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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Taffrail (Henry Taprell Dorling)

I had an enquiry during the week asking what I knew about Captain Henry Taprell Dorling, who wrote naval thrillers under the name Taffrail. To be honest, I knew nothing, so I did a little digging around and came up with the following.

Dorling was born in Duns, Berwickshire, on 8 September 1883, the son of Francis Dorling of Farnborough, Hampshire, a Colonel in the Royal Sussex Regiment, and his wife Constance Elizabeth (nee Holland). He entered H.M.S. Britannia in 1897 and served as a midshipman in H.M.S. Terrible in South Africa and China, taking part in the relief of Peking in 1900. He became a sub-lieutenant in 1902, was promoted to lieutenant in 1904 and qualified as a staff instructor in 1913.

During the Great War he served chiefly with destroyers in the North Sea, engaged mostly with minelaying. He was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the D.S.O. in 1918, having already received a gold medal from the Swedish government for saving life at sea. In 1918, he joined the plans division of the Admiralty staff, serving there until 1921. He retired from the service in 1929.

He had already established himself as a popular writer on ships and the sea and on life in the Royal Navy in war and peace. After his retirement he applied himself seriously to narratives of the sea based upon Admiralty and other authoritative sources for both fiction and non-fiction. His earliest volume published under the nom-de-plume Taffrail was Pincher Martin, O.D., a collection of stories and sketches of life in the Navy. It was followed by books on the "little ships" in the war of 1914-18, on famous sea escapes and adventure, and on some of the great Elizabethan sea-dogs. His first novel, Pirates, a story (largely based on Admiralty information) of the operations of the pirates in the Canton delta and of the duties of the British gunboats involved, appeared in 1929.

Endless Story (1931) was a vivid, unadorned account of the work of the destroyer flotillas in the war; Seventy North (1934) was a novel of adventure about a Hull trawler within the Arctic Circle; books about the merchant navy and the minesweepers were followed by a novel about the merchant navy, Mid-Atlantic (1936).

In 1939 Dorling was recalled to the Navy and served in the Ministry of Information and afloat in all types of warships; in 1942, after the landing in North Africa, he joined the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, as press liaison officer. The following year his novel Chenies appeared, described as a spirited if perhaps somewhat conventional picture of a British naval family, with two of its members at sea, in wartime.

In 1944 he was made an officer of the American Legion of Merit. Dorling was an active journalist, serving as the naval correspondent of The Observer from 1945, and broadcaster. He was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Younger Brother of Trinity House and a member of the Navy Records Society.

He was married to Evelyne Frances MacDonald in 1909 and had one son. He died on Monday, 1 July 1968 at the Dreadnaught Hospital, Greenwich, aged 84.


  1. I an just in the process of reading 'Kerrell' by this author.Is strongly reminds me of 'The Cruel Sea'. Have just completed 'The Man From Scapa Flow' which is rather John Buchanish. A marvellous and underrated author.

  2. Hmm, 2 years down the line I have a couple of pictures of a book bought for a couple of pounds. Not that interesting maybe? the book is 'Navy in Action'. What is interesting is that the book had a letter inside addressed to Captain Dorling from a member of staff in 'Green Section.' The book is subsequently dated and signed by 'Taffrail' 1940.

  3. He was also the ghostwriter for _A Sailor's Odyssey: The Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope_, Andrew Browne Cunningham, First Sea Lord during WWII.