The Mathews Men : Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-Boats
by William Geroux

Overview - Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping."
Daniel James Brown, #1 "New York Times" bestselling author of" The Boys in the Boat"
One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S.

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More About The Mathews Men by William Geroux
Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping."
Daniel James Brown, #1 "New York Times" bestselling author of" The Boys in the Boat"
One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community s monumental contribution to that effort
Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery but it sent an unusually large concentration of sea captains to fight in World War II. "The Mathews Men" tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), U.S. merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.
From the late 1930s to 1945, virtually all the fuel, food and munitions that sustained the Allies in Europe traveled not via the Navy but in merchant ships. After Pearl Harbor, those unprotected ships instantly became the U-boats prime targets. And they were easy targets the Navy lacked the inclination or resources to defend them until the beginning of 1943. Hitler was determined that his U-boats should sink every American ship they could find, sometimes within sight of tourist beaches, and to kill as many mariners as possible, in order to frighten their shipmates into staying ashore.
As the war progressed, men from Mathews sailed the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, where they braved the dreaded Murmansk Run. Through their experiences we have eyewitnesses to every danger zone, in every kind of ship. Some died horrific deaths. Others fought to survive torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, mine blasts, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys only to ship out again on the next boat as soon as they'd returned to safety.
" The Mathews Men" shows us the war far beyond traditional battlefields often the U.S. merchant mariners life-and-death struggles took place just off the U.S. coast but also takes us to the landing beaches at D-Day and to the Pacific. When final victory is ours, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had predicted, there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine. Here, finally, is the heroic story of those merchant seamen, recast as the human story of the men from Mathews."

Click Here to Read an Excerpt

  • ISBN-13: 9780525428152
  • ISBN-10: 0525428151
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publish Date: April 2016
  • Page Count: 400

Related Categories

Books > History > Military - World War II
Books > History > Military - Naval
Books > History > Military - United States

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-02-29
  • Reviewer: Staff

Journalist Geroux combines the skills of a newsman and those of a scholar to tell the story of the vital and heroic role played by the U.S. Merchant Marines during WWII. These civilian sailors delivered hundreds of millions of tons of cargo across the globe during the war, on vulnerable, often-unescorted ships, and their actions are largely overlooked in histories of the war. Communities that made their living from the sea, including Mathews County, Va., and families such as the Hodges—who sent seven sons to war on defenseless merchantmen facing the ace U-boats of Nazi Germany—bore the consequences and received neither recognition nor reward. In the war’s early days, so many merchantmen were sunk off the Atlantic coast that a publisher “hurried into print a 144-page book entitled How to Abandon Ship.” Death was only a torpedo hit away and surviving could still mean dying slowly on a raft. Geroux leaves no doubt that the ocean was as unforgiving as the U-boats—as was a Congress that failed to extend veterans’ benefits to merchant mariners until 1988. Yet the men of Mathews still put to sea; “the torpedoes just got in the way.” Maps. Agent: Farley Chase, Chase Literary. (Apr.)

BookPage Reviews

The bravery of World War II's civilian merchant mariners

The genesis of journalist William Geroux’s new book about U.S. Navy Merchant Marine sailors and their families in World War II is almost as fascinating as the book itself. Geroux first came upon the idea 25 years ago, while covering a forum in which men shared memories of watching merchant ships—targets of German U-boat attacks—explode off the coast of Virginia.

Intrigued, the reporter began to research Mathews County, Virginia, which sent one of the largest concentrations of civilian merchant mariners into treacherous Atlantic waters during the war. The result is The Mathews Men, a gripping, nearly lost story of World War II (“Hurry,” the author was told, while gathering names of possible interviewees) and a moving portrayal of family and community.

Geroux brings a reporter’s keen eye for detail and natural flair for storytelling to his account, which was informed by interviews with surviving members of the Hodges family, which sent seven sons to the Merchant Marine. We meet Captain Jesse Hodges and his wife, Henny, who somehow managed to bear 14 children and run a 60-acre farm while Jesse was absent for long stretches at sea.

After Pearl Harbor, conducting “unrestricted submarine warfare” meant that Japanese shipping was a major target for U.S. submarines in the Pacific. Likewise, American merchant ships carrying critical war supplies were fair game for German U-boat captains in the Atlantic. Geroux brings readers onto ships and into lifeboats to experience U-boat attacks and harrowing survival stories. In his appendix, he lists the 43 ships sunk or damaged by the Germans. Along with the participants, readers experience both the terror at sea and the agonizing tension of families who waited for loved ones to return.

The 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor will occur in December, a reminder that the last survivors of the Greatest Generation will not be with us much longer. Thankfully, Geroux’s dedication and curiosity came in time to bring readers the story of the courageous seamen from Mathews County.


This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews