Terrible Hours: The Man behind the Greatest Submarine Rescue in History

Overview

On the eve of World War II, the Squalus, America's newest submarine, plunged to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Miraculously, thirty-three crew members still survived. While their loved ones waited in unbearable tension on shore, their ultimate fate would depend upon one man, U.S. Navy officer Charles "Swede" Momsen?an extraordinary combination of visionary, scientist, and man of action. In this thrilling true account, prize-winning author Peter Maas vividly re-creates a moment-by-moment account of the disaster...
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Overview

On the eve of World War II, the Squalus, America's newest submarine, plunged to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Miraculously, thirty-three crew members still survived. While their loved ones waited in unbearable tension on shore, their ultimate fate