Harm's Way (novel): Wikis


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Harm's Way  
Author James Bassett
Cover artist Carl Smith
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) War novel
Publisher World Publishing Co
Publication date 1962
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 510 pp (hardcover edition)

Harm's Way is a 1962 war novel by James Bassett.


Plot introduction

A regular Naval officer in the Pacific theater is assigned to command a "backwater" operation to seize a group of strategic islands from the Japanese, and has almost as much trouble from an entrenched and interfering area commander as from the enemy.


Explanation of the novel's title

"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way." -- attributed to John Paul Jones

Plot summary

The attack on Pearl Harbor catches the United States Navy unawares--but several different officers react with a valor that will characterize their further actions. They include Captain Rockwell Torrey, commanding a heavy cruiser known only as Old Swayback, which is off the Hawaiian coast near Pearl Harbor, running another set of exercises in a long string of them. Lieutenant (jg) William "Mac" McConnell is assigned as Officer of the Day aboard the destroyer, USS Cassiday, on what is supposed to be a sleepy Sunday, tied up in a shallower channel of the harbor, not all that far from Battleship Row. When the attack comes, Lt. McConnell takes his ship out of the harbor, leaving his captain and executive officer behind, and eventually joins an scratch task group assembled around Torrey's cruiser.

Torrey leads his task group on a seek-out-and-destroy mission. When the ships approach the end of their fuel, Torrey orders them to steer a straight course. Unhappily, that makes the group vulnerable to attack. A Japanese sub scores two torpedo hits on Old Swayback before Cassiday can sink the sub with depth charges.

Back at Pearl Harbor, Torrey is relieved of his command and faces a Board of Inquirey that could lead to a Court-Martial--but when Admiral Chester Nimitz arrives to take command in the Pacific theater, he makes sure that Torrey will have a position on his planning staff. Torrey's officers scatter to various points in the Pacific theater, with his old exec, Paul Eddington, assigned to an unrewarding post at an old Free French base on the island of Toulebonne. Torrey drifts into a romance with a Navy nurse named Maggie Haynes; this romance is interrupted only briefly by the alert ordered during the Battle of Midway. Eventually, Torrey and his roommate, Captain Egan Powell USNR, are invited to dinner at Nimitz' house, where Nimitz personally presents Torrey with the pair of Rear Admiral's stars Nimitz had worn before taking command as CinCPAC and announces that he is to go into the Pacific theater to take personal command of an operation, called Mesquite, that has ground to a halt because of the inept micro-management by the area commander.

Torrey knows that his task will be anything but simple, chiefly because he knows the area commander's chief aide, who used to be his own housemate--basically a bootlicking, publicity-hungry former United States Senator who cares more about currying future political favor than about winning the war. To fight the baleful influence of this officer and his boss, Torrey assembles a personal staff worthy of the challenge: his old exec, Paul Eddington, as his chief of staff; Mac McConnell as his flag lieutenant, and Egan Powell as his flag secretary (an officer in charge of all correspondence, including mail censorship and relations with war correspondents).

Torrey lands on the island of Gavabutu, about three hundred miles west of Toulebonne (where the area commander is headquartered), and immediately makes the area commander his enemy by planning an operation to drive the Japanese off Gavabutu immediately. This operation succeeds, and Torrey turns his attention to his next target: Levu-Vana, a much sought-after island having a central plain large enough to build runways for B-17 bombers. He rapidly learns that the Japanese want to stay on Levu-Vana every bit as much as he wants to kick them off, because the Japanese have their own plans for basing bombers on that island. Torrey's repeated attempts to get more materiel for his mission end in failure, largely because the Navy is sending most of its heavy tonnage to the Solomon Islands to support General Douglas MacArthur. Torrey presses on anyway, and ultimately stakes his all on a pitched battle against a vastly superior Japanese task group led by the Japanese battleship Yamato. During the battle, enemy fire sinks his ship, and falling wreckage strikes him and knocks him unconscious. He wakes up aboard a hospital ship under the care of his lover, Maggie Haynes, initially believing that he has lost the battle and sacrificed his ships to no good purpose--until the general commanding his landing forces cheerfully informs him that he is firmly in control of Levu-Vana, that Torrey's battle was a success, and that no less than Admiral Ernest King has praised him highly for his efforts. A grateful Torrey submits to the ministrations of Maggie Haynes--who, in the last scene, prepares to shave his face using his prized seven-blade set of German straight razors, which his rescuers miraculously preserved and returned to him.

