Life and Death on the Greenland Patrol, 1942 / Edition 1

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Overview

One of the untold stories of World War II is the guarding of Greenland and its coastal waters, where the first U.S. capture of an enemy ship took place. For six months in 1942 and against standing orders of the time, Thaddeus Nowakowski (now Novak) kept a personal diary of his service on patrol in the North Atlantic. Supplemented by photos from his last surviving shipmates, Novak’s diary fills a void in the story of American sailors at war in the North Atlantic. It is the only known diary of an enlisted Coast Guard sailor to emerge from WWII.
Though the Greenland coast was of vital importance to Allied forces, U.S. Coast Guard crews serving there were relegated to converted fishing vessels known as “wooden shoes.” Hastily commissioned in Boston to serve as escorts for supply routes to new air bases in Greenland, ten Arctic trawlers were transformed into the basis of the Greenland Patrol, transporting young men who had never been away from home into a realm of mountainous icebergs, lurking U-boats, and the alien culture of native Greenland Eskimos. This story of the Nanok’s 1942 patrol is a remarkable account of a sailor thrown into a global war in a remote area full of environmental hardships that few endured in World War II. Between the sudden excitements and mind-numbing boredom of military life, Novak records the routine details of day-to-day patrol, contacts with the native Greenlanders and their impenetrable way of life, and actions such as the loss of the cutter Natsek and its entire crew on the night of December 17,1942. Not an account of grand strategy or hand-to-hand combat, this story of a twenty-year-old petty officer on duty in the Arctic is rather the life of an ordinary individual at war, coping with rigorous hardships during a time of great crisis.
Novak’s account will be of significant value to students of the U.S. Coast Guard and of naval service in wartime. His illumination of the small details of a sailor’s life and perceptive observation of the arctic region and its little-known people will appeal to anyone interested in maritime history.

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Meet the Author


 P. J. Capelotti is senior lecturer in anthropology and American studies at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College, and author or editor of more than a dozen nonfiction histories, including Sea Drift: Rafting Adventures in the Wake of Kon-Tiki and By Airship to the North Pole, as well as a recent volume of poetry, God’s Meadow: A Summer of Poems on the Edge of Oslo Fjord.
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