Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Thunder Below!

The USS Barb Revolutionizes Submarine Warfare in World War II

Fluckey, Eugene B.

1992, University of Illinois Press
ISBN 0252019253

Type. Memoir
Pros. A well-written, riveting, personal account of WWII Pacific submarine warfare. Honest, balanced, includes recent research. Excellent study of sub warfare tactics and naval leadership. Many good photos placed in the text (hardcover).
Cons. None to speak of

This book is one of those gems that grabs you by the collar and hauls you down into the hatch of a submarine at war. From April 1944 until the end of the war Gene Fluckey and the Barb terrorized Japanese shipping, putting over 140,000 tons (author's estimate) on the bottom. Thunder Below joins other notable Pacific submarine war memoirs (like Richard O'Kane's Clear the Bridge) as a classic telling of the proud history of US subs in World War II.

Admiral Fluckey (ret.) takes his own vivid memory and weaves it together with a crewman's diary and Japanese accounts to provide a detailed account of USS Barb's eighth through twelfth war patrols. Gene Fluckey was the kind of captain submariners dream of going to war with: brilliant, courageous, fair, inspiring, and concerned not only with sinking ships but in bringing his men home in one piece (not a man was wounded in combat onboard Barb while Fluckey skippered her). Fluckey led his crew by example, not by intimidation. Prior to one patrol (in front of his entire crew) he threw the book of Navy regulations overboard, as he never had to discipline one of his men during his five patrols as captain. "Lucky Fluckey" pioneered new submarine tactics that are still used today. His bombardment of shore facilities in Japan using rockets is the predecessor of Desert Storm's sub-launched Tomahawk strikes, while his crewmen did a "Special Ops" mission on the Japanese home islands that presaged today's sub-launched SEAL teams. His attacks on shipping were pressed home with skill, persistence, and courage. When Barb ran out of torpedoes they used guns, grenades, and even ramming to sink ships.

During Fluckey's five patrols as skipper of Barb she sank 28 ships including the carrier Unyo and the raider-cruiser Gokuku. Barb also destroyed 74 smaller vessels by gunfire and one by ramming! She rescued 14 Australian and British prisoners marooned when their convoy was struck by US subs and the POWs were left to die by the Japanese (one of the more touching passages in the book). Rocket and gun attacks destroyed numerous shore facilities while a detachment destroyed a troop train with one of Barb's scuttling charges. The high point in the book is a night surfaced attack through miles of shoal water to attack two Japanese convoys in a harbor in China. Firing eight torpedoes, Barb sank at least four ships and damaged several others (as verified by the author on a postwar trip to the scene of the battle). For this exploit Gene Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor (the highest American award for bravery) and Barb awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

The narration in the book is clear, concise, and vivid. Adm. Fluckey is a good writer, and the story is not just about him but all the men who worked so hard to make Barb the killing machine she was. Gene gives ample credit to the stalwart crew of the submarine. He even tried to turn down the Medal of Honor to get more medals for his men! Gene Fluckey includes postwar accounts to correct the Barb's record in order to get full credit for his boat's accomplishments. The hardback version integrates many good wartime photos into the text (rather than sticking them all in the middle) which helps illuminate the various accounts.

This book should establish Adm. Fluckey (ret.) as one of the great, if not the greatest, US sub skipper in World War II. Over 140,000 tons in a year and a half ranks with the German early war aces for tonnage per month. His contributions to naval warfare and tactics need to be recognized, as today's subs are fulfilling missions directly descended from Barb's pioneering strikes. Barb's raiding party was the only American combat force that landed on Japanese home islands prior to the surrender. Fluckey's leadership methods work not only in military but also in civilian settings.

I had the privilege of meeting Admiral Fluckey at a recent US Naval Academy graduation. He told me that the book's movie rights had been purchased by Steven Spielberg. I hope Spielberg makes the film soon, because the story of the Barb is an unforgettable story of heroism and courage that needs to be shared with those who are still ignorant of the bitter and bloody undersea war in the Pacific in WWII.

If you are looking for an excellent book about submarine warfare, buy this one!

The reviewer welcomes your comments on this review.

Review written by Michael Croteau, Chattanooga, TN, USA.

Published on 24 Jul 2001.

This title is highly recommended.

Purchase information: (info)
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