Header image  
line decor
line decor


Playships of the World
The Naval Diaries of Admiral Dan Gallery, 1920–1924

Edited by Robert Shenk

The early exploits around the globe of a young officer who would become a World War II navy hero

After touring the USS Pittsburgh off the French Riviera in 1926, James Thurber described it as the "Playship of the World," where the daily lives of officers were akin to "living in the sort of Utopia in which old romantic plays used to drop their curtain and old romantic books close their final page." Indicative of this adventurous, carefree, and relatively risk-free period between the world wars was the early career of a young naval officer, Dan Gallery, who would eventually achieve the rank of admiral and garner international fame for capturing a German submarine during World War II. Edited by Robert Shenk, Playships of the World follows Gallery's inaugural exploits in his own energetic voice. These recently discovered diaries chronicle Gallery's shipboard tours on the Pittsburgh and four other vessels during the early 1920s, following his graduation from the Naval Academy.

These diaries record Gallery's experiences aboard battleships, cruisers, and a destroyer as these ships steamed to exotic ports in South America, northern Europe, and the Mediterranean during an era when the U.S. Navy's mission was to be highly visible and when an officer might expect, as the recruitment motto promised, to see the world. Gallery's diaries serve as a travelogue through foreign ports, bars, and nightclubs and record a variety of sports competitions—ranging from Gallery's participation as a wrestler in the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games, to baseball games with a ship's crew in ports from Cairo to Constantinople, to fleetwide athletic contests sponsored by the navy in Panama and Guantanamo Bay.

The diaries also recount the coming of age of a naval legend. In them Gallery describes grappling with shipboard difficulties and contemplates the various directions his career might lead. He also recalls romances with young women in ports across the globe and attempts to maintain his moral and religious principles in the face of temptations of lust and liquor abroad.

Throughout the episodes recorded here, Gallery's spirits and hopes are high, his friendships numerous, and his outlook both clear and unpretentious. Peppered with companionable wit and burgeoning literary talent, the diaries illustrate the humble beginnings of a fledgling officer who would become an inspirational figure in military lore.

Sixty-seven illustrations and maps provide a visual element to augment Gallery's narrative.

Robert Shenk is a professor of English at the University of New Orleans and a retired captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His previous books include Admiral Dan Gallery: The Life and Wit of a Navy Original (with C. Herbert Gilliland), The Naval Institute Guide to Naval Writing, and Authors at Sea: Modern American Writers Remember Their Naval Service—a selection of the History Book Club.

"In the Roaring Twenties the U.S. Navy roared too, sending its ships and men abroad to show the flag. Outgoing, witty, and observant, Dan Gallery plunges us into an ebullient swirl of socializing and sightseeing. With a girl on his arm and a lifted glass, he shows us the exotic populace of Constantinople and the religious complications of old Jerusalem. At the same time, Gallery was a serious young naval officer who would later become an admiral, famous for his capture of U-505 in 1944. Here we meet him as a midshipman competing in the Olympics and then as an ensign when he deploys to Europe and the Near East. Robert Shenk's expert editing and commentary, along with maps and photos, enliven this fresh account of naval life between the world wars. There is nothing else like it."—C. Herbert Gilliland, author of Voyage to a Thousand Cares: Master's Mate Lawrence with the African Squadron, 1844–1846, and A Navy Flight Surgeon in the Sands of Sheba

"Shenk has done a masterful job editing Dan Gallery's diaries from his extended goodwill tours in European waters and competition in the 1920 Olympics. Through Gallery's accessible and winsome prose, readers gain valuable insight into the lives of naval officers in the interwar years, notably concerning the importance of athletics, the impact of Prohibition on the navy in international waters, the nature of racial and gender stereotypes of the era, and the effects of austerity measures on the careers of junior officers. Gallery emerges as a complex, often conflicted character as he confronts temptations of flesh and drink as well as the beauty and awe of foreign ports. Playships of the World is an important contribution to early-twentieth-century naval historiography."—Donald A. Yerxa, author of Admirals and Empire: The United States Navy and the Caribbean, 1898–1945, and editor of Historically Speaking




6 x 9
336 pages
67 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-722-1
cloth, $34.95t
Studies in Maritime History
William N. Still, Jr., series editor

Download a flyer

    Copyright ©2018 The University of South Carolina Press