There's something rather wonderful about a book that covers the ground so well that no-one will ever be able to write another book on the same subject. Truly definitive books are very rare, but "The Grey Wolves of Eriboll" by David M. Hird is certainly one of them. We didn't read the first edition of this book, published in 2010, but it seems that while the author did a good job the first time around, interest in and publicity about his book opened up access to a number of new sources of information, allowing this "updated and expanded" new edition to be even better. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the naval history of World War Two, or in the history of northern Scotland.
The Battle of the Atlantic was fought throughout World War Two, and on the German side by far the most effective weapon was the U-boat, the naval submarine, which could range right across the Atlantic (and beyond) in search of Allied ships to attack and destroy. The fortunes of the battle ebbed and flowed, but for periods in 1940/1 and in 1942, remembered on the German side as "the happy times" there was a real threat that the actions of German U-boats in cutting off the supply of vital supplies might bring Britain to its knees.
With the end of World War Two came the question of how to manage U-boats still on active service, whose response to orders by the German high command to surrender might range from compliant to simply disbelieving. Planning for this event on the allied side had begun, incredibly, a year earlier, and "The Grey Wolves of Eriboll" looks at this operation from every angle, with a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on the role played by Loch Eriboll, a large and exceptionally remote sea-loch towards the western end of the north coast of Scotland.
Today's Loch Eriboll is by turns beautiful and bleak, largely depending on the weather, but despite road improvements over the past 70 years (and the popularity of the "North Coast 500" driving route) it remains remote. For a short period in May 1945, Loch Eriboll became the place where surrendering German U-boats were met and boarded by Allied naval personnel, and where they were inspected and rendered safe, before being escorted south for further processing at Kyle of Lochalsh. In the event this was an almost wholly peaceful process. No violent conflict arose, and - unlike with the surrendered German fleet in Scapa Flow after World War One - there was no attempt by their crews to scuttle the captured vessels. Those taking part at the time had no idea there would be such a peaceful outcome, and being the first on board an armed enemy submarine whose crew might be intent on mass suicide must have felt a very high-risk job. This vital operation was so fleeting that no shore facilities were built, and there is nothing at Loch Eriboll to show that the events described in this book ever took place.
As we suggest in our opening paragraph, David M. Hird has done a simply magnificent job in covering the surrender of the U-boats from every conceivable angle. He draws very extensively on primary sources; as well as on official reports and the personal notes and recollections of those who took part, on both sides; on newspaper reports, and on previously published material. As a result he has been able to provide potted histories of the U-boats involved, and of the Allied escort vessels and other notable participants (including Hitler's personal yacht); he covers the careers of notable U-boat commanders; he details the operation at Loch Eriboll, and the later handling of U-boats surrendering in Norway by Allied vessels in Scapa Flow. He also looks at the processing that took place at Kyle of Lochalsh, at the subsequent storage of the U-boats in Loch Ryan and in Northern Ireland, and of the operation to put most of the U-boats beyond further use by sinking them in deep water out in the Atlantic. Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, he looks at some of the myths and legends that have built up around the surrender of the U-boats, and convincingly separates fact from the British propaganda that sometimes muddied the waters.