Book Reviews, Merchant Marine Books

by T. Horodysky, WebMistress

A Voyage to Abadan

Action in the South Atlantic

Action In The South Atlantic; the Sinking of the German Raider Stier by the Liberty Ship Stephen Hopkins

The Annals of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Class of 1942 History Project CD, Class of 1942 Book Committee, 1997

At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Marines Turned the Tide of World War II

The Black Pit ...and Beyond

Build Ships! Wartime Shipbuilding Photographs, San Francisco Bay 1940-1945

Captain's A Woman: Tales of a Merchant Mariner

Captives of Shanghai: The Story of SS President Harrison

Convoy PQ18: Arctic Victory

The D-Day Ships

The Forgotten Heroes: The Heroic Story of the United States Merchant Marine

From Dry Dock to D-Day - The Return Voyage of the SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Gallant Ship - Brave Men

Hannibal Victory: The Voyage of a Victory Ship in WWII [Video]

Heroes in Dungarees

The Last Mission Tanker

Last of the Boom Ships, Oral Histories of the U.S. Merchant Marine 1927-2000

The Liberty Ships from A (A.B. Hammond) to Z (Zona Gale)

Liberty Ships: The People Behind the Names

Looking for a Ship

Marinship at War, Shipbuilding and Social Change in Wartime Sausalito

Patriots and Heroes:True Stories of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II

Patriots and Heroes:True Stories of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II. Volume 2

Pirates & Patriots of the Revolution: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Colonial Seamanship

Ship of Miracles: 14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage


They Couldn't Have Won the War Without Us! Stories of the Merchant Marine - Told by the Men Who Sailed the Ships

Torpedo Junction: U-Boat War off America's East Coast, 1942

U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945

The United States Merchant Marine At War, Report of the War Shipping Administrator to the President

Until the Sea Shall Free Them: Life, Death And Survival In The Merchant Marine

NEW! The Victory Ships From A (Aberdeen Victory) to Z (Zanesville Victory)

Woody, Cisco, & Me -- Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine


A Voyage to AbadanA Voyage to Abadan, Bill Jopes with Doug Dekeyser, Xlibris Corporation, 1999

Jopes is a natural-born storyteller -- I couldn't put this book down. In 1943, at age 20, Bill Jopes became a Merchant Marine Cadet, and after a short period of "basic training," went to sea, since that was part of the curriculum.

Deck Cadet Jopes and Engine Cadet Doug Dekeyser joined the T-2 tanker SS Yamhill for her maiden voyage in Portland, Oregon in November 1943 and stayed aboard until August 1944 in Baltimore. In between they shuttled between Abadan in the Persian Gulf, India and Australia, carrying aviation gas wherever it was needed.

To add to their own memories, Dekeyser and Jopes got the Yamhill's logs from the National Archives to help reconstruct the story. These young Cadets saw exotic ports in war-time, did a surprise refueling of an aircraft carrier, and most fascinating of all, fought an all day duel with a Japanese submarine.

It's obvious Jopes is not a professional writer -- there's too many misplaced commas and wrong statistics -- but he's written a great book.

The book is available from at $25.00 for hardback, $14.40 paperback or, Barnes and for $25.00 and $18.00

Action in the South Atlantic, by Michael Higgins; published by The Propeller Club, Port of Brunswick; P.O. Box 611; Brunswick, GA 31521 on sale for $6.50 plus $3.50 S & H, to raise funds for the two Merchant Marine monuments in Brunswick.

This is a very well done book, which covers the sinking of the SS Esso Baton Rouge and SS Oklahoma off the Georgia coast in April of 1942. The author is well versed in maritime history, being a graduate of The State University of New York - Maritime College and founder of the Confederate Navy Historical Society. He provides good background material about the status of the Battle of the Atlantic to help the reader to put the sinkings in perspective.

The book includes quotes from local residents who welcomed the survivors of these two ships torpedoed within moments of each other, and comments from the Captain of the U-boat. There are many illustrations to add to our understanding of the story, which culminates in the identification of 5 unknown (badly burned) seamen in late 1998. It's a worthwhile book, and a good cause.

Action In The South Atlantic; the Sinking of the German Raider Stier by the Liberty Ship Stephen Hopkins, by Gerald Reminick. Palo Alto, CA: Glencannon Press Maritime Books, 2006

We own a copy of the only previously published book about the story of the SS Stephen Hopkins: Witt, and Heaton's: "The Gallant Ship, Stephen Hopkins." It comprises 52 pages. Reminick's new book about the Stephen Hopkins is 304 pages! Reminick found new information and amazing photographs in the National Archives, from family members, and in Germany. He interviewed the three living survivors and found previously unknown accounts of the battle and the 31-day lifeboat voyage. The book is well researched and well written. This is a fascinating, must-read for all lovers of history. Reminick is Professor of Library Services at Suffolk County Community College, Brentwood, NY.

Read feature: The Gallant Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins Sinks a German Raider

The Annals of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Class of 1942 History Project CD, Class of 1942 Book Committee, 1997

For its 50th Anniversary the Merchant Marine Academy Class of 1942 surveyed its members about their experience in World War II and put the information together in a limited edition book. Several years later they turned the book into a CD. The CD includes an extensive, illustrated history of the Academy and the Cadet Corps Schools. A "War at Sea" section comprises 39 pages.

The Committee reached about one third of the Class and the results of their surveys vary: some men only filled out a brief form, but most wrote of their wartime experience in the Merchant Marine or Navy. There are 900 pages of recollections, many of them fascinating. Unfortunately, you have to scroll through the boring ones too.

