Naval Warfare Books

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The Corvette Navy

True Stories from Canada's Atlantic War

Lamb, James B.

2000, Stoddart Publishing Co.
ISBN 077373225X
Hardcover, 240 pages

Type. General History/Memoir
Pros. Entertaining and informative
Cons. None to speak of

Written by a veteran of the corvettes who commanded the Camrose from 1944 to the war's end, this book combines the author's personal memories of the war years with background information on the Canadian Corvette Navy.

The book is arranged in topical chapters, rather than chronologically. The first chapter covers the technical specifications and naming conventions of the corvettes, and how these vessels were viewed by the other Allied navies, especially during the early days: "It was often all too easy to pick out the Canadian from a group of corvettes alongside; she was the dirty one with rusty sides, and with half her crew in tattered clothes of every sort, playing catch on the jetty." Further chapters focus on the Merchant Service, which provided the captains who were often the only seasoned men aboard the corvettes; the colorful characters enlivening the rosters of many a corvette; and the many ports these ships were likely to visit, from Esquimalt harbor in British Columbia to Jamaica and Bermuda, from New York and St Johns to Londonderry and Hvalfjord.

One interesting chapter compares the RCN (initials which the author uses to indicate the Real Canadian Navy) with the Corvette Navy. While the former was a professional body, members of the latter started out as the rankest amateurs, but quickly surpassed the practical knowledge and experience of their professional colleagues, just as the corvette did not remain in the supporting role envisioned for it but soon ended up bearing the brunt of escort work. Another chapter illustrates the tensions between the shoreside navy and the shipboard navy, and the cynicism and disillusionment that grew among the seagoing men in the later years of the war as their deeds seemed to become merely fodder for the publicity mill.

Also quite interesting is a lengthy description of a typical wintertime escort group sailing, with details familiar to any reader of The Cruel Sea or other convoy literature - the harsh weather, the constant wet and discomfort aboard, difficulties in keeping the convoy together, fuelling at sea, and of course a U-boat attack, with an unsuccessful counterattack. Darker passages dealing with death at sea and hunting for survivors alternate with humorous sections devoted to Witty ships signals and the life and times of Percy the groundhog, mascot of the Trail.

Further chapters cover the author's experiences in the English Channel; in the invasion of Normandy; and in rounding up German naval men and ships from the Channel Islands after the surrender. The book finishes up with two moving chapters - a short two pages about the author's feelings on Remembrance Day; and an account of the first reunion of the Camrose crew, which was held 50 years after the war's end and attended by a merchant ship's gunner who had been rescued by the corvette in 1944. A useful glossary of naval terms rounds out the volume.

A wealth of information and anecdote is packed into 200 pages, although the book is not really useful as a reference, as it often does not pinpoint dates or mention the names of stricken ships. Also, the author for some reason did not come away with a good impression of Iceland, stating that "it was a ghastly place, particularly in midwinter, and the people there, even the frosty blondes at the Hotel Borg's dinner dance, were as cold and inhospitable as their barren land." Well, there is no accounting for taste! Even so, this is a highly recommended look at life in the Canadian Corvette Navy.

This book was submitted to for review purposes

Review written by Tonya Allen and GuĂ°mundur Helgason.

Published on 3 Feb 2001.

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This title is highly recommended.

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