Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Aubrey- Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian
Dean King with John B. Hattendorf, with Maps by William Clipson and Adam Merton Cooper. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1996. 219 pp. Maps. (Hardcover) $30.00 ($27.00). (Softcover) $19.95 ($17.95).
Reviewed by Professor Robert C. Jones
Undoubtedly, Jack Aubrey is correct when, in The Wine-Dark Sea, about to lead a boarding party against the Alas tor, he assures his shipmates, “None of you can go wrong if you knock an enemy on the head.” But for those of us following Jack and Stephen on their 18-novel odyssey around the varied seas and harbors of the world, a little geographical guidance, from time to time, also is useful to let us know that we are heading in the right direction.
Right on cue—in the wake, so to speak, of A Sea of Words (Henry Holt &. Co.,1995, the eminently informative lexicon and companion to Patrick O’Brian’s series of novels—comes Dean King’s newest response to an O’Brian reader’s needs: Harbors and High Seas. For each novel in the series (except for The Yellow Admiral, 1996, this reference supplies maps—created by naval cartographer and former head of graphic arts at the U.S. Naval Academy, William Clipson—that show the routes of voyages taken and locations of major battles, landings, crossings, storms, and other mishaps. In addition, other maps and charts depict London, the British Isles, and the 1812 European political landscape; maritime wind patterns; and favored trade routes circa 1814. Descriptive captions from The Naval Chronicle adjoin period maps and illustrations.
In his author’s note for The Nutmeg of Consolation, O’Brian comments that the memoirs and letters of seamen, together with Admiralty and Navy Board records, publication of the Navy Records Society, and The Naval Chronicle are the source of much of his factual information and sense of the time. What Dean King and his associates have done for O’Brian’s readers is to collect, organize, and depict, in one volume, a marvelously detailed complement to O’Brian’s own findings from that “wonderfully rich pasture” of information.
Beginning from Port Mahon in the Mediterranean with the lucky cruise of the Sophie and continuing through most of the navigable waters of the world, these graphic records add solidity to O’Brian’s stories and give insight to his craftsmanship. One notes, for example, Aubrey’s near encounters with the island of St. Helena in four of the early novels, as well as a portentous entry about St. Helena from the spring 1801 edition of The Naval Chronicle.
From the Antipodes to Zante Island— with a number of fictitious locations such as Ashgrove Cottage, Mapes Court, and Melbury Lodge—Harbors and High Seas will keep faithful readers on course as they travel with Jack and Stephen through the 19th-century world.
C. S. Forester. Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Association, 1996. (Hardcover) $19.95 ($17.95 for Marine Corps Association members). (Softcover) $4-99 ($3.95 for Marine Corps Association members).
Reviewed by Dr. Roderick Speer
Rifleman Dodd—by the great historical novelist C. S. Forester, best known for his Hornblower series and three major novels, The African Queen (1935), The General (1936), and The Good Shepherd (1955)—is the basic, beginning volume for young Marines (through E-4) on Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Kru- lak’s required reading list for all Marines; further, it is the Commandant’s Book of the Year for the second year in a row, having also been chosen in 1995 by General Carl Mundy. As one who has served in both the Navy and the light infantry, I am here to appreciate why.
The novel is available at Marine Corps exchanges, courtesy of a 1996 reprint by the Marine Corps Association, Quantico. But the reprint tells us nothing of the publishing history, and if you try to locate it in a library card file, you likely will encounter problems, because Rifleman Dodd is not the original title; it first was published in 1932 as Death to the French. In 1942, it got its new title when the Reader’s Club of New York brought out Rifleman Dodd and the Gun: Two Novels of the Peninsular Wars. (The Gun had been published in 1933 and was turned into a cinematic potboiler in 1973 as “The Pride and the Passion.”) Unlike Forester’s usual fare, the sea does not figure in either work. But the campaign is key to understanding the Napoleonic era, which is central to the later Homblower series (1937-67). It was a steady wasting away of Napoleon’s power and building up of Arthur Wellesley’s— the “iron” Duke of Wellington’s—reputation and career.
The action in Rifleman Dodd occurs in 1810 in Portugal. By that time, the British had secured a base in Lisbon and established defenses called the Lines of Torres Vedras. Our rifleman, Matthew Dodd, was in the British Ninety-fifth Regiment of Foot, active in the Peninsular Campaign (1808-14) against Napoleon. He finds himself cut off from his regiment, which has retreated within the defensive lines. “But Dodd was not of the type which surrenders too easily.” He must find his way around a French army and through a devastated landscape back to his regiment. What results is a gripping tale of stealthy movement and sabotage in enemy territory. Dodd is like Forester’s Homblower hero, the Man Alone. Not that he is solitary—he is a natural leader and is able to enlist aid from others—but he is alone in his ability and authority, moving from a strong inner core of devotion to duty: “The regiment had taught him that he must do his duty or die in the attempt.” Perhaps it is this sense of duty to military unit—“his regiment, which meant to him his home, his family, his honour and his future”—which so appealed to the Marine Corps.
