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All Brave Sailors

by J. Revell Carr

In the darkness before moonrise on the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast on August 21, 1940, the night erupted in a fusillade of bullets and shells. The victim was a stalwart English tramp steamer, Anglo-Saxon, part of the lifeline that was keeping besieged England supplied. The attacker was the Widder, a German surface raider, disguised as a neutral merchant ship. When it was near its prey, the raider unmasked its hidden armament and with overwhelming force destroyed the target ship. Only seven of the forty-one man crew of the Anglo-Saxon managed to get into a small boat and escape the raiders. Seventy days later, two of them, half dead, stumbled ashore in the Bahamas. The account of the sailors' ordeal -- how first the badly wounded and then the less strong died and were thrown over the side of a fragile boat that had almost no supplies -- is suspenseful and riveting. On the same day the two survivors reached the Bahamas, the Widder arrived off Brest, in occupied France, her murderous voyage over. Her captain, Hellmuth von Ruckteschell, who sank a staggering twenty-five ships, was eventually tried as a war criminal. All Brave Sailors is a story of endurance, heroism, brutality, and survival under the most terrible circumstances. It fills a gap in the history of World War II, telling the story of the much neglected sailors and the ships of the merchant marine, fighting against great odds in the early days of the war.

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