"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard

Random House Group ( Arrow, Cornerstone, Ebury, Transworld, CCV, Bantam )



Phoenix Squadron
HMS Ark Royal, Britain's Last Topguns and the Untold Story of their

Most Dramatic Mission
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Rowland White
ISBN: 9780593054505
Publishers: Bantam Press ( Transworld Publishers )
Price: £18.99
Publication Date: 9th April 2009
 
Publisher's Title Information
 

HMS Ark Royal was the most powerful warship the Royal Navy had ever put to sea. 50,000 tons of British Sovereign Territory - a floating airfield that was home to 2700 men, a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and the most modern, capable air force in Europe. But by the early seventies, Ark Royal was in the twilight of her career. Only kept in service to help face down the Cold War threat from the powerful Soviet Navy, it seemed Ark would play no further part on the world's stage.
 
Then, in January 1972, intelligence reached Whitehall that British Honduras - now Belize - was threatened with imminent invasion. To defend the colony Britain's response had to be immediate and unequivocal. And Ark Royal offered the only effective means of preventing the little Central American country being overrun by battle-hardened, US-trained Guatemalan paratroops. But to do so the old carrier would first have to endure a destructive, high-speed 1500 mile dash across the Atlantic towards the Gulf of Mexico. Only then would it be possible to execute an audacious, record-breaking plan to launch a pair of Buccaneers on an extraordinary and unprecedented long-range mission. It was an operation loaded with difficulty and danger.
 
Drawing on many hours of interviews with the participants and previously unseen, classified documents here and abroad, Rowland White, best-selling author of Vulcan 607 has pieced together this remarkable episode for the first time. And has brought to life a unique, unfamiliar and thrilling piece of post-war British military history: the world of the Fleet Air Arm's last Top Guns.
 

Praise For Phoenix Squadron:
 
'Phoenix Squadron is a welcome addition to the history of British naval aviation. Rowland White's skill and dedication in telling the remarkable story of Ark Royal's mission is admirable. I enjoyed it. And I learned a great deal.' Len Deighton
 
'Aircraft carriers, jet fighters and a crisis on the other side of the world. Who could ask for more? It takes an obscure corner of British military history and weaves a story as gripping as any Tom Clancy thriller. It's completely riveting.' Jeremy Clarkson
 
'From the cockpit of a fighter jet to the violently pitching deck of an aircraft carrier at night, Rowland White combines pulse-pounding tension with riveting detail. If only all military history was written like this...' Andy McNab
 
 

2009 is the 100th Anniversary of British Naval Aviation
 
The book tells the story of how the US Navy's Top Gun' fighter pilot school was actually invented by the British... and the pilots weren't nicknamed 'Maverick' and 'Viper' but 'Alien', 'Dogbreath' and `Cholmondley'
 
Since the end of the second world war, Fleet Air Arm fighters have shot down 24 enemy aircraft. The Royal Air Force, by contrast, have shot down none. Dimished by cuts, the Royal Navy couldn't launch a similar mission today
 
Four of the fighter pilots who were flying from Ark Royal in 1971/72 accounted for a third of all the kills in the Falklands War in 1982
 
Timely intervention by Ark Royal in 1972 was able to prevent an invasion taking place. And that's a lot cheaper than having to fight to reverse one, as happened during the Falklands
 

Praise For Rowland White:
 
`Rowland White tells this splendid story with panache.' Daily Telegraph
`A masterwork of narrative history. Brilliantly described, the story of an impossible British mission is a compelling one; it's telling long overdue.' Clive Cussler
 
'Exceptional...Written like the very best thriller, it draws the reader into the exclusive world of the combat crew in a unique and truly gripping way.' John Nichol
 
'Absolutely riveting ... takes you right into the planning rooms and cockpits ... Don't miss this one!' Dale Brown
 
'Vulcan 607 grips like a two-spar fin torsion box structure, whatever your gender.' Evening Standard
 

