Most helpful critical review
57 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Polmar toes the party line.
on January 11, 2006
The sinking of the USS Thresher with 129 aboard in 1963 sent the Navy into a fit of paranoia and secrecy from which it's never recovered. The Court of Inquiry degenerated into a circus of buck-passing, double-speak, and anything even remotely controversial was immediately labeled "classified information." To this day, no one knows what caused the loss of the Navy's newest, most competent submarine, but subsequent investigations all but proved that she went to sea with hundreds of substandard pipe joints in the engineering spaces, one of which probably burst, triggering the disaster.
Of the two books dealing with the Thresher sinking (the other being John Bentley's "The Thresher Disaster"), Polmar's book is the calmer and less opinionated of the two, but it is also unsatisfying. Polmar toes the Navy party line for the most part, only suggesting that the sinking might have been hastened by an inadvertent reactor shutdown due to flooding from a burst seawater pipe (a conclusion that so enraged Admiral Rickover that he vowed never to have anything to do with Polmar again.)
Polmar simply lays out the timeline of Thresher's career, her last cruise, and the subsequent inquiry. He glosses over the laundry list of discrepencies that were uncovered during Thresher's workup before she sailed, and the buck-passing and blame-shifting that occured during the inquiry.
The recent publication of Stephen Johnson's "Silent Steel", focusing on the subsequent Scorpion disaster highlights this book's real fault -- at no time do we get a picture of the human beings who were aboard Thresher as she sank to her doom. We see brief glimpses of Captain Dean Axene, Thresher's first CO, and of John Harvey, who was in command on her last dive. But these officers are presented as black-and-white individuals, and of the crew we see even less.
Scandalously missing from this "revised" edition is any conversation with Lt. Raymond McCoole, reactor controls officer, who missed Thresher's final voyage through a stroke of fate. McCoole probably knew more about Thresher's fatal flaws than anyone (and he revealed some of them to author Bentley.)
One wonders how much Polmar was pressured to keep this work "sanitized" to avoid Navy embarassment. Or perhaps he simply wanted to avoid alienating his Navy contacts. Either way, it's only half the story. Bentley's work is overwrought and comes to some dubious conclusions, but the Navy's culpability in the sinking is laid bare. Not so with Polmar's work, which, though informative, is ultimately a disappointment.