Jack Pembroke is a Royal Navy officer badly injured during the Dunkirk evacuation, now assigned to command a minesweeping flotilla in South Africa. Emil Falk commands a Nazi auxiliary cruiser – a disguised and armed merchantman conducting commerce raiding far from Europe.
In The Cape Raider, a novel by Justin Fox, the two have a rendezvous in the waters between Africa and Antarctica.
Pembroke is a reluctant warrior. A member of a prominent naval family, he bucks family tradition to become a journalist in the 1930s. When World War II starts, he accepts a commission in the Royal Navy, serving aboard minesweepers and destroyers. A long recovery from battle injuries and his civilian mother’s death from bombs during the Battle of Britain leads to him asking for a posting in the Union of South Africa, where his Admiral father is stationed.
Instead of the administrative posting he seeks, Jack ends up commanding four minesweepers. Necessary, but dangerous duty, it is complicated by politics. The minesweepers belong to the South African service. Many South Africans are indifferent to the war. A few white South Africans would rather be allied with Nazis, with whose racial policies they agree.
A further complication is that Pembroke’s confidence has been shaken by his experiences at Dunkirk. He soon realizes his crew is green and his officers deficient in necessary skills or experience. He drives his ships, and his men, hard to prepare them for conflict.
It turns out they need to be prepared. Germany has sent a raider, the cruiser Sturmvogel, to raid South Atlantic and Indian Ocean waters. The ship is equipped with hidden 5.9inch guns, torpedoes, a search aircraft, and mines – many mines.
Falk, Sturmvogel’s captain, has his own challenges. He has to sneak his ship past the British blockade of the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap disguised as neutral warships and merchantman. Although his ship is a warship, it was built as a fast merchant vessel. His first lieutenant is a bloodthirsty, ardent Nazi. His second lieutenant is well-intentioned and weak. Plus, Sturmvogel is on its own. It can beat smaller warships, but cannot afford to take damage.
Fox has his two protagonists meet in a series of encounters. Each raises the stakes for the next battle. “The Cape Raider” is a marvelous adventure. Justin Fox has written a book reminiscent of the best work of the late Douglas Reeman. If you like nautical tales, this book is well worth reading.
“The Cape Raider,” by Justin Fox, Sapere Books, 2021, 331 pages, $9.99 (paperback), $3.99 (ebook)
*Mark Lardas is an engineer, freelance writer, historian and model-maker living in Texas. Mark posts on Ricochet as “Seawriter,” and is well-known for his regular and much appreciated reviews of books on all subjects. Of his reviews, he says “I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review.” His website is marklardas.com.