At All Costs - the Book and how I tackled the writing...
By Sam Moses
The seed for "At All Costs" was sown in 1963, when a small boy in a dark theater in London watched in awe as Stukas dived straight down from the sky at ships of the Operation Pedestal convoy, in battle footage used in the movie, "The Malta Story." Thirty years later, living in New York, he learned that two American merchant mariners and a U.S. tanker had played the pivotal role. It took him another decade to put it all together to bring their story to these pages, and more. The boy was Peter Riva, and in 2003, together with Random House editor Bob Loomis, he and I began working on "At All Costs."
In the spring of 2004 I traveled to Malta, where I spent seven days with Jan Larsen, the three-year-old boy in the book. We explored the island and dug for its history, in particular during the siege of 1940-43. We met Simon Cusens, whose efforts to track down veterans for the Operation Pedestal reunions in 1992 and 2002 have brought closure to those men, along with some good times over grog. Cusens opened his library to me, as well as some pages of his painstakingly-acquired address book, cooperation which got the research off to a rolling start.
All the material I accumulated during nearly two years of researching and writing, including some 40 hours of recorded interviews with the convoy's veterans, have been contributed to the Operation Pedestal museum which Cusens is building on Malta.
I discovered the issues of "Malta at War" while I was there, which are now bound into three volumes. These coffee-table books, edited by John Mizzi (who was a boy during the siege) and Mark Anthony Vella, include hundreds of black-and-white photos, articles and items written in and about Malta during the war years, many of them from "The Malta Times" daily newspaper; I relied on their insight, illumination and details in Chapter 1 and other places in this book. Their publication is a priceless contribution to world history; nowhere else can such a comprehensive picture of Malta during that period be found.
Quotes in the first chapter and subsequent comments by Admiral Cunningham come from his 674-page autobiography, "A Sailor's Odyssey," which was one of the 200 books that squeezed all others out of my office for those two years—at one point I had 78 books checked out of the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, near my home. The analysis and opinions of Admiral Weichold, Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy in the Mediterranean, appear in an essay he wrote at the direction of the Allies, while awaiting trial for war crimes at Nuremberg. Winston Churchill's quotes are from various writings and speeches, most notably the second volume of his memoirs, "The Hinge of Fate." Governor General William Dobbie's quote is from an obscure softbound book he wrote after the war, "A Very Present Help: A Tribute to the Faithfulness of God," which reveals the religious fanaticism that led to his replacement by Churchill. More but not all Dobbie quotes come from this book.
In Chapter 2, I used "The Great Influenza" by John Barry for much of my information on the flu pandemic of 1918. At Minda Larsen's home in New Jersey, I began a series of interviews and a friendship with her, amazed by the way she frequently sprang up from a chair in the living room to answer the phone in the kitchen, and by how she enjoyed being outside in the cold winter air. Minda emptied the file cabinet containing records of her flight from Nazi-occupied Norway, as well as those of the career of her husband Fred, including the folder he labeled "Bad." He never talked about bad things, so the folder was thin, although it might easily have been substantial. He was a quiet, positive man.
Some information in Chapter 3 came from the book "Operation Drumbeat," a remarkable event about which relatively little has been written, save this definitive work by Michael Gannon. Other details came from "Hitler's U-Boat War," a Random House book researched for many years by its author, Clay Blair.
Frank Dooley, currently serving his second term as president of the American Merchant Marine Veterans and a shipmate of Fred Larsen in 1959, helped to explain the story of the collision between the Santa Elisa and San Jose, and cleared up many other technical mysteries. Frank introduced me to Toni Horodysky, whose website usmm.org is a comprehensive reference about the American Merchant Marine at war. Toni's research experience and initiative showed me the way to additional discoveries—I searched scores of websites, possibly a couple hundred, many of them fruitful. Frank and Toni also read the manuscript for me, to catch technical errors.
Visits to the New York Public Library turned up microfilm clips from "The New York Times" pertaining to both Operation Drumbeat and the Santa Elisa/San Jose collision, while Grace Line documents and some merchant ship records were found by Bill Kooiman at the National Maritime Museum Library in San Francisco, another ex-mariner who sailed with Grace Line, and author of "The Grace Ships, 1869-1969." And Miriam Devine at the tiny Amenia, N.Y. library found some books for me that even the NYPL didn't have. Born and raised on Malta, what Miriam remembers most about the siege, as a very young girl, was being hungry.
Captain Theodore Roosevelt Thomson enters the story in Chapter 4, and most of his quotes come from a 1943 article in "New Yorker" magazine written by a young Brendan Gill. Captain Thomson's valuable voice would have been missing without this work by the late Mr. Gill, a wordsmith who's stood tall on my own pedestal for 30 years. More personal information about Thomson, and Fred Larsen, was provided by Captain Warren Leback, a Grace Line master for many years, and U.S. Maritime Administrator in the Bush Sr. administration.
