BookPick: Sunk by Stukas, Survived at Salerno; Abandon Ship!
This is a rare and delightful naval autobiography which in two volumes spans the war years and the atom age to follow. It overlaps my own service to a small extent and I see our paths once crossed in the Far East – the author a commander in a fast destroyer and me rather more humbly on the lower deck of a carrier. At this time there were still serving men who had been at sea in wartime and these were looked on in awe by us, for these had seen wrenching changes in technology through eyes that knew a Navy far different to the new. And now I’m privileged to know what they thought about it all.
The first volume is of the war: a career sailor from a naval family, the author was immediately put to work in minesweeping, a perilous and frightening duty at the outbreak of war when so little was known about the devilish devices. His ship repeatedly crossed to Dunkirk at the evacuation until it was finally sunk under him. Other adventures followed, including a wild fight at Salerno which ended with the death of his ship, and in fact service throughout the entire six years of war, ending in the final scenes in Japan.
The second is of the post-war years. As a veteran naval officer steadily promoted, the author was in the centre of a maelstrom of change and I for one take my cap off to those seniors who steered the Royal Navy through these years of fundamental upheavals. Ship construction – battleships to aircraft carriers, submersibles to nuclear submarines and big guns to missiles. Command and control – open bridges to ops rooms and warfare officers, primitive radar to synthesised plots, computers. And life at sea – hammocks to bunks, broadside messes to canteen, the firm rise of welfare provision.
This is not a history: I’m so glad it’s not; if you need to know the facts there are so many titles out there. Instead it’s a deeply personal progress through these times and is a treasured insight into how life actually was then, and for that I’m sincerely grateful that Captain Tony McCrum has shared it with us.