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The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized the Allies in the Most Epic Voyage of WWI Hardcover – Apr 20 2010

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (April 20 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416573178
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416573173
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 558 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,871,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"The authors’ thoroughly researched and convincing study makes clear that good modern naval history is more than just a true account of strategy or battles, for it deals not only with ships but with men." --U.S. Naval Institute Book Review

About the Author

Richard Guilliatt has been a journalist for 30 years and is the author of the book, Talk Of The Devil – Repressed Memory and the Ritual Abuse Witch-Hunt (Text Publishing, Australia, 1996).  Born in the UK, he was a feature writer at The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, before moving to New York in 1986 to work as a freelance writer. His work has appeared in many leading newspapers and magazines including The Independent, The Sunday Times Magazine, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He is currently a staff writer at the Weekend Australian Magazine in Sydney.  In 2000 he won Australia’s highest award for magazine feature writing, the Walkley Award. 

Peter Hohnen studied history and law at the Australian National University and was a partner in a prominent Canberra law firm for twenty years.  A commander in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve for two decades, he was posted to Cambridge University in 1999 to study the law of the sea and the laws of armed conflict as a visiting fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law.  On his return to Australia he was awarded a Masters Degree in Law from ANU in 2002.  He has been an independent legal consultant to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and has made several contributions to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. His great-uncle, Alexander Ross Ainsworth, was chief engineer aboard the steamship Matunga when it was captured by SMS Wolf in August 1917.

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By A. Volk #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Nov. 17 2011
Format: Hardcover
I must confess that, compared to WWII, I know relatively little about WWI. But this book seemed to be an interesting story, so I picked it up. Fortunately, it was a very interesting story indeed. It is the tale of the Wolf, a German merchant ship modified to carry guns, torpedoes, and mines. It was thus a wolf in sheep's clothing, capable of prowling the world's oceans in plain view without attracting undue attention at a time when Germany's navy was dominated by those of its enemies.

The Wolf's captain Karl Nerger presided over an amazing feat of seamanship as he kept his boat active for 415 days, traveled a distance equal to three times around the globe, sunken over a dozen ships, captured over 700 prisoners, and avoided enemy contact all without ever radioing home or setting foot in a harbor. After the first few months, everything the ship needed and used (e.g., fuel and food) was taken from captured ships. Their voyage started with them sneaking past the British naval blockage in the North Atlantic before sailing down to the tip of Africa, crossing into the Indian Ocean and on to the Pacific.

It was a herculean endeavor, with very low odds of success. Throughout the voyage, Nerger had to manage the delicate balance of the welfare of his prisoners (who included women and a child) with the success of his mission. Clearly, it would have been best to drop them off at some neutral port, but that would have betrayed his presence. Which, thanks to the Royal Navy not wanting to look bad, was hidden from the general public, making him much more effective. The book has a good amount of action in it, both in capturing ships/laying mines and in the contests between crew and captives.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 49 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Focuses on the Human Dimension June 17 2010
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When its High Seas Fleet was unable to break the Royal Navy's blockade in 1916 and unrestricted submarine warfare risked sparking war with the United States, the Imperial Germany Navy decided to use disguised merchant raiders (Hilfskreuzer) to attack Allied shipping on the high seas. The merchant ship Wachtfels was chosen for endurance, not speed, and she was armed with concealed 5.9-inch guns and duly commissioned as the raider SMS Wolf. This book, by authors Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen, chronicles the 451-day voyage of the Wolf in 1916-18 which destroyed about 110,000 tons of Allied shipping. In many respects, this is a fascinating and well-written piece of history, which delves in considerable detail into a chapter of the First World War at sea with which few readers will be familiar. However, the emphasis in this book is on the human story - particularly the privations of the prisoners taken from captured ships and the Wolf's Captain Karl Nerger. Readers expecting more military detail and insight will find these details often shoved to the background in favor of descriptions about what the prisoners were eating. Yet even though I was quite familiar with the Wolf's cruise - having written a book on German Second World War commerce raiders - I still learned a number of new pieces of information that the authors had unearthed in their diligent research. Overall, The Wolf shines a spotlight on an obscure corner of the First World War and a style of conduct in warfare that now appears almost quaint.

