Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Good Shepherd, by C.S. Forester

A destroyer captain battles doubts and U-boats.

The Good Shepherd

Simon Publications, 1955, 320 pages

A convoy of 37 merchant ships is ploughing through icy, submarine-infested North Atlantic seas during the most critical days of World War II, when the German submarines had the upper hand and Allied shipping was suffering heavy losses.

In charge is Commander George Krause, an untested veteran of the US Navy. Hounded by a wolf pack of German U-boats, he faces 48 hours of desperate peril trapped the bridge of the ship. Exhausted beyond measure, he must make countless and terrible decisions as he leads his small fighting force against the relentless U-boats.

The Good Shepherd is a World War II story about a destroyer captain charged with escorting a convoy during the Battle of the Atlantic. It's a sparse war story with a lean storytelling style by the author of the Horatio Hornblower series.

Much of the book focuses on the minutiae of nautical maneuvers, but also on the inner thoughts of Captain George Krause, a Commander in the US Navy who faces 52 long watches playing cat and mouse with U-boats. It's 1942, and the United States has just entered the war. Krause is older than his fellow officers, but the captains of the other ships (some of whom are Polish, Canadian, and British allies) have been at war for two years, so he feels all of their eyes on him.

Forester captures the tension of sea battles, the hard, cold logic of deciding when to chase, when to leave off, when to use the precious depth charges, when to go to the rescue of a sinking ship and when that would mean leaving many more unprotected. The invisible German U-boat commander is never seen, but one can easily imagine his crew suffering the same tension as Krause's — each one knows that the first to make a mistake or guess wrong dies.

Despite this being a short novel that's mostly about sea battles, Forester manages to pack a lot of characterization into Commander Krause. We learn of his doubts, his desire to set an example and not let down his crew, his allies, or his country, while also not wanting to let his doubts and ambitions get in the way of his duty. Before the war, he was "fitted and retained" (meaning, in naval parlance, judged adequate but not good enough for promotion), and only got his promotion to Commander when the war began. He spares a few thoughts for the wife who left him, who couldn't understand his devotion to duty, and his upbringing. We learn he's a pious man.

It's a very masculine novel, from an earlier age. I haven't read any of Forester's other books, but I enjoyed this one.

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