Much of the dialog that takes place on the Santa Elisa, and details such as the keg of Jamaican rum kept in Captain Thomson's head, came from the unpublished manuscript, "Swans in the Maelstrom," written by the ship's purser John Follansbee, who was Larsen's close friend, and who died in 2002. After much searching, I located his son Jack, who provided the only existing copy of this memoir, as well as a rare copy of a spiral-bound, self-published work by Ensign Gerhart Suppiger, titled "The Malta Convoy." Descriptions of Suppiger's thoughts and actions come from this work.
Fred Larsen's sextant hangs on the office wall of his engineer grandson, Scott Larsen, who contributed the sextant story, as well as more insight into the character of his grandfather.
I spent a steamy five days that summer in Augusta and Waynesboro, Georgia, getting to know the Dales family, most warmly Lonnie Dales' widow Marjorie. She left me alone at her kitchen table for one long day with five towering scrapbooks, and spent the next two days answering questions for me with unwavering patience and grace. Her voice lifted my spirit when I called with follow-up questions, all the way through the Afterword. It's easy to see why Lonnie left the sea for her.
The Second Great Siege
On Malta, Jan Larsen and I spent time with Louis Henwood, a veteran of the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, and former mayor of the city of Senglea. Mr. Henwood is also a diver, and believes he knows where the Ohio lies. His website louishenwood.com has more information about Malta than any other, and I used some of it in Chapters 6 and 7.
Jan and I saw as much as we could in one week. We stood on the bastions surrounding Fort St. Elmo in Valletta, where thousands of Maltese cheered and cried when the Ohio came in, and where the cannons of the Knights of St. John fired the Turks' chopped-off heads across the harbor. We sidled into the dank caves around the docks, where families lived during the war. We walked around the towers and pillboxes at the edge of cliffs over the sea, and through a cemetery with the tombstones of too many children, as well as those of Axis airmen shot down over Malta. We gazed in silence at the prehistoric Tarxien Temples. We spent an afternoon at St. John's Cathedral, raided by Napoleon, and were chilled by an all-too-real display deep in the caves under the cathedral, where Maltese were tortured during the Inquisition.
We took a bus to the ancient walled city of Mdina, where off-duty RAF pilots and Maltese farmers watched dogfights in the sky. We visited the National War Museum, and spent an afternoon at Takali airfield, now the site of the Malta Aviation Museum, where we examined a restoration of one of the original Gladstone Gladiator biplanes. We spent a fascinating few hours with Ray Polidano, director of the museum foundation, who worked in a hangar in back; he walked us around and told stories of the men and planes at Takali.
Most of the information on the Malta Gladiators, both the men and machines, came from this visit and the book "Faith, Hope and Charity," an old paperback found like so many after searching the sites of rare booksellers on the internet. More material in Part II came from "Malta Diary of a War," and "Raiders Passed," by Charles B. Grech, one of the Maltese boys who collected shrapnel like arrowheads, during the siege.
Chapters 8, 9, and 10 were by far the most challenging to write, because they span two years, and there are three or four more unwritten books in there—there's a book in one paragraph alone, on page 46, regarding the bombing of the Illustrious: Admiral Cunningham's biggest (and maybe only) blunder, which historians have yet to address.
In using so many sources and voices, it was difficult to reconcile the differences and contradictions. Being a Libra, I spent hundreds of hours weighing the information. I made many choices about credibility and probability. In these chapters I used and sometimes quoted from autobiographies, memoirs or diaries by Admirals Cunningham and Weichold and General Dobbie; Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe; Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the legendary leader of the Afrika Korps; Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and Minister for Foreign Affairs; Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd, the RAF's commanding officer on Malta; Admiral G.W.G. "Shrimp" Simpson, commander of Malta's 10th Submarine Flotilla; General Hastings "Pug" Ismay, Churchill's chief of staff; General Alan Brooke (later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke), Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Churchill's closest military adviser; Sir Charles Wilson, Churchill's personal physician, who wrote his memoir as Lord Moran; Elizabeth Layton Nel, Churchill's young and resolute Canadian secretary; and of course Churchill himself.
I used biographies as well, for example of Admiral Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty; and the full story of the 10th Submarine Flotilla. I also turned to "The Italian Navy in World War II," which is the official Italian history, and trusted "The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943," by Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani—a British and Italian historian, allies in accuracy. Another invaluable reference was Captain Arthur R. Moore's "A Careless Word … A Needless Sinking," a heavy encyclopedia of all the American merchant ships lost in World War II.
