“The Atlantic War Remembered: An Oral History Collection” edited by John T. Mason Jr., Naval Institute Press, 2020, 512 pages, $45
World War II has entered history. Some veterans are still alive, but fewer with each passing day. Even those born between 1939 and 1945 are retirement age.
“The Atlantic War Remembered: An Oral History Collection” edited by John T. Mason Jr., allows people today to read what those veterans remembered. It collects accounts from participants in World War II’s Atlantic naval war.
Its interviews cover virtually all levels of participation, from senior leaders to individuals at the lowest levels of combat. The book was assembled from interviews collected between 1960 and 1980 by the U.S. Naval Institute or the Columbia Oral History Project. All aspects of the naval war are covered.
There are accounts by the women who headed up maritime women’s auxiliary services (WAVES, SPARS and Marine Corps Women’s Reserves — Navy, Coast Guard and Marines respectively) about the tribulations of organizing them. Other interviews cover technical aspects of the war: how production increases were accomplished and the challenges in developing radar and other operational systems.
There are many combat accounts, including Atlantic actions, and Mediterranean and English Channel invasion support. There are other, more focused accounts. Draper Kaufmann, who later organized the Navy’s World War II frogmen, talks about his work doing unexploded bomb disposal in England before the United States’ entry in the war.
Because this book relies on the memories of those recounting their experiences, it contains errors. These errors illustrate the confusion and fog experienced by participants. Often the name of a ship or place is misremembered or a widely believed but false rumor recounted. In other cases operational security prevented memorialists from knowing the full story.
Daniel Gallery recounts his experience commanding a hunter-killer carrier force sinking U-boats. At one point he marvels at the accuracy of an analyst in Washington in predicting where U-boats were. The Allies were reading U-boat message traffic, informing them where U-boats were. These were passed to Navy commanders as “predictions,” a secret finally revealed years after Gallery’s interview.
The “The Atlantic War Remembered” also captures the attitudes and outlooks of World War II participants unfiltered through the lens of today’s political correctness.