THE WAR BELOW: The Story of Three Submarines That Battled Japan. By James Scott. Simon & Schuster. 448 pages. $28.
The United States entered World War II after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy. Japan’s unprecedented use of six aircraft carriers with 350 aircraft to sink four U.S. battleships and damage four others changed the face of surface warfare.
Aircraft carriers were the new queens of the sea, and World War II in the Pacific often was referred to as “the carrier war.” In the Atlantic Theater in 1942, German U-boats grabbed the headlines by menacing Allied convoys. In the Pacific Theater, U.S. Navy submarines would rival the aircraft carrier in importance to achieving victory.
Early in the war, U.S. submarines were hampered by faulty torpedoes that ran too deep, exploded early or failed to explode at all. Once these problems were corrected, U.S. submarines ravaged Japanese merchant shipping, isolating the island nation from much-needed raw materials. Japanese warships, including eight aircraft carriers, also would feel the wrath of our submarines.
To tell this story, James Scott, in his enjoyable “The War Below,” focuses on three submarines: Silversides, Tang, and Drum. Scott describes the men and methods that defined service aboard U.S. submarines during World War II. These descriptions are based on many hours of research and interviews, taking the reader along with the trials, triumphs and tragedies of submarine warfare.
The personalities of key officers and men aboard the three subs were as varied as the many missions they performed. Readers can imagine themselves in the cramped, humid and dangerous environment of a World War II submarine.
Scott captures all the drama and suspense of the “Silent Service” and its contribution to victory over Japan. This victory was not without a price, as 52 U.S. submarines, including Tang, were lost during the war. Fortunately the other two subs, Silversides and Drum, survive today as museum ships.
Reviewer David A. Clark is senior curator at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.