Great Navy Reads

In my list of favorite hobbies, reading definitely falls towards the top of the list (blogging is also up there, but that’s really more of an addiction). As you might expect from somebody who has spent their entire adult life in the Navy, I’m a great fan of nautically-themed books. I figured that I would take this opportunity to share some of my favorites. Whether you’re into non-fiction, historical fiction, or straight-up make believe, one of the below selections is for you.

The Master and Commander Series by Patrick O’Brian. If you’ve seen the movie by the same name starring Russell Crowe, you have a sense for what this series is about. This is actually a group of around 20 books that follow the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the service to the Royal Navy. While the movie contains a lot of the characters from the books and was filmed on a replica of the HMS Surprise (which just happens to be moored here in San Diego at the Maritime Museum), the actual story depicted is not contained in the books.

This series would be considered in the “Historical Fiction” genre. O’Brian actually does an amazing job of keeping the books historically accurate while inserting his characters into some of the roles. Since most of our Navy traditions originate with the British Navy (some go through them back to the Roman and Viking navies), I’ve always been intrigued by this age. While they aren’t necessary quick reads, they are a great series of books if you just want to lose yourself in another time and learn a little bit about history while doing it.

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. This is a fictional story about ship during WWII. It depicts the series of events that lead up to a mutiny onboard the USS CAINE while underway in the Pacific. It also tells the story of the trials that take place afterwards. The “mutiny” is probably much more mild than what you normally picture. There are no swords involved and nobody is thrown over the side or marooned on a desert island. It is still a terrific story though.

My favorite part about this book is how well it depicts the Commanding Officer’s ability to affect the overall environment of a ship. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where a group will take on one leader’s personality more than a ship underway. This story does an amazing job of telling that story. On a slight side note, this story is so good that it is where the actor Michael Caine got his stage name from (although it was probably from the theater version instead of the book).

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer. This is a completely nonfiction tale, and quite frankly, is one of my favorite books of all time. I’m a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO), and this is a story about what is probably the Surface Navy’s finest hour. This is true despite the fact that you have probably never heard of the battle.

This is the account of a group a carrier-escorts and destroyer-escorts (“tin cans” that were never supposed to see battle) during WWII. While the rest of our fleet was off fighting other battles or chasing diversions, these small ships were left to guard a body of water off the Philippine island of Samar. While there, one of the most powerful Japanese fleets of the war sailed right at them. These tiny, mass-produced ships were able to hold off one of the most incredibly forces in the history of naval warfare through incredible courage, amazing seamanship, and a little luck. This story is not widely known, but it should be a part of every history book that has anything to do with WWII. I’ve read it a few times, and just thinking about it makes me want to shine my SWO pin. It is seriously an amazing story.

If you enjoy naval literature, please take a look at any of the three books I just talked about. They really are amazing.

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