Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Back from the Deep

The Strange Story of the Sister Subs Squalus and Sculpin

LaVO, Carl

1998, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1557505306
Paperback, 256 pages, 26 b&w photos

Type. General History
Pros. Interesting story
Cons. Nothing major

This is the story of two sister submarines of the United States Navy. Their history is marked by amazing coincidence and great personal bravery and ingenuity. In outline, Squalus sank to the sea bed in a diving accident off the coast of new England in 1939, and was located by her sister Sculpin. Raised and renamed Sailfish, she and Sculpin went on to action in the Pacific in World War II. A Japanese vessel sank the Sculpin and was on route with survivors to a POW camp when it was discovered and sunk by Sailfish, which was not aware that American prisoners were on board.

This book tells more than this simple yet amazing story. It begins with a brief overview of submarine development in the United States, emphasizing the doubt with which Americans viewed the vessels, which suffered from frequent diving accidents that irretrievably trapped their crews. Even when the location of the sunken submarine was determined, it was impossible to rescue the men, who, still alive, could sometimes be heard shouting and banging on the hull, thanks to the marvelous conductive power of water. One man, Swede Momsen, appalled by the grisly business, made it his mission to devise a means of rescue for just such occasions, and it was the diving bell he invented that was used for the first time to rescue the remaining crew alive on Squalus.

The boats' operations during World War II are described, as well as the Sculpin crew's experiences in Japanese prison camp and the copper mines of Ashio. Based on many original documents as well as survivor interviews, this book graphically illustrates the arduousness of the Pacific war in comparison with other theaters of naval warfare. On the whole, this is an interesting and often moving account of the entwined fates of two submarines and their crews.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 19 Feb 2000.

This title is highly recommended.

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