I am an armchair submariner, but well aware that my admiration for these men runs the risk of lapsing into romantic mythologising. Despite attempting to maintain objective neutrality, I am continually struck by the widely held perception that submariners are a race apart from other naval seafarers. Viewed as heroes or villains subject to which side they are on (sometimes indeed regarded as villains by the senior officers of their own side), it is perhaps understandable that submariners have a reputation for independence of thought and action, and sheer downright bloody-mindedness.
The nature of their job encourages these traits. They are faced by threats from hostile forces: both man-made and elemental. Safe operation relies on every crew member doing their job, and for a crew to work effectively as a team requires a considerable degree of trust, tolerance and mutual respect. Survival depends on it. Max Horton, arguably the greatest British submariner, once said with characteristic bluntness, 'There is no margin for mistakes in submarines, you are either alive or dead. It is a remarkable feature of human existence that former enemies, veterans of past wars, meet later in a spirit of reconciliation and friendship. This should give hope for the future, but these men grow older and time is on no-one's side.
Those of us of a younger generation are then left with a void of lost knowledge and, by extension, lost understanding. The sudden death of my friend Karl Wahnig, a former U-boat crewman, brought home this painful reality. Yet the ancients believed a person never died if they were never forgotten. With that in mind, this book aims to be both testimony and tribute to the submariners of all nations, but is dedicated especially to the memory of those still missing; to those who are still on patrol.