Presented as a CD, this "book" has its pluses and minuses. It's cheap to produce, so it is reasonably priced -- a book this size in a small printing would cost at least $75. But reading a lot of text on-screen is not easy -- after a few pages I decided to print out the "War at Sea" section. These are Acrobat files, the pages are clear on screen and in print.

The CD is available for $25.00 ($15.00 tax deductible), check payable to:

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Foundation for "U.S. MMA Class '42 History Project"

Attn. Mr. Virgil R. Allen '73, President
USMMA Foundation
P.O. Box 19362
Newark, NJ 07195

At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Marines Turned the Tide of World War II, by Sam Moses. New York: Random House, 2006

I thought I knew the story of "Operation Pedestal," the last-ditch convoy to Malta. I read three books on the subject by British authors before I put together Operation Pedestal and SS Ohio save Malta. But when Sam Moses sent me the manuscript for “At all Costs” to check for technical errors, I could not put it down. I stayed up half the night, astounded by the information he gathered, and impressed with how he wove the story together into an Indiana Jones-type narrative.

At all Costs has the perfect mix of romance, adventure, and handsome American heroes, in a brilliantly-told story of a critical battle of World War II. The success of "Operation Pedestal," which ran a 1,000 mile gauntlet of German and Italian bombers, submarines, and torpedo boats to resupply Malta, made possible Allied victory in North Africa and beyond. In At all Costs the focus is on two Americans, Fred Larsen and Francis "Lonnie" Dales, whose actions earned them the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal "For heroism above and beyond the call of duty."

Bravo, Sam Moses!

Moses is an adventurer, former writer for MotorCycle Weekly, Sports Illustrated, and AutoWeek. Currently he writes for the Portland Tribune. He authored Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots, about auto racing.

Buy book from author


Build Ships! Wartime Shipbuilding PhotographsBuild Ships! Wartime Shipbuilding Photographs, San Francisco Bay 1940-1945, Wayne Bonnett, Windgate Press, PO Box 1715, Sausalito, CA 94966, 1999.

Build Ships! is an extraordinary book. It tells a terrific story through its selection of outstanding and never-before-seen photographs, which will appeal to any lover of ships, the sea, or anyone with an appreciation for American craftsmanship and ingenuity.

This is a "coffee-table" book, and paper and printing are extremely high quality, so these photographs -- I'd guess close to 150 photos -- show beautifully.

While the subtitle refers to San Francisco shipbuilding, only a half dozen before-and-after photos showing aerial views of shipyards might be uninteresting to those who live outside the Bay Area, since shipyard techniques were similar throughout the U.S. in that era. The 30 shipyards, which employed 200,000 workers built everything from PT boats, submarines, cruisers, T-2's and Libertys. Covered in this book are the famous Kaiser Richmond yards, MarinShip, Hunters Point, Mare Island, Moore Drydock and many more.

Extremely fascinating were the side-by-side photo comparisons of World War I and World War II shipbuilding methods; photos comparing ships at launching and after fitting out, and preparing for launching. The creators of this book showed a good design in creating diagrams to compare steps in launching, exploded views of a Liberty, or types of cranes used in a shipyard.

For 1990's women used to the idea that a woman can do any job, the photo essay discussing recruiting and training "Wendy the Welder" will be a great revelation.

Don't miss it! $45 plus $4 S&H from publisher or through


Captain's A Woman: Tales of a Merchant Mariner, Deborah Doane Dempsey and Joanne Foster, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998

I really looked forward to reading this book, the biography of the first American woman to earn her Third Mate, Second Mate, Chief Mate, and Master's licenses.

Deborah Doane Dempsey was the first woman enrolled at Maine Maritime Academy and graduated as valedictorian in 1976. She sat for her Master's license in 1984, scoring extremely high on this four and a half day exam.

She first sailed on her Master's license in 1989 for Lykes and was given awards for saving a "runaway" ship which broke its tow in a storm and for her service during the Persian Gulf War.

I was somewhat disappointed, feeling that it was a great magazine article stretched into a book. The co-authors, Deborah Doane Dempsey and Joanne Foster, the Captain and a landlubber -- passenger aboard the Charlotte Lykes -- wrote alternating chapters.

Some of the writing is poor -- I found myself rereading sentences to figure out what the author was trying to say. Technical terms are not explained as they should be.

Interesting chapters dealt with Deborah Doane Dempsey's determination in the face of discrimination during her years at the Academy and at sea, and her heroic efforts at averting an environmental disaster by keeping a drifting ship from crashing onto a rocky coast. Unfortunately, that is overshadowed by minutia such as the color of wallpaper in her office and the entire diary of a voyage delivering a yacht. Unfortunately, she gives short shrift to her Gulf War voyages.

Joanne Foster's chapters give us a outsiders view of shipboard life, but again, having space to fill, she focuses on her shopping expeditions and restaurant menus in port, and the winner at cribbage each night during her 40 days on board.


Captives of Shanghai: The Story of SS President Harrison, David H. Grover and Gretchen G. Grover, Napa, CA: Western Maritime Press, 1999

prior to reading this book, I had read a few short descriptions of the SS President Harrison's saga. Much had puzzled me -- starting with the timing of her second voyage to rescue U.S. Marines from China.

This father-daughter teams meticulously researched the situation in those tense last weeks of November and early December 1941 in the Far East -- including the movements and capabilities of U.S. Navy and U.S. merchant ships. They examine the available choices and decisions that influenced the course of events.