Among the five memoirs by fighter pilots that I used, two were particularly evocative, and they found their way into Part II. Insight and beauty float off the pages of "Tattered Battlements," by Tim Johnston, DSC; and "War in a Stringbag" is unique because its author, Charles Lamb, DSO, DSC, bombed Taranto and lived to tell about it, and witnessed the brutal bombing of the Illustrious from the air, as Stukas swarmed around his shabby biplane and paid him no mind.
The statement on page 47 from the Luftwaffe pilot who flew into the Royal Malta Artillery box barrage and dropped his bombs prematurely was taken from a letter he wrote after the war to "The Times of Malta." With all the aircraft action in Part II, I cracked the many books I used for technical reference for the planes; my favorite was "Wings of the Luftwaffe," by Captain Eric Brown, the RAF's chief test pilot, who flew captured German planes and wrote about them as if he were doing road tests for a British car magazine.
I struggled with discrepancies in reports of the number of Axis aircraft involved in the various attacks, until I got the books "Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41" and "Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942" by Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia. They worked more than 10 years to acquire the accurate documents, so I used their numbers, with appreciation, except when I had a first-person account.
From Malta I flew to London, and spent two weeks researching in England. I could have spent ten. From a hole-in-the-wall London hotel, I branched out each day on the tube, train and bus to The National Archives and Imperial War Museum, and pored over documents: books, films, audiotapes, cables and especially Letters of Proceeding, the action reports written by Royal Navy officers and masters of merchant ships. The plot thickened. With each report I read, questions arose that put two or three more reports on my list. There was far too much information at The National Archives to note or even photocopy during my four full days there. I found a researcher, Tim Hughes, who caught the detective bug and continued to dig for documents and find pieces of the puzzle, for 18 months after I returned to the U.S.
Many of the documents we found and examined were only de-classified by the British government in 2002. If the reader wonders how the full story of such a significant World War II battle could have been untold for so long, this is part of the answer. Also the fact that Tim Hughes looked in places historians had apparently missed, in response to my wondering what was under every rock, and being struck by the links between events that had never been made.
Beginning in Chapter 12 with Operation Harpoon, it was those intriguing and often mysterious Letters of Proceeding that defined the convoy stories. They weren't always accurate, because they were written after the battle and colored by the fog of war; but when I had four or five of them to compare incidents and times and places, reality usually emerged. There were times when I had charts on my desk full of Xs and arrows, the deductive process to find the common fact, and reach a small conclusion to complete one sentence. It was slow going.
The LOPs from Operation Harpoon are an excellent example. Most of the story lies between the rambling lines in the reports of Captain Hardy in the cruiser Cairo, who commanded the convoy; the direct lines of Captain Roberts, master of the tanker SS Kentucky; and the misguided lines of Admiral Harwood, the new C-in-C of the Med—with the bottom line coming from the Italian history. Harpoon has been called the "forgotten convoy," but a better name might be "disowned convoy." Somebody should write a book about this dramatically balzupped naval action.
Speaking of balzup, a word which first appears and is explained on page 114, that's my spelling, for "balls up." It's also my favorite new word, and I had to resist the temptation to use it to death. This is a war story, after all. Balzups are the nature of the beast.
And speaking of untold stories, there's a lot about Colonel Bonner Frank Fellers that's untouched in this book; maybe some day someone will find and tell the whole story. Some of my information on Fellers in Chapter 12 and later came from TNA documents that were secret until 2002, and I found more bits in three books: "The Battle of Alamein," "Trading with the Enemy," and "The End of the Beginning," by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig.
The first book I read to prepare for my research was Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer prize-winning "An Army at Dawn," about Operation Torch. In some ways, "At All Costs" might be seen as a prequel, although decidedly narrower—Pedestal as prequel for Torch. I used "An Army at Dawn" as background for Chapter 13, which was probably the most entertaining chapter to write. What a day that Father's Day in the White House must have been!
I read a number of accounts of Churchill's trip to Washington and Hyde Park in June of 1942, and with the messages Tim Hughes found in TNA pertaining to the SS Ohio, in particular the cable cited on page 67, it all fell in place. There's no record of the points of discussion that Churchill verbally listed with Harry Hopkins, and which Hopkins passed on to President Roosevelt (page 68), but there's little doubt that the SS Ohio was not among them. And if the final sentence of Chapter 13 is less specific than I would have liked, it's only because that order signed by Admiral King, the powerful man behind the scenes in so many WWII naval actions stretching in both directions around the globe, involved more than just the Ohio.
My version of the rest of that trip to Washington comes primarily from the writings of Churchill, General Brooke, General Ismay and Sir Charles Wilson, who were all intensely there.
