Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Rag Tag Fleet


Ian W. Shaw

Published by Hachette Australia in July 2017, format, RRP $32.99, Ebook RRP $16.99

A fascinating account of the part 3,000 Australian men - either too old or too young to join Australian regular forces - played in the war in the Pacific

This book conveys the fascinating - and unknown - story of the Rag Tag Fleet, a collection of hundreds of Australian fishing trawlers and schooners, organised by the US Army, which transported vital supplies for US and Australian forces across the South-East Pacific.

Boys under the age of 17 and men over 60, and those who weren't well enough to join the Australian regular forces formed the crews. Each boat was armed with one machine gun - and sailed under the American flag. Conditions on the boats were grim. Numerous crew members contracted diseases including malaria, dysentery and dengue fever. Vulnerable to aircraft attack, the boats were frequently strafed and bombed.

The story is told through the experiences of the Australian crew on half a dozen ships - including Jack Savage, boat builder extraordinaire; Ray Parer, air fighter, explorer and gold miner; and Norm Oddy, bandleader, drifter and mechanic.

The focus of The Rag Tag Fleet is the unknown story of the final months of 1942, when these men ran the gauntlet of Japanese air attacks, reefs and shallow, shark-infested waters to bring in the supplies and equipment for the US and Australian troops that defeated the entrenched Japanese forces at Buna on the PNG coast, and so helped turn the course of the war.

Ian W. Shaw lives in Canberra, and is the author of a number of books, including On Radji Beach and Ghosts of Roebuck Bay.
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