Naval Warfare Books

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Life Line

The Merchant Navy at War, 1939-1945

Elphick, Peter

1999, Chatham, London
ISBN 1861761007
Hardcover, 224 pages

Type. General History
Pros. Good overview of the lesser known and routine details of Merchant Navy operations. Well-written and well-organized.
Cons. None to speak of.

Peter Elphick is a retired Master Mariner who spent many years in the South China Sea working as a port and shipping specialist. A prolific author, his works include Out of Norfolk: Seamen and Travellers; Odd Man Out: The Story of the Singapore Traitor (with Michael Smith); Singapore: The Pregnable Fortress; Frank Carr: Shipsaver and Far Eastern File: The Intelligence War in the Far East 1939-1945. His bibliography displays a wealth of academic research and includes references to primary sources including Imperial War Museum and Public Record Office holdings.

Life Line is a sound introduction to the role of the Merchant Navy in all theatres during the 1939-1945 war, especially so for those with little or no existing knowledge of merchant and naval operations as they relate to the sinews of war. It does not attempt to give a comprehensive history; instead it illuminates those smaller pixels of which big pictures are made, and develops a wonderful diorama.

Each chapter stands alone, as the author's intention was to produce such a compendium. The first two chapters deal with the establishment and organization of the Merchant Navy and their Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve escorts, aptly titled "Ropner's Navy" and "Harry Tate's Navy" respectively. Individual chapters narrate the perils and passages of ships to illustrate the conditions and conclusions of important operations such as blockade running, convoy battles, submarine attacks, air raids, port sabotage, and maritime accidents. There are even chapters on the consideration of awarding deserving ships the George Cross and the mariners who suffered lengthy durance vile on Japanese "Hell Ships" and imprisonment in Milag Nord as prisoners of war.

The introduction and epilogue are wonderfully written, both eloquent and enlightening, providing a smooth beginning and ending to the saga of the "Fourth Service". This is a well written and easily read work that should be included on any naval bookshelf.

Review written by S. Chris Kelly.

Published on 25 Jun 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

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