The authors recount the various tales of captivity for the Harrison's officers and crew -- the Japanese treated the officers as military and the crew as civilian captives -- as well as the fate of the U.S. Marines. The Harrison's Master was charged with damaging Japanese property, i.e., deliberately ripping out the bottom of the ship to keep her out of Japanese hands.

The Grovers follow the fate of the Harrison, her salvage and sinking by a U.S. submarine while loaded with POW's and bring up the mystery of the "Peking Man," whose fossils were to be carried on the Harrison.

This well-written, interesting book is available in many nautical bookstores.

Convoy PQ18: Arctic Victory, Peter C. Smith, London: New English Library, 1975

Peter Smith gives a thorough account of PQ 18, the next after disastrous PQ 17. He discusses the strategies used by escorts which took into account the lessons learned at such great cost two months earlier in July 1942.

PQ 18 comprised 40 merchant ships flying the flags of 4 countries: 11 British, 20 American, 6 Soviet Union, 3 Panamanian. The British provided all the escorts: a light cruiser, an American-built escort carrier with a maximum capacity of 15 underpowered planes, countless destroyers, two anti-aircraft ships, two submarines with their own escorts, and two fleet oilers with escorts. PQ 18 marked the first use of an escort carrier, also known as "baby flattop" to protect a convoy. [Unfortunately they were not used on the trans-Atlantic route until May 1943.]

Smith's diagrams and maps makes it easy to follow the battle during the harrowing passage between Arctic pack ice on the North, Norway-based Stukas and Junkers 88 bombers, and the silent menace of Nazi U-Boats. Smith explains the fate of the convoy once it reaches Archangel, and also covers the course of eastbound convoy QP 14, which started its journey nearly simultaneously.

Smith notes the Allies considered PQ 18 a "success." The reader should make their own decision about this "success" after reading the book. The book has been reprinted a few times and used copies are often available online. A good companion to David Irving's Destruction of PQ-17.

The D-Day Ships, Neptune: the Greatest Amphibious Operation in History, John de S. Winser, Kendal, England: World Ship Society, 1994

Officially, this is: "Record of the maritime involvement, code-named "Operation Neptune", during the invasion of Europe June/July 1944. A full description of the planning and preparation with a day by day chronology of the operation. A complete record of every merchant and naval vessel involved."

Unofficially, a compilation of the movements of all Allied ships, both warships and merchant type during the month of June 1944 to and from Normandy. Every ship is listed, from battleship to danlayer to landing craft, along with their date of construction, tonnage, and flag.

If you were there, you'll want this book. $28.95 plus S&H from Mariner's International.

The Forgotten Heroes: The Heroic Story of the United States Merchant Marine. Brian Herbert, New York, NY: A Forge Book published by Tom Doherty Associates, 2004

forgotten heroes jacketOne of our regular correspondents first brought this book to our attention, noting that this web site was frequently cited as a reference. I looked forward to reading this book since its author was a "multiple New York Times bestseller," albeit, known for his science fiction novels.

The dust jacket was attractive, but confused me, since it showed seamen of the World War I or an even earlier era. After reading the introduction, I turned to the Bibliography and was disappointed to see our web site listed as the "October 5, 2001 edition." This in a book with a May 2004 publication date! Later, I found that he used our casualty figures from March 2001.

But the most shocking item in the Bibliography was the note "Only an excerpt -- chapter 13 -- of this book was provided to me... without publication information." The book was "Blood and Bushido" by Bernard Edwards, published in 1997, with 23 copies available at and 32 copies through The book is listed on our books page, and a Google search brings up many references to this book. That really put me on alert, because any librarian or bookstore could have provided the missing information. There were other items with incomplete information. I also noted several books which are considered "Juvenile Literature."

There are countless factual errors in this book. Poor organization creates additional problems.

For example, in the Chapter entitled "Torpedo Run" (p. 80-81), Herbert writes about the SS Stephen Hopkins. He has an excellent quote from a survivor, George Cronk. Then a quote from Bill Bailey about being in the engine room. He then states: "Among the men in the Hopkins engine room who survived a first torpedo, the story of Third Engineer Philip C. Shera..." and continues with en excerpt from his medal citation. In his next paragraph, he quotes Charles Blackston about taking a torpedo in the engine room.

Here's what wrong with the above: Bill Bailey was not on the Stephen Hopkins; Philip C. Shera died when a torpedo struck the SS Java Arrow. Charles Blackston was torpedoed on the SS Carlton during PQ-17 on the Murmansk Run. The Stephen Hopkins was shelled, not torpedoed. The crew list and a description of the sinking of the Stephen Hopkins are readily available, so those errors were easily avoidable.

Herbert apparently interviewed many mariners, but also relied heavily on video documentaries and Merchant Marine Veteran newsletters. His book covers many interesting incidents, but doesn't emphasize the big picture, especially the role in invasions.

Appendices to the book do a creditable job in noting the role of the Merchant Marine during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Mexican -American War. Inexplicably, he dismisses World War I in two sentences, by stating "the contributions of the U.S. Merchant marine to the war were limited." He mentions the stories of the SS Lane Victory and Meredith Victory during the Korean War, and has an excellent account of the sinking of the SS Badger State during the Vietnam War.

Overall, I must say: "Great title, lousy book." A much better choice -- if you could read only one book -- would be Bruce Felknor's "The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945," or John Bunker's "Heroes in Dungarees: The Story of the American Merchant Marine in World War II," both published by Naval Institute Press.

