Thomas Sanger

Author and Journalist

The Athenia Story: The Forgotten Tale of a Passenger Ship Torpedoed on the First Day of WWII



Without Warning, a historical novel set at the beginning of World War II, tells the story of a British passenger ship torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine hours after England and Germany declared war, Sept. 3, 1939.

For the book’s author, Thomas C. Sanger, the story is personal. His grandmother, Rhoda Thomas, was aboard the ship, the Athenia, when it was attacked. Ms. Thomas survived the sinking and returned home to America, where she wrote about her experiences. “Seventy years later when I read her vivid account of these events, it became the inspiration for my novel,” Sanger said.

“Everyone knows the story of the Lusitania, which was sunk by a German submarine during World War I, but few have heard of the Athenia even though she was the first British ship sunk by Germany in World War II,” he said.

Based on actual people and events, Without Warning tells Athenia’s story through individual tales of heroism and sacrifice involving six passengers, the ship’s chief officer and the German U-boat commander. “I chose to write the book as historical fiction because I wanted to explore the emotions of the characters and involve readers on a more personal level with the story,” Sanger said. In researching the book, he interviewed five survivors of the sinking, which claimed 30 Americans among the 112 who were killed.

Sanger, a native of Los Angeles, wrote for the Associated Press and radio station KABC in his home town, as well as wrote documentary scripts for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in Sydney, Australia. He also enjoyed a lengthy career in corporate communications in Southern California. He lives in San Diego with his wife, Kay. Without Warning is his third book.