The Wolf is divided into twelve chapters and has four appendices (the Wolf's specifications, a list of ships mined or sunk, a by-name list of the Wolf's crew and a list of the Wolf's prisoners). The book also includes two maps, a very nice cutaway diagram of the ship itself, 16 B/W photos and a 5-page bibliography. Although much of the book is reliant upon post-war memoirs by German officers and former prisoners, the authors have included research from other archival sources to fill out the rest of the Wolf's story. The book focuses very heavily on a few characters, such as the captured Cameron family, Captain Nerger and his Leutnant Rose, and much of the cruise is seen from their perspective. However, many of the other prisoners are simply annoying, such as the alcoholic Mabel Whittaker or Gerald Haxton (whom the authors continually refer to as the "secret lover of novelist W. Somerset Maugham"). Who cares? Many readers would have preferred that the authors allow the Germans to throw these prisoners into the cargo hold, slam the hatch shut and forget about them, instead of returning every few pages to their whining about not having whiskey and soda aboard the raider. The authors also diverge onto a few characters, such as Carl Newman, who were neither prisoners or crew members. Newman was a ethnic German who lived in Australia as a fisherman but was jailed under suspicion that he was aiding the Wolf somehow by surreptitious meetings off the coast. Newman's story is tragic but barely related to the Wolf and it would have been more pertinent to discuss some of the Allied officers involved in hunting for the Wolf. Throughout the book, Allied efforts to counter the Wolf are discussed rather haphazardly and focus more on what the Allied media was saying, rather than naval intelligence.

My opinion of Karl Nerger and his crew did change considerably with this book. Heretofore, Nerger was regarded as virtually the epitome of the sea corsair and his crew the cream of the Imperial Germany Navy. While these authors do continue to depict Nerger's humane side, he comes across as less than daring and his aloofness from his crew contributed to a serious deterioration in morale. After a year at sea, Nerger's crewmen were often involved in drunken and violent incidents, one of which nearly sparked a mutiny. Nerger's decision to keep over 700 prisoners on board - over three times what the prisoner hold was designed for - seriously reduced the efficiency of his ship, consumed resources such as food and water at an alarming rate and created endemic morale problems. As the author's discuss, the presence of women prisoners aboard a ship with men who have been at sea for over a year caused real problems and Nerger seemed oblivious to it all. During the Second World War, German raiders made greater efforts to transfer prisoners to auxiliary ships or drop them off on isolated islands, but Nerger seemed obsessed with their potential to give the Allies information about his ship's activity (which they did through other means, including a message in a bottle).

Most readers should enjoy this book, with its in-depth characters and periodic adventure (including two prisoners who try to swim to an island), although specialist readers will not learn much about strictly military issues. The cruise of the Wolf belonged to a different era of warfare, where enemies could still act with a certain basic human decency toward each other and the combatants respected non-combatants (and to a lesser degree) neutrals.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True tale of "pirates" during the Great War, fascinating! Aug. 9 2010
By Wulfstan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got hooked into reading the true naval stories about the WWI German Naval raiders through the exploits of Count Luckner: Count Luckner: The Sea Devil by Lowell Thomas, and Count von Luckner;: Knight of the sea, by Edwin Palmer Hoyt. The sea- tales of these chivalrous latter day privateers are fascinating, and you can root for the "underdog" with a clear conscience as most of these captains followed the rules of naval warfare scrupulously and with the sort of chivalry not seen since.

If you haven't read about Count Luckner, now is the time, you won't be disappointed.

This is the story of The Wolf, a armed merchant cruiser that sailed the seas late in WWI. She was also the first raider to use a seaplane with good effect. Fregattenkapitän (Commander) Karl August Nerger kept his ship at sea for 451 long days, baffling the Allies. When he finally brought his ship back to Germany, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite, aka "the Blue Max".

The story has been told before but not as often as some of the other raiders, and never to this depth.

The authors here have added quite a bit of focus on two subjects not covered as much: the Allies propaganda and censorship campaign, and the travails of the prisoners on board. I found the sections about the prisoners to go on a bit too long, and focus too much on the hardships. However, the research is impeccable. The personal stories are well done.

The info about the Allies censorship and propaganda campaigns is fascinating. The Allies refused to let the real story out, blaming the sinkings on "Hun saboteurs" leading to more sinking of ships in the minefields that they should have been able to avoid, and the persecution of German born Australians who were thought to have planted bombs and put mines loose in the seas.

Readers wanting more about the naval actions and military detail can find that in: Edwin P. Hoyt, "Raider Wolf, The Voyage of Captain Nerger,"), which is a very exciting book.

