Officer of the Deck - A Memoir of the Pacific War and the Sea

By John Baxter


This is the latest release from Avonmore Books (‘Zero Hour in Broome’, ‘Darwin’s Submarine I-124’ and ‘The Submarine Six’) of South Australia, and covers a lesser known ‘theatre of operations’ off the Western Australian coast in World War Two. Basically, it’s the early naval memoirs of former Ensign Herbert Kriloff, now Commander US Navy (Retired) with a little editing by Dr Tom Lewis. Herb Kriloff’s book was long out of print, but Dr Lewis believed it deserved another print run and this is it.

Herbert Kriloff served on the USS William B Preston (DD-344), a 1,200 ton, four stack destroyer built in 1920 and converted to a seaplane tender in 1939 to service PBY Catalinas operating in the Pacific and East Asian waters. He joined the ship in 1940 when she was sent out to the Philippines, survived the early days in the South China Sea during the Japanese advance, then survived the bombing of Darwin (just) on February 19, 1942 and went on to carry out operations off the WA coast until 1943 – that’s as far as Kriloff’s coverage of this ship goes.

Seaplane tender operations, especially those conducted in Australian waters during WW2, have been often overlooked, so this USN version is a big step towards remedying this oversight. Kriloff’s story also covers the early days of his Navy career from July 1939 in a simple and straightforward manner. The style is eminently readable even if it is of a different style to what I’m more accustomed. Without revealing too much, Kriloff covers his ship’s operations from Fremantle, Exmouth and Shark Bay, the environment and people of Fremantle/Perth and life in those times. There’s also a look at Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island and the midget submarine attack in the Harbour in May 1942.

This book opens the door to those seaplane operations in western waters – so different to the bigger battles of the Coral Sea and Bismarck Sea, and of Guadalcanal and Midway with which we are more familiar. It just needs someone now to carry on Herbert Kriloff’s opening gambit and provide a complete history of the events of both the US and Royal Australian navies in this somewhat forgotten theatre.

A paperback, with 252 pages, ten b&w photos, a map, introduction by Sir Zelman Cowen (former Governor-General of Australia 1977-1982), epilogue and end notes, it is available from Hyland’s Bookshop in Melbourne www.hylandsbookshop.com.au or 03 9654 7448 for about $30. A very interesting read!

Many thanks to Peter Ingman of Avonmore Books for the review copy.

Reviewed by John Baxter