Spirited literary reportage of life-and-death battles, heroism and failure aboard two U.S. submarines in World War II’s Pacific theater.
On November 19, 1943, the USS Sculpin was damaged beyond repair during a naval battle off the coast of Japan. Most of the crew was taken prisoner. The captain scuttled the submarine, going down with his ship—and with the secrets he held about the Navy’s capacity to break Japanese radio signal codes. Two weeks later, the USS Sailfish torpedoed a Japanese carrier that happened to hold half the Sculpin survivors, en route to a POW camp. The story of this encounter is the culmination of first-time author McCullough’s far-reaching military history. Yet the bulk—and real meat—of the book takes place in the years before. We learn of the two ships’ early patrols, successes and failures, day-to-day routines, nerve-fraying attack and defense maneuvers during battle. McCullough employs novelistic techniques, taking us into submarine control towers, torpedo rooms, sweaty living quarters and the quiet chambers of Naval code breakers, standing them beside Japanese spies and POW camp torturers. He surely had to reimagine some events, but his compelling narrative is solidly based on information from patrol reports, eyewitness accounts, interviews with surviving sailors, diaries, notebooks, letters sent home, etc. And anyone who thinks the nail-biting suspense isn’t credible in this kind of nonfiction clearly hasn’t read James Calvert’s classic memoir Silent Running (1995). The Battle of Midway is one of several oft-told Pacific war stories rehashed here, but this background is required to make clear later events enveloping the Sculpin and Sailfish.
A natural for military historians, war buffs and even teenagers looking for an authentic adventure story.