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In Action with Destroyers 1939–1945 (Hardback)

The Wartime Memoirs of Commander J A J Dennis DSC RN

Maritime > Naval > Royal Navy WWII

By Alec Dennis, Edited by Anthony Cumming
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 30
ISBN: 9781526718495
Published: 2nd November 2017



Best Book award nomination

Nominated for the Maritime Foundation's 2018 Mountbatten Award for Best Book. View the full list of this year's nominations here.

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In Action with Destroyers 1939 - 1945 is a superbly written and exciting eyewitness account of the war at sea from 1939 to 1945. There can have been few, if any, naval officers who saw so much action as Alec Dennis, who served in four destroyers; HMS Griffin and Savage initially before commanding Valorous and Tetcott. While too modest to admit to it, he was mentioned in Despatches three times (Norway, sinking the Scharnhorst and in the North Sea) and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (Greece 1942).

His war service also included the important but little known Madagascar operation, the Malta and Arctic convoys and D-Day.

For all the danger and action, Dennis recorded his remarkable experiences with a light even irreverent touch and, as a result, his memoir is not just a brilliant account of one man’s war at sea but a rattling good read.

In his journal Commander Dennis describes life on board Royal Navy destroyers. The terriers that ferreted out Nazi submarines' intent on sinking to Allied Atlantic convoys. Early in the war the Atlantic as U boats' hunting ground, sinking ships full of war weapons and food. Chasing after the hunters through groups of oil covered crew survivors, dropping depth charge at random. He describes the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst and pages packed with lists of German and Allied shipping that took part in his remarkable war.

The author Alec Dennis served on the Rodney and Repulse before transferring to destroyers. He served on four: was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work in Greece and Mentioned in Despatches three time for action in the Atlantic and the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst. He retired to Canada when he left the Royal Navy in 1957 where he eventually became a teacher in Vancouver. He died in 2008.

Richard Gough, Military author and historian

A few pages of this book in the evening transports me to those momentous days of the Second World War and a feeling of what life was like on the workhorses of the fleet – the destroyers. A brilliant read!

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This is one of the most engaging autobiographies I’ve read in a long time. Dennis is a very engaging writer, and has a lightness of touch that lifts the mood of even the darkest periods of the war... This is a splendid autobipgraphy – well written, engaging, fast passed, exciting and humerous. For every moment of tension and tragedy there is a period of light hearted relief, and one gets some idea of the special aspects of life in the destroyers, where the spirit of adventure of small warships in earlier wars was still to be found.

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History of War

The book is written in a very readable style, with touches of what I'd describe as typical Navy humour. It is a story of the war from the point of view of the destroyer, not the large capital ships which they so often protected. Adding to the personal story, the editor Anthony Cumming has included some helpful historical notes which add the wider context to the history of what was happening. A first class read which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

Fantastic biopic of Commander Dennis as he fought various WW2 naval battles on board a succession of British destroyers. Boys' Own Paper stuff - incredible heroics and bravery are recorded in this brilliant history of a larger than life naval hero.

Books Monthly

Well-on quality paper in sturdy binding, this book deserves attention from those intresting in world war 2 destroyers in genral; or those of RN in particular.

International Naval Research Organisation

The author produced a superbly written and exciting account of his service in destroyers during WWII, including command of Valorous and Tetcott. – Much Recommended

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The whole book flows with the action like a good novel but this is fact and it is difficult to put down.
After the diary the editor has added a very good thirteen page summary of the wider picture of the war which places the actions in their context.
We thoroughly recommend this book to all.

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Clash of Steel

Dennis writes with an easy familiar style, in impressive detail, and with great clarity, and even a welcome touch of wit/humour.

Definitely recommended, especially to those interested in the naval history of WWII.

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A Question Of Scale, Seb Palmer

As referenced in

Daily Echo, 6th March 2019

While the work could be improved with the inclusion of contextual historiographical and footnotes, it is still a solid primary source for those interested in destroyer actions in the Mediterranean, English Channel, Arctic, and off Madagascar during the Second World War.

The Northern Mariner / Le marin du nord, XVIII, No. 2 (Spring 2018) – reviewed by Charles Ross Patterson II Yorktown, Virginia

As featured by

Mercator Chapter Belgium, October,December 2018

The author, Anthony Cumming, did a great job making an extremely readable and gripping book out of the notes of Commander Dennis. This is a ‘reading’ book, one that you don’t easily put down. It not only tells a story about one man’s adventures in WW2, it also provides the reader with an insight in life aboard one of the smaller but very important navy ships of the time, the destroyer.

What I also liked is the fact it provides some insight of the personal life of the commander, his leaves, worries and joys in life at what must have been an extremely stressful number of years. I can recommend the book to those new to the navy history, but also to those already familiar with the RN’s WW2 history. This book just ADDS another welcome view to it all.

Reed the complete review online here.

Flyin' and Ridin', Francois A. Dumas

As featured by

Ausmarine, July 2018

As featured by

Workboat World, July 2018

An exciting eyewitness account of naval war in the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean...

...not just a historic and candid account of war at sea but also a terrific, page-turner of a book. A real-life thriller, it's as close to the action as you can get without actually being there.

Warships IFR, May 2018

The editor, Anthony Cumming, has done a good job preparing the narrative for publication, topping and tailing it with an introduction and a note at the end giving the historical background. He has provided basic maps, sourced an eclectic collection of black and white photographs including some from Dennis' family albums, and gives us a bibliography which includes a number of sources for further reading or research. But most of all he has rescued and brought to us this tale of courage and endurance from the archives of the IWM where full many a flower is stored to blush unseen - but, thanks to Cumming, not this one.

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Rum Ration

★★★★★ An officer's six years of exhausting war in RN destroyers, very well told.

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Amazon, Robert Griffiths (Seaweed)

A unique story that has been brought to a wider readership by the efforts of its editor. The destroyer was the backbone of naval operations in the role taken by the frigate in Nelson’s time. A fast paced story that grips the reader – Highly Recommended.

Read the complete review here.


An extraordinarily powerful story illustrating the daily strains and courage of those who served, told in an understated way. The fact that Dennis’s family asked that royalties from the book go to Help the Heroes says it all.
Very highly recommended.


About Alec Dennis

Alec Dennis DSC entered Dartmouth in 1931. After serving in the battleships Rodney and Resolution, he transferred to destroyers, serving in four during the Second World War. His experiences are the subject of this book. He retired from the Navy in 1957 and emigrated to Canada. Eventually he became a teacher for 10 years in Vancouver.

About Anthony Cumming

Following a career in the British civil service, Anthony J. Cumming earned his PhD at the University of Plymouth and won the University of London's Julian Corbett Prize for Research in Modern Naval History. He is the author of two books on naval and air force history including Battle for Britain and Inter-service Rivalry between the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, 1909-40. He lives in Devon with his wife and pet greyhound.

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