Naval Warfare Books

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In Peril on the Sea

The Naval Career of Signalman Kane

Kane, James S.

1994, The Ulster Society, Brownlow House, Lurgan
ISBN 1872076173
Paperback, 115 pages, 22 pages of photographs

Type. Biography
Pros. Powerful story, very well researched
Cons. No index

This biography, a labor of love by the grandson of its subject, is an admirable work of research as well as a powerful story. It begins with a fascinating look at turn-of-the-century Portadown, Northern Ireland, where Harry Kane was born. Kane joined the Navy at 15, and was 17 years of age when war broke out in 1914. He spent the entirety of World War I at sea and participated in the Battle of Jutland on the destroyer HMS Attack. In 1918, Signalman Harry Kane was on the destroyer HMS Phoenix when she was torpedoed by the Austrian U-27. After the war, he sailed on the destroyer HMS Vanoc to support the Baltic States in the Russian Civil War.

Upon his discharge from the Royal Navy in 1920, Kane immediately joined the Royal Fleet Reserve. For the next two decades he led a land-based life but spent one week per year at sea as part of Reserve service. He was called up in July 1939, and when the war began was serving on the destroyer HMS Eclipse guarding the convoy traffic off the Western Approaches.

In 1940, at the special request of his former commander on the Eclipse, he joined the Q ship HMS Cape Howe, rechristened Prunella. This was his last ship, as he met his end when she was torpedoed and sunk by G√ľnter Kuhnke in U-28.

The author covers in brief the careers of the other British World War II Q ships, and presents a well-reasoned analysis of their relative lack of success compared to their counterparts in World War I. Kuhnke's subsequent missions are also detailed.

One aspect that makes the book especially rewarding is its reliance mainly on primary sources, including numerous personal interviews as well as research in the U-boat Archive in Cuxhaven, the Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv in Freiburg, the Public Records Office in London, and other British and European archives. The war diary entries for U-27 on 14 May, 1918 and for U-28 on 21 June, 1940 appear as appendices.

The account of Kane's early life is absorbing, his World War I adventures are exciting to read, and the story of the ordeal of Prunella's survivors in lifeboats is quite moving. Although the author modestly insists that he is neither a professional writer nor a historian, this is not at all apparent in his work; he has succeeded in producing a very well-written, well-researched biography which is touching as well as accurate.

This book was submitted to for review purposes

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 6 May 2000.

This title is highly recommended.

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