Using voluminous official records plus interviews and an amazing number of unpublished diaries and letters, former Charleston Post and Courier investigative reporter Scott (The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel's Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship, 2009) delivers a gripping, almost day-by-day account of the actions of three submarines, Silversides, Tang and Drum, from Pearl Harbor to VE Day.
Nazi U-boats get the publicity, but America’s submarines were more effective, sinking so many Japanese vessels that by the end of World War II, civilians were starving and factories barely functioning. The author mixes biographies of the men who fought in the subs, technical details of sub warfare and the patrols themselves. Moving back and forth among the three boats, he describes weeks of boredom and searching, days of maneuvering for attacks, the devastation when they were successful, the frustration when they weren’t and the anxiety of enduring depth-charge attacks while trapped deep beneath the sea. All this havoc on Japanese shipping came at a price; American submarines suffered 20 percent losses, the highest of any Navy service. That included the Tang, sunk, ironically, by its own malfunctioning torpedo, killing most of its crew. The nine survivors emerged as malnourished skeletons after a year of unspeakable conditions in Japanese prisons. Scott pauses regularly to explain the progress of the Pacific war but makes no attempt to write a general history of the submarine campaign; for that, read Clay Blair’s Silent Victory (1975). Inevitably, details of several dozen submarine patrols become increasingly familiar.
Military buffs will lap it up, but general readers may find it difficult to resist the tension, drama and fireworks of this underappreciated but dazzlingly destructive American weapon of WWII.