An apparently harmless Swedish freighter, reveals its disguise before an English tramp steamer, Anglo Saxon, in the eerie night of August 21, 1940 off Africa's western coast. In reality it was a German raider, Widder. What follows is possibly one of the worst nightmares any sailor could fathom in the notorious WWII era.
Brutal merciless attack is unleashed on the defenseless victim with fatal consequences: most of the forty one man crew is murdered and only seven of them manage to escape in a small undetected boat.
After seventy days at sea and incredible test on every imaginable human physical and mental limit, two of them make it to the coast of Bahamas barely alive. Five of their colleagues had already succumbed to the perils of sea life while still on the boat. Their unexpected survival marks the beginning of the end of the German raider's murderous pursuits.
The captain of the dreadful sea vessel, Hellmuth von Ruckteschell ends up on trial for war crimes, being taken responsible for the sinking of twenty five ships while masquerading as a vessel of a neutral country Sweden.
The captain of the heavily armed German raider Widder, Hellmuth von Ruckteschell is one of the major characters in the novel. He had lead in several attacks against several unsuspecting marine vessel with fatal consequences. He was later charged with war crimes for allegedly sinking 25 ships.
One other notable character was Barry Denny, one of seamen who survived the ill-fated attack and made it away in a small boat. He was also a firm leader for the crew. He was involved in the decision to chop off Pilcher's leg with an ax although he later was not able to carry out the act after his conscience failed him.
Another brave sailor Roy Hamilton Pilcher, who died of a gangrenous wound in the leg while in the boat, was also a formidable character in the story. His fellow crew men had to toss him off the side of the boat into the sea when he eventually died quietly and unnoticed in the boat.
Gunner Penny and Leslie Morgan both of whom had severe wounds and were greatly worried of their fate after one of their own, Pilcher, died of the same.
Tapscott and Lionel Hawks, Widdicombe who were part of the crew that survived the attack on the Anglo Saxon. Tapscott and Widdicombe were the last survivors who made it to the shores of Bahamas.
The theme of endurance takes a major part of the novel. The characters had to live in severe living conditions while still dealing with unimaginable odds from thirst, hunger and even pain as they tended to their problems and continued to sail in desperate hope for redemption. The seven survivors of the ill-fated Anglo-Saxon ship had to endure unimaginable conditions to which some of them eventually succumbed to. The wounds sustained in the attack became infected and caused them severe pain. They also had to live for several days with very little water and food.
The level of violence meted on the crew of the doomed British ship is clearly beyond words. Every man had to fight for his dear live. Even a majority of the few of them who made their way out of the terror had to live with the fatal consequences till they finally succumbed to their deadly wounds.
The kind of pain and suffering suffered by some of the attack survivors is the height of human suffering. it was a terrible burden for both the victims and the helpless companions sharing the boat with them. at one point the crew in the small boat had to discuss the carrying out an amputation on one of their own, Roy Pilcher whom they feared was about to lose his life on the account of the deadly wound on his leg. The fact that they were ill-equipped to face the challenges ahead of them cannot be understated. Diminishing food and water rations harsh weather, pain, endless miles from the shore fallouts within the group and death which came every now and then to claim one of them is what characterized the ultimate test of human endurance.
After all the sufferings of the 25 ships that fell victims to the unsuspecting attacks from the German raider, Widder, there is a pleasant relief as the main culprit, Hellmuth von Rucketchell is finally tried for war crimes effectively putting an end to his pursuits.
The story is set in the early WWII period. The story starts in the African western coast with the brutal attack on the English ship Anglo Saxon by the German raider Widder in August 21, 1940. The story then takes us to Bahamas where two survivors out of the 41 man crew finally end up almost dead.
The novel is a detailed account on the common happenings of the WWII period. The story also explains the terrible price that innocent victims had to pay for the war and their endurance to face the situation that had befallen them.