During World War II there was a small group of U.S. men that participated in the war who people didn’t hear much about. These men risked their lives over and over taking equipment and supplies on ships to the men fighting in Europe. The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats by William Geroux highlights the brave men from the small community of Mathews County, Virginia.
The German U-boats were stationed so close to the United States shoreline that people on the shore could see them. They got so close the U-boats would torpedo ships coming out of the Mississippi River in the Gulf. While the merchant marines navigated from the U.S. or the Caribbean to Europe, they did not have much support from the U.S. Government. Politicians, including the president, didn’t think there were many U-boats near the U.S. shores.
What is shocking, is how many U-boats were in the water and how many ships they sunk. The U-boats would attack the ships, watch the sailors abandon ship and then approach the lifeboats to find out the name of the sunken ship for their records and would then offer help to the sailors. The Germans would give them food and water and tell them where the nearest shore was located.
Once the Mathew Men survived a U-boat attack, if they survived, they would get right back on another ship and risk their lives. The sea was all they knew and they felt a ship was where they needed to be.
I learned so much fascinating information about the men from Mathews County. It’s so shocking how the government didn’t give these ships protection and help. Thousands of ships and sailors lost their lives trying to aid the soldiers of World War II. This was such a well written book that had a lot of information that everyone should know about.
One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community’s monumental contribution to that effort
Praise for The Mathews Men
“The German U-Boat war against American merchant men was deadly and dramatic—in World War II, the U.S. Merchant Marine had twice the fatality rate of the U.S. Navy. William Geroux has unearthed a fascinating tale of one small coastal town caught in the thick of the fight, and he tells it with a sharp reporter’s eye and a real feel for the heroic men who went down to the sea in ships.” —Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon and Sea of Thunder
Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery—but it sent one of the largest concentrations of sea captains and U.S. merchant mariners of any community in America to fight in World War II. The Mathews Men tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), U.S. merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.
From the late 1930s to 1945, virtually all the fuel, food and munitions that sustained the Allies in Europe traveled not via the Navy but in merchant ships. After Pearl Harbor, those unprotected ships instantly became the U-boats’ prime targets. And they were easy targets—the Navy lacked the inclination or resources to defend them until the beginning of 1943. Hitler was determined that his U-boats should sink every American ship they could find, sometimes within sight of tourist beaches, and to kill as many mariners as possible, in order to frighten their shipmates into staying ashore.
As the war progressed, men from Mathews sailed the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, where they braved the dreaded Murmansk Run. Through their experiences we have eyewitnesses to every danger zone, in every kind of ship. Some died horrific deaths. Others fought to survive torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, mine blasts, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys—only to ship out again on the next boat as soon as they’d returned to safety.
The Mathews Men shows us the war far beyond traditional battlefields—often the U.S. merchant mariners’ life-and-death struggles took place just off the U.S. coast—but also takes us to the landing beaches at D-Day and to the Pacific. “When final victory is ours,” General Dwight D. Eisenhower had predicted, “there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” Here, finally, is the heroic story of those merchant seamen, recast as the human story of the men from Mathews.
Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat