In Action with the Destroyers 1939-1945 - The Wartime memoirs of Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN, ed. Anthony Cumming

In Action with the Destroyers 1939-1945 - The Wartime memoirs of Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN, ed. Anthony Cumming

This is one of the most engaging autobiographies I’ve read in a long time. Dennis is a very engaging writer, and has a lightness of touch that lifts the mood of even the darkest periods of the war. He spent the entire conflict serving on destroyers, eventually rising to command the elderly but modernised HMS Valorous for the last few months of the war in Europe and the modern HMS Tetcott, with which he expected to be sent to the Far East. However for most of the book he was serving in HMS Griffin, a modern destroyer in 1939, having only been completed in 1936. He served on her until the start of 1943, so saw most of the hardest fighting of the war in the same ship, mainly serving in the Mediterraean, where he took part in many of the main events of the war, from the Malta convoys to the disastrous evacuation from Crete, as well as taking part in the Arctic convoys, joining the fleet in the Indian Ocean during the Japanese foray into that ocean just before Midway, anti-invasion duty in 1940 and a whole range of other duties.

An overarching theme in the first period was the lack of anti-aircraft firepower. The Griffinbegan the war with two .50in anti-aircraft machine guns, entirely inadequate for the task. Dennis  saw how dangerous the Stuka could be during his time in home waters in 1940, but found that the threat wasn’t fully appreciated in the Mediterranean, where the Italians didn’t pose such a threat. The arrival of the Luftwaffe transformed the situation, and made the Malta Convoys and the evacuation of Crete especially costly. You can feel Dennis’s frustration at his ship’s inability to effectively fight back, followed later by the reverse frustration – his later ships had much more powerful AA guns, including some designed to deal with the Stukas, but by the time they arrived the Stuka threat was over, and Dennis never saw another one!

This is a splendid autobipgraphy – well written, engaging, fast passed, exciting and humerous. For every moment of tension and tragedy there is a period of light hearted relief, and one gets some idea of the special aspects of life in the destroyers, where the spirit of adventure of small warships in earlier wars was still to be found. 

1 - The End of Peace and the Phoney War
2 - The Finest Hour
3 - Crisis in the Mediterranean
4 - The Far East and Back
5 - The Tide Turns
6 - The Final Victory

Author: J A J Dennis DSC RN
Editor: Anthony Cumming
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Publisher: Hardcover
Year: 2017

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