BOOK REVIEW: Passport Not Required – U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941

By Eric Dietrich-Berryman, Charlotte Hammond, and R. E. White, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2010)

Reviewed by Captain Roger F. Jones, U.S. Navy (Retired)

This book describes how twenty-two relatively unknown Americans initially fought beside the British by serving in the Royal Navy during the early years of World War II.  During this period, the United States remained a neutral county, although Nazi Germany had already either annexed or conquered Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France, with the subjugation of Great Britain as its next objective.  It is a remarkable story of idealism and bravery that one seldom reads about in a military-adverse press today.  To a large degree, these volunteers followed in the footsteps of those Americans who fought in World War I with the French and British, before the U.S. jettisoned neutrality and joined the Allies against Imperial Germany.

While each volunteer had unique background and experience they could offer, there were several defining characteristics they shared.  Perhaps overriding everything else, there was a desire to oppose the Nazi blitzkrieg on moral grounds.  Unlike their countrymen who flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, these men fought out of the public sight, such as deck officers on Royal Navy ships escorting convoys across the North Atlantic during a time when German U-boats were exacting a terrible toll in lives and ships. Of particular interest, the authors persuaded a former Kriegsmarine U-boat captain, Otto von Bülow, to write a brief reflection on the war at that time, for inclusion in this book.

The larger part of the book is organized largely along chronological lines, and provides a sense of how these individual volunteers fitted into the major events of the war as they evolved.  This does present some challenge to the reader to try to follow the continuity of each individual’s experience.  A call by the reviewer to one of the authors also brought out that, since the amount of information on each person varied from extensive to very little, it made more sense to follow the group’s experiences in the course of the time line of the war rather than attempting to construct twenty two chapters that describe each individual’s experiences in the course of the war.  Nevertheless, there are extensive biographical notes on each of the volunteers near the end of the book that provide as much information as obtainable about their lives apart from wartime operations.

Passport Not Required came into being due to the unflagging interest and energy of two British authors, Ronald E. White and Charlotte Hammond, who were eager to tell the story of how these brave and idealistic men overcame many obstacles to join the Royal Navy.  White served in the Royal Navy for nine years before becoming a police officer; sadly, he died a year before the publication of this book.  Hammond joined White to research the material – much of which needed individual contacts to obtain.personal details (access to British service records is much more restrictive than to American ones), and families are not always eager to share such information.  Between the two authors, they contacted families and friends of the volunteers, and persuaded them to share what information they could.  Later, White and Hammond were joined by the third author, American Eric Dietrich-Berryman; his background as a retired U.S. Navy officer and his writing skills are well-suited to the collaboration.

This should be an interesting read for World War II buffs; both heroic and tragic stories abound.

Captain Jones served 3 years on active duty and 30 in the active reserve as a cryptologist. He also served many years as a paper reviewer in the American Chemical Society and the Society of Plastics Engineers and contributes reviews to Amazon.com.Amazon Button

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2 Responses to BOOK REVIEW: Passport Not Required – U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941

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