At All Costs
Authored by Sam Moses, Narrated by Michael Prichard
Audiobook, 11 hours and 13 minutes
Published by Tantor Audio, December 2006
Malta is a rather small island located in the Mediterranean approximately fifty miles south of the Sicilian coast. During the Second World War it was a British colony, and was a considerable thorn in the side of the Axis. From Malta, British submarines and aircraft could attack Axis shipping attempting to supply Rommel’s Afrika Corps. Obviously, the Axis could not let this threat stand. The German and Italian strategy was to lay siege to the British base, bombing the island daily and cutting off resupply to starve the island into submission.
By the summer of 1942 the situation on Malta was critical, without resupply of food and fuel the island would be forced to surrender, a humiliating defeat for the British and a great strategic victory for the Axis. The British organized a convoy named Operation Pedestal consisting of thirteen merchantmen including the tanker Ohio, which alone carried enough fuel and heating oil necessary for Malta’s survival. As if to underscore the convoy’s importance, the escort was extremely strong, consisting of over fifty warships which included two battleships and five aircraft carriers. Opposing this force were over five hundred Italian and German aircraft, the Italian surface fleet, several submarines, and a flotilla of torpedo boats.
The story of the Pedestal convoy is told through one of the Merchant Marine Officers, a Norwegian named Fredrick Larsen. Larsen left his wife and child behind when Norway was occupied. Larson was assigned to one of the ships in the convoy, the freighter Santa Elise. When the Santa Elisa was sunk Larson and another Officer, Francis Dales, were rescued by a British destroyer. The tanker Ohio was also hit several times and abandoned, but still afloat. Several sailors including Larsen and Dales volunteered to re-board the Ohio, and the Royal Navy attempted to tow her into Malta.
I was impressed by the level of research which went into this book, which included log entries and reports from senior officers and crewmen from several ships. Larsen is a good lens through which to tell the story as it gives some perspective of what types of men made up the Merchant Marine during WWII. This is an epic tale of the war at sea and a book I can recommend without hesitation.