The story of the first ship sunk by a Japanese submarine that demonstrates the careful planning and remarkable success of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1940, the Cynthia Olson was acquired by the Olson Steamship Company and ran coastal service from Portland to Los Angeles. As war approached, the company won an Army Transportation Services contract to ship lumber, and eventually the ship was certified for service on the open ocean, which allowed for runs to Hawaii, where the United States was building in anticipation of the coming conflict. Though Military History editor-in-chief Harding (Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II, 2015, etc.) is fond of cliffhanger endings that eventually outstay their welcomes, he narrates an interesting tale. The captain and first mate on the fateful Dec. 7, 1941, voyage were experienced, but it seems to have made little difference. When the Japanese submarine surfaced and fired a shot across the bow, the intent was to humanely allow the crew to escape before the ship was sunk. The captain, a World War I veteran, knew just what was expected. He cut his engines, and after a second shot from the sub, he put his crew into lifeboats, and they rowed as far away from the ship as possible. It seems like a simple enough story, but Harding explores three crucial questions. First, did the sub captain truly wait to fire on the Cynthia Olson until the attack on Pearl Harbor was underway? Second, would knowledge of this attack have enabled a better defense with even an hour notice? Third, what really happened to the crew? The author traces facts that were discovered years—even decades—after the event, uncovers interviews with the Japanese captain and crew, and comes up with a number of intriguing scenarios.
A detailed, well-researched book presented in a logical fashion—will appeal most to Pearl Harbor scholars and those interested in submarine warfare.