The Ghost Ships of Archangel: The Arctic Voyage That Defied the Nazis, by William Geroux, Viking Press, 2019, $28

Merchant seamen have always received short shrift in American military histories. Based on a true story, The Ghost Ships of Archangel concerns the seamen of the disastrous July 1942 Arctic convoy PQ-17, whose men and ships were left to fend for themselves while en route to the Soviet Union. That decision was not the idea of the Allied navy men on the escorting warships. Naval Intelligence in London had ordered the convoy to scatter because it believed the German battleship Tirpitz had sailed from its base in Norway to attack the vessels. In fact, the German High Seas Fleet had sent some of its most powerful ships out to engage the convoy—only to abort the sortie, unknown to the Allies. While scattering the convoy averted mass slaughter by the surface warships, it left the cargo vessels vulnerable to patrolling enemy aircraft and U-boats, thus dooming 24 of the 35 ships in Convoy PQ-17.

The Ghost Ships of Archangel relates the saga of four ships whose crews beat the odds and made it to Archangel. Banding together into a mini-convoy of their own, they decided that whether they headed east to Russia or west to Iceland, they would probably fall victim to German aircraft or submarines. Instead, on their own initiative they headed north, deep into the Arctic ice, where they felt they had a better chance of evading attack. As in his previous book, The Mathews Men, author William Geroux here shares a gripping story of seamen pitted as much against the elements as the enemy.

—Robert Guttman