 'Collins' to write a number of works in navel history. Roskill's previous works provided the background and understanding for The Secret Capture. In short, this story is an historically correct account of the capture and boarding of the U-110 on 9 May, 1941. However, this account is only brief owing to the limitations that Roskill was subjected to by the Official Secrets Act. It was these limitations that the author admits to having have written, 'a short account of perhaps the most important and far-reaching success achieved by our anti-submarine forces during the whole course of the last war...' The importance of this account is historically significant with the main 'one small file' being kept at the National Archives in kew. The Secret Capture is extremely well written and is informative to the end. This book is very readable yet dense in information that will be of value to the general reader and budding historians alike.

Stephen Wood (Customer Review)

A deception left unknown for eighteen years is revealed by retired Royal Navy captain, Stephen Roskill. On May 9th 1941, the German U-boat, U-110 was attacked in the mid-Atlantic and forced to the surface, a boarding party from the HMS Bulldog went aboard the German submarine and found secret materials, most notably an Enigma machine and its code books, the machine looked like a typewriter but had keystrokes that lit up different letters, which without the code book was incomprehensible to the British telegraphist. This book covers the true events of the night of May 9th and how the significance of capturing a code breaker turned the tides of war, this is an easy reading book with photographs and is suitable for war historians and historical studies.

Sue (customer review)

About Stephen Roskill

STEPHEN ROSKILL a retired RN captain, was the author of the official history of the Second World War at sea. He later wrote a number of highly regarded books, including a biography of Admiral Beatty and a study of Churchill and the admirals.

German Submarine U-110 captured by Royal Navy

9th May 1941

U-110 was captured by the Royal Navy on 9th May 1941 which provided a number of secret cipher documents to the British. U-110's capture, later given the code name "Operation Primrose", was one of the biggest secrets of the war, remaining secret for seven months. The documents captured from U-110 helped Bletchley Park codebreakers solve Reservehandverfahren, a reserve German hand cipher used as a backup method when no working Enigma machine was available.

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