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Twelve Desperate Miles: The Epic World War II Voyage of the SS Contessa
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2012
I am not a World War II buff, so I approached this book cautiously. I was quickly taken in by Tim Brady's masterful storytelling. He had me caught up in the French resistance in Morocco and sympathizing with a central character before I turned the first page. The writing remained crisp and the story taut throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey with the USS Contessa. I heartily recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about this chapter of history--the USA's first engagement in the European theatre during WWII--of simply looking for a good story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2012
I really had high expectations for this book. In my opinion, not enough stories like this have been told about the US experiences in North Africa in 1942-43. The author did a wonderful job of describing the life in NYC and Washington DC during the early stages of the US involvement n WW!!. There are part of this book that are well-written and that captured me. My disappointment in this book is in how the story meanders while the author is striving to set the context for the main topic of the book; the mission of the Contessa. He spends an inordinate amount of time covering the big picture of the early part of the war, which has been very well covered by a multitude of authors.and leaves us short on details about the crew and the mission of the Contessa. The author did a poor job of helping the reader to understand who the crew of the Contessa was. Their names, backgrounds, personalities, quirks, how they interacted. All of this was given very little space in this book. Even the actual mission of 12 desperate miles is described very poorly and takes up very little space in the book. I felt like I had read 80% of introduction and 20% story. The author shows moments of excellent writing skills in this book but he disappoints me greatly in how he put the story together.
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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Casablanca was imprinted into the minds of Americans by the memorable Bogart misquote, "Play it again Sam" . Casablanca and the events of America's entry into the war in Europe via Operation Torch in North Africa were largely overlooked by the public until the 1970 movie, "Patton" starring George C. Scott.

Now enter a new, nonfiction book, "Twelve Desperate Miles", titled like a Bogart classic and worthy of the same dramatic "Coming to a theater near you!" previews that used to be shown between the double movie feature and the Warner Brother's cartoon. There is even what amounts to a "Playbill" introduction to the historically famous and not at all famous characters involved in this real-life action thriller.

So be prepared to be shanghaied aboard the improbably crewed banana boat "Contessa" as the armed Atlantic escort departs without her, only to leave her again to solo navigate twelve miles up a defended treacherous African river to deliver munitions and volatile fuel. In between these two events is "Operation Torch", the entire American invasion of western Morocco. Rushed planning, little training and manned almost entirely by individuals with no war experience, the first entry of America in the European theater of WWII was tragic-comic in some ways, yet deadly serious. Thankfully the Vichy French defenders had little love for their government nor its Nazi masters. Don't miss the next exciting episode, with a cast of thousands and an insight into the lives of the few seldom honored.

But you "Must remember this'" and read this engagingly written book of the North African assault episode nearly forgotten "As time goes by."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2012
It's been a while since I read a book with a military theme, but my curiosity was piqued by the following blurb on the book's jacket cover:

"The Dirty Dozen meets Band of Brothers in this true story of how a rusty old New Orleans banana boat and an unlikely crew of international merchant seamen, a gang of inmates from a local jail, and a French harbor pilot spirited out of Morocco in the trunk of a Chevy by OSS agents were drafted into service in WWII -- and heroically succeeded in setting the stage for Patton's epic invasion of North Africa."

After spending a relaxing weekend enjoying this story, I came away feeling that my review should be a "tale of two books": the one that Tim Brady wrote, and the one the Crown Publishing marketing department sold. Both are good books, but they aren't the same.

First of all, the book that is written is excellent. Brady is a great story-teller, and weaves a fascinating tale of America's first World War II battle in the European theater centered on some of the more obscure characters and events involved. At times he may go into more detail than some readers will prefer, but I appreciated the immersion into the world of 1940's Morocco, as I shared in the anxiety of ordinary soldiers and civilians on the brink of imminent war.