About the Author
 
After watching a documentary about HMS Ark Royal in the late 'seventies, Rowland White wrote to Jim'II Fix It asking if he could spend the day on board the ship. To an eight year old boy, her fighter pilots seemed as impossibly exotic as the footballers and rock stars of the day. Jim never got back to him, but his fascination with Navy's last big aircraft carrier remained. At once, she was a potent symbol of both Britain's military prowess and her changing role in the world. She was a unique ship, much loved by the public. And yet while there was an iconic BBC fly-on-the-wall series filmed on board her in 1976, there has never been a book that tried to capture the drama, excitement and sheer power displayed by Ark Royal and her Air Group. In researching Phoenix Squadron and talking to the men who flew from her White was realising a childhood dream. And in writing it, producing a book he wished he'd been able to read a long time ago. Rowland is the author of Vulcan 607 which was 2007's best-selling history book.

Review 

The subtitle is 'The untold story of HMS Ark Royal, Britain's last top guns and their extraordinary mission'.
 
The book is divided up into sections 1 to 4 in years 1970, 1971 and 1972. Before reading it you should study the excellent maps to remind yourself of where British Honduras (Belize ) is.
 
Generally speaking the book tells the story of Ark's Commissions and the activities of its Officers and the Air Group. What it doesn't tell us are the details of the general everyday life of the ship, some of which can be read in the Commissioning Books usually produced and sold to crew members at the end of each commission. In my opinion, for basic details these are the best of all. However it may be that they were censored, it isn't something I have given much thought to. There are also specific books by Neil McCart covering the life of a particular ship and this series covers three Ark Royals (Three Ark Royals).
 
Chapter 1 briefly mentions 1964 when a potential Army mutiny in Tanganyika was nipped in the bud by swift Naval intervention, including a show of force from the squadron of Blackburn Buccaneers on board HMS Victorious. http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/vic/vic.htm
I was in Vic, Victorious was actually at Gan when the news reached us. Parties ashore were hastily retrieved and we proceeded with all despatch. The Commissioning Book (my copy) takes up the story.
 
'News reached us that an Army revolt had broken out in Tanganyika, and we waited to see if it would affect our programme. HMS Centaur embarked the Royal Marines of 45 Commando from Aden and sailed to join HMS Rhyl off Dar-es-Salaam as a precautionary measure; there are many thousands of British nationals in Tanganyika, and their safety was in doubt. Although it was not certain that there was a direct connection between the Zanzibar revolution and the trouble in Tanganyika perhaps it was just that it was the Revolting Season the Governments of Kenya and Uganda feared that the contagion might spread to their territories and so asked Britain for help in maintaining law and order; Victorious was ordered to sail for Mombasa. Our diversion parties ashore at Gan were hastily retrieved, and off we went.
 
Two days later, after 45 Commando had landed from Centaur at Dar-es-Salaam and disarmed the mutineers, at the request of President Nyere, and other British troops had stabilised the situation in Kenya and Uganda, Victorious was proceeding 'with all despatch'. Our role was uncertain, but on passage our landing parties were trained for a landing by helicopter. Diana went ahead at 29 kts to Mombasa, and our replenishment group, Reliant, Retainer and Olna were left to follow on behind. Tidesurge met us off Mombasa, and we spent the night of Sunday 26th cruising close inshore with the island and ensign staff floodlit.
 
After one day at Mombassa, we were ordered to Dar-es-Salaam to take over from Centaur.
 
During the next few days, we re-embarked a very buoyant 45 Commando (the efficiency of their operation had made them extremely popular not only with the European and Asian but also with the African community in Dar'). The 16/5 Lancers and two R.A.F. Belvederes also came on board; it was a bit of a squash for we also had our own squadrons embarked, and 'A' and 'B' hangars became one vast Cdo bedroom. There followed a period when the 'fire extinguishers' were kept at the ready in case there should be a further outbreak of the brushfire' which had been so quickly extinguished.
 
