ALL COSTS: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners
Turned the Tide of World War II
With verve and empathy, author and former Navy Seaman Moses gives WWII's Operation Pedestal, "the most heavily defended and heavily attacked naval convoy in history," its first book-length treatment since Peter Smith's 1970 volume Pedestal, drawing on more than two years of his own research and 40-plus hours of new interviews with veterans of the mission. By mid-1942, the vital island base at Malta was under siege by Axis forces and almost exhausted of resources, leaving its inhabitants to starve in hiding. The British response was Operation Pedestal: almost 50 warships escorting 14 merchantmen on a do-or-die resupply mission beneath skies ruled by Hitler's Luftwaffe and through a gantlet of torpedo boats, submarines and minefields. Key to the operation was the SS Ohio, a tanker carrying over 12,000 tons of fuel oil, diesel, and kerosene. The Ohio was paralyzed after taking seven direct bomb and torpedo hits, and her dead weight kept breaking towlines. Under order, her crew abandoned ship, but two American sailors, their own ship sunk, volunteered to man the Ohio's guns and give the Royal Navy another chance to bring the Ohio in under tow. Merchant Mariners Francis Dales and Frederick Larsen kept the dive-bombers off balance as other volunteers fought to keep the tanker afloat and the tows intact. "The wording was to bring the Ohio in at all costs," Larson said later, and the remarkable heroism that won the day, as well as Moses' thorough retelling, makes this an exciting, imperative read for anyone interested in WWII. (Nov.7)
THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
November 24, 2006 Friday, NORTHWEST BOOKSHELF“A former Sports Illustrated writer, who now lives in the Washington town of White Salmon, crafts an intense, riveting naval saga from World War II that brilliantly revives the forgotten tale of how two heroic U.S. Merchant Marine sailors played a key role in the crucial battle over the island of Malta.”
|The Seattle Times
November 26, 2006 Sunday
At All Costs
What was it like on the island of Malta, the most heavily bombed place on Earth, in the dreadful summer of '42? "The Maltese lived mostly on rationed bread, olive oil and tomato paste, drank homemade wine they called 'screech,' and smoked bamboo for want of tobacco," Sam Moses reminds us. "Citrus, fig, date and almond trees grew wild on the island, but they were perpetually picked clean. Adult males received a weekly ration of six ounces of rice, six ounces of preserved meat, six ounces of preserved fish, and five ounces of cheese. Women and children received less." And any freighter that set out for Malta to lend weight to those diets was on a virtual suicide mission.
What was it like for the RAF pilots aboard the aircraft carriers embarked on just such a mission? "Most of them were fresh meat and very young," Moses writes. "They were told that if their plane didn't get off the flight deck, suffered a splash over the sharp end, and didn't immediately sink, they were not to climb out of the cockpit and try to swim away because the ship would run over them. It's better to sink with your plane, hold your breath while the aircraft carrier passes above, and then swim out of the cockpit toward the surface. The advice was delivered with a straight face and met with a combination of awe and appropriate irreverence."
And what was it like when everything went to hell? Ask those who saw the HMS Eagle disappear beneath the waves, eight minutes after the carrier was torpedoed by the U-73. "The veterans say they can close their eyes and see it clearly, as if it were happening at this very moment," Moses writes. "Their minds can't erase the image of hundreds of shouting heads in the oily water, along with the dead bodies. The men and the flotsam and the ugly black slick, glistening under the midday sun on the dead flat sea. That was all that was left, eight minutes after the torpedoes hit."
In At All Costs, Moses -- a former writer for Sports Illustrated who lives in White Salmon, Wash. -- has delivered an enthralling narrative about Operation Pedestal, the convoy that "turned the tide of World War II." Malta, desperately holding on against the German and Italian bombers, was the linchpin of the Mediterranean, "more desirable a prize than Moscow," said Air Marshall Hugh Lloyd, the Royal Air Force commander.
