The Mathews Men Cover

The Mathews Men

Seven Brothers and the War against Hitler’s U-boats

William Geroux

Viking, New York, 2016, 400 pages

Book Review published on: December 20, 2019

Mathews, one of Virginia’s smallest and least populous counties, sits on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, seventy miles east of Richmond, and provides the backdrop for William Geroux’s inaugural book, The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War against Hitler’s U-boats. Geroux does a magnificent job of examining the German U-boat war against American merchant men in World War II as seen through the experiences of the brave men of Mathews County. Nearly every family from Mathews County had a stake in the U-boat war, as a preponderance of the men became merchant mariners. This was particularly true for the Hodges family, whose patriarch, Captain Jesse, and all seven of his sons were in the crosshairs of German U-boats from the day the United States declared war until Germany’s unconditional surrender. Seafaring was and still is a family way of life in Mathews County, with ten Hodgeses, nine Callises, seven Hudginses, and three Hammondses serving at sea during the war.

The Mathews Men is a very easy-to-read history of the U-boat war and America’s monumental effort to support a war in two theaters with Liberty ships turned out at one per day at the peak of production. Geroux convincingly tells this history through the torpedoing, deck gun attacks, and mine encounters of the merchant marines of Mathews County. Geroux not only examines the plight of the Mathews seafarers after they had their ships blown out of the water by German U-boats but also scrutinizes the strategic policies of both the Americans and the Germans in the conduct of the U-boat war and the Battle of the Atlantic.

Readers will find themselves mesmerized by the heroic acts of these mariners and by the staggering and tragic losses that were suffered from January 1942 until the end of World War II. The strength of The Mathews Men is that Geroux reveals the widespread actions of the Germans in the U-boat war as executed by Adm. Karl Doenitz, who would succeed Adolf Hitler after his suicide in April 1945. This book is an excellent choice for both scholars and students of history. The evolution of strategic policy and national mobilization in a total war make The Mathews Men a great choice for professional reading and a wonderful addition to a military/history reading list.

Book Review written by: Col. Eric O. Schacht, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas