Posted by Frank Gagnier on Jan 20, 2019

Author, Thomas Sanger

His new historical novel "Without Warning"

 

Author Thomas Sanger and his wife Author Kay Sanger

 

 

For those of you who missed his introduction:
 
Tom Sanger has been a writer for most of his adult life. After earning a journalism degree, he worked in Los Angeles as a news writer at KABC radio and a reporter at the Associated Press. During a tour of duty in Vietnam, he served as an information specialist, writing hometown news releases and stories for Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper. In Sydney, Australia, he researched and wrote documentary scripts for two years at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, before starting a 22-year career in corporate public relations in southern California. Tom wrote newsletters, speeches, annual reports, and employee publications and supervised communications departments. With his wife, he has written freelance travel articles and a guidebook published in 1990 by Clarkson N. Potter titled Southern California for Kids. In 2010, Tom ghost-wrote Shepherd: Memories of an Interfering Man, a biography for a doctor in Australia. He presently lives in San Diego with his wife, Kay.
 
 
His Story:
 
Tom’s particular interest in the Athenia tragedy stems from his grandmother, Rhoda Thomas, who was a passenger on the ship. She survived the torpedoing and later wrote an account of her experiences.  Her personal recollections were so vivid that they inspired Tom to tell this story through the eyes of the people who lived it. Nearly 78 years after Athenia sank, there are several people still alive who were aboard that ship on Sept. 3, 1939, and who have vivid memories of those events.
Telling the story of the attack on the passenger ship Athenia required six years and a great deal of research. The first two years, Tom read contemporary newspaper accounts from 1939 about the incident and familiarized myself with the political and social environment in which it took place; reviewed affidavits given by many of Athenia’s passengers and crew members regarding their experiences; and studied the British government’s official inquiry into the ship’s sinking. He also read about German U-boat operations and torpedo technology at the start of World War II.
Because he wanted to tell the human side of the sinking, he identified a number of individuals aboard Athenia and the U-boat whose stories would allow readers to experience these events first-hand in order to bring this history to life. Getting to know these people, either through their writings or by meeting their descendants turned out to be the most rewarding part of the research.
 
On September 3, 1939, the first day of World War II, the British passenger ship Athenia was steaming 250 miles northwest of Ireland, bound for Canada. Many of the 1,100 passengers on board believed they had outrun the danger of a submarine attack, but they were wrong. As dusk fell that Sunday night, a young German U-boat commander fired the first torpedo of the war at what he thought was an armed merchant ship. It was a colossal mistake. Without Warning tells the story of eight people – six passengers, Athenia’s chief officer and the U-boat commander – whose lives were dramatically upended by the mistaken torpedo attack.

 

The book begins in June, 1939, with the clouds of war ominously gathering over Europe, and quickly proceeds to the last week of August, when all eight characters were caught in the vortex of events leading to the war. We follow conditions aboard the submarine, U-30, secretly waiting for word to attack British shipping, and also aboard Athenia as she picked up passengers in Glasgow, Belfast, and Liverpool before sailing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Athenia’s passengers made the best of crowded shipboard conditions; some were happy to be returning home as war broke out in Europe, some were escaping Nazi occupation, and some hoped to start or re-kindle a romance on the high seas. As night fell on Sunday, September 3, passengers were sleeping, dining, or watching the last glow of sunset when the torpedo slammed into the ocean liner.

Many passengers were separated from loved ones as they boarded the lifeboats, a result of evacuating women and children first. In the lifeboats, a misting rain and persistent leaks made for challenging conditions, especially for those wearing only night clothes or evening dresses in the cold, biting wind. When the first rescue ships arrived shortly past midnight, passengers faced more dangers climbing out of their lifeboats in rising seas. One boat was chopped up by the propeller of a rescue ship, leaving a few survivors clinging to wreckage in the cold waters until dawn. Another boat capsized as it neared a luxury yacht, causing a desperate mother to swim through the oily seas searching for her son.  On board U-30, the young commander faced his own dire emergency before finally discovering his tragic mistake.

 

 

Crew from H.M.S. Bulldog prepares to board U-110 Photo credit: Wikipedia