Review: War under the Red Ensign 1914-1918

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Review: War under the Red Ensign 1914-1918

Post by Andy H » 24 Dec 2010 22:22

War under The Red Ensign 1914-1918 by Bernard Edwards, published by Pen & Sword ISBN 9781848842298

What an enthralling and hypnotic read! 5stars

If I could sum up this book review in a single sentence, then my statement above says its all and the rest of this review is but waffling superlatives to eat up a the page space.

Come the outbreak of the First World War, the merchant marine operated by Great Britain and her Dominions dominated world trade. Some 43% of the world’s merchant ships flew the Red Ensign, safe in the knowledge that it was defended & supported by largest and best navy in the world, with unequalled logistical networks around the globe.

This mercantile maritime leviathan was in the safe hands of the stereotypical crusty sailing masters/captains of the cargo liners and the tramps. The cargo liners with there finer lines, greater speed and more modern equipment ploughed the sea lanes between specific ports with advertised sailings. The tramps on the other hand were the older, slower and less advanced vessels that followed no set pattern and traded/moved around the globe at the whim of the charter market. It was these two ship types that were to become the pray of the dreaded German U-Boat during WW1.

Edwards’s charts the developing battle between the Red Ensign flagged ships and the U-Boats from the very first sinking 8hours after the war started, all the way through the last days in November 1918, via the telling of individual duals between the foes. He recounts the horrors & heroism shown by both sides, with no quarter being asked or sort. However through all of it comes the overriding tale of the human spirit when faced with adversity.

A prime example of this was the fate of the British ship Coquet. The Coquet, which was on its way to Port Said in Egypt, when it met U34 on January 5th 1916 which forced it to stop some 220miles east south east of Malta. After abandoning ship the Captain of the Coquet had an altercation with U34’s commander which resulted in the lifeboats being stripped of all navigation aids, thus dooming the vessel to drift without direction. The Coquets captain kept a log of there 6 days adrift which certainly gives a vivid account of the conditions they encountered. However upon reaching land, they realised that they were still far from safe. They were in the realm of the Senussi Berbers in the Gulf of Sirte; these fanatical followers of Islam regarded all Christians, Jews and Turks as infidels to be cut down by the sword. After a brief encounter with the Berbers, 10men were captured, whilst 2 were killed and the remaining 3 inc the Captain escaped, finally being rescued by an Italian steamer. The 10 captured men were then taken a 3 week nightmare journey until they reached an abandoned Italian fort, and were placed there with other prisoners. For the next 2-3months they toiled in repairing the Italian fort under the direst circumstances. Then in April some German officers appeared with the son of a Turkish General, and things started to improve. However it was not until July 1916, when the Coquet survivors had been prisoners of the Berbers for 7months that their ordeal finally ended when they were released. They finally arrived in London 7months and 25days after the Coquet had been sunk.

Accounts similar to this ooze from the 200 odd pages of this book, which includes 8 pages of B/W photographs.


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