While we remained at anchor off Dar-es-Salaam, there was no shore leave except for sports parties; bathing from a nearby small island became very popular, and the sailing dinghies were in great demand. ( I took up sailing again myself ) Previously, sailing had been limited to a small team of enthusiasts; ….and for the friendly match arranged by the large and thriving Dar-es-Salaam Yacht Club there were plenty of volunteers! ….On the way, we disembarked most of our fixed-wing aircraft to Embakasi airport (Nairobi)….
 
Our stay at Mombasa was notable for the bus trips which were organised to the Game Reserves, for the enormous quantity of wooden carvings bought by the ship's company.
 
Albion arrived; Albion then took '45' back to their Aden base.'
 
What the Commissioning Book does not say is that upon arrival at Dar-es-Salaam some boats were sent inshore. I was one of the boats crews on one of the ship's fast motorboats. We didn't know much about the rise and fall of the tide and contrary to Royal Navy tradition we managed to find ourselves high and dry on the beach (we were actually at the Yacht Club being entertained - and the tide went out. We had to extend our stay at the Yacht Club waiting for the tide to come back in and to cap it all one of our boats (not mine) hit a reef on the way back out. Oddly enough none of this appears in the Commissioning Book. I had no idea what the Air Boys (WAFU'S) were up to! Other things happened, which even now I cannot tell you about. Anyway that's about Victorious not Ark and this book takes us through the years of Ark's life, leading up to the crisis in British Honduras when it thought that an invasion was imminent.
 
At times the author diverts from the main theme, the story of Ark and the long-distance flight by Buccaneers to tell the aggressors that the Navy is here, eg On Page 34 there is a discussion concerning Commander (Special Branch) LPK Crabb RNVR GM OBE HMS Vernon, as the 1955 and 1956 Navy Lists record him. In the book he is described as 'a former RNVR Diver' who had his throat cut by a Soviet Navy Diver. I believe this is just one theory based on very flimsy evidence. This is not the place to discuss Crabb, however look at my comments in a review at http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/pen/pen2008.html#pompeym
 
This is a book, which will still stir the memories of those who served in a carrier, Ark or any of the others, and in particular during that period. On Page 119 the author writes 'the Wessex exploded into life in dangerous-looking clouds of smoke….by a succession of detonating cartridges'. I wish I had read this before my first flight from the deck of Victorious into Aden, because when it happened I (including the heavy search and rescue beacon set I was wearing) were half way out of the Wessex before the crew pulled me back, saying it was normal.
 
Could we do it again? Could we face another British Honduras or Falklands? The most significant quote is perhaps summed up on Page 348
 
“It would have been nice to have had a few more Harriers but I'd have preferred it if we'd had the Ark Royal, but then again, if we'd had the old Ark Royal and all her aircraft I don't think the Argentines would have invaded in the first place.”
 
Corporal Stuart Russell, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, speaking after the Falklands War.
 
Even better, what if we still had, Ark, Victorious, Eagle, Hermes and the smaller commando carriers?
 
Rob Jerrard


Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany: A Ditty Bag of Wonders from the Golden Age of Sail by
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Julian Stockwin
ISBN: 9780091930660
Publishers: Ebury Press (A Random House Group Company)
Price: £12.99
Publication Date: 2nd July 2009
 
Publisher's Title Information
 

Julian Stockwin shares his love and knowledge of the sea in this entertaining collection of maritime stories and little-known trivia. Featuring nautical facts and feats, including superstitions at sea, the history of animals on the waves - until 1975 when all animals were banned from Royal Navy ships - and how the inventor of the umbrella helped man the British Navy, it is packed with informative tales. Focusing on the glory days of tall ships he explores marine myths and unearths the truth behind commonly held beliefs about the sea, such as whether Lord Nelson's body was really pickled in rum to transport it back to England after his death at Trafalgar. Interspersed throughout are salty sayings showing the modern words and phrases that originate from the mariners of old - 'cut of his jib', 'high and dry', 'the coast is clear', 'first rate' and 'slush fund'. Accompanied by nostalgic black and white line drawings Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany is a charming gift, guaranteed to appeal to the sailing enthusiast, but also amuse and inform even the staunchest landlubber.
 

