Champagne Navy, Canada's Small Boat Raiders of the Second
NON FICTION BOOK REVIEW
Title: Champagne Navy, Canada's Small Boat Raiders of the Second
World War; by Brian Nolan & Brian Jeffrey Street; Random
House of Canada; 362pages; Hardcover,
Reviewer: A.T.Connellan, "This book is such a "good read" you
won't even want to get up to let the dog out."
Canada's Strike Force
This is the time of the year that we proudly wear the red poppy in
remembrance of the service, in war, to our country by the men and
women of Canada. What a perfect time for a book that adds to the
collective Canadian memory of that service to appear in the book
In a stark, stirring, and often times humorous manner the
authors, Nolan and Street, recount the history of what began as the
"costly farces" [Coastal Forces] and became a highly efficient,
effective, lethal hit and run naval strike force. This book is such a
"good read" you won't even want to get up to let the dog out.
This is their first collaboration, however both have written books in
the same genre. Brian Nolan is the author of Hero; The Buzz Beurling
Story; and, King's War: Mackenzie King and the Politics of War,
1939-1945. Brian Jeffrey Street wrote The Parachute Ward: A Canadian
Surgeon's Wartime Adventures in Yugoslavia.
Formed under the Royal Navy, the Light Coastal Forces, by 1940,
were manned largely by Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reservists.
That these were not spit and polish sailors soon became evident.
Brash, cheeky and irreverent, chaffing under the sometimes mindless
insensitivity of Royal Navy brass safely commanding desks ashore,
they nevertheless developed over the next 4 years into a fearsomely
effective killing force.
The commanding officers clearly set the tone: Cornelius Burke who
smuggled his wife aboard the ship taking him to England; Tommy
Fuller, with his crew sank a German U-boat, and discovered among
the survivors the cook, who he promptly added to his crew as Able
Seaman "Jock MacPherson,"
"Wimpy" Maitland precipitated a brawl one night with 51st Highland
Division officers when he responded to a challenge from one by
ordering a sherry in a long-stemmed glass, downed the sherry,
ate the bowl, and handed the stem to the cocky Scot saying, "Now Sir,
I've left the greatest delicacy for you. How about it?"
The other Skippers were equally colorful and the circumstances of
their birth, growth, and enlistment give insight of the unique bond that
existed amongst this fraternity of buccaneers, who in 1943 were
formed into the all Canadian flotillas; the 29th, 56th [the Cowboy Flotilla],
The authors provide a well researched, detailed description of the
boats involved in particular our MGB/MTB [Motor gun boat/motor
torpedo boat], the 71 & 1/2 foot, 110 foot Fairmile D, or Dog boat, and
the adversary German E boat [Enemy war boat], the Italian MAS boat
[Motoscafi Armati Silurante,] armaments and speed.
Against this background we are given a chilling account of
the missions, the evolution of tactical skill from the early
relatively clumsy sorties to the increasingly ruthless
efficiency that gave them their fearsome reputation, and
ultimately contributed to Germany going from being "the
hammer to being the anvil."
As a child of the Second War, growing up on the prairies I
had aunts, uncles, and cousins in the war. We were
surrounded by the activity of training; soldiers drilling on
neighborhood streets, running across fields after school to
the airport, to watch young men from all over the
commonwealth who had come to "be shown the way to the
sun" under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Later we learned the names of the Flying Aces; Buzz
Beurling, Julian Sale, and others. We felt the pall that
settled over our neighborhood when Dougie's older brother Frank
was reported "Killed," Mrs. Landru's son "Wounded in Action," and
those who were "Missing in Action."
Perhaps the most remarkable were the "Sailors" training on
a an-made lake, 10 feet deep at most, a thousand miles from
salt water. Preparing to fight a war; on an ocean; in a ship; the
size of either we couldn't even begin to
Fight they did with valor, distinction, and effectiveness. These
are the memories that were stirred by Champagne Navy, and
I'm grateful to the authors for adding to my understanding of the
role played by those "Prairie Sailors", and others in the Coastal
This is a precious book, a book to be cherished by those brave men
and women who participated, their family members, and by all the rest
Lest we forget.
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