Book reviews on the naval war of World War Two most frequently cover titles about the history of battles and campaigns or the details and statistics of the warships that served in those campaigns. The focus is on events or machinery. Sea Bag of Memories by William J. Veigele is different. The focus is not on the steel of a warship but on flesh and blood, the crew, who fought those ships. In this case, it is about the small ship sailors of the United States Navy in World War Two.
The title deals with the crew of those small combatants, who most often had a letter and number to designate them, rather than a name. These were the Patrol Craft (PC), Submarine Chasers (SC), Motor Gunboats (PGM), Fleet Minesweepers (AM), Auxiliary or Yard Minesweepers (YMS) and USCG Small Cutters that were crewed by over 50,000 seamen during the war. The subtitle of the book, Images, Poems, Thoughts & Crafts of the Small Ship Sailors of World War II conveys a foretaste of the contents but not completely. After you look at the book, the title becomes obvious.
A Sea Bag was the canvas bag in which the sailor stored all of his possessions. He may change ships but his sea bag with his uniforms, gear, momentous of past ships and of friends with which he served, went with him. It contained all of his tangible existence and memories. Sea Bag of Memories serves in the same manner to collect those items of the subtitle, the images, poems, thoughts, and crafts of the men who fought those small craft. The collection is an eclectic one that totally immerses the reader in the world of the Donald Duck Navy.
Donald Duck Navy, originally a term of disparagement by the sailors of the major warships towards those who crewed the small boats, was seized upon by the men of the patrol craft, sub chasers and minesweepers. They developed a fierce pride in their symbol and considered that the feisty Walt Disney character suited them well. Many of the craft had a ship’s emblem that featured the feathered warrior. A shoulder patch was created. This showed Donald with a depth charge chained to his posterior and a depth charge thrower strapped to his back. It was worn for awhile, until humorless authorities started citing the proud wearers of the patch for being out of uniform.
The first two chapters deal with the origins of the term Donald Duck Navy, ship’s emblems that featured the cartoon and other ship’s emblems. These chapters as is true with the rest of the book, are liberally laced with drawings.
Chapters three and four concern the training of the boot, as inductee was called in basic training and with the concerns of the enlisted sailor in his life at sea in his new, crammed and bobbing home. The quirks and commonplace are covered as well as slang used by the sailors.
Chapters five through seven look at the various types of small craft that made up the armada of the Donald Duck Navy. Patrol Craft (PC) and Submarine Chasers (SC) each has a chapter of their own. In each the peculiarities of their mission and life aboard that type of craft are covered. Chapter seven covers the other smaller craft, excluding the Coast Guard. From Motor Gun Boats (PGM) converted from PCs or SCs, Fleet Minesweepers (AM), Yard or Auxiliary Minesweepers (YMS), Harbor Patrol Boat (YP) to converted yachts (PY), each had its place and function.
The cutters of the United States Coast Guard are in Chapter Eight. Under the Department of the Treasury in Peace but the Department of the Navy in War, men from the Coast Guard not only manned many of the larger naval vessels in the war but also PCs, SCs and other small craft. Additionally there were the Coast Guard Cutters, which started with the letter W. the 165 foot cutter WPC Submarine Chaser Large and the 125 foot cutter WSC Submarine Chaser Small are examined in this book.
Chapter Nine covers many of the combat missions and exploits of the small craft. Whether engaging ground troops with direct fire in the Pacific or enduring air and glide bomb attacks off of Anzio, the Donald Duck Navy went wherever the more glamorous and publicized ships steamed. The wooden hulled minesweepers went ahead of the rest to open lanes for amphibious assaults.
Chapters Ten through Twelve cover Other Contributors, Going Home and The Later Years. Other Contributors involves those persons who did not serve in these small vessels but appreciated the hardship and honor of service aboard them. Going Home is self-explanatory. Most of the men of these ships were reservists, war time volunteers or draftees. This was the event for which they waited for the three and ˝ years of the evolvement of the United States in the war. After the war former crewmembers were busy with the challenges and rewards of their new civilian lives. With the passage of time many missed the camaraderie of their wartime experience. In 1994 the Patrol Craft Sailors Association was formed for the men of the Donald Duck Navy.
Poems. The poems included in Sea Bag of Memories are so natural for inclusion in this volume. They were written by crewmen, who were simultaneously praising and making fun of the craft on which they served. Some of the titles of this verse will give you an idea of their content. The Legend of the PC, The Mighty YMS, A Channel Nightmare, September 30, 1943, Song of the Yoke Mike Sugars, About PGMS, An Ode to the YMS, Aboard This Old SC, To The SC, A PC Poem, The PC Boat. These poems of the craft, shipboard life and events in which they participated adds understanding and richness to the volume and in many ways captures the essence of the thoughts of the sailors far better than prose.
|They sing the praises of the
The carrier is queen of the sea,
The cruiser is tops on the sailor’s lists
For a fighting ship is she.
The destroyer sails the sea with pride,
|First two verses from The Splinter Fleet, written by Gunner’s Mate Oris E. Moore of SC 1016, while on duty in the Caribbean in 1942.|
In addition to the chapters outlined above Sea Bag of Memories contains a wealth of information in the appendices at the end of the book. Appendix A has coverage of the government issue items to the sailor. Appendix B contains a collection of photographs of the various types of craft, while Appendix C contains the technical specifications for the types.
During the war Robert Baldwin made meticulous drawings of the detail and fittings of his craft, PC 543. Thirty of these plates are reproduced in this book. These plates show the smallest detail, down to the number of rivets in the fittings. Additionally there is a comprehensive bibliography, film library listing and web site listing for the men and craft of the Donald Duck Navy.
Concluding the book is a section containing 16 pages of color plates showing paintings of the craft, models, emblems & badges, and scenes on shore and at sea.
Sea Bag of Memoriesis a wonderfully entertaining work. It is not dry history or a recitation of sterile facts and figures. It is indeed the thoughts of the enlisted men who served in these fragile craft in the most violent war in history. It allows the reader to open the collective Sea Bag of those that served and see all they possessed.
(The book may be purchased from Astral Publishing Co., PO Box 3955, Dept. B, Santa Barbara, CA 93130-3955. The price is $39.95 plus $5.25 S&H, plus CA address add $3.50 tax)