Rifleman Dodd is a five-year veteran and expert in use of a rifle. In 1810, a rifle was a highly specialized weapon, as compared with the common musket. Riflemen were rather the special forces of their day, with the greater accuracy of their weapon and their comparative independence of movement: “He was a light infantryman and accustomed to some extent to acting by himself.” He is no thinker in an intellectual sense but, by training and instinct, knows how to maneuver through combat and survival scenarios. In his predicament, he has one mission: to return to his unit, a yearning compounded by genuine desire and a sense of duty.
The landscape in which Dodd finds himself—“that nightmare country of tall rocks and scrubby trees and low bushes”— has been blighted by war. The British and their Portuguese allies (who cry “Morron os Franceses,” Death to the French) have seen to it that the invading French will find little to forage. The Portuguese peasantry has sought remote refuge in mountains, and it is here Dodd encounters a small group of guerrillas. They see his natural warfighting ability and, while speaking no common language, are willing to follow his maneuver gestures and tactics. The result is harassment of the French by violent little skirmishes. Later, however, the French conduct a sweep and massacre the guerrillas and their village.
Dodd falls in with two other peasants and conceives a mission to destroy pontoon bridging equipment that the French had been constructing with great effort, to allow them to attack the British lines. No longer is getting back to his unit his primary mission. In fact, by going on the offensive from his perception of the strategic necessity to destroy the bridge, Dodd increased the odds against getting back. No matter, he instinctively does the right thing: hurt the enemy.
The way Dodd carries out his mission exhibits the following combat strengths:
► The ability to sleep at any hour
► The ability to awaken at a predetermined time
► Refusal to be depressed
► “Inexhaustible, terrible patience”
► Lack of pity or despair
► Knowledge of the military mind
► Technical knowledge
► Knowing the bold from the foolhardy
► Cooking meat for survival
► Rehydrating while resting at night
► Primacy of duty over happiness
► Importance of preparation
► Ability to improvise
Forester subjects this tale to both a French perspective and his own ironic one. Chapters frequently alternate to give us the viewpoint of hapless Sergeant Godinot, a soldier helpless before his more wily adversary. This would tell a young Marine what it is like to be on the passive, receiving end of combat: no experience to relish. Forester also undercuts any simplistic or sentimental sense of war by incisive irony: Immediately after the French have quelled Dodd’s mostly successful fire, the French officer-in-charge thinks to look at an order he had stuffed unread into his pocket while fighting the fire; it directs him to burn all the bridging material and retreat! Dodd’s victory, while irrelevant from a command or political perspective, is nonetheless one in personal terms because of the fighting spirit he has evinced. Returning to his unit, he is too tired and too self-effacing to even talk about his odyssey. The main concern of his officers is that he get a haircut; of himself, that he get a good meal.
Forester’s tale is a virtual primer in the qualities of “courage and resolution and initiative” based on a sense of duty. That is why young Marines should read it.
Books of Interest
By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Pete Ellis: An Amphibious Warfare Prophet 1880-1923
Dirk A. Ballendorf & Merrill. L. Bartlett. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. 215 pp. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $26.95 ($21.56).
Pete Ellis, a troubled genius known as the father of amphibious warfare, is a legendary character shrouded in mystery and contr&versy. A hero of World War I who had problems with alcohol and depression, Ellis foresaw war with Japan. In 1923, he embarked on a journey into the Pacific to gather intelligence in support of his proposed island-hopping campaign. That plan later would serve as the framework for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific offensive in World War II. His mysterious death while on that quest only added to the enigma of his life. This first complete biography, based upon extensive research using family papers, fitness reports, Japanese sources, and eyewitness interviews, reveals the truth about Ellis, laying to rest the mystery of his death and putting this unusual and historically significant man into focus.
The Tagebuch of Ernst Silge, USN
Frank H. Pierce III. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1996. 264 pp. App. Photos. $25.00 ($23.75) paper.
Ernst Silge, a German immigrant, kept an excellent record of his adventures in his Tagebuch (German for diary) as he traveled through the Far East in a bygone era. Taken directly from that diary, this book records the daily routine of a man who went to sea in the last days of the sailing U.S. Navy, taking the reader aboard the steam sailing frigate Omaha near the end of the 19th century. Pierce has done extensive supplemental research to verify and round out the account.
Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap
Cecil B. Curry. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s 1996. 432 pp. App. Bib. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $25.95 ($23.35).
The man who led Vietnamese forces in their wars against Japanese, French, and U.S. forces, is revealed by one of the few Westerners to have interviewed him extensively. A telling biography about this heretofore enigmatic man is long overdue, and Curry has provided a study that sheds much light on the man who was victorious at the watershed battle of Dien Bien Phu in the First Indochina War and who commanded North Vietnamese forces as they rolled into Saigon, signaling the end of America’s Vietnam War.