From Dry Dock to D-DayFrom Dry Dock to D-Day - The Return Voyage of the SS Jeremiah O'Brien,

Photographs by Michael Emery, Lens Boy Press, PO Box 460098, San Francisco, California 94146: 1994

"From Dry Dock to D-Day" is a coffee-table book, but one that you will look at over and over again if you have salt water in your veins. Michael Emery shipped aboard the SS Jeremiah O'Brien as a deckhand during her triumphant return to Normandy in 1994. The resulting black-and-white photographs are magnificent.

Shown at right is one photo, which shows the Jeremiah crew at Utah Beach, Normandy prior to visiting the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer where many Merchant Marine shipmates are buried.

Gallant Ship - Brave Men, by Herman Rosen, American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point, NY 2004

book cover Gallant Ship men in lifeboatGallant Ship - Brave Men is billed as "the heroic story of survival and death for thirty days in an open lifeboat without food or water." Author Herman Rosen was one of four Cadet-Midshipmen aboard the Liberty ship SS John Drayton when she was torpedoed by an Italian submarine. Cadet Rosen kept a diary which survived the ordeal, and the book is based on his notes and recollections. It's a good story which should be read by anyone interested in the story of the Merchant Marine during World War II.

Unfortunately, the volume is much too thin - only 102 pages of text. A scant 9 pages are devoted to the sinking and the time in the lifeboat. As I read this book, I kept comparing it to Lars Skattebol's The Last Voyage of the Quien Sabe, about the sinking of the SS Scapa Flow. Skattebol's wonderful characterizations help the reader get to know the crew and their problems before the sinking. The 28 men of the Scapa Flow spent 17 days in a lifeboat, and the author describes their arguments, food rationing, their method of sharing the precious cigarettes, and their daydreams. Rosen barely touches on the human side of time in the lifeboat, for example, he tells us how much water they got each day, but not much more. He covers the death of 9 men in just 3 lines.

The author is giving all profits to the American Merchant Marine Museum. Soft cover copies may be purchased from the American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point, NY 11024 for $20.99 plus $2.50 postage. Check only.

Hannibal Victory: The Voyage of a Victory Ship in WWII, U.S. Maritime Commission 1945, Color 61 minutes, Vintage Video, PO Box 551, Greencastle, PA 17225, 717-597-9695 or 800-444-1942

A 61 minute, color video featuring the Hannibal Victory's maiden voyage filmed by U.S. Maritime Commission in 1945 shows the loading of railroad cars and locomotives on the ship, explains the various crew jobs, shows "routine" life on board a wartime ship during her voyage from San Francisco, and unloading in the Philippines. It's a little hokey at times with stereotypical wartime propaganda scenes of Naval Armed Guard singing hymns on Sunday morning, a not-too-bright, but happy crew member being shown the ropes. Overlook that. The photography is great, the adventure of going back in time in this documentary is unbeatable.

Heroes in Dungarees: The Story of the American Merchant Marine in World War II, by John Bunker, Naval Institute Press: Annapolis, Maryland, 1995.

If you have time to read only one book about the Merchant Marine in World War II, John Bunker's "Heroes in Dungarees" is a terrific read! Bunker's book would make a great gift for anyone --- from high school student to senior citizen.

Bunker writes with the feeling and enthusiasm of one who was there: he served in engine room crews during the War. He writes with the accomplishment of a professional writer: he was a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and the San Diego Tribune. His writing is wonderfully easy to read as he paints a picture for us:

"The wild clanging of the bells called all hands to battle stations. Men off watch tumbled out of bunks and grabbed helmets, life jackets, and extra clothing for the wintry blasts of the open deck. The steward mustered his cooks and messmen, and they broke out bandages, splints and anesthetics; covered the wardroom tables with blankets; and prepared for battle casualties. Below decks in the engine room, the black gang on watch listened to the alarm bells and wondered what was happening. All they could do was listen and wait."

Bunker begins by telling us a little about the ships: the Libertys, Victorys, tankers, and Hog Islanders. He tells us about the men of the Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard and their life on board.

Bunker then covers World War II action by region: Atlantic Seaboard, North Atlantic, Murmansk run, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Each chapter starts with a broad introduction, followed by examples. The stories are well thought out, with many direct quotes from the participants or eyewitnesses. Reading the stories is almost like watching a movie: we can see the German submarine circling, the Captain's reaction when he realizes attack is imminent, the battle of outgunned merchant ship vs. raider, the moments of chaos when the torpedo hits, the abandoning of the ship, and the fight for survival on rafts and lifeboats.

Bunker gives thrilling accounts of the heroic crews of the SS Stanvac Calcutta, SS Stephen Hopkins, SS Cedar Mills, and SS Henry Bacon. He chronicles the disasters extremely well: Convoy PQ 17, the bombing at Bari, SS Jean Nicolet, SS Bienville, and the ships lost without a trace.

However, readers of Heroes in Dungarees will need a good map or globe by their side, because the major shortcoming of the book is the lack of good maps. The two in the book, showing the Murmansk Run and the Mediterranean near Malta, are embarrassingly bad. To appreciate the experiences of the mariners, you need good maps to follow their voyages and to visualize their travails in lifeboats and rafts.

The Appendix listing U.S. ships sunk during the War would have been more useful and illustrative if it included the cause of sinking: submarine, bomber, mine, etc. as well as the date and place of sinking. I was baffled by the fact that this Appendix ended with the sinking of the SS Black Point off Rhode Island on May 5, 1945, since there were over 30 more war casualties before war's end on Dec. 31, 1946.

