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IImages of War: U-Boat Prey: Merchant Sailors at War 1939-1942 by Philip Kaplan

Flicking in at 128 pages and packed with photographs and posters; the book is written by the author Philip Kaplan. Philip is a former art director of the popular American magazine Playboy during the 70’s. A former member of the American Army Reserve, he now lives in the UK with his wife, who is also an author.

The title gave me the impression that the book was predominately about the merchant marine, but is heavily filled with references and photos of U-boats. I was looking forward to reading this book hoping it would whet my appetite for further reading about a subject which I know very little about. I have to say I’m a little disappointed with the read. I found it very disjointed, jumping from nation to nation, ship to submarine, Humphrey Bogart Hollywood film to Dig for Victory posters. It also had the feel of a cut and paste job from other sources. On page 84 something from the back of my memory said I’ve read or heard this story before.

‘There was a serious shortage of weapons for defence against air attack. The few available Lewis machine-guns had to be switched from ship to ship as one came into port and another sailed. On one occasion, a seaman, furious at the feeling of impotence, hurled a grenade at a low-flying aircraft, and scored a bullseye on its fuselage. It was a brave effort, which could have been bettered if he had remembered to remove the firing pin’.

As I’m sure we are all use to, ‘letting the truth get in front of a good dit’ has never been the forte of Jack.

It’s not all negative and I did take some interesting information from the book. For example how merchant ships were manned and wages accounts. How different nations named their ships, Empire, Fort, Park and Ocean. A cadet’s story and a few paragraphs about voyages.

Overall it’s not a book I'm going to recommend for a few of the reasons above, but its saving grace is the photographs. The final page has a photograph of a laughing sailor, white vest and cap, overalls tied around his waist which probably typified the men and steered me away from the dreaded one anchor.

One & a half anchors.
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