The Author
Julian Stockwin had a passionate interest in the sea from an early childhood and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15. He served 8 years in the Royal Australian Navy, seeing service around the world, including the Vietnam War. On leaving the Navy he studied Far Eastern Studies and psychology and worked as an educational psychologist and academic researcher. After returning to the UK in 1990 and working in strategic merchant shipping, Julian took up writing six years later and is now a successful novelist, particularly well known for his Thomas Kydd series. He lives in Devon with his wife Kathy.


Heart of Oak
Edition: Second
Format: Paperback
Author: Alexander Kent
ISBN: 9780099484264
Publishers: Arrow Books
Price: £8.99
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information


It is February 1818, and Adam Bolitho longs for marriage and a safe personal harbour. But with so much of Britain's fleet redundant, he knows he is fortunate to be offered H.M.S.Onward, a new 38-gun frigate whose first mission is not war but diplomacy, as consort to the French frigate Nautilus. Under the burning sun of North Africa, Bolitho is keenly aware of the envy and ambition among his officers, the troubled, restless spirits of his midshipmen, and the old enemy's proximity. It is only when Nautilus becomes a sacrificial offering on the altar of empire that every man discovers the brotherhood of the sea is more powerful than the bitter memories of an ocean of blood and decades of war. 'As you would expect, Kent is a dab hand at plotting and at action scenes, and this novel is another accomplished performance from the old man of the sea.' THE FIRST POST 'One of our foremost writers of naval fiction ... authentic, inspiring, well-characterised and finally, moving.'SUNDAY TIMES
 

Review

This latest book continues the story of the Bolitho family. Bolitho, like Jago is a good Cornish name. These novels do of course incorporate real people and in this case we have the son of Sir Thomas Troubridge (1758-1807). For many, Troubridge comes next in popular estimation next to Nelson for seamanship and fighting qualities. He was appointed to command the Culloden, a third-rate ship of the line, in which he led the line at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, being commended for his courage and initiative by Admiral Sir John Jervis. He died with all his crew in a cyclone off Madagascar. Of the ship and five hundred men, not a trace was ever found. Another good yarn about those days of sail, 'Audacity - Come aboard to join!' 'Home', 'Everything in its place'.
 
Alexander Kent (AKA Douglas Reeman) knows the sea and the language of seamen - 'Less than a year, only a Dogwatch to the old hands'. I recall as a young matelot you didn't mention being away for a year to old retired sailors of the twenties and thirties, because that was the sort of reply you received.
 
A good seaman can turn 'is wits to anythin, given the chance' and our Midshipman is no exception because the Captain's girl came to him, soothed him and whispered 'I understand - our secret'. I must confess I'm not sure what took place - did he or didn't he? Jago was saying 'you'll have to look yer best see. There's to be some sort of up spirits tonight'. Old matelots may have said he had already had 'Hands to bathe'!
 
A ship is judged by her boats, and a good naval story is judged by its authentic language combined with a good narrative. 'Boat Ahoy', 'Onward', 'Captain in the boat' - always the way of it. This story passes the test. Sir Francis Laforey. Another famous name that crops up. He is best known for his service in command of the ship of the line HMS Spartiate at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 'Spartiate', ended her days as a Hulk.
 
This book centres around the lower deck as well as Officers, which is empathised by the point made on Page 163, when one of the Officers did not remove his cap on entering the messdeck, and the Midshipman reflects on the words of the late Richard Bolitho, 'Remember, its their home, show respect when you walk into it'. I hope they still remember this!
 