Anyone reading Heroes in Dungarees will wonder why the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine had to fight for recognition as veterans. To order: (800)233-8764 or

The Last Mission Tanker, Walter W. Jaffee, The Glencannon Press, Palo Alto, CA, 1995 Glencannon Press

This book, another in the series by the prolific Captain Jaffee, is a good addition to the library of a tanker veteran or aficionado. Based on the wartime diary of Captain Ted Anderson of the SS Mission Santa Ynez, it follows her from the laying of her keel, to the hoisting of the broom on her mainmast to indicate a "clean sweep" in all her sea trial tests, her wartime voyages, her post-war use until her final resting place in the mothball fleet.
Stories about the other Mission tankers are woven into the text.
The 32 full page illustrations (out of 80 pages) are excellent quality and add much to the book. However, I was disturbed by the author's selection of post-war incidents on the Santa Ynez -- it seemed most included drunken seamen.

Last of the Boom Ships, Oral Histories of the U.S. Merchant Marine 1927-2000, Jim Whalen, 1st Books Library, 2000. Available from

Jim Whalen interviewed fourteen men and one woman regarding their experiences as officers on U.S. flag cargo ships, tankers, and passenger ships. Their experience at sea ranged from an old timer who first went to sea on a sailing ship in 1927, to those from the "now generation" sailing on container ships.

Some of the mariners sailed during World War II, and Whalen includes their tales of enemy attack from bombers and U-boats in the Mediterranean and on the run to Murmansk, but most of the book is devoted to peacetime episodes of life at sea. First trips, storms, fires, collisions, unusual and amusing incidents are just some of the themes.

My guess is that this is Whalen's first book, and it's a pretty good effort. There's something enjoyable for everyone in this book.

The Liberty Ships from A (A.B. Hammond) to Z (Zona Gale). Walter W. Jaffee. Palo Alto, California: Glencannon Press, 2004 Glencannon Press

book cover Liberty ships from AZ ships for victory logoThe Liberty Ships from A to Z is an outstanding book, a true encyclopedia of the Liberty ship, its design, construction, statistics, and problems. Did you realize more Libertys lost their propellers than developed cracks? Following the introductory chapters, the book lists every Liberty ship, grouped into categories such as World War II losses, ships scrapped from the "mothball fleet," military operated, artificial fish reefs, etc.

Jaffe pulled information from countless government documents and worldwide sources. There are over 400 photographs and many diagrams among the book's 736 pages. The entries are logically laid out, and complete. There are no cryptic abbreviations which send the reader hunting through the book for an explanation.

Jaffee did a terrific job on the 49 page Index. One index lists all the Liberties by original name and subsequent names. The second index includes the names of the Liberty ships listed by last name of their namesake, other ships mentioned in the book, as well as the names of ship Masters and Commanding Officers.

The book is expensive -- $100 introductory price -- but well worth it if you love ships and books! Hardcover, with an attractive dust jacket, it will look great on your coffee table and will give you long hours of enjoyment. It would make a great gift!

Hard cover: Price: $125 Glencannon Press


Liberty Ships: The People Behind the Names, Capt. Robert Deschamps, Project Liberty Ship, PO Box 25846, Baltimore, MD, 21224-0846, 1997

This book makes an interesting reference book: in one volume, a list of all the Liberty ships built and a one or two line mini-biography of the famous person whose name the ships carried. A must for a trivia addicts, fascinating browsing for the rest of us.


Looking for a Ship, John McPhee, New York: The Noonday Press, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990

Excerpts from Book Review in the New York Times, December 25, 1990, By Richard F. Shepard

Good books, or for that matter any books, about American merchant seamen are in short order, particularly these days when the bookshelves are filled with volumes about other endangered species. With the virtual disappearance of the oceangoing United States merchant marine, it would take a writer like John McPhee, who worries about things being lost to a bewilderingly voracious technology, to tackle the subject...

His vehicle is the Stella Lykes, a 650-foot elongated Lykes Brothers Steamship Company freighter, which he joined at the suggestion of his a "person in addition to crew," in effect, a certificated kibitzer. He and the ship are off on a 42-day voyage to the west coast of South America from Charleston, S.C....

By the time he and we have debarked, we have come to know the crewmen and the routine aboard a modern cargo ship... But there are reminders that all these are mere frills of a calling that routinely is at the mercy of weather and wave, with collision and shipboard accident always waiting, just off the starboard beam, with sinkings and vanishings still a possibility in seas that are more untracked than they might appear on a land-based computer screen. And on some runs, there are still pirates.

But worst of all, for those who make their living at it,there are virtually no ships, or that was the case when Mr. McPhee wrote his book, before the Persian Gulf crisis created a demand for mariners. In the book, seafarers tensely wait for their number to come up in the hiring hall for a ship or a run they want; some unions won't allow their members to ship out for more than six months a year to insure that all hands get a chance at a job. The average age of the Stella Lykes's 32 crewmen is 51, and the captain sums up the situation: "This is now an old man's business....

He's a romantic, even in the most casual, laconic way, and you can tell he dotes on talk of pirates, on the mention of strange ports and especially on those yarns that seamen spin. "Looking for a Ship" is not a treatise on the decline of the American merchant marine...there is not even an index.

