The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-Boats

by Owen James Burke

In The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-boats, writer Terry Mort examines Hemingway’s decision to join the Navy efforts for several months during World War II.  In 1942, the U.S. Navy enlisted Ernest Hemingway and friends to equip his 38′ wooden fishing vessel, the Pilar, in order to seek and destroy German submarines.

Mort studies Hemingway’s role as a father, fisherman, and patriot during this time, questioning what it was about his character that generated his motives to futilely employ such a small wooden fishing vessel against the steel-hulled German U-boats.  Was it at all realistic to pit such a delicate craft against the unstoppable U-boats?  Was it a suicide mission or was Hemingway’s bravado simply getting the best of him?  One thing is for certain: grace under pressure could not be better portrayed.

Hemingway had a grand reputation for toting large firearms aboard his vessels.  Until now, few historians and biographers have attempted to enlighten us with more insightful reasoning beyond simply stating the fact that he was ‘a mad drunk’, or arguing that he was ‘playing off of his fictitious characters, realistically just fishing while putting on a sideshow’.

Aboard the Pilar in the early 1930’s, Hemingway lightly grasps his Thompson submachine gun and a glass, which looks like it’s about ready to spill onto his son Jack (“Bumpy”) who is resting against his lap with a grin.  Judging by ‘Papa’ Hemingway’s composure and half-empty drinking glass, we can only assume that it must have been a slow day of fishing.  Fortunately, the Thompson submachine gun was not loaded, at least not at the time of this photograph.

A very little known fact, which Mort, a Navy officer himself illustrates, is that by 1942, several hundred U.S. ships had been sunk in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and off of the east coast.  German submarines were becoming a very serious threat to the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and as losses began to stack up, the U.S. Navy desperately needed all the help it could assemble.

Hemingway readily took on the task, as one could only imagine.  He gathered a band of companions, loaded his boat with grenades, automatic weapons, and the limited electronic detecting devices of the time.  Apart from being armed, the Pilar was a small fishing vessel and physically no match at all for a German submarine.  Mort quotes him, saying “If he spotted a U-boat, not only would he call for backup, he wanted to attack the sub himself.”  Luckily for Hemingway, he never met the chance.  There must be an essence of foolhardiness in this, but considering the prevalent dangers of wartime, as Mort argues, it may well have been the commendable action for a man in such a position after all.

*via amazon and cleveland*

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