Thursday, April 22, 2010

US Coast Guard in World War II, by de Quesada review

US Coast Guard in World War II, by Alejandro de Quesada is a perfect example of what Osprey does best. In this book the publisher takes a little-studied military subject, introduces historic and visual detail, and places the reader in a position to learn more.

de Quesada plots out the origins of the US Coast Guard, its organization, and its war-time participation on the Home front, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Normandy, and the Pacific. Select Coast Guard encounters embellish the text. For instance: Off the coast of Greenland on September 12, 1941 the cutter Northland captured a trawler along with three German radiomen. This was the first US naval capture of the war. On May 9, 1942 the Coast Guard's Icarus destroyed U-352 off the coast of North Carolina. U-175 was torpedoing a convoy in the Atlantic when the Spencer raced in to sink the U-Boat. The author even goes to the trouble of picturing and naming a German survivor rescued after this action. These specific details bring personality to what might otherwise be a bland general history.

Stephan Walsh illustrates the varied uniforms (24) and insignia of the Coast Guard in an attractive watercolor style. His poses are based on period photographs, but don't have that "illustrated from a photograph" look. Do you know what I mean? Some historic illustrations are so photo-realistic that it's almost distracting. The famed Angus McBride illustrated freely without posing models or working from photographs. As a consequence the the viewer's imagination was able to fill in the realism in a more vivid way. In much the same way Walsh's illustration style offers careful detail, without trying too hard to be "realistic."
A few interesting notes:
During WWII the US Coast Guard Civilian employed a temporary reserve akin to the British Home Guard. See my review of Shire Books' The Home Guard.

Walsh illustrated the game, Settlers of Catan.

I was surprised to read I have a connection to the Coast Guard's WWII service (albeit an oblique one). 2,000 guard dogs were trained at the Widener estate in Elkins Park, PA. This mansion was just up the street from the old campus of my alma mater, Tyler School of Art. It was a popular adventure for the students to walk up from the dorms, clamour over the perimeter wall, and snoop around the then vacant mansion. Of course, I never participated in such shenanigans.

My cousin, a Chief Petty Officer in the Coast Guard, is visiting me in June. I'm giving this book to him a gift. Our grandfather, a soldier in the US Army, was ferried to the Normandy beach by Coast Guard servicemen on D-Day. He also had dealings with the Coast Guard while moving supplies on the waters off Utah Beach. This book connects their respective services in a way I'm sure my cousin will appreciate.

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