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Fittest of the Fit (Hardback)

Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939–1945

Maritime Seaforth Royal Navy Naval

By Kevin Brown
Seaforth Publishing
Pages: 276
ISBN: 9781526734273
Published: 8th July 2019


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‘Fittest of the fit’ was the Royal Navy’s boast about its personnel, a claim based on a recruitment process that was effectively self-selection. This book examines that basic assumption and many of the issues that followed from it.

Beginning with the medical aspects of recruitment, it looks at how health and fitness was maintained in the adverse environment of sea service, including the particularly onerous extremes of Arctic and Tropical conditions, and life for its submariners and airmen as well as those in the surface fleet. The massive mid-war expansion of personnel was a particular challenge to accepted wisdom and how the Navy coped is a major aspect of the story.

Beyond the purely physical, the importance of psychological factors and the maintenance of morale is another theme of the book, taking in everything from entertainment to tolerance of onboard pets. Inevitably, the effects of battle, injury and stress dominated naval medicine, and action experience led to rapid changes in everything from basic preparations to protective clothing. In a conscious search for improvement, the Navy became an early adopter of many medical innovations, driven by a permanent committee created to study personnel issues.

To put this all into context, comparisons are made with the other British services as well as US Navy practice. From this emerges a rounded picture of a crucially important factor in the wartime success of the Senior Service.

Fittest of the Fit is a very readable book and provides a most comprehensive coverage of the vast Royal Navy in World War 2. As the RAN was organisationally the same as the RN, and had British ships, Australian naval medical staffs and ships’ companies shared many of the same experiences.

This book is a very human story and should interest not only medical professionals and the wider naval and military community, but anyone interested in large and complex organisations operating under extreme conditions and stress. Your humble reviewer can do no less than highly recommend Fittest of the Fit.

Read the full review here

Australian Naval Institute
 Kevin Brown

About Kevin Brown

KEVIN BROWN is the Curator of the Alexander Fleming Museum at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington and an expert on the history of medicine. He is the author of Penicillin Man, which tells the story of the antibiotics revolution that began in the laboratories he now curates, and also Fighting Fit, a history of military medicine in the wars of the twentieth century.

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