In the early 1940s, madmen were taking on the civilized world — and winning. The Nazis controlled most of Europe and were preparing to conquer the British Isles. The Japanese had decimated the U.S. Pacific fleet, and the United States and its allies were losing the war.
Off the East Coast of the United States, German U-boats operated freely, with little opposition, sinking our cargo ships and tankers. As the title of Jule Miller’s latest book — Voyages in Desperate Times — indicates, those were desperate times requiring desperate measures. One of these measures was the commandeering of personal yachts, mostly sailboats, to conduct rescue operations along the East Coast for the thousands of sailors whose ships were sent to the bottom by the German submarines and to patrol the coastal waters and report by radio, in coded messages, the presence of any U-boats. The sailors of this unlikely line of defense were termed the “Hooligan Navy,” a term that was first applied as denigration but soon adopted by those sailors as a badge of honor.
Jule tells about those times as a story-within-a-story. Although fiction, it is based on very real historical events and is true to the mores and feelings of that time — I know, because I was in the service during those years.
One of the two amalgamated stories, told in the first person, is about a young lady who is driving her grandfather from his home in Milford, Connecticut, to the funeral of an old friend in Vermont. She had always wondered about his World War II experiences in the Hooligan Navy and asks him about them.
His experiences, in the second story-within-a-story, are described in the third person and cover a period from just prior to WWII in the mid 1930s until his time aboard the 54-foot Alden schooner, Tiger Lily, during the desperate years.
The juxtaposition of the past and the present in the two stories works perfectly. It is said that you just can’t put some books down. I found that to be very true in this case. Not only does Voyages in Desperate Times capture the spirit and the differences of these two time periods, it also offers vivid insight into a moment of history that is all but forgotten. This is enhanced by Jule’s extensive knowledge of the sea and sailing, as well as the history of those years.