Still sitting here on my desk are two remarkably detailed six-inch scale models of the SS Santa Elisa and SS Ohio. I examined them so many times that I began to see teeny merchant mariners running around on their decks. Further descriptions in Chapter 14 of the equipment, weapons and guns on the Santa Elisa came from her Royal Navy liaison officer's LOP, as well as the record of Ensign Suppiger, who headed the U.S. Naval Armed Guard.
Neither Larsen nor Dales wrote about their lives. But, in addition to the oral stories they passed on to their families, I had a few good documents. About five years before his death, Larsen had reluctantly sat down for an interview with a fellow from his local New Jersey chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, and many of his quotes came from this transcript.
And in the final year of his life, when he was 80, he penned a reply to a letter from another veteran, a British 8th Army soldier named Leonard Fisher, who had been stationed on Malta during the siege, and who had read about Larsen and wrote to thank him. "We all felt that this was the end of the road," said Mr. Fisher. "But when the tanker came into Grand Harbour, you could feel the love that was poured toward you and the crews and those who gave their lives. Today in Malta they still talk of the Santa Marija miracle convoy, and the story of your part in bringing the Ohio home is legend."
Larsen never finished his handwritten reply, which ended at 12 pages. Some of what he said appears in this book.
There were fewer words from Lonnie Dales to work with. Marjorie Dales found one good letter, and there was a brief taped telephone interview with Simon Cusens when Dales was quite ill; more Dales' quotes came from the two reports he wrote for the Merchant Marine after the convoy—the first was a required report of the Santa Elisa sinking, and the second was requested after the Commandant of the Cadet Corps heard from Captain Thomson about Dales' heroism. Dales hadn't mentioned it, himself.
Elizabeth Layton Nel's 1958 memoir, "Mr. Churchill's Secretary," offered an acute, fond look at the prime minister. She worked closely with Frank Sawyers, Churchill's valet, and enjoyed his company. Between her description of Sawyers on page 80, and General Brooke's on page 81, a discreet but clear picture pops up. When General Marshall invited Sawyers into that convertible, it must have been with a sense of mischief, to shock the class-conscious Brooke.[PENDING FACT-CHECKING: In the late 1940s Sawyers was charged with homosexuality, a crime at the time in Britain. Churchill spoke for him, and the charges were dropped. "The nation will get over this nonsense one day," he said.]
Being a sucker for larger-than-life characters, I enjoyed including a piece of the story of the Norwegian tanker king Torkild Rieber, the father of the Ohio, in Chapter 15. Especially since there was just one dramatic degree of separation between Rieber and Fred Larsen. The trail of the Rieber story began with documents from the ChevronTexaco archives, sent by historian John Harper, which led me to the University of Texas Center for American History archives, which had a Rieber interview, although, not surprisingly, he didn't address his trading oil to the Axis while Britain was at war with them, and while Nazi soldiers occupied his homeland. Much of that information, from the British perspective, came from TNA documents that were secret until 2002. The American side of the story came from "The New York Times" microfilm pieces, and the "New York Herald Tribune." As for Rieber's last blast, his run in the Ohio from New Jersey to Texas, I simply put the little facts together.
There's one intriguing thing that's not in the chapter, mostly because it roams away from Fred Larsen. Days after Rieber cut his first deal with the Gestapo's Hermann Goering to sell oil to the Germans, his Norwegian wife committed suicide by jumping out the window of their penthouse apartment building on Central Park South in New York. It would have been stretching too far to peer into that dark tunnel for a moral about love and happiness, or money and values, and find Fred and Minda in the light at the other end.
Some of the technical information on the Ohio came from the archives of the old Sun Shipbuilding in Chester, Pa., and the book "The Ohio & Malta," by Michael Pearson. I also referred to line drawings of the inboard profile and deck plans, which appeared in "Steamboat Bill" magazine in the fall, 1994 issue.
Leaving London, I drove 1600 miles over the next five days to interview 11 Operation Pedestal veterans in all four corners of England; Volvo of Britain supported this mission with the loan of a turbocharged five-speed S40 sedan. I drove all night at on the high-speed Motorway tuned to BBC radio, and interviewed a vet in the morning; drove more miles on narrow twisty roads between towns, loving every minute in the S40 even when I was lost, and interviewed another vet in the afternoon. My conversations with these men remain the most rewarding and memorable part of writing "At All Costs." I'm privileged to have met them. I believe I chose the 11 best veterans I could have found—the right minds with the right experiences from the right ships. As of January 2006, xx of them had passed away.
I went all the way north first, to Blyth on the North Sea, near Glasgow, where I spoke to Allan Shaw, who is the only living veteran from the original crew of the Ohio, except for one other who has been in a mental institution since shortly after Operation Pedestal. Shaw told me this fellow has never spoken about the attacks on the convoy, and has said he never will; I sent him one letter, but got no reply. The 19-year-old Shaw is introduced in Chapter 16 and becomes an important presence, providing details about what happened on the Ohio and making observations about her master, Dudley Mason.
