by Bill Doughty
Thunder Below! is a first-hand report of submarine warfare by Medal of Honor recipient Adm. Eugene B. Fluckey (1913-2007). As commanding officer of USS Barb (SS-220), Fluckey led some of the most daring missions of the War in the Pacific in WWII -- the attack of the Namkwan Harbor anchorage of the Imperial Japanese fleet and the assault of Kaihyo To (island), among others.
Thunder Below! is Fluckey’s account of USS Barb’s undersea (and above ground) warfare mostly from April 1944 when Fluckey became CO to August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63).
The narrative, written chronologically like a journal, tracks the action between Pearl Harbor and Midway Atoll north to the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalin and the Kuriles and south to the Marshalls, Saipan, Guam and into the South China Sea and East China Sea near Formosa (Taiwan).
USS Barb was the only submarine to fire rockets in wartime, writes Fluckey. An attack by a saboteur party against an enemy at harbor and inland echoed techniques used by the Navy in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War.
In WWII USS Barb sunk more than 29 enemy ships, nearly 150,000 tons. But Fluckey’s proudest achievement, he says, is that not one of his Sailors was killed or wounded. The submarine crew’s average age was 23, according to Fluckey, who was 30 in 1944.
While Thunder Below! is filled with at-the-moment action and you-are-there realism, Navy readers/leaders will also enjoy the occasional bits of philosophy Fluckey shares:
“Fear is a natural characteristic of all living creatures, necessary for self-preservation. To win, however, fear must be controlled, enabling expertise to determine when to fight and when to run away -- to be able to fight another day.”
“The Barb was never in competition with anybody but herself. We were determined on each patrol to do better than the last one. And we should have, since we had more experience as tactics, weapons, targets, and the war moved on.”
In Lessons Learned from the war, he said:
“We did not know our enemy -- his history or his language -- as well as he knew ours...”
“The Japanese are disciplined, brave, professional warriors. As U.S. allies, they must be permitted to be an asset.”
Fluckey’s theory of leadership is “reciprocal trust”: “Simply put, ‘I believe in you.’” He said, “(USS Barb) enriched our lives and gave us our philosophy. We don’t have problems, just solutions.”