One of the few submarine war stories with a happy ending.
After the USS Flier was sunk off the Philippines in 1944, survivors faced harrowing conditions behind Japanese lines, but they were eventually rescued. Submarines, not the infantry, were the most dangerous service of World War II, writes Sturma (History/Murdoch Univ., Australia; Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS Harder, 2006, etc.). American subs wreaked more havoc on the Japanese than Nazi U-Boats did on Allied shipping, but the United States lost 52 craft and more than 3,500 crewmen during the war. Not a lucky vessel, the Flier ran aground before its first tour of duty, requiring more than two months of repairs. During its sole successful patrol, it probably sank one Japanese ship. Barely two weeks into a second patrol, a sudden, catastrophic explosion (the ship may have hit a mine) sank it in less than a minute. Of the 82 crewmen, only 14 escaped, none wearing life jackets. After 18 hours drifting and swimming, eight survivors reached an island 12 miles away. Finding no fresh water, they built a raft and struggled to two more islands, also waterless. Finally, after four days of starvation and thirst, skin blistered by the sun and feet lacerated from walking on coral reefs, they reached a larger island and found water. The next day, Filipino guerrillas arrived and led the Americans to their camp. Ten days later, a submarine evacuated them. Having immersed himself in World War II submarine lore, the author fills his entertaining book with diversions into related areas. Readers will encounter lively essays about undersea tactics, the claustrophobic world of submariners, the history of mines and of torpedoes, the American-supported Filipino guerrilla movement and the nasty politics of the U.S. submarine high command.
Making no attempt to elevate these events beyond their modest significance, Sturma tells an engrossing story of courage, suffering and survival.