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The War Below: The Story of Three Submarines That Battled Japan Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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Chronicles of WWII’s submarine war remain popular, because while most combatants are cogs in gigantic military machines, a submarine lends itself to individuation. It often operated alone, and its combat success depended crucially on its commander’s risk-taking aggressiveness. Relying on the centrality of the commander, Scott recounts the Pacific war patrols of three U.S. submarines, of which two today are on display, the Drum in Mobile, Alabama, and the Silversides in Muskegon, Michigan. The third, the Tang, sank in battle. Providing character sketches of the boats’ commanders that note leadership style and pugnacity, Scott puts each on the periscope and describes the ensuing patrol. About 25 such episodes make up the narrative, which Scott expresses in dialogue akin to Edward Beach’s Run Silent, Run Deep (1955; movie, 1958) and fills with the navigational detail of hunting Japanese ships, firing torpedoes, and enduring depth-charge attacks. Though focusing on commanders, Scott expands to describe crew members’ roles, which further evokes the claustrophobic, dangerous world of the WWII sub. Scott (The Attack on the Liberty, 2009) satisfies the naval-history readership. --Gilbert Taylor
“This is the most absorbing narrative of submarine warfare that I’ve read in years. The research is so deep, and the writing so vivid, I could practically feel the vast ocean closing over me as these three boats ranged the Pacific looking for the kill.” (James D. Hornfischer, author of Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors)
"Scott has a gift for dramatic narrative that illuminates the human dimension of this drama beneath the seas. . . . This is a riveting tale for World War II buffs." (Hank H. Cox The Washington Post)
“Beautifully researched and masterfully told, James Scott’s book is an enthralling and important addition to the story of undersea warfare.” (Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of Escape from the Deep and The Liberator)
“Meticulously researched and vividly written, Scott transports us convincingly to the wardroom of the Silversides, the bridge of the Tang, the torpedo room of the Drum. If you want to know what it was like to fight in a U.S. submarine during World War II, this is your book.” (Jonathan Parshall, co-author Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway)
“Award-winning journalist James Scott provides an excellent narrative of three of World War II’s best-performing American submarines . . . . A well-written and meticulously researched book, of interest to any audience and applicable to sailors of any rank.” (Col. John Abbatiello, USAF (Ret.) Naval History)
“James Scott brilliantly captures the intensity of submarine combat with his pulse-racing narrative about three famous boats of the Pacific Fleet. You’ll need a towel to wipe the perspiration from your brow.” (Bruce Gamble, author of Fortress Rabaul and Black Sheep One)
“James Scott has crafted a superb tale about a group of young Americans who went unflinchingly to war with the odds very much against them—a tale that won't (and shouldn't) be forgotten.” (Flint Whitlock, author of The Depths of Courage: American Submariners at War with Japan, 1941-1945)
“The War Below is a cut above. . . . This fast-paced book will be a welcomed addition to the personal libraries of even the most well-read students of submarine warfare.” (Stephen L. Moore, author of Battle Surface! and Presumed Lost)
“In the seven decades since WW II, U.S. Navy submarines’ primary mission has been passive, as a nuclear deterrent. But within living memory ‘the silent service’ waged a genuine war against a formidable enemy in the world’s greatest ocean. The War Below provides an intensely personal look inside the pressure hulls of three Pacific Fleet submarines that established historic records against the Japanese Empire. The epic war patrols of USS Silversides, Drum, and Tang provide gripping reading and serve as a memorial to the lost boats and crews ‘still on patrol.’” (Barrett Tillman, author of Whirlwind and Enterprise)
“Scott places the reader inside the boats for an understanding of the humor, the self-control, the ingenuity, the tenacity and self-sacrifice of submarine sailors at war. . . . The world of vignettes that he sprinkles throughout The War Below makes his book hard to put down, it’s a gripping tale that spans half the globe.” (Carl LaVO, author of Back from the Deep and The Galloping Ghost)
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The second shortcoming is that the scandalously defective torpedoes that plagued our submarines during the first half of the war is mentioned, but the subject is not given nearly the treatment the situation deserves. How could American submarines have been ordered to sea with torpedoes that were never tested to see if they actually worked? That in fact is what happened. Many or most ran deeper than they were set and did not explode when they hit a ship because the firing pins bent from the impact. The book states that many American lives were lost as a consequence, and some skippers even resigned from the Navy as as result of being disbelieved by the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance that the attacks had been perfect and the torpedoes were at fault.
I find in this book the perfect balance between different components: introducing the reader to different characters (the subs' skippers) and their leadership philosophies without getting bogged down in biographical details; providing context by chronicling the main war developments without getting lost in yet another narration of the Pacific campaign; and giving an idea of how life was on a submarine without getting lost in technicalities.
The accounts of the combat patrols give the reader a sense of what it was like, what the challenges were, and how bravely these sailors did their duty.
In contrast, Iron Coffins, which chronicles the life about a Uboat from the perspective of it's commander who began as an ensign at the start of the war is superior in breadth and scope as well as the quality of the writing; will give a nice perspective of enemy operating in North Atlantic.