By 1942, Mussolini’s forces were on the run in East Africa. In order to slow the Allied advance, the Italians used audacious tactics—including making ports inoperable, leaving the Allies without the infrastructure necessary to continue the war effort.
At Massawa, Eritrea, the fleeing Italians left the largest mass wreck in the world, turning a vital port into a tangle of shattered ships, cranes, sunken dry docks, and dangerous booby traps. In order to continue the war effort and push back the Axis powers in Africa, the Allies enlisted a naval salvage expert known as Commander Ellsberg.
Ellsberg, a veteran miracle worker in raising sunken ships, was given his toughest assignment yet: Reopen the port with no budget, no men, and no tools. The British had claimed the task was impossible—Massawa couldn’t be cleared. But a determined Ellsberg navigated complicated American and British bureaucracies to build a ragtag group of international civilians and pull off a historic feat of engineering. This is his account of that crucial operation—the largest of its kind the world had ever seen—accomplished in the searing heat of Eritrea.
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