Style is what Mr. McPhee is loaded down to the Plimsoll marks in: felicitous phrases, keen observation, the knack of unloading a cargo of information without hitting the reader on the head with a jumbo boom. Those who sail the Stella Lykes are a competent, highly individual cast of characters, starting with the captain, a great-grandfather who might have been created by the people who coined the word "feisty." He runs a happy ship, has strong opinions on any subject, can't find his way around his home town when he's ashore and driving his car, but is a virtuoso ship handler, who delicately docks his ship, the length of Rockefeller Center, between two others in what the author calls a "problem in very tight large-scale parallel parking."

Mr. McPhee's own cruise through the pages is not a simple here-to-there affair. The chapters do not sail as does the ship from one point to another; each picks up at a different position and tackles a different aspect of maritime living. Even within chapters, one topic leads to another, sometimes without any notice. It is a charming sort of garrulity and puts one in mind of a most articulate old sea dog who has swallowed the anchor and sits on a waterfront bollard telling his lubberly acquaintances about what happens out there, just on the other side of the horizon.


Marinship at War, Shipbuilding and Social Change in Wartime Sausalito, by Charles Wollenberg, Western Heritage Press, PO Box 5108 Elmwood Station, Berkeley, California 1990

This slim volume of 120 pages is packed full of interesting photos, stories and commentary about the beginnings of the great wartime effort to build ships "for victory."

In Sausalito, California, residents of Pine Hill, a small peninsula on the Northern end of San Francisco Bay were given two weeks to leave their homes. Within 9 months, the hill had been leveled and 20,000 workers employed by W. A. Bechtel were building the first of 93 ships. Marinship built 15 Liberty and 78 T-2 tankers, including the famous "Mission" tankers. The shipyard delivered its last ship in October 1945, and was decommissioned in May 1946.

The book examines race and social relations at the yard: the policy of discrimination against African-Americans by the Boilermakers union which led to a strike, relations with "Okies" from the South, and the rise of women in the work force.

You will enjoy and learn from this well-written, easy-to-read book.

Patriots and Heroes coverPatriots and Heroes:True Stories of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II, Gerald Reminick, Benicia, CA: Glencannon Press Maritime Books, 2000 Glencannon Press

Books such as Patriots and Heroes are essential for documenting the heroic stories of mariners during World War II. Gerald Reminick's book is a collection of mostly first-person accounts with added background material to put the incidents in context.

Reminick's extensive bibliography shows he put a lot of work into this book. He organized his book in logical fashion: pre-war, why men joined the merchant marine, action on various oceans, storms, D-Day, last voyages, etc. Nearly every chapter includes poems by Ian A. Millar related to the topic of the chapter.

It's a good concept and the stories are very interesting. Unfortunately, Reminick lacked a good editor. I got a bit confused right in the first chapter. I had trouble keeping track of who was telling the story as the account switched from an enemy submarine, a torpedoed British ship, and an American rescue ship.

A number of stories are based on diaries kept by mariners and include much too much of: "Clocks were set ahead again last night." "Nothing very exciting happened today." "Just took a shower." Instead of a good, tight, story, 4 or 5 pages long, the reader has to plow through 11 pages of the above.

A good editor also would have caught mistakes such as the Soviet Union fighting at the "Western Front."

In spite of these problems, the book is interesting and definitely worth reading.

Reminick, Gerald. Patriots and Heroes:True Stories of the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II. Volume 2. Benicia, CA: Glencannon Press Maritime Books, 2004 Glencannon Press

Reminick followed up his first volume of stories he collected from World War II mariners, with a second volume. The stories in this one are arranged mostly by region -- North Atlantic, Pacific, Northern Russia, plus the Merchant Marine Academy, tankers, storms and the like.

These are all genuine "first person" stories, not "recycled" from old books. This book is a great improvement over Reminick's first volume. This time Reminick was not afraid to edit out the mundane from articles submitted by old salts, so the book reads well.

Patriots and Heroes, Volume 2 is a great addition to your library!

Pirates & Patriots of the RevolutionPirates & Patriots of the Revolution: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Colonial Seamanship, C. Keith Wilbur, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 1973, 1984

I was quite surprised upon opening this book to discover I knew it well as, "Picture Book of the Revolution's Privateers," found at our local library. I guess the old title wasn't sexy enough for the MTV generation and someone decided to rename it.

Fortunately, the publisher only changed the cover and nothing else, for this is a wonderful book for both adults and children. Doctor Wilbur must have wonderful hands -- his pen and ink illustrations are superb! There are several illustrations on each page, mostly based on museum artifacts. Shipbuilding, battle tactics, daily life at sea, prison life, financial rewards, navigation, waterproofing of clothing, are just some of the topics -- all meticulously researched, and explained through diagrams and sketches. This book could have been named "Everything you want to know about privateers."

Time Magazine said, "This nautical encyclopedia is a working wonder not to be missed by anyone who cares about the sea."

Get it! It's a great deal at $10 plus $1.25 S/H. Checks or money orders only. The book is soft cover, 96 pages.

Please make payment to: AMMV-NJ
474 Chestnut St.
Kearny, NJ 07032-2724

Ship of Miracles: 14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage, Bill Gilbert, Chicago: Triumph Books, 2000. Available from Barnes and Noble

Bill Gilbert's previous 17 books are mostly as co-author with sports and TV stars such as Duke Snider, Elvin Hayes, and Larry King. Release of this book was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Korean War and one of its most dramatic episodes -- the evacuation of Hungnam.

Gilbert gives a good accounting of the outbreak of the war, the invasion of Inchon, and the U.S. thrust to the north, resulting in the debacle at Chosin Reservoir. He follows the troops and individuals Koreans as they flee towards Hungnam where merchant and navy ships await them.