While the SS Contessa does figure prominently in the story, the scope of Brady's book is much larger. He takes readers through the politics and preparations behind Operation Torch (the Allied assault on Northern Africa) as well as the logistical nightmares and insufficient training that made the attack such a risky proposition. We learn why it was necessary for the U.S. Armed Forces to draft a "banana boat" from the Standard Fruit Company into military service, and fill it with crewmen from the Norfolk County Jail -- there simply weren't enough resources and personnel available (with the United States already heavily engaged in the Pacific Theater) for the largest naval mission ever launched to that point in history.

To me, though, the ending seemed anti-climactic. The Contessa's journey of "twelve desperate miles" up the Sebou River ended up lasting only a few pages at the end of the book, and I guess I'd expected more. That said, I don't think Brady needed to change anything he wrote. The space designated for the Contessa's role in the invasion is probably roughly proportional to her importance in the scope of Operation Torch, which is to say, not much.

But, like I've said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The "problem" with the ending has nothing to do with the way it was written, and everything to do with my expectations leading into this book... which brings up the "second book" -- the one advertised by the marketing department.

When I read of comparisons to The Dirty Dozen and Band of Brothers, I expected the book's focus to be relatively narrow, something of a human interest story. Inmates from a local jail chosen to serve in a special mission? Great! What were they like? How did they go about their work? What happened to them afterward?

We never really learn the answers to these questions because the "gang of ex-cons" mentioned on the front cover simply don't figure prominently into the story. The crew members taken from the jail weren't hardened criminals, but sailors serving time for partying a little too hard on shore leave, and by all accounts, they performed their duties admirably and without incident. So while the fact that they were needed at all is an interesting historical tidbit, they aren't the story here.

With all due respect to Hollywood, real life often provides better drama than fiction. This book didn't need to tell the story of these men to be a page-turner. And while credit goes to the marketing department for getting the book in my hands (after all, I might not have bought it in the first place without the intriguing subtitle and jacket blurbs), the story works better as the book Brady wrote than the one I thought I was buying.

If you're into military history, I think you'll appreciate this one. If you're looking for something that really is a real-life version of The Dirty Dozen, you'll probably be disappointed.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2012
I can appreciate an author who wishes to paint a background as well as the true focus of a work. But this book was filled with far to much minutia. The style of storytelling so discombobulated that there was never a time when I even felt like I was interested in finishing it. In fact I didn't. After skipping around for three evenings trying to find some part interesting enough to read, I finally gave up.
I couldn't care less what some gal was wearing when she bade her husband good-by as he heads out the door on a secret mission. Nor could I care what George Patton had for breakfast.
The real story could have been very interesting. In fact that's what I was expecting after reading the reviews and the introductions on the dust cover.
I'd love to hear the real story. But sorry, it's not in this book.

Ted
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2012
This is a compelling historical account of a WWII mission into north Africa by the Allied forces. The book is a real page-turner as the author brings the central characters to life and builds the drama and suspense. It reads like a novel, but it is a serious book of history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. Although it was the story of obscure people and an obscure ship, Tim Brady made it not only a fascinating story, but a fascinating history lesson as well. I couldn't put it down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2012
Enjoyed reading this book especially the parts about Tidewater/Hampton Roads/Norfolk/Newport News Virginia which is where my roots are.
A little bit too much detail in some places throughout the book but the author did do his homework.
One complaint: The two capes that flank the Chesapeake Bay are Cape Henry and Cape Charles.
There is no Cape James....at least not in Virginia.
The James is a river that is one of the tributaries of the Bay; it is not a "cape" in any sense of the word.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2012
For students of WWII and international relations this is a well written primer of the difficulties faced by the allies at the American onset of this conflict. The author introduces many readers to the interplay and conflicts between political and military leaders of the UK and USA in deciding how, where and when American forces would enter the fray. While the history of the boat (not big enough to be a ship) is worthwhile as a story on its own, it is really a sidelight to the invasion of the north Afican coast at the beginning of Operation Torch. At its Kindle price, it is a bargain and delivers good reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2012
The book gave a very readable outline of the United States' first battle entry into WWII. The author did a good job with the politics of battle and the actual battles in Morocco.
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