Dan van der Vat

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Person.png Dan van der Vat   AmazonRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(academic, journalist, historian, author)
Dan van der Vat.jpg
Born28 October 1939
Alkmaar, Netherlands
Alma materDurham University

Daniel "Dan" Francis Jeroen van der Vat is an author, journalist and military historian.


Dan van der Vat grew up in Nazi-German occupied Holland. Resident in London from late 1945, he attended state schools and studied at Durham University from 1957 to 1960, graduating with a BA in Classics.


Dan van der Vat joined the staff of The Journal, Newcastle, as a graduate trainee in 1960. He moved on to the Manchester office of the Daily Mail in 1963, who sent him back to Newcastle as Chief Reporter in the North-East region in 1964.

During a stint in London in 1965 Dan van der Vat was invited to join The Sunday Times. Two years later, he transferred to its daily sister, The Times, and worked on investigations and as a special foreign correspondent before going to South Africa in 1969 to open an office there. In 1972 he moved to Bonn as bureau chief, returning to London in summer 1977 to write in-depth features. He left six months after Rupert Murdoch took over, with two daughters in school and no job to go to, but another book to write.

After a year Dan van der Vat was invited to join The Guardian, where he spent six years as Chief Foreign Leaderwriter. In 1989 he left to become a full-time author, but still writes obituaries for The Guardian.[1]

Part-time author

By 1989, Dan van der Vat had written the first four of his naval histories in his spare time. The Times had sent him to cover a controversial seal cull in the Orkney Islands in November 1977. The Journal had sent him to one at the Farne Islands, Northumberland, in 1962 but it was cancelled for bad weather. The Daily Mail sent him to another at the same place in 1964 – and it too was cancelled because the cullers’ boat broke down. In 1977, a storm of protest by the freshly formed 'Greenpeace' and others forced the cancellation of his third, which gave him a claim to be the most successful talisman of the British seal population. So he took the opportunity to expore a most beautiful area and found a museum at Stromness which featured a display on the scuttling of the Kaiser’s fleet in Scapa Flow on 21 June 1919. He soon found that nobody had written a book about this extraordinary act of self-destruction. And then The Times was shut down for 50 weeks by its own management in a futile and incompetent effort to switch over to new technology. "The Grand Scuttle", his first book, was how he filled the time of the lock-out.

Naval historian

The background research for this led him to choose two other naval topics from the First World War before being urged by his publishers to turn to the Second, for the sake of a bigger readership. Having seen "The Atlantic Campaign" published on both sides of the eponymous ocean, the American publisher remarked that the only way he could follow it up was to write "The Pacific Campaign". Dan van der Vat responded:

"I pointed out that I had a full-time job on a leading newspaper. He said I should give up my day-job. I said there was not enough money on the table – and to my amazement, he rectified the omission, enabling me to resign from The Guardian and go my own way as an author."

Fifteen of Dan van der Vat's books are illustrated here.[2]