Sunday, September 5, 2010

More Pirates

I've been a longtime fan of the Richard Bolitho tales of Alexander Kent, but the Last Raider is the first Douglas Reeman book I've read. The irony here being that Kent is the pen-name of Reeman. I wasn't disappointed.

In war one expects to see enemy troops meet on the battlefield. Victory generally consists of one force defeating the other. But what if one of the forces can't take to the field because they lack equipment, supplies, transportation, food; logistics. Then the one combatant would win by default, right? Targeting an enemies ability to get supplies to the fight is a strategic consideration. In WWII US strategic bombers destroyed factories, infrastructure, fuel depots, all with the aim of keeping assets out of the hands of German soldiers. A sea-going version of this approach was to sink supply ships. When done by easily identifiable warships it seems like an 'in-bounds' move. But another approach was to mount guns on a civilian ship, in Navy service, with minimal disguise and have it sink civilian cargo ships...this is the 'commerce raider'.

The last raider is a fictionalized account of the last German commerce raider of WWI. A satisfying read from before I was born, both the content and the book itself ( it published in 1963!) I saw many similarities with the Bolitho novels. Reeman (a WWII British Navy veteran) writes with authority on how men in war behave with one another. I saw echoes from my own combat experiences (though I was a US Army officer- some things seem universal).

This was an older novel than other Reeman/Kent stories I have read. So I presume he was newer at the craft, though I couldn't tell. The books are written in third person, but he has this disconcerting habit of switching around through dozens of people's POV. It was also an ensemble cast, and when you POV wobble like he does it can be hard to follow. I think it worked well, given that this is only the second WWI novel I have read from the German side (All Quiet being the other with most graduates of the American public school system).

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