Characters in "Harm's Way"

The list of characters in Harm's Way is very lengthy. The most salient characters are:

  • Captain Rockwell "Rock" Torrey USN, CO of the ship known only as Old Swayback -- afterwards Rear Admiral Rockwell Torrey, Commander, Advanced Tactical Zone, South Pacific (COMADTACZONSOPAC)
  • Commander Paul Eddington USN, executive officer of Old Swayback -- afterwards Captain Paul Eddington, Chief of Staff, COMADTACZONSOPAC
  • Captain Egan Powell USNR, Flag Secretary, COMADTACZONSOPAC
  • Lieutenant, junior grade William "Mac" McConnell USN, assigned to destroyer USS Cassiday -- afterwards Lieutenant William McConnell, Flag Lieutenant, COMADTACZONSOPAC
  • Vice Admiral "Blackjack" Broderick USN, Commander, Southwest Pacific Area Three
  • Commander Neal Owynn USNR (formerly of the US Senate), his chief aide (and, briefly, liaison to COMADTACZONSOPAC)
  • Ensign, afterwards Lieutenant Jeremiah Farr Torrey USNR ("Rock" Torrey's son), assigned as first mate aboard a PT boat eventually attached to ADTACZONSOPAC
  • Lieutenant Maggie Haynes USN, a nurse
  • Ensign Annalee Dohrn USNR, another nurse
  • Beverly McConnell, Mac McConnell's wife
  • Beth Eddington, Paul Eddington's wife
  • Admiral Husband Kimmel USN, Commander-in-chief Pacific (CinCPAC) at the outbreak of WWII; not named directly in the novel.
  • Admiral Chester Nimitz USN, Commander-in-chief Pacific (CinCPAC) for the rest of the war; not named directly in the novel.

Major themes

The burden of command, the ugliness of human nature especially in wartime, and the unsung heroism of commanders who carry on when they do not receive the support that they ought to receive from their superiors.

Allusions/references to other works

This novel makes no such allusions.

Literary significance & criticism

No significant body of criticism of this work appears to have survived to this date.

Allusions/references from other works

No other works are known to allude to this work--except for the film adaptation described below.

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

This novel is set during World War II and depicts a fictitious amphibious operation in the Southwestern Pacific theater of that war. As such, it includes at least two historical figures as characters (see above) and makes allusions to several others, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Admiral Ernest King.

Operations, names of ships (except for the Japanese battleship Yamato), Southwest Pacific islands and their names, and characters and their names (except for Admirals King, Nimitz, and Kimmel) are fictitious. Specifically, no such operation named "Mesquite" or "Skyhook" ever took place in any theater of war--but the drama surrounding those operations could represent any number of real dilemmas that Admiral Nimitz might have faced during his management of the Pacific theater.

Awards and nominations

This novel is not known to have received, or been nominated for, any literary awards.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

This novel was adapted for film in 1965 under the title In Harm's Way by Otto Preminger. John Wayne appeared as Rock Torrey, Kirk Douglas as Paul Eddington, Patricia Neal as Maggie Haynes, Brandon de Wilde as Jere Torrey, Burgess Meredith as Egan Powell, Tom Tryon and Paula Prentiss as Mac and Beverly McConnel, and Franchot Tone and Henry Fonda as Admirals Kimmel and Nimitz.

Release details

1962, USA, The World Publishing Company, LOC 62-21442, Pub date 1962, hardcover

Sources, references, external links, quotations


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