Review by Bill Doughty
The U.S. Navy celebrates the 110-year anniversary of its submarine force today.
The first use of a submarine in combat was by the Confederacy in 1864 in the Civil War. The U.S. Navy formally embraced the technology and tactics of undersea warfare at the turn of the century and has been continuously improving the technology ever since.
There were some serious fits and starts - especially during the volatile early 1940s after Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Flint Whitlock takes us into the war in the Pacific in The Depths of Courage - American Submariners at War with Japan, 1941-1945.
Written with former enlisted submarine torpedoman Ron Smith, Whitlock explains the challenges of faulty torpedoes and the heroic efforts by leaders like Adm. Charles Lockwood to correct problems and achieve victory.
The authors provide a sensory description of a fleet submarine in WWII, taking the reader aboard and describing the cramped quarters, noise (especially when under attack), and heat - 130F in the engine compartments, and smells: diesel fumes, equipment, cigarette smoke, and odor of eighty sweating unbathed bodies.
The Depths of Courage takes us through the Second World War, aboard submarines, showing their role and contribution in cutting supply lines, defending U.S. surface ships, and attacking the enemy. We go with the subs to every sea battle, island by island, through the Philippines, all the way to Yokohama.
The authors touch on wartime atrocities, especially the poor treatment of prisoners of war, briefly exploring the motivation of the enemy.
“The ill treatment can be attributed to the perversion of the warrior code of Bushido.” There was no mercy - only contempt, hate and cruelty - to those who did not believe in their form of religion.
The parallels to enemies we face today in overseas contingency operations and acts of terrorism are obvious.
In WWII President Roosevelt told the nation that submarines were helping us win. After the war, Adm. Nimitz credited the “spirit and courage” of the submarine force.
A dozen U.S. Navy submarines were in Tokyo Bay when the surrender documents were signed on the battleship USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Depths of Courage reminds us that the price of victory was high: 3,131 enlisted men and 374 officers lost their lives, out of 15,000 who served. We lost 52 submarines, out of 288 that fought - more than one out of five.
This book helps us reflect on the sacrifice of the brave Sailors who served - an serve - on U.S. Navy submarines.
Retired Vice Adm. Albert Konetzni, Submarine Force Commander for U.S. Pacific Fleet, 1998-2001, writes in his foreword to the book:
“Americans must learn from history! The Depths of Courage is a history book that comes to life as it intertwines the individual stories of young Americans with the phenomenal history of our submarines in World War II.”