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Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang Paperback – December 17, 1996
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About the Author
Richard O'Kane was acknowledged as the top submarine skipper of World War II. His personal decorations include three Navy Crosses and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He retired as a rear admiral from his command of the Submarine School, rounding out twenty years with the boats. He was the author of Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang and Wahoo: The Patrols of America's Most Famous WWII Submarine.
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I've learned a lot about life, and I've read a few thousand books since then, and I recently decided to revisit this influential title now 3 decades in my past.
From my current middle-aged, experienced, and perhaps jaded, perspective today, it's not the eye-opening experience that it was originally, but in the end I wasn't disappointed.
Simply and plainly told, it's basically a diary, but an important one. The takeaway for me, again as it was back in the early '80s, is the clear-eyed and matter of fact way that these great men faced danger every day. It's this attitude that continues to inform my life choices, albeit the more gentle ones offered by my mundane life, and it makes me aware and grateful that my life is mundane.
As an aside, I was living near Bath Iron Works in Maine in 1998, and was invited to attend the launching of an Arleigh Burke class DDG. Only when I entered the BIW grounds did I discover that the ship in question was DDG-77, the USS O'Kane. Watching her slide into the water was truly one of my most memorable and treasured moments.
This is his story and that of the USS Tang, one of the most successful submarines operating in the Pacific. O'Kane was one of a new breed of submarine skippers who traded caution for results with great success, but at huge risks. One of the most effective tactics was to take the surfaced submarine into the middle of Japanese convoys at night, attacking multiple ships and then escaping to the depths.
The action is heart stopping and explains why the Navy pulled some of the more conservative older skippers out of their boats and replaced them with men like this. But the story is much more than simply tactics and bravery above all expectations, it is a story about true leadership.
Young MBA's would do better asking themselves what characteristics of leadership did O'Kane and his officers utilize to achieve so much with so very little in tangible rewards to offer their crews? There were few rewards for the truly outstanding sub crews, congratulations, awards, a sense of team and the dubious honor of being sent back out on patrol as soon as possible.
One of the secrets was that O'Kane and other sub commanders under the leadership of senior officers at Pearl Harbor were given huge patrol areas and largely left to their own devices to take advantage of what they found. To prevent detection the subs seldom transmitted messages on the high power needed to reach thousands of miles across the ocean, the subs received intelligence information from headquarters, but no tactical instructions. On occasion they had schedules to keep, often lifeguard duty just offshore of enemy facilities which were being attacked from the air. Many young pilots, including George Bush Sr were plucked from waters off the Japanese held islands.
The book is also a reminder of a can-do nation at work. Battered and worn out subs returning from patrol were overhauled, updated and ready to depart on the next patrol in only a few weeks.
The description of various engagements may seem a little dry and technical to someone who has not been out on the sea on a dark night trying to make sense of faint shadows and movement. For fans of surface warfare who think subs are like hunting with poison gas, the descriptions of night surface attacks in the middle of escorted convoys will fully dispel that image.
The book is a great reminder of the incredible courage of those who have gone to sea to defend our country for more than 220 years and those who continue to do so today.
It is a must-read for anyone interested in WWII submarine warfare. It is inspiring and full of leadership lessons.