One of My Favorite Books: Escort, by D.A. Rayner – Part 1

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I’ve been re-reading, Escort, by D.A. Rayner who served on, and later commanded, Royal Navy convoy escort ships in the North Atlantic in World War Two. Rayner reported to Admiral Sir Max Horton, Commander-in-Chief of Western Approaches, a ferocious tyrant who controlled all Royal Navy escort ships in the North Atlantic. Western Approaches was the largest operational command in the Royal Navy in World War Two with over three hundred warships at its peak strength.

I have read Escort six or seven times because D.A. Rayner is a both a brilliant and very witty author who experienced the entire convoy war. He expresses the fear, the absurd, the amusing, and the terror of being aboard a British man o’ war during the absolute darkest times of the Battle of the North Atlantic. Just as poignant, are Rayner’s breezy depictions of the weight of responsibility he had as young man commanding a warship.

He mentions how the ratings and the officers constantly looked to him for assurance in the first years of the war when everyone was new to their jobs yet never knew “how totally inadequate he himself frequently felt.” In a terrible storm a man is swept overboard yet it would endanger the ship by trying to turn around. So he doesn’t. He has to put the sailor who went overboard out of his thoughts because he has to focus on keeping the ship from capsizing in the storm.

Rayner was clearly a great leader of men and became the only RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) officer to command an escort group in the North Atlantic. This put regular Royal Navy officers under his command and they weren’t keen on that. Sir Max Horton, CINCWA, could have cared less. The wounded pride of regular RN officers, of whom he was one, was of no interest to him. There was a war on and the best men had to be brought to the fore be they from the reserve or the regulars. (In a previous post I explained the difference between RN, RNR, & RNVR.)

[Source: Escort by D.A. Rayner.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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