I found Captain Mason's journal buried deep on the internet, on a site devoted to the tankers of the Ohio's owners, Eagle Oil and Shipping Company, Ltd.; and Tim Hughes found records of the movement of Mason's prior ship, which revealed his near-miss with the U-boats of Operation Drumbeat off the Atlantic Coast. There was also a wildly inaccurate 1960 story in "The Saturday Evening Post," from which I borrowed some color.
The official log of the Ohio is kept in a humidity-controlled room with precious maps, on the top floor of The National Archives. The entry about the tin dinner plates that appears in Chapter 17, intriguing for its pettiness and its indication of Captain Mason's attention, reflects the kind of things that the log was used for. There aren't many entries between the Clyde and Malta; Mason was too busy dodging torpedoes and fighting fires, to do much writing.
Admiral Burrough's comments to the captains and liaison officers at the Clyde came from his own LOP and various journals. In my first very long draft of this manuscript, I made up a conversation between Captain Mason and Captain Thomson of the Santa Elisa; they had so much in common—rookie masters of state-of-the-art ships, stalked by U-boats on the Caribbean run—and surely they must have met at that meeting. Their imagined conversation was fun, and funny, and it might even have been close to reality, but it didn't work in this non-fiction book.
It took scores of hours of reading and searching for books to get the events in Chapter 18 reduced to 820 words; "Road to Victory" by Martin Gilbert was a big help, although fortunately I didn't have to read all 1351 pages. Churchill's multi-layered reasons for firing General Auchinleck had to be reduced to a soundbite, and his adventure-filled trip to Cairo squeezed down to a few symbolic moments. There were so many other stories I wanted to tell, including quoting from a wonderfully romantic letter from Clementine Churchill to her husband, watching him fly off into the night in the Liberator bomber. The quote describing Churchill with his cigar sticking out from his oxygen mask came from "The Sky Belongs To Them," by Roland Winfield, an RAF officer on the Liberator, whose pilot was a young American hot dog whom Churchill instantly liked.
The quotes from the chief engineer of the Santa Elisa, Ed Randall, beginning in Chapter 19, came from an article he wrote in "The American Magazine" in January, 1943; the piece avoided certain military specifics, but it was still controversial because of what it revealed about convoys, which were new. He wrote in the present tense, which I didn't change.
Captain Mason's words to his men on page 102 were taken from the pioneering Pedestal work, "Malta Convoy," by Peter Shankland and Anthony Hunter, published in 1961. "Pedestal," by Peter C. Smith, followed in 1970. Both books were useful in my research; I envied their authors' opportunity to interview so many of the Pedestal sailors (in particular Captain Mason and Admiral Burrough), as they might envy my discovery of documents that were unavailable to them, 35 and 45 years ago.
Frank Pike was one of the two eightysomething veterans who liked to use email, and his quotes came from email correspondence with him from Auckland, New Zealand, where he now lives.
Admiral Syfret didn't leave behind memoirs, nor has his biography been written, but in another internet score of an obscure book, I found and used "Seven Sailors," written in 1945 by Royal Navy Commander Kenneth Edwards. Syfret was one of the seven sailors in the title, and there were 18 appetite-whetting pages about him.
Roger Hill's memoir "Destroyer Captain" provided many of his quotes in Chapter 20 and the rest of the book; and his Letter of Proceeding was long, because his actions during Operation Pedestal were so expansive. I spent a moving afternoon with his mate on the destroyer Ledbury, the brilliant Dr. Nixon, who took me out to his local pub near Salisbury, and bought me chicken and chips. He was over 90 at the time, and passed away xx later, before I ever got to speak to him again. He said he was sometimes criticized for treating burned or wounded Axis airmen the same as he did Allied seamen, but that there was never any question in his mind about it.
I drove from Salisbury to the southeast tip of England, near Dover, to visit with Don Allen, a retired osteopath and widower, who's quoted in Chapter 20 and more significantly later on.
The time I spent with Charles Henry Walker, GC, was probably the most fun I had during the whole trip to Malta and England, and I hope it shows in the pages. His daughter Anne cooked for us, and kept teasing her father about his "birds," during and after the war, and I gathered until that day. I had a couple of pints with him, but couldn't manage the malt whiskey. He was the sturdiest 90-year-old I've ever seen, and it was easy to imagine him being the toughest of seamen. He revered Roger Hill, his commanding officer on the Ledbury. Walker reappears in Chapter 38, when all humor is lost.