As Moses explains, "It was all about oil, again. Churchill called Malta the 'windlass of the tourniquet' on the supply lines of General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, and Rommel was after the Mideast oil, which fueled the British war effort. Axis convoys from Italy to North Africa kept Rommel in supplies, but submarines and bombers from Malta effectively destroyed much of that shipping; bombers also made runs over North Africa, striking truck convoys. If Malta were to fall, and the Luftwaffe and Italian Navy were to move in where the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were desperately hanging on, Churchill believed it would be impossible for the British Navy to keep Rommel from marching across North Africa and taking Egypt. After that, the Mideast oilfields would be lost. Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Persia (Iran) would be Hitler's."
Ah, for the day when our statesmen used metaphors such as the "windlass of the tourniquet."
Operation Pedestal featured 13 freighters, dozens of warships and the S.S. Ohio, an American tanker bearing 103,000 barrels of Texas oil. As there was no mystery about when it set off or where it was going, the convoy never had a prayer ... which makes the story of Fred Larsen and Francis Dales, the guys who brought the Ohio home through the storm, so compelling.
Neither Larsen nor Dales ever wrote about his life; Moses never had the opportunity to interview either of the American Merchant Marines. But he has done marvelous justice to their story in At All Costs. The writing is as powerful as it is constrained, and the reporting extraordinary: When the carrier Indomitable is bombed, Moses notes, "Fifty men were killed, including all the off-duty pilots ... One of the pilots had been defying the odds all day in his Hurricane, and he died in a soft chair, murdered by irony."
A harrowing tale. A thoughtful, memorable book.
é (starred review)
A historical footnote provides a riveting tale of true American grit during World War II. In 1942, the island of Malta was the primary launching point in the Mediterranean for Allied aircraft and submarine attacks against Axis supply convoys. At the height of the North African campaign, Rommel’s tanks prepared to sweep into Egypt, Iran and Iraq. The only thing they lacked was the fuel to get there, and the shortage was equally desperate on Malta. The Allies launched Operation Pedestal, a last-ditch effort to re-supply the base by sending a convoy from Britain through the Gibraltar Strait to the beleaguered island. The convoy, which included the American tanker Ohio and the U.S. freighter Santa Elisa, was anything but a milk run. Vietnam vet Moses (Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots, not reviewed) crafts a thrilling adventure on the high seas, though it takes a while to get started. The book’s first third juxtaposes Malta’s plight against the stories of two American merchant seamen on the Santa Elisa: Lonnie Dales and Fred Larsen, through whose eyes the battle will be viewed in bluecollar detail. Once Operation Pedestal begins, the narrative is all action. The convoy comes under repeated attack, lives are lost, the Santa Elisa is sunk. Dales and Larsen find themselves aboard the wounded Ohio, full to the brim with Texas crude. If they can hold off Nazi attacks and keep their new ship afloat long enough to reach Malta, the operation will be a success. Moses takes readers directly into the heat of battle, demonstrating a strong command of historical detail. Highly recommended for fans of naval adventure. (Agent: Peter Riva/International Transactions, Inc.)
|Ken Auletta, author
This book tells a great story. But Sam Moses is not just sharing a gripping tale. He is sharing an important and oft neglected story about a battle that played a decisive role in shaping the outcome of WW II. You will meet people who will linger in memory for their bravery, foolishness, or wisdom. And you will never again think of the Merchant Marines as a fourth team. This book could as easily be called, "Surprise."
|Robert Kurson, author
Thrillingly told and beautifully researched, At All Costs is not just the against-all-odds story of the saving of Malta, but also of how the fate of nations can turn on the personal bravery of two ordinary men.
|Mark Whitmore, Director of
Collections, Imperial War Museum, London, England
"Sam Moses has skillfully blended the vivid recollections of many eyewitnesses with a wealth of original documentary research to produce an immensely readable and authoritative account of this crucial operation."