Rob Jerrard


Badge of Glory
Edition: 2003
Format: Paperback
Author: Douglas Reeman
ISBN: 0099321009
Publishers: Random House (Arrow)
Price: £6.99
Publication Date: 2003 (1st Published 1983)
 
Publisher's Title Information

 
The first in the Blackwood Royal Marine saga

 
It was an age of Empire, an age of contrast, and an age of dramatic change - one which would
determine the destinies of nations as well as of men. Captain Philip Blackwood of the Royal Marines rejoins his ship, HMS Audacious, in the August of 1850, anxious to get back into action. Per Mare - Per Terram is the Marines' motto. In the torturous heat of Africa, where they are sent to stamp out the remaining strongholds of slavery, and later, in the bitter war of the Crimea, Philip Blackwood and his men learn to obey it without question.
 
Per mare per terram, is the motto of the Royal Marines. Here we have a tale of the Royal Marines. Capt. Philip Blackwood is fighting to uphold his family's Marine traditions against the enemy and other officers. This story is set the early 1850s. Blackwood battles against slaver traders in West Africa and then fights the Russians in the Crimea. There are also references to fighting the Maoris in New Zealand.
 

Reviews to Date
 
'Masterly storytelling' The Times


Band of Brothers
This is the long-awaited conclusion of the Midshipman Triliogy.
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Alexander Kent
ISBN: 0434010103
Publishers: Random House
Price: £12.99
Publication Date: 2005
 
Publisher's Title Information

 
“The wings of opportunity are fledged with the feathers of death”
Sir Francis Drake

 
1774 ... The new year seems to offer Richard Bolitho and his friend Martyn Dancer the culmination of a dream. Both have been recommended for promotion, although they have not yet gained the coveted lieutenant's commission.
 
But a routine passage from Plymouth to Guernsey in an untried schooner becomes, for Bolitho, a passage from midshipman to King's officer, tempering the promise of the future with the bitter price of maturity.

The stirring story of the life and times of Richard Bolitho is told in Alexander Kent's best-selling novels.
 
1756 Born Falmouth, son of James Bolitho
1768 Entered the King's service as a Midshipman on Manxman 1772 Midshipman, Gorgon (Midshipman Bolitho)
1774 Promoted Lieutenant, Destiny: Rio and the Caribbean (Stand into Danger)
1775-7 Lieutenant, Trojan, during the American Revolution. Later appointed prizemaster (In Gallant Company)
1778 Promoted Commander, Sparrow. Battle of the Chesapeake (Sloop of War)
1780 Birth of Adam, illegitimate son of Hugh Bolitho and Kerenza Pascoe
1782 Promoted Captain, Phalarope; West Indies: Battle of Saints (To Glory We Steer)
1784 Captain, Undine; India and East Indies (Command a King's Ship) 1787Captain, Tempest; Great South Sea; Tahiti; suffered serious fever (Passage to Mutiny)
1792 Captain, the Nore; Recruiting (With All Despatch)
1793Captain, Hyperion; Mediterranean; Bay of Biscay; West Indies. Adam Pascoe, later Bolitho, enters the King's service as a midshipman aboard Hyperion (Form Line of Battle! And Enemy in Sight)
1795Promoted Flag Captain, Euryalus; involved in the Great Mutiny; Mediterranean; Promoted Commodore (The Flag Captain) 1798 Battle of the Nile (Signal Close Action!)
1800 Promoted Rear-Admiral; Baltic; (The Inshore Squadron) 1801 Biscay. Prisoner of war (A Tradition of Victory)
1802 Promoted Vice-Admiral; West Indies (Success to the Brave) 1803 Mediterranean (Colours Aloft!) t!)
1805 Battle of Trafalgar (Honour This Day)
1806-7 Good Hope and the second battle of Copenhagen (The Only Victor) 1808 Shipwrecked off Africa (Beyond the Reef)
1809-10 Mauritius campaign (The Darkening Sea)
1812 Promoted Admiral; Second American War (For My Country's Freedom)
1814 Defence of Canada (Cross of St. George)
1815 Richard Bolitho killed in action (Sword of Honour) Adam Bolitho, Captain, Unrivalled. Mediterranean (Second to None)
1816Anti-slavery patrols, Sierra Leone. Battle of Algiers (Relentless Pursuit)
1817 Flag Captain, Athena; Antigua and Caribbean (Man of War) 1818 Captain, Onward; Mediterranean (Heart of Oak)