Into the Mediterranean
Beginning in Chapter 22, I was able to use the eyes and ears of correspondents embedded on Royal Navy warships. First was Norman Smart of the London "Daily Express;" in Chapter 23 we hear from Arthur Thorpe of the "Daily Telegraph;" and in 24 the BBC commentary by Anthony Kimmins begins.
The astonishing story of the Air France flying boat begins in Chapter 22, with a quote from the journal of Desmond "Dag" Dickens, a descendant of Charles; I sprinkled his purplish prose around a bit. The end of the French airliner story comes in Chapter 26.
Explaining the balzupped Operation Bellows was challenging, because all the accounts I could find were vague, contradictory or improbable. I weeded out the impossible, and was left with this version. Geoffrey Wellum should know, because as a 21-year-old lieutenant he led a group of eight Spitfires off the Furious; his wryly hilarious anecdote on page 116 comes from his wonderful memoir "First Light," which he waited 60 years to write.
The brief story of the ramming of the Italian submarine Dagabur by the destroyer Wolverine (originally an entire chapter) came from the LOP of Wolverine's 29-year-old captain, Lieutenant Commander Peter Gretton, a Royal Navy golden boy who went on to become an Admiral. It was years before Gretton learned that it wasn’t a German U-boat he rammed that night, because the Italians never acknowledged the sinking of their submarine, and records were only chased by Italian historians long after the war.
I have veteran George Amyes to thank for much of the information that's in Chapter 23, on the sinking of the venerable Eagle, a story that's never been told this precisely. When I visited Amyes in the industrial city of Hull on the North Sea, he handed me the log and journal of the famous U-boat kapitan, Helmut Rosenbaum. Amyes believed this was the only copy in Britain, having been given to him by Rosenbaum's widow. It's now in the Operation Pedestal museum on Malta. Amyes later mailed me a manuscript he had written about his time at sea, "Seven Years Plus," from which I learned arcane things about life at sea that made their way into the book elsewhere.
His friend and former Eagle shipmate, Les Goodenough, whose story about the "toboggan team" also appears in Chapter 23, told me about the rats glaring down from the beams. I spared the reader Goodenough's gruesome description of his lip after it was bitten by one of these rats as he slept in his hammock. Goodenough also directed me to xx library in Scotland, where they sent me biographical material on Captain McLachlan of the Eagle; I found more on websites of Scottish clans.
Chapter 25 opens with comments from Keith Park, the RAF commanding air officer on Malta during Operation Pedestal. The broken promise of the Liberators was a very big deal, and might have blown the whole thing. Park's bold complaint in his LOP was a message to Air Marshal Tedder, the chief of the RAF, who was in Cairo with Churchill during the early days of Pedestal. The "shootup" of the airfields on Sicily was actually more of a balzup; Park puts a positive spin on it.
Admiral Da Zara wrote his own book, "Pelle d'Ammariglio" (Admiral's Skin), which hasn't been translated into English, but an Italian-speaking automotive journalist friend skimmed relevant parts of it for me, just to make sure there were no contradictions with what I said about Da Zara.
The stories about the motobomba and the remote-controlled flying buffalo, like others, came from about half a dozen sources—a piece of info here, a piece there. "Malta at War" usually got me started on these puzzles.
Mark Whitmore, Director of Collections at the Imperial War Museum, made it easy for me to see everything I needed there. Like Peter Riva 43 years ago, I sat in a dark room in London and viewed footage shot during Operation Pedestal, of screaming Stukas diving absolutely vertically at ships. The description in the opening of Chapter 26 of the depth charge being launched from a destroyer comes from one of these films.
I spent a full and fascinated day in the IWM sound archive listening to dozens of segments of relevant interviews with war veterans; Richard McDonough's IWM program to conduct and record as many interviews as possible before we lose these men is an important unsung project, and I hope it gets the recognition and support it deserves in Britain.
The LOP of Lieutenant Commander Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, commanding officer of the destroyer Ithuriel that rammed the Italian sub Cobalto, might have been the most entertaining; he called the rescued Italians "scared stiff," as they were kept out on the destroyer's decks during attacks by Italian dive-bombers, and his description of balzups on his ship were wild, at least by Royal Navy standards of prose. As these Letters of Proceeding were all addressed to Admiral Syfret, I suspect his LOP might have been part of the reason he was scolded by Syfret, while Lieutenant Commander Gretton, who rammed a sub with his destroyer Wolverine, was praised; both young destroyer captains had made immediate decisions to ram, but for a number of reasons, Gretton's was correct and Maitland-Makgill-Crichton's was not.
