HJC: U-Boat history has been steadily growing in popularity. What do you think are some of the reasons for this?
TPS: I think that’s right. The short answer (from my perspective) is that the veterans are growing old and are almost gone. There is a certain urgency to understand them, appreciate them, read about them, meet them, write to them, experience them and their former world in a vicarious way — knowing some are alive. Of course, many veterans have a deep desire to tell their story before it is too late. I know this might sound a bit odd, but it was the same with the Civil War. There was a smallish burst of publishing and interest about the war in the early postwar period, which faded for a few decades until the vets were old men. They and others started writing about it with a passion, the public started reading more about it, and then all hell broke loose.
HJC: I have never heard it put that way before.
TPS: Erich Topp (U-552) and I spoke on this once. He was visiting San Francisco for a convention in 1998 and we did several book signings for Silent Hunters. Everywhere people stopped to talk, the lines were long, and the interest deep. It was intense. It really shocked him. On his way back to his room he stopped me, grabbed my arm, and said, “I wrote my book to put all this behind me — to tell my story and move on with my life.” I told him that was impossible, and like it or not, those few years defined him for life. He agreed. “More than ever I realize now I will never be able to put it behind me. The interest is growing stronger each month, more and more letters and calls. They are always pleased to learn I am still alive so they can try to understand from me, personally, what it was all about. It is my responsibility to explain it as well as I can.” That conversation confirmed for me my theory. The veterans age, the interest grows.
HJC: On a more personal level, what is your favorite anecdote or particular area of interest in U-Boats?
TPS: Really, I don’t have one. If pressed, I would have to say it is the men themselves in general, and the commanders in particular. To my way of thinking, all men are ordinary — it is just that some find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and react in such a way that history remembers them, for good or for ill. How men reacted in the face of the unrelenting and without-quarter Battle of the Atlantic intrigues me. Can you imagine being responsible for 50 men in a U-boat at age 25? Neither can I.
HJC: Hunt and Kill is now at press. What’s next? Can we look forward to more books on U-Boats?
TPS: Funny you should say that . . . I have a few ideas rolling about upstairs. I would love to gather the same team for a third go at it. They just don’t know it yet.
HJC: I enjoyed our chat and enjoyed this book. Good luck with it.
TPS: Thank you. It has an outstanding cast, and if it succeeds, it is because of them. I was only the pencil herder.