Man of War
Edition: 2007
Man of War, which was first published on 5 June 2003, is the twenty-sixth title in the Bolitho series.
A Richard and Adam Bolitho novel by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
26th book in historical chronological order.
Format: Paperback
Author: Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)
ISBN: 978 0099497776
Publishers: Random House (Arrow Books)
Price: £7.99
Publication Date: 2007
 
Publisher's Title Information

 
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down,
and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance .. .
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 
Antigua, 1817 and every harbour and estuary is filled with ghostly ships, the famous and the legendary now redundant in the aftermath of war. In this uneasy peace, Adam Bolitho is fortunate to be offered the seventy-four gun Athena, and as flag captain to Vice-Admiral Sir Graham Bethune once more follows his destiny to the Caribbean.
 
But in these haunted waters where Richard Bolitho and his 'band of brothers' once fought a familiar enemy, the quarry is now a renegade foe who flies no colours and offers no quarter, and whose traffic in human life is sanctioned by flawed treaties and men of influence. And here, when Athena's guns speak, a day of terrible retribution will dawn for the innocent and the damned.
 


A Dawn Like Thunder Paperback 2007
Edition: Paperback 2007
First Published in the UK 1996
Format: Paperback
Author: Douglas Reeman
ISBN: 9780099502340
Publishers: Random House (Arrow Books)
Price: £7.99
Publication Date: 2007
 
Publisher's Title Information

After four years, the tide of war is turning in North Africa and Europe. The conflict in Southeast Asia, however, has reached new heights of savagery, and Operation Monsun poses a sinister threat to the hope of allied victory.
 
The Special Operations mission off the Burmese coast requires volunteers. Men with nothing to live for, or men with everything to lose. Men like Lieutenant James Ross, awarded the Victoria Cross for his work in underwater sabotage, or the desperate amateur Charles Villiers, heir to a fortune now controlled by the Japanese.
 
The two-man torpedo - the chariot - is the ultimate weapon in a high-risk war. Cast loose into the shadows before an eastern dawn, the heroes or madmen who guide it will strike terror into the heart of an invaluable enemy, or pay the ultimate price for failure...
 

Reviews to Date
 
'Masterly storytelling' The Times
 
'Authentic, inspiring, well-characterised and, finally, moving' Sunday Times

Review
This book evolves around men from different backgrounds with different reasons for 'volunteering' and their attacks on targets in the Far East and their love lives involving wives, other mens' wives, and of course WRENS and WREN Officers. The story moves between Portsmouth, Haslar Hospital Gosport, Simonstown, Singapore and parts of Malaysia familiar to ex-servicemen.
 
In real life these were very courageous men. The author refers on Page 6 to 'venturing below thirty feet, drowning, convulsions and the bends'. The fact is on pure oxygen you cannot go below thirty-three feet for fear of oxygen poisoning. These Charioteers wore a 'Sladen suit'. In the late fifties when I qualified as a shallow water diver our Instructor made us all try a sladen suit on once - once was enough. He called it 'Clammy Death' and I found the experience very unpleasant because you had to be fitted into it before the face-piece was screwed into place. We were in HMS Deepwater at the time alongside HMS Vernon.
 
This story then is based around these men and the sort of deeds they carried out against a vicious enemy, the Japanese.
 
Just to test us all Douglas Reeman poses a question on Page 82. 'What time did Nelson sight the combined fleet on 21 October 1805?' As he says that was the type of battle that would have suited these men - 'One hell of a battle, but knowing the Admiral was up there taking the shit with all the lads'. Well what time did he sight the combined fleet?
 
A good read which held my attention until the end.
 