The book "Observations," by Indomitable airman Hector Mackenzie, was moving, and I used his first-hand descriptions of the result of the direct hits on Indomitable, along with bits from Captain Tom Troubridge's LOP. Troubridge had served at the Admiralty in 1940, as an expert on the German Navy; he was the naval attaché in Berlin from 1936-'39, and knew Admiral Raeder, its commander-in-chief, quite well. He said that Raeder never believed in Hitler's war, nor that U-boats could ever be a decisive factor.
The Air France flying boat lands in the sea, at the end of Chapter 26. I found a handful of references to this incident, including from veterans, but they were brief, only suggestive, and confused. "Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942" tells the story, including a photo of the plane in the water. I didn't check the Paris newspapers, but they must have had plenty to say.
In Chapters 27 and 28, the excerpts from Captain Ferrini's log came from "The Naval War Against Hitler," by Donald Macintyre. I found the quote from Alfred Longbottom on the BBC website, on a link called "warmemories." Captain Mason's comments again come from his report to Eagle Oil and Shipping, as well as his journal, the Ohio's log, and one clip that Peter Riva tracked down of a piece by Movietone News, which was shown in theaters in 1942. It was the only time I was able to hear his voice. He did seem to be unflappable, as others had described him. As he smoked a cigarette with one bandaged hand, he discussed his George Cross medal matter-of-factly, almost abstractedly, without any indication of chagrin.
Ray Morton's quotes come from the transcript of an interview that's been floating around for some time. I called him in Australia and we chatted, but the interview told his story with more detail. He died xx.
Hell in the Narrows
On the first page of Chapter 29, it seems fair to wonder here if the attack by Axum might have been less successful, or even prevented entirely, if Admiral Syfret had sent Charybdis, Eskimo and Somali with Admiral Burrough's Force X when the fleet had first split up, especially since Force Z made it back to Gibraltar without needing them. But because Syfret never wrote his memoirs, there's no indication he ever second-guessed himself.
The instructions from the young gunner on the Almeria Lykes was one of my favorite lines in "Malta Convoy." The fact that it was probably made up makes it no less fun, or likely.
I used some license myself, in describing Larsen's shooting down the Stuka. But the motive was confirmed, the kill was confirmed, and that's how it was, at the trigger of an Oerlikons.
The stories in Chapter 30 all came from the Letters of Proceeding. I call Mr. Black's story surreal, and it was also long and vivid and weird—there could be a movie in it. Although Mr. Black doesn't say how they got back, they might have escaped their camp and been towed to Algiers, hiding in the back of a railroad ore car.
Chapter 31 was constructed from the writings of Churchill and Sir Charles Wilson, or Lord Moran as he would become. The juxtaposition of moments and events between Moscow and the Mediterranean is accurate, give or take a few minutes.
I spent a lot of follow-up time on the phone with Allan Shaw to get it straight about what happened on the Ohio, after they put out the fire and got the ship going again, in Chapter 32.
Because my contention in Chapter 32 that Commodore Venables ran from the fight is a strong one, I've carefully backed it up with quotes from the LOPs. His actions have been overlooked or glossed over, in previous historical accounts.
I caught up with the veteran Reg Coaker in a hotel in xx, where he was attending a reunion of xx; he told me the story about passing the Port Chalmers in the night, as it was headed back toward Gibraltar. Coaker's mind is precise; he's the other veteran who's comfortable with email, and has written a lot about his war experiences, some of which is in the Imperial War Museum.
Chapter 33 is the crux of this story. It might be going too far to suggest that World War II was decided the moment Mussolini made the decision in the middle of the night to turn his fleet of warships back to Sicily, but maybe not. Follow the dominoes.
The Wellington airman Dennis Cooke mailed me his written account of that night, and afterward we spoke on the phone a couple of times, to get the rest of his fascinating first-hand story.
Admiral Burrough's final succinct word came from the Source Notes in "Pedestal," by Peter Smith.
Chapter 34 begins, for me, like the scene in "Apocalypse Now" after Captain Willard goes down the river to find only insane chaos and spectacular explosions like fireworks in the night sky. My description of an E-boat in Chapter 34 (page 186) is a generic one, because there were many different types. The information about the E-boats being hit came from the book "La Battaglia Aeronavale Di Mezzo Agosto," which is what the Italians call Operation Pedestal; passages were translated for me by Matthew Riva.
The quote from petty officer Cunningham, and the post script to the scuttling of the Manchester, came from the 2004 documentary "Running the Gauntlet," produced and directed by Crispin Sadler, and narrated by the actor Freddie Treves, who appears in Chapter 37 as a 17-year-old cadet on the merchant ship Waimarama.
