Kershaw (The Few, 2006, etc.) fashions a gripping, novelistic account of the U.S. submarine Tang’s tragic final patrol.
By August 1944, the Tang, a state-of-the-art torpedo-laden vessel under the guidance of Commander Richard O’Kane, had proven itself a formidable hunter of Japanese shipping. The tide was turning against the Japanese in the Pacific, as effective American technology allowed submarines to sink far below the surface to evade depth charges. In just four patrols, the cocky, ambitious, New Hampshire-born O’Kane had engineered the sinking of 17 ships. He was eager to embark on his fifth patrol, to the perilous enemy-lined Formosa Strait. By early October, the Tang had weathered an ominous typhoon, as well as a fall by the commander that left him with a broken foot. Once in the strait, the submarine successfully sank a convoy of Japanese cargo ships, emptying most of its torpedoes. Incredibly, the last torpedo, Number 24, boomeranged and headed straight back to strike the Tang. Half of the 87-member crew were killed instantly. When the fatally wounded submarine hit bottom, a handful of men miraculously escaped to the surface through the torpedo tubes. (They were equipped with Momsen Lungs, which took carbon dioxide from the air they exhaled, enriched it with oxygen and recycled it.) After floating for hours in the water, nine survivors, including O’Kane, were picked up by Japanese lifeboats. Surprisingly, the vengeful Japanese did not kill them outright, though they endured a harrowing period of captivity, subjected to interrogation, torture and starvation. On August 28, 1945, 19 days after the U.S. atomic bomb destroyed Nagasaki, the men were rescued by a U.S. destroyer. Stitched together from first-person accounts, Kershaw’s action-packed, character-driven narrative of this extraordinary crew’s exploits concludes with a poignant wrap-up of the survivors’ later years.
Reads like the best suspense fiction.