American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

AWAY ALL BOATS (1954). Kenneth Dodson (1907-1999) wrote Away All Boats, perhaps the best novel on amphibious warfare, at the personal encouragement and friendship of poet Carl Sandburg.* Sandburg, who had seen letters Dodson wrote home to his wife from the Pacific during World War II, was intrigued by their descriptive quality.

The detail of boats, rigging, debarkation beachmasters, and kamikazes found in Away All Boats is authentic. The protagonist of the novel closely mirrors Dodson, a former merchant mariner who is not entirely happy about having given up his lucrative maritime profession but who grows to love his ship and its crew. The fictional U.S.S. Belinda, like the U.S.S. Pierce (Dodson’s ship), participates in most of the major landings of the Central Pacific drive toward Japan and undergoes trouble with its unbalanced skipper, Captain Hawks. Hawks has the ship’s carpenter build him a personal sailboat with lumber meant for the ship’s boats and sails it with red sails through the fleet in the sunsets of Pacific anchorages, just as Dodson’s own captain had done. In the crisis the captain dies, but the ship survives a kamikaze hit due to the expertise of the protagonist.

The novel succeeds largely because the author knows his material. The book focuses on the small stories of dozens of humble individuals and follows them to the end of the war as they become an expert amphibious crew. A film adaptation in 1956 starred Jeff Chandler.

Robert Shenk