The tale of the Almeria Lykes in Chapter 35 is told in and between the lines of the LOPs, and a bit more. Patrick Osborn, in Modern Military Records at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Md., tracked down a number of casualty records, including those of the Almeria Lykes and Santa Elisa. Bill Chubb, chief of the Mariner Records Branch at the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, found more, including a slim file on Almeria Lykes, which included one note on a little piece of paper about the fate of junior engineer Henry Brown. I left it at that.
The account in Chapter 36 of the E-boat attack on the Santa Elisa is taken from sources previously mentioned, except for Dales' quote on page 197 about the bodies and blood, which comes from "The End of the Beginning," an excellent book whose co-author, Phil Craig, interviewed Dales. The rest of Dales' quotes come from his report to the Merchant Marine. The italicized portions in this chapter are passages from John Follansbee's manuscript.
I interviewed George Nye, who's quoted on page 201, at his home in Dartford, near London, after he had just come in from a round of golf with his wife. He said he could remember Dales standing up in the lifeboat and taking control as clearly as if it had happened that afternoon on the 18th fairway. It changed his life, because Nye was blown away by the fact that Dales, this born leader with such presence and authority, was just a teenager like him. It made him realize possibilities within himself.
In Chapter 37, my description of the Waimarama on fire came from viewing clips at the Imperial War Museum. John Jackson's words came from his LOP. My interview with Freddie Treves, conducted at his home in Wembley near London, was profound. After the war, he began a long and rich career as an actor. The italicized words at the end of his story are from the beginning of a play he wrote about Operation Pedestal, which was presented more than 50 years ago on the BBC's "Saturday Night Radio Theater," and which he played for me.
On page 209, Admiral Burrough mistakenly believed the Waimarama was the Clan Ferguson. The LOPs contain many such errors. "What ship?" was a signal often passed in the night. But mostly the question wasn't asked, because it rarely mattered.
The italicized passage on page 210 is from "Destroyer Captain." And finally, on page 211, the interview with Charles Henry Walker is resumed.
In Chapter 38, I edited the report by the Ohio's engineer, James Wyld, for the sake of brevity, omitting some parts but changing no words. And I loved putting together the story about the Ledbury pirates drunkenly raiding the bushes of the Tunisian coast, as told mostly by Roger Hill.
Ron Linton, who told me the story in Chapter 39 about his ship actually getting close enough to Malta to see it, died without ever learning that it was his own captain who turned the Dorset back to rejoin the convoy, where it was promptly dive-bombed and sunk. His candid quote on page 220 also explains a lot about the convoy's frequent fire on friendly aircraft.
The brief description of the dogfight by the RAF ace Buzz Buerling came from his own book, "Malta Spitfire, The Diary of a Fighter Pilot."
The first quote in Chapter 40 comes from John Follansbee; he was there in the wardroom of the Penn, along with Mason, Thomson, Larsen, Dales and other officers. Ensign Suppiger's story on page 226 came from a BBC4 video made in 1992, at the 50th reunion of Operation Pedestal on Malta.
On page 228, I felt it was important to show that the Ohio's liaison officer, chief officer and chief engineer all declared that they had been ordered to abandon ship.
I don't know if Admiral Burrough was ever asked why he returned to Gibraltar, instead of staying to protect the Ohio, which he knew was under fire. He might have had orders from the Admiralty; in Gibraltar, he took a salt-water shower on the decks of the Ashanti—the men were apparently more embarrassed by the naked admiral than he was—and rushed off to command another operation.
Two Men, One Warrior
I never realized until I was well into the writing of the manuscript that I was using a technique which has no name, at least not that I'm aware of. I used the many memoirs, journals and accounts like interviews, and wrote large parts of the story as if I were a newspaper reporter and the battle was a natural disaster. The context and time of the words "he said" were lost, because they would have been impossible to keep in place, and didn't matter in the big picture anyhow. Nowhere was that more true than in the final nine chapters.
The characters took control of the story to its conclusion, so few of the sources in Part VIII are new. The voices reappear. There's more Churchill, Lord Moran, Larsen, Dales, other veterans and Letters of Proceeding.
I'd like to thank each individual I've mentioned as a source. I was moved by the help I received from so many people who took an interest in this project. Peter Riva's research skills usually surpassed my own—certainly his knowledge did. My friend Carol Pogash read two chapters at a time when I was overwhelmed by the depth of the story, and made two simple suggestions that turned the voice in a needed direction. My friends John and Suzanne Mockett invited me into their home in Northampton, to recover between legs of my drive around England. Moira Terry steered me around communication traps in London, and turned over her cell phone to use on my drive. Jan Larsen fed me in Malta, and was there for anything I needed. Cliff Dales and Donna Dales Lovett showed me Georgia hospitality. And finally, Bob Loomis' vision of this story was clearer than my own. Without his wisdom, guidance and patience, "At All Costs" would have been lost at sea.