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The Secret Capture (Paperback)

U-110 and the Enigma Story

WWII Seaforth: General Seaforth

By Stephen Roskill, Introduction by Barry Gough
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 16 black and white
ISBN: 9781526781789
Published: 6th April 2020

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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 submarines 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 books 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.

This is the account of an action at sea which was the most important of WWII. The Allies captured a number of Axis submarines, including one that surrendered to a Lockheed Hudson aircraft, but U110 was fatally damaged and yielded a vital secret and technology – Most Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here

Firetrench

I remember watching the Hollywood blockbuster Enigma and being informed afterwards that like so many WW2 movies, the actual history had been altered to make out that the Americans had achieved everything so that they could take the glory. The Enigma machine and its capture is a case in point, with official historian Stephen Roskill setting the record straight in this brilliant account of the capture and sinking of the German sub U110. This book was first published in 1959 - long before the creation of Pen and Sword Publishers, but their take up of this very important volume is most welcome.

Books Monthly

The Secret Capture is very well written and informatively detailed throughout to the end. This book is very readable yet dense in information that will be of value to the ordinary ‘Joe Bloggs’ reader or the wannabe history type of person. There is a very interesting chart at the back of the book that puts everyone in position for the event. This particular subject needs to be out there more and this book does it justice. I would recommend this book to anyone with a 5 star rating.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

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 convoy escorts. As this book was the first to reveal, this was a deliberate deception, as the U-boat was actually captured and its contents – including an undamaged Enigma machine and its code books – taken before being sunk a day later. As the official historian of the naval war, Roskill 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. At the time of the book’s first publication, the operation was still secret, so Roskill 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. A new introduction by Barry Gough puts the capture into context, making clear its vital importance in the history of allied codebreaking in World War Two.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin

The book, after more than 60 years, is extremely exciting and a series of maps, diagrams (very useful the one at the end of the book on the composition and positions of the convoy ships) and notes facilitate in following the action and the path of hunters and preys. Not too technical terms are used, the book is meant for the average reader and in 156 pages it describes extremely well one of the most important actions on the seas of the Second World War.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

This is a well written account of the capture of the German submarine U-110 on May 1941. This was possibly one of the most important naval actions of the battle of the Atlantic, with far reaching results. Although U-110 sank on tow, its precious Enigma machine had been extracted and its secrets helped to inform British naval intelligence of German U Boat movements and route convoys to avoid them.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

'Our pick of the latest new products and best kit launches'

Yachts & Yachting, May 2020

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.

www.arsse.co.uk

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)

A most enjoyable read that explains what happened in the capture of U110 and its intelligence prize. A short book that is easily read and actually quite a thriller.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

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.


About Barry Gough

BARRY GOUGH was professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario until retirement in 2004. An expert on the maritime history of the Pacific Ocean, he has published widely on Anglo-Canadian naval subjects. His dual biography, Historical Dreadnoughts Marder and Roskill, was published by Seaforth in 2010.

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