Rob Jerrard

Killing Ground
Edition: 2007 paperback edition by Arrow
First Published by William Heinemann, 1992
Format: Paperback
Author: Douglas Reeman
ISBN: 978 0099502333
Publishers: Random House (Arrow Books)
Price: £6.99
Publication Date: 2007
 
Publisher's Title Information

 
Western Ocean, 1942 ... From the bridge of HMS Gladiator, Lieutenant-Commander David Howard's orders were chillingly clear, there could be no mercy. To the men who fought to protect the vital, threatened Merchant Navy convoys in the Western Approaches, the Battle of the Atlantic was a full-scale war. A relentless, savage war against an ever-present enemy and a violent sea - in an arena known only to its embittered survivors as the killing ground. HMS Gladiator was part of that war. An ordinary, hard-worked destroyer and her company of men. Fighting for survival in a war with no rules.
 

From the Prologue
 
Dawn seemed slow to appear, reluctant, even, to lay bare the great ocean, which for once lacked its usual boisterous hostility. But there had been fog overnight which had finally dispersed, and the sea, which lifted and dipped in a powerful swell, was unbroken but for an occasional feather of spray. The sky was the colour of slate and only a feeble light betrayed the presence of another morning, touching the crests with a metallic sheen, but leaving the troughs in darkness like banks of molten black glass. Deserted, an empty treacherous place; but that was a lie. For, like jungle or desert, creatures moved here to seek cover from danger, to survive the ever-present hunters.

As the light tried to feel its way through the slow-moving clouds a few birds showed themselves; circling above the sea's face, or riding like broken garlands on the steep-sided troughs. To them the sea held no mystery, and they knew that the rugged coast of Ireland was barely a hundred miles away.
 
A deepwater fisherman, had there been one, or some wretched survivor on a raft or in a drifting lifeboat might have sensed it. The slight throbbing tremor beneath the waves a sensation rather than a sound, which could make even a dying man start with terror. But there was no one, and forty metres beneath the surface the submarine moved slowly and warily as if to follow the line on the chart where her captain leaned on the table. His pale eyes were very still, his ears taking in every sound around him while he waited; the hunter again from the instant the alarm bells had ripped through the boat and brought him from a restless sleep to instant readiness.
 
He could feel his men watching him, as if he had actually turned to stare at them individually. Faces he had come to know under every possible condition, once so bright and eager but now blanched with the pallor of prison, their gestures the tired, jerky movements of old men. Like the boat, worn out with the weeks and months at sea. The stink of it: of diesel and cabbage water, of damp, dirty clothing which no longer defied the cold, of despair.
 
He glanced at the clock, resting his eyes in the dimmed orange glow. Two torpedoes only remained after that last attack on the convoy, which had almost ended in disaster. Some of his men would be thinking, Why now? What does it matter? We are going home. It was like hearing their combined voices pleading as one.
 
But it did matter. It had to. The hydrophone operator had reported a faint beat of engines. A large vessel, perhaps in difficulties. If it was anyone else he might have questioned it, disregarded it. But the seaman had been with him from the beginning in this command. He was never mistaken, and thousands of tons of shipping scattered the depths of the Western Ocean to vouch for his accuracy. The captain smiled but it remained hidden. The others were probably hating him for his skills now, when before they had blessed him for saving their lives. The ears of the predator.
 
He signalled to his engineer officer, who waited by his panel with its dials and tiny glowing lights, and without waiting for an acknowledgement made his way to the periscope well. Every step brought an ache to his bones. He felt stiff, dirty, above all exhausted. He thrust it from his thoughts as the air began to pound into the saddle tanks and the depth gauges came to life. What did he really feel? Perhaps nothing any more. The silent pictures in the periscope lens, explosions, burning ships and men they no longer reached him.
 
To return to base was something different. There he might drink too much or forget too little….
 
Then he stared with chilled disbelief as a second ship appeared from beyond the barely moving target. The other vessel must have been lying hidden on the liner's opposite side, her engines momentarily stopped. Now with a bow-wave building up from her sharp stem like a huge moustache, she appeared to pivot around her consort's bows until she was pointing directly at the periscope. He had been too long in U-Boats not to recognise those rakish lines. She was a destroyer.
 