Further reading on this subject:Hoyt, Edwin P Elusive Seagull
Lochner, R. K. Last Gentleman-Of-War: Raider Exploits of the Cruiser Emden
The Germans who never lost;: The story of the Konigsberg, by Edwin Palmer Hoyt
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Reading May 20 2010
By Michael H. Schultz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I found that I could not put the book down. The Author's had carried out fantastic research to present such a detailed account of a German Raider, a converted coal burning merchant steamship, which went on a 15 month "rampage" from Kiel across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and return without going to a port to refuel.

The rampage took place at the time of the First World War from November 1916 to February 1918 laying mines in the main shipping routes off South America, South Africa, India, Singapore Australia and New Zealand.

Many Ships captured and sunk after bringing on board Wolf, passengers and crew as prisoners and transferring coal, supplies, and all other equipment required by Wolf at the time. A very good read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The WOLF goes on the hunt. Jan. 23 2011
By Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a quite successful raider! In both world wars, the merchant raiding ships that Germany sent out to terrorize the oceans did a spectacular job, but very few ever returned to port, especially with the enemy navies being so close. But the WOLF, a raider of over 5,700 tons, departed Kiel, Germany, in November of 1916 and returned to Kiel in February of 1918. I ordered this book because the reviews talked about the ship and all, but not completely about it's exploits, so I had to read all about it and finished the book just today.

Captain Karl Nerger kept the WOLF at sea for 444 days and traveled more than 64,000 miles in one unbroken voyage, equivalent to nearly three circumnavigations of the earth, without pulling into any port. He traversed three of the four major oceans and evaded the combined navies of Britain, France, Japan, Australia, and the United States, while carrying out a military mission that sank or damaged 30 ships, totaling more than 138,000 tons. When he returned to port, he had lost only a handful of crew and prisoners and had maintained extraordinary discipline on a ship crowded at times with nearly 750 men, women, and children.

You'll read about how one young, little girl, the daughter of one of the prisoners, became the darling of the German ship, how exceptional treatment was given to many of the prisoners, and how one enemy cruiser passed to within a mile of the WOLF and it's battle-ready crew at their stations, awaiting the order to fire, and the cruiser passed on without even seeing them! You'll hear about the storms they encountered, the minefields the ship laid out, and the consequences of those mines, some of which weren't even recovered for decades. One mine was even found on the shores of New Zealand in 2008!

I also read a lot about the reactions given about the raider by the people of Australia and New Zealand, which had very little navy support during the entire crisis, and the authorities believing the mines to be laid by German-born citizens in the coastal areas, not to mention the little support of Japan's navy, which was in the area, despite one of their ships going missing, which was the only ship to actually try to fight the WOLF. One Spanish ship that was captured also tried to make it back on the dangerous return trip to Kiel, but ended up being detained by authorities in neutral Denmark.

Towards the end of the book, after the WOLF arrived in Kiel and the crew went on leave to their families, I was eager to know about the fate of such an extraordinary raider that made it back intact. Not much is said about the topic, except that the WOLF was handed over to the French for reparations after the war, and she did a successful trade merchant career under their merchant marine for at least 12 years before she was scuttled in 1931. Why and where she was scuttled is uncertain, but I would like to hear more about this subject.

A great book! And it was told by a crew of such brave men who faced so much dangers!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book! June 8 2010
By Cycles 67 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered this book as soon as it was available on Amazon and waited in anticipation for it to arrive after being alerted to it by the excellent review in the Wall Street Journal. I was not disappointed! The book is meticulously researched and extremely well written. The book is a about the epic adventures of the Merchant Raider Wolf of the German Imperial Navy of WWI. It recounts the amazing story of this converted merchant ship (bristling with armaments) and its crew and prisoners as it made its way (some 64,000 miles) to South America, S Africa, India and Australia, all the while pirating for food and fuel, and laying mines along the way. The book recounts the brilliance, tenacity and sheer luck of the Captain and his crew that somehow survived a seemingly suicidal mission. I have also read Alexander Roy's Book "The Cruise of the Raider Wolf", which I also enjoyed, however, I really liked how the authors of this book (Richard Guilliat and Peter Hohnen) are able to provide a broader historical context which provide much rich History about WWI that I was not aware of.

I could not put this book down and would recommend it highly as an incredible adventure story. I would give it six stars If I could! I also think this book would make an excellent film, perhaps in the same league as Das Boot. This book was of particular interest to me because my Grandfather was a crewmember and I learned much I did not know about his harrowing journey.