"Ship of Miracles" refers to the SS Meredith Victory -- a ship with no passenger quarters -- which took aboard 14,000 North Koreans fleeing from communist occupation on a 3 day voyage to safety. That episode is well described through the eyes of Koreans, two members of the crew, and (General) Alexander Haig Jr. who was then a general's aide. Gilbert also quotes from previous interviews and statements by the late Captain Leonard La Rue.

At times it's obvious that the author filled in space with "background" to stretch the book to 200 pages, but that's a minor annoyance. The story of "the greatest rescue operation by a single ship in the history of mankind" is compelling and well worth reading.

photo of Captain J. W. ClarkSSS, Captain J. W. Clark, Kings Point, New York: American Merchant Marine Museum, 2000. Available from Xlibris, or your local bookseller

"SSS" was the Radio call meaning "under submarine attack" a call heard much too frequently on merchant ships during World War II. Captain Clark has written an outstanding 500+ page memoir of his war years.

The book is not just a memoir -- it's a lesson in history geography, local customs and navigation, because Clark annotates his voyages with brief explanations about the discovery of an island, the island's geography, climate, etc. He explains the war situation at that point in time, which helps us understand why his ship is going somewhere. There's never too much explanation to get in the way of the main story, and it adds plenty of flavor.

Photo of "the old man," Jay Clark, a Captain at 23.

Clark seems to have acquaintances, mostly young women, in every port, so we get a glimpse of wartime civilian life in San Francisco, Wellington NZ, Melbourne, AU, etc.

Clark received his training in the Cadet Corps, class of 1940. On Pearl Harbor day he is Second Mate on an Army Transport, USAT J. W. McAndrew. Besides the Army Transport, he sailed on "merchant" ships, such as the DelBrasil carrying a SeaBees construction battalion to the South Pacific, and was Captain of the XAPA Young America, a Navy Attack Troop Transport which had 89 merchant mariners and 145 Navy personnel and carried up to 2,000 troops for amphibious operations.

What a unique combination! It gives the reader various perspectives on the war effort.

Clark is torpedoed in the North Atlantic, survives the Murmansk Run, transits the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and countless islands in the Pacific.

This is a wonderful book. Don't miss it!

They Couldn't Have Won the War Without Us! Stories of the Merchant Marine - Told by the Men Who Sailed the Ships, Pete Peterson (Editor), 1998. Lead Mine Press, 809 Spring St., Galena, IL 61036. $14.95 plus $2.50 S&H or from

This book is aptly named for it retells the wartime sea stories of 20 men: 19 mariners and 1 Naval Armed Guard, all from the Chicago area. The variety of writing styles makes for easy reading

Editor Pete Peterson sets the stage for the reader by explaining a little about Liberty Ships, their crew makeup, the duties of each member of the crew, and the role of the Naval Armed Guard.

The stories are laid out in a simple format: each man explains how he came to enlist, followed by approximately 10 pages telling about their voyages and adventures, a listing of their sailing record, and finally, before-and-after photos.

.Even for someone who has read extensively about the Merchant Marine during World War II, the stories, although they are all too familiar -- U-boats, torpedoes, minefields, lifeboats, pack ice, gales, hazards of convoy -- are fascinatingly well told. Once I figured out the format, I found myself peeking ahead before I read the story, to see if the fellow spent the next 45 years at sea, or got out quickly.

These mariner's stories transmit a sense of amazement at their own youthful courage , and great pride in their accomplishments. There are humorous stories of mis-adventures at sea, and tragic tales, such as hearing Tokyo Rose broadcast that your ship will be bombed tomorrow.

My one small complaint about the book is the presence of typographical errors, probably caused by over-reliance on a spell-checker.

I hope each and every mariner writes down his story in similar fashion at least for the benefit of his or her family, his town's historical society, or a Merchant Marine newsletter.

Meanwhile, don't miss this book.

cover of Torpedo JunctionTorpedo Junction: U-Boat War off America's East Coast, 1942, Homer H. Hickam, Jr., Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1989 (available in paperback from Dell Publishing)

Torpedo Junction details Operation Drumbeat -- U-Boats on the Atlantic seaboard from their arrival in January 1942 through July 1942, primarily off the North Carolina coast. The point of view changes from U-Boat, to Coast Guard patrol boats, to merchant victim.

The descriptions are vivid, easy to read. Hickam describes the details and horrors of nearly every sinking -- and an appendix includes lists and maps of each sinking. He discusses the strategies -- or lack thereof -- employed by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Admirals and the evolution of strategies during the time period. He takes us on board the Coast Guard cutters on their frustrating patrols. Good storytelling makes this more like a Tom Clancy novel than a history book.

Homer Hickam is a Vietnam Army veteran and aerospace engineer who scuba dived some of the wrecks he wrote about in Torpedo Junction.

The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945. Edited by Bruce L. Felknor. Naval Institute Press: Annapolis, Maryland, 1998. To order: (800)233-8764 or Naval Institute Press

The U.S. Merchant Marine at War is a must read for lovers of history.

Felknor has put together a treasure which covers the role of the Merchant Marine in war from the privateers to the Murmansk Run through excerpts and even entire chapters from hard-to-find books. For example, the story of Raphael Semmes, Master of the very successful Confederate raider "Alabama," comes from books published in 1886, 1900, 1913, and 1985. Fully 165 of the 335 pages of text cover the Revolutionary War to World War I period.

