Immortal Chaplains

3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

On January 23, 1943, troop ship, the SS Dorchester left New York city en route to Greenland as part of a convoy of three troop ships escorted by Coast Guard cutters. During the early morning hours of February 3, the German submarine U-223 torpedoed the vessel off Newfoundland. Over 900 souls were on board.

Also aboard were four chaplains—Alexander Goode, John Washington, George Fox, and Clark Poling—representing different faiths, who comforted soldiers and sacrificed their own lives to save others when the Dorchester sank.

In twenty-five minutes, one torpedo killed more than a quarter of the number of personnel lost during the entire attack on Pearl Harbor. Chaplains helped the soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains went down with the ship. The sinking of the Dorchester would go down in the annals of history as the worst single loss of US personnel of any American convoy during the entire conflict.

Collis alternates between accounts told from the perspective of the Nazi U-boat captain and his crew (as found in their journals and later interviews) and survivors from the Dorchester who credit the four chaplains with saving their lives. Coastguardsman Charles Walter David, Jr., emerges as another hero, rescuing 93 survivors from the frigid waters. The scene of the men freezing to death in the water was heart-wrenching.

However, the book falters in execution. The abundance of military names and vessels confused me, and the narrative’s textbook-style lacked emotional depth. A shift to historical fiction might have better conveyed the story’s power. Despite these flaws, The Immortals remains a worthwhile exploration of faith and sacrifice amid WWII’s forgotten episodes.

** Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.

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