“I have not set out to write a destroyer history; but merely a destroyer miscellany
which I hope will give some idea of their manifold duties in wartime.“ Taffrail
Written under the “nom de plume“ of Taffrail by Captain Taprell Dorling and first published in 1931 this book more than satisfies the writer’s ambition. Having commanded destroyers for ten years including the period 1914-1918, the author not only uses his vast wealth of experience but also recounts the stories of his fellow officers, many of whose names will be familiar to readers of naval history.
A considerable body of work already existed regarding the “big ships“ of the Royal Navy which policed the Empire and dominated the high seas at this time. However, before the publication of Endless Story the part played by the destroyers was little appreciated. The author describes them as “maids of all work“, whether serving with the fleet, acting in company or simply patrolling alone. With his wartime experience of operating in the North Sea and Heligoland Bight he is able to vividly bring to life the realities of destroyer service. At times it was simply monotonous as well as being wet and miserable since these small ships were often dwarfed by the seas they encountered. Many suffered severe damage to their upper decks which were frequently swept clear of all equipment and guns and their bridges were often stove in or pushed backwards by the sheer weight of water taken on board. One destroyer, the Racoon, was simply lost with all hands with no clue as to what happened. The chapter “Bad Weather“ makes very sobering reading.
At other times, when the enemy was encountered, these thinly armoured greyhounds of the sea were handled with skill and cool bravery often facing overwhelming odds and the likelihood of certain death. It is a testament both to the crews and to the British shipyards that built them that many survived such savage encounters with much larger enemy ships and were towed back to port to be repaired.
It is also obvious from the tales told that the most exciting times were to be had when operating independently or with other destroyers well away from the scrutiny of the fleet. In these circumstances it is apparent that a much more swashbuckling attitude prevailed among their captains, but all of course, in the best interests of the Service!
The part played by destroyers at Jutland is examined in great detail; it is so easy to think of this as simply a battle involving capital ships. Similarly, the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, the Dover Patrol and the Zeebrugge raid are also analysed.
Australian and American ships also receive a chapter each. Both nations provided ships which operated a long way from their home waters.
This really is a most successful “destroyer miscellany“; the author's knowledge and wry sense of humour shines through and, given the time when it was first published his casual style is not only surprising but also means that it is so readable some eighty five years later. Certainly, it is easy to see Taffrail as one of the more swashbuckling captains of his generation; a man not best suited to service in a big ship but most certainly born to destroyer service.