The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and his Hunt for U-boats
© 2009 Terry Mort
For some people, getting involved in the war effort meant collecting cans. For Ernest Hemingway, it meant patrolling the waters between the Florida Keys and Cuba and looking for U-boats. The Hemingway Patrols mixes World War 2, biography, and literary reflection to interesting effect. Although Hemingway’s attempts to identify U-boats, Nazi supply stashes, and potential spies never bore any military fruit, the very idea is so audacious as to make a good story in itself. (Hemingway must have thought so, as he incorporated some of his experience in a story about men hunting for a U-boat..) Hemingway Patrols largely focuses on the character of Hemingway himself, his values and approach to life as expressed in both his actions and in his stories. His own life was a story that he intended to drive with gusto. It wasn’t enough for Hemingway to write about the war as a journalist; he actively hated fascism and other authoritarian movements. (In a crisis, he is quoted, he would look to himself, his family, and his neighbors. The state could go hang itself.) The author compares Hemingway’s patrol for u-boats to his long fishing expeditions, in which one man and a little tackle would try to wrest a great fish from the sea, exposing himself to the elements as he did. He lived for that moment when the marlin emerged from the sea, fighting, and even if it escaped that moment itself was worth all the waiting. Had Hemingway encountered a U-boat he would have found a great fish, indeed, and one unlikely to allow him to throw grenades inside as he planned. Fortunately for him and his later readers, the equipping of planes with sonar ended the worst days of the U-boat peril.
Although World War 2 in the Carribean and Gulf Coast is a rarely-explored area, the chief appeal here is for Hemingway fans. I’ve only read one of his books and a collection of short stories, but was captivated by the idea of a man in a wooden boat hunting for submarines. What a character Hemingway was!