Kirkus Star


The Final Voyage of Submarine S-Five
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Riveting account of the 1920 sinking of US submarine S-Five and the improbable escape of her crew.

When Lieutenant Commander Charles “Savvy” Cooke gave orders for the S-Five to run through a practice dive, he had no reason to expect disaster. The newly commissioned sub had been through much more rigorous tests before setting out on this, her first mission. Two-and-a-half minutes later, however, the nose of the 870-ton vessel slammed into the ocean floor 180 feet down. A senior enlisted man had somehow forgotten to close a crucial ventilation valve, and seawater rapidly flooded the sub. From then on, the crew faced one equipment failure after another until a grim conclusion was reached: the S-Five could not be raised. However, in the crew's attempts to reach the surface by blowing ballast tanks, the 230-foot vessel had ended up so steeply angled that her stern broke the ocean's surface, and crewmembers could hear waves lapping against the hull. Now Cooke had to figure out how to break through the sub's three-quarter-inch steel skin. No acetylene torches were available; the electrical system was inoperative; and the battery system in the engineering room was beginning to leak poisonous chlorine gas as water and air rapidly disappeared. There was barely enough space for the crew to perch; floor and ceiling had become walls, and the seamen clung to machinery and pipes in an effort to rest. In a true race for their lives, the starving, choking sailors managed to hand-drill holes in the sub's side so that they could extend a white flag attached to a length of copper pipe. Hill masterfully interweaves suspense with navy history; the reader is barely breathing when the privately owned steamship S.S. Alanthus spots the wreck, and crew is saved.

A well-researched, informative nail-biter.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-3677-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2002