The Hooligan Navy

February 2010


Ernest Hemingway had a plan. He and his friends would locate a U-Boat, get in close, then throw grenades into open hatches. Luckily for future lovers of literature, his plan was never attempted. Sparing a miracle, he would not have lasted five minutes against the Kriegsmarine. Nevertheless, in 1942-1943 the author actively patrolled Caribbean waters, hunting U-Boats and German spies.

Hemingway made his quixotic patrols on his 38 foot wooden fishing boat, named El Pilar. With his crew of friends and ample alcohol, he stalked the waters near Cuba. Hemingway never made a confirmed U-Boat sighting, but he did claim one possibly sighting. It disappeared before he could see it for certain. El Pilar was one of many civilian boats taking it upon themselves to patrol for U-Boats during WWII. Hemingway called them the Hooligan Navy.

In 2009, Terry Mort authored a book on Hemingway’s Caribbean patrols, describing both Hemingway’s time on El Pilar and its effect on his relationship with his wife, Martha Gellhorn. Despite the paramilitary justification for the patrols, Mort argues that, for Hemingway, it was more about “the quest, the adventure, the serious purpose, the voluntary service, the fun, the satisfaction of command and comradeship, the joy of being at sea, the craft of seamanship and navigation, the possibility of danger, and the piquancy of not knowing whether it will come, the reality and the metaphor of an unseen enemy suddenly rising”. I would be happy to live half the life of Hemingway.

Posted by Christopher Albon in History, Navy
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  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Myself excluded (I like my life and don’t view it as a competition, or maybe I’m just content to have been a utility infielder, so to speak) many of the regulars around here have led twice the life of Ernest Hemingway, they just don’t run their mouth or typewriter (err…PC) about it.

    The guy blew his brains out. It couldn’t have been that great.

  • Sorry, are you scolding a professional fiction writer for prolific writing?

    Oh my. My oh my.

  • You’re right Grandpa….Chris already knows plenty of Hooligans! Myself included.

    Chris – love the post.

  • Thanks Maggs.

    Sorry I couldn’t make it down to WEST. We have some drinking to catch up on.

  • J. Scott

    Love Hemingway’s writing, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to trade places with him. Like Grandpa pointed out–the guy killed himself–so it must not have been great.

    Nice post.

  • YNSN

    Hunter S. Thompson was Hemingway 2.0

    Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    You miscontrued my wisecrack, sir.

    It’s not about the writing, it’s about the living. Specifically about the self promotion, the posing, the fibbing, the drinking, the narcissism, and the adulation by literati… vs the quiet, amazing moral and physical courage, not to mention the intelligence…well, just the overall class of the professionals who contribute to this post… (grumpy old men amusing themselves in their old age as gadflies obviously excepted).

    The SOB did have a way with words though. Now THAT, a fellow could be envious of.


  • Chris…the post inspired me to re-read “A Moveable Feast” again (It’s Hemingway’s last book; a memoir of his first wife and his days in Paris). Great book, but so, so sad.

  • Ah, my mistake Grandpa Bluewater. Apologies from my end.

    Springboard: Yeah, I loved A Moveable Feast. That was the book that hooked me.

  • David

    I have to add that he killed himself because of electroshock treatment that destroyed his memories and cognitive faculties that led to an extreme depression. He was unable to even write.

    So “it couldn’t have been that great” is off base.