- The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for the U-boats
A few months after Pearl Harbor, Hemingway began outfitting his cabin cruiser Pilar for patrolling the Straits of Florida and environs for German submarines. The 18-month period he spent on the water helped form his perspectives of the sea and military life, yet these patrols have been passed over to a certain extent by literary critics. Terry Mort's The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for the U-boats fills part of this gap—and for this reason his book is an important contribution to Hemingway studies and a noteworthy work of literary history.
When I learned about this publication, I hoped for a nonfiction volume similar in scope and comprehensiveness to Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, a book that would be definitive as a reference and remarkable for its readability. While The Hemingway Patrols falls short of Junger or Capote's work in detail and range, it has sound authority on military affairs, a solid historical framework, and intriguing citations from the Pilar's log.
The book seeks to dismantle the credibility of previous examinations of the "Crook Factory," which often mocked Hemingway's intentions or downplayed the danger of assaulting a submarine in a small wooden boat. The book begins with a biographical sketch of Hemingway, followed by a very brief first chapter, titled "A Serious Man." Here Mort questions some of the ostensibly accepted concepts about the 1942-43 patrols—and offers a seed of the investigative focus: "Was it all just bravado, a farce, an unintentional opera bouffe, the product of a blustering middle-aged man playing at war while actually just fishing" (17)?
The second chapter of The Hemingway Patrols gives Mort's take on the progression of Hemingway-Gellhorn relationship, from their first meeting in Key West through the end of the Spanish Civil War. In chapters 3 and 4, Mort anchors the book with an examination of the dangers facing a recreational fishing vessel putting to sea in a military zone. These sections provide background on the Pilar's hunt, the oceanographic geography around Cuba, and the practical workings aboard German U-boats. Then chapter 5, "Amateur Hour," notes some of the difficulties Hemingway encountered [End Page 176] with the FBI and State Department. Here Mort also shares his judgment of the military results of the Hemingway missions: "The Crook Factory was not a success. During its short run it turned up little or nothing of value to the war effort. The FBI was right about that" (119).
Chapters 6 and 7 foray into literary evaluation as Mort parlays fishing, danger, wounding, and love, among other topics, into a metaphoric progression offering his take on the Hemingway hero. "So the generic Hemingway hero goes through four stages of development—innocence, disillusion, romantic fulfillment, and, finally, isolated endurance" (134). Mort goes on to explain that "nada is the operating principle" and thus, the characters exist while "knowing they are doomed" (133). At certain points the critical discourse of these chapters seems to lack a clear connection to the overall structure of the text, unevenly dividing the focus of the argument. Nevertheless, the discussions of Islands in the Stream are particularly significant for their meditations on military leadership on the water.
Chapter 8 returns to the danger zone, detailing the encounter of Hemingway and his crew with a Spanish vessel, Marqués de Comillas, that may have been towing a sub. Mort cites Hemingway's logbook at length here. Pilar's crew readied machine guns and grenades while the Spanish ship and its tow were "proceeding directly towards us. We were rapidly shortening our distance from the vessel when she turned due W swinging broadside to us at 3 miles distance" (qtd. on 186). The ninth and final chapter, "In Another Country," attempts to discredit Gellhorn's opinions of Pilar's military service, and subsequently, in...