The U-Boat's captain was twenty-seven years old. On this bleak dawn he and his crew had just twelve seconds to live. But this was the Western Ocean. The killing ground.

Review

This story is based around the Battle of The Atlantic - a subject which has been tackled by many writers such as Nicholas Monsarrat 'The Cruel Sea', Alistair MacLean 'HMS Ulysses', Ewart Brookes 'The Gates of Hell' an actual account. The author of course draws upon his personal experiences, having joined the Royal Navy aged sixteen in 1940.
 
Winston Churchill said 'the Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war, never could we forget that everything depended ultimately on its outcome'. It raged for five years and eight months.
 
We commence in 1942, some time on from that signal to the fleet in 1939 'Total Germany' at 1100 hours 3 September and the Prologue tells the end of a U-Boat in 1944. However, how the U-Boat meet its end is not fully explained until the Epilogue.
 
All the ingredients of a good naval novel are there as the story moves about from Portsmouth to Liverpool and Murmansk and that 'Killing Ground' in the middle, which lay beyond the allied air-cover zones from Britain, Canada, Russia and Iceland.
 
Ex-Naval people will recognise such names as HMS Collingwood, HMS Ganges and Lee-on- Solent Air Station (HMS Daedalus which closed 29th March 1996). The story revolves around HMS Gladiator, H38 a Destroyer of the 'G', 'H' and 'I' Class with her 4.7 inch guns and her Captain, Lieutenant Commander Howard. The novel is based on actual historical fact where appropriate and personalities such as Admiral Sir Max Horton who was appointed C in C Western Approaches in 1941.
 
'H' class were all built around 1935/6 and of the class Gipsy, Glowworm, Grafton, Grenade and Greyhound were all lost during 1939/41. In real life H-38 was HMS Delight lost 29/7/41. She now lies at 55 fathoms at the bottom of Portland Harbour.
 
This then is the story woven into a novel of the Escorts, the 'Hunter Killer Groups', 'the Support Groups' of that vital period involving Destroyers, Corvettes, Merchant Ships, Rescue Ships, Tugs, U-Boats and always the 'Cruel Sea'.
 
The story itself holds your interest throughout and brought a smile to my face as it triggered memories of my naval days from the age of fifteen. Tea in a dented Fanny, Pusser's Kye, 'Hands to Dinner, Officers to Lunch', a 'blue jean collar' still dark as issued identifying the new boy and memories of my childhood such as standing on Portsmouth Harbour Station staring through the gaps at the sea at high tide. Waiting of course to board the steamer for a day at Sandown or somewhere else on the Isle of Wight. There are also little touches such as a reference to 'Spring over Portsdown Hill' - you will have to build very high to take away that view.
 
I think that for those without a naval background a Glossary would be useful. I have racked my brains to recall a Public House called 'The Volunteer this side of Gosport'. However, when I lived at Stubbington and cycled to work at HMS Dolphin where I was coxswain to the Flag Officer Submarines, perhaps I passed the spot real or imaginary and it was full of 'Volunteers' as submariners were in peacetime. Anyway, 'a volunteers is somebody who misunderstood the question'.
 
In the end one German U-Boat finally destroyed another by firing an acoustic torpedo, which were known as GNATS to the Allies. This is feasible; some authorities state that U-972 and U-377 were hit by their own acoustic torpedoes. However this is now questioned in later books and may not have been the case. U-Boats were supposed to dive to 60 metres and to go silent to prevent this happening.
 
All in all a very good read.
 
Rob Jerrard

Previous Reviews
'A stirring tale of the Atlantic war ... one can almost smell the sea and the burning oil as Hitler's U-boats wreak havoc' Sunday Express
'Vivid naval action at its most authentic' Sunday Times
'Mr Reeman writes with great knowledge about the sea and those who sail on it' The Times

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