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ESCAPING DEATH BY A WHISKER - THE BRITISH SUBMARINER'S WAR IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1941-42

Turn Left for Gibraltar (A Harry Gilmour Novel) - David Black
Following the successful completion of his temporary assignment as a liaison aboard a Free French submarine, Sub-Lieutenant Harry Gilmour, is assigned to the Tenth Flotilla, which is based on the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta. Whilst travelling en route by submarine, Harry ends up unexpectedly in a situation which could have sidelined him for the duration of the war. But after the lapse of several weeks, and with help from an unexpected quarter, Harry and a small number of his compatriots regain their freedom. 

Harry arrives in Malta at a time (the autumn of 1941) when British land, air, and naval forces are managing to hold their own against Italian air and naval forces. This is in marked contrast to earlier in the year, when the Germans had dispatched a Fliegerkorps to Sicily (barely 60 miies from Malta) to assist their Italian allies with their siege of Malta. But upon Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, German air units were withdrawn to assist the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. 

In the meantime, Harry is serving on a submarine with a commander who rules with an iron hand, cowing his crew through intimidation. Indeed, Harry's commander makes clear to him in a private moment after they have returned to Malta from patrol deep in enemy waters that he intends to make his mark as a submariner so that his superiors will find him indispensable and confer high command on him. And to achieve that, he is willing to do all that he deems necessary - even at the risk of endangering the crew - to achieve this lofty goal. For his great ambition is to be a career naval officer. 

The submarine arm on Malta is, at this stage of the war, the only effective offensive arm the British have (along with surface units) capable of taking the war to the Germans and Italians in the Mediterranean. Many of Harry's missions are vividly rendered by the author. So much so that I felt a distinct chill from reading some of the action scenes in the novel. The submariner's war, while promising rewards in terms of tonnage of ships sunk and harassment of enemy naval forces, is highly fraught with peril in the form of enemy minefields and attacks from Axis air and naval units. Many submarine crews lost their lives on patrol and their disappearance only became clear when a submarine failed to return from patrol or could not be contacted by the Tenth Flotilla command weeks after the submarine's return could be reasonably expected (given its normal endurance). 

Harry has a number of close-calls on patrol, one of which claims his ruthlessly ambitious CO. Subsequently, Harry is assigned to another submarine, where the atmosphere is much more amicable and supportive. 

"TURN LEFT FOR GIBRALTAR" also amply illustrates"how war drives its wedge between more than just nations. Shirley (Harry's sweetheart) is waiting for him back in Scotland, but the world offers many distractions for a young man..." 

At the novel's close, it is the Spring of 1942. The Luftwaffe has returned in force to Sicily to assist the Italians in their ongoing assault on Malta. Indeed, Malta is on the brink of starvation. And in that moment, Harry's life takes on a unexpected change.
 
All in all, "TURN LEFT FOR GIBRALTAR" keeps up the intensity already established in the previous 2 novels of the series. I highly recommend it for anyone in search of a thrilling and breathlessly intense adventure novel for summer reading.