Organizing convoys and strategies to overcome U-Boats and surface raiders were learned with great loss of life during the "War to End All Wars." Unfortunately this knowledge was lost by the start of World War II: due to lack of foresight and stubbornest on the part of Naval leaders (both British and American). There was a lack of escort vessels -- because the focus was on building big battleships. Delays in instituting convoys and arming merchant ships. Minimal air cover because all long range planes were in the Pacific. The chapter "Inside Battles" covers these topics with great insight and honesty.

While Felknor's World War II chapters cover some of the well known stories such as the SS Stephen Hopkins, there are many not so well known, but just as poignant and fascinating tales. Two examples: a crewman on the tanker SS E. G. Seubert, who, blinded by congealed oil, is guided to a lifeboat by his dog; chief mate Leslie Winder saves the tanker SS Esso Providence by opening a red hot valve with his bare hands to flood the fire-ravaged ammunition magazine. Yes, there's lots of tanker stories, since one of Felknor's sources is the very rare Ships of the Esso Fleet in World War II.

Fascinating was Felknor's extensive discussion of Mulberries, Gooseberries, Lobnitz pierheads, and Phoenixes -- all part of the Normandy harbor created to supply the invasion. There's much more, all very well chosen.

Bruce Felknor was a radioman in the merchant marine in World War II, went on to public relations, became an expert on election ethics, and worked for Encyclopedia Britannica.

I highly recommend The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945 as a very readable addition to your bookshelf, and an excellent reference book that puts the Merchant Marine role in American history in perspective.

Bruce Felknor's American Merchant Marine Historians Page


The United States Merchant Marine At War, Report of the War Shipping Administrator to the President, Washington DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, January 15, 1946

This is the "official" report which gives an overview of the casualties and accomplishments of the Merchant Marine. It is full of statistics and illustration about the building of the ships, the training of the crews, the destination and types of cargoes carried, and the monetary costs -- all packed into 80 pages.

victory ship coverNEW! The Victory Ships From A (Aberdeen Victory) to Z (Zanesville Victory), by Walter W. Jaffee, Palo Alto, California: Glencannon Press, 2006

Jaffee has put together a wonderful reference book about the Victory ships, similar to his Liberty ship book. This encyclopedia of the 534 World War II Victory ships, which served in Korea and Vietnam and were the backbone of the U.S. space capsule retrieval program, was sorely needed, since the only other book about the Victory ships, by Sawyer and Mitchell, was outdated and long out of print. Just as the Liberty ship book, this book is lavishly illustrated and has the histories of all the ships.

Woody, Cisco, & Me -- Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine by Jim Longhi, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1997

The quotes on the back cover of a book always brag about its greatness. But the quotes on the back of "Woody, Cisco, & Me" are from unexpected sources -- Arlo Guthrie, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner -- definitely not people you'd expect to find there, so you suspect there's something special waiting inside. The front cover shows a trio at a mike, and the guy with the guitar is the legendary Woody Guthrie.

Jim Longhi, in his own words, a "certified coward," ships out in the Stewards department with Cisco Houston, an aspiring Hollywood actor who is near- blind, and Woody Guthrie, the father of four, both exempt from the draft. They serve together on three ships: SS William B. Travis, SS William Floyd, and SS Sea Porpoise.

Jim Longhi is now a New York lawyer, but I think he missed his true calling: Hollywood comedy scriptwriter. His stories and descriptions are so good, I laughed until I had tears in my eyes: Cisco passing his eye exam, Jim's first ever attempt at baking bread aboard ship, Woody breaking up a crooked craps game on their troopship.

There's plenty of serious stuff too: one ship torpedoed, another hits an acoustic mine, the terrible, relentless storm, the ten-year old boy pimping his eight year-old sister in war-ravaged Italy.

I highly recommend this book. Available online from Barnes and Noble.

The Black Pit ...and Beyond, J. Gordon Mumford, Burnstown, Ontario, Canada: General Store Publishing House, 2000

Available from: General Store Publishing House, Box 28, 1694 Burnstown Road, Burnstown, Ontario, Canada K0J 1G0 1-800-465-6072 US$17.50 incl. shipping

J. Gordon Mumford was born outside London and trained as a radio operator for the British Merchant Navy in 1942. He first went to sea in 1942 on a Danish collier which met an untimely end which we read about in occasional flashbacks.

We first meet 17-year old Mumford on the SS Scottish Heather which sailed in convoy ONS 154 from England bound for New York. The "Black Pit" referred to by the title is what is also known as the "Air Gap" -- the part of the North Atlantic beyond reach of Allied aircraft where German U-boats waited like hungry wolves for defenseless sheep. There is an unusual twist to the adventures that befall Mumford and his fellow Scottish Heather crew after they are torpedoed.

His next ship, the Empire Harmony, spent 18 months in the Mediterranean shuttling from port to port -- wherever her heavy-lift cranes were needed to unload Sherman tanks or other heavy equipment. At times the ship is just behind the front lines, under heavy attack, at times the crew enjoys shore leave in friendly territory, and we experience a young man's impressions of the world. Unlike some memoirs whose authors hide their youthful feelings, Mumford is not afraid to talk about his confusion regarding sex when he is approached by the ever-present prostitutes, in view of his mother's admonition to "save himself for marriage."

The Empire Path takes Mumford up the Scheldt River to Antwerp where they are under frequent attack by V2 rockets. You'll have to read the book to learn what happens to the Empire Path and her crew.

Gordon Mumford is a very talented writer. While all his ships were British flag, his story is compelling and well worth reading for any lover of history and the sea.

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