Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941: A Navy Diver's Memoir

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Overview


On December 7, 1941, as the great battleships Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah lie paralyzed and burning in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a crack team of U.S. Navy salvage divers headed by Edward C. Raymer are hurriedly flown to Oahu from the mainland. The divers have been given a Herculean task: rescue the sailors and Marines trapped below, and resurrect the pride of the Pacific fleet.

Now for the first time, the chief diver of the Pearl Harbor salvage ...

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Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941--A Navy Diver's Memoir

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Overview


On December 7, 1941, as the great battleships Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah lie paralyzed and burning in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a crack team of U.S. Navy salvage divers headed by Edward C. Raymer are hurriedly flown to Oahu from the mainland. The divers have been given a Herculean task: rescue the sailors and Marines trapped below, and resurrect the pride of the Pacific fleet.

Now for the first time, the chief diver of the Pearl Harbor salvage operations, Cmdr. Edward C. Raymer, USN (Ret.), tells the whole story of the desperate attempts to save crewmembers caught inside their sinking ships. Descent into Darkness is the only book available that describes the raising and salvage operations of sunken battleships following the December 7th attack.

Once Raymer and his crew of divers entered the interiors of the sunken shipwrecks--attempting untested and potentially deadly diving techniques--they experienced a world of total blackness, unable to see even the faceplates of their helmets. By memorizing the ships' blueprints and using their sense of touch, the divers groped their way hundreds of feet inside the sunken vessels to make repairs and salvage vital war material. The divers learned how to cope with such unseen dangers as falling objects, sharks, the eerie presence of floating human bodies, and the constant threat of Japanese attacks from above.

Though many of these divers were killed or seriously injured during the wartime salvage operations, on the whole they had great success performing what seemed to be impossible jobs. Among their credits, Raymer's crew raised the sunken battleships West Virginia, Nevada, and California. After Pearl Harbor they moved on to other crucial salvage work off Guadalcanal and the sites of other great sea battles.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is an impressive book written by an impressive individual."

-- Naval Books of the Year column in Warship, 2013

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Raymer, an enlisted man, was on a plane headed from San Diego to Oahu. His primary mission: to act as chief diver in the operations to rescue men trapped in sunken battleships. Removing bodies, recovering material and raising the ships themselves could, and would, come later. In this compelling memoir, Raymer describes the multiple hazards of working inside wreckage-strewn warships under the handicaps imposed by available diving technology. Courage was at least as important as competence as the number of dives mounted and the law of averages shifted against the men who went down. Raymer details many harrowing incidents, including one in which he, an arachnophobe, began to panic when a spider stowed away in his diving suit began to crawl over his face in the middle of a dive. The narrative includes lighter passages as well, especially the depictions of how the divers spent their off-duty hours pursuing food, liquor and women. For all its drama and charm, however, Raymer's memoir is useful above all as a case study of the hands-on, un-bureaucratized approach to problem-solving that the U.S. brought to WWII from the beginning. Photographs and maps not seen by PW. (July)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591147244
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 539,806
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Commander Edward C. Raymer, USN (Ret.) served thirty years in the U.S. Navy. Descent into Darkness was his only book. He died in 1997.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2012

    Compelling history, told with wit and style

    Memoirs by veterans of World War II add welcome first-person detail and color to the larger than life canvas of the gigantic global conflict. Sometimes facts are blurred by the passage of time and not every veteran is a talented writer. Blessedly, on occasion great history is combined with storytelling skill and historical accuracy and the result is a page-turner that can’t be put down. Descent in to Darkness is one of the most fascinating, well written and unique accounts that is ever likely to reach the shelves.
    Raymer was a Navy salvage diver who was rushed from California to Pearl Harbor to help pick up the shattered pieces of the once mighty Pacific Fleet. Recognizing that most people will not be familiar with hard helmet diving, Raymer does a marvelous job of providing the reader with everything they need to know, without burying them in technical detail. It also provides a sharp vignette of life in the early years when Oahu was anything but a paradise, especially for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers.
    Raymer was the first to enter the sunken Arizona filled with water so foul that lamps were discarded as useless. Divers had to feel their way, following directions relayed from the surface. Hundreds of feet of air-hose and safety line trailed behind the divers through debris filled passages and a snag could easily condemn the diver to a lonely death in total blackness. Raymer’s vivid description of encountering the decomposing bodies of the crew killed in the attack would probably give Stephen King the willies and I strongly advise reading this bit with the lights on.
    As exciting and dangerous as this work is, Raymer didn’t want the war to pass him by without his hearing a single shot fired in anger. In a chapter titled “Be Careful What You Wish For,” the author gets reassigned to – where else- Guadalcanal. The ongoing struggle in the Solomon Islands provided plenty of diving work on mangled ships. The makeshift repairs using scraps of steel and large doses of ingenuity made the difference between a ship lost and a ship able to limp away and stay alive to fight another day.
    Raymer survives Japanese shells, giant crocodiles, and blood-sucking leeches that live in trees and drop on the unwary. An unexpected encounter with enemy destroyers leaves him to swim for his life in shark-infested Iron Bottom Sound, but it finally is the microscopic malaria organism that sends him packing. Raymer enjoys a lengthy stopover in Australia where lonely, grateful young women make him feel welcome. Finally back at Pearl Harbor Raymer participates in the final stages of salvage and among other adventures, gives Eleanor Roosevelt a guided tour.
    Edward C. Raymer has produced a valuable and thoroughly readable record. Written with clarity and wit, Descent into Darkness is another quality book from Naval Institute Press. It provides a fascinating adventure story for the casual reader and a rare and authoritative resource for specialists.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    Ugh

    Boo

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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