Naval Warfare Books

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Running the Gauntlet

How Three Giant Liners Carried a Million Men to War

Satchell, Alister


2001, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1557509743
Hardcover, 256 pages, 1 map, numerous b&w photos

Type. Personal narrative
Pros. Provides an inside view of trooping on large unescorted liners
Cons. A few minor items, see below
Rating.

Running the Gauntlet is the author's memoir of his wartime service as cipher officer on the Aquitania, placed in the general context of the Battle of the Atlantic, and with mention of wartime incidents on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

The two Queens and the smaller Aquitania among them carried more than one million military personnel from North American ports to Scotland during World War II. Due to their speed they were able to sail independently of convoy, and were the backbone of what was termed the "Atlantic shuttle service". Until the last few months of the war, they sailed without any surface escort, and with only intermittent air cover, relying on their speed to protect them from attack.

The author, a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve, sailed on all 53 of the Aquitania's Atlantic crossings from 1943-1945; thus his memoir is almost like a personal ship's log of the Aquitania's wartime career. This impression increased by the fact that he evidently noted many details in his (illegal) diaries such as weather conditions, U-boat situation reports, and similar information. As a cipher officer, he was one of the few aboard to be privy to the current strategic situation, i.e., imminent U-boat threats and course changes resulting from them. Decades later, when writing his memoir, he was able to cross-check his personal records against subsequently published sources to determine which U-boats had been in the vicinity and what became of them after the Aquitania passed out of their area. The detailed chronological account of the Aquitania's crossings is accompanied by background on parallel events in the Battle of the Atlantic, including technological and strategic developments on both sides.

A few small quibbles: The photos included are in general very interesting and well-captioned, but some are not explained in the book and leave the reader wondering as to the story behind the photo. The writing style aimed for was apparently a Witty sophisticated one, and while this did have the effect of often being amusing, sometimes the author's meaning was unclear. In attempting to set his narrative in context and provide a full account of his wartime experiences, sometimes the author ranges far afield from the main topic, onto tangents which might not be of interest to all, including detailed descriptions of all his shore leaves, and a whole chapter on wartime New York City. But in general this is a well-written account on a previously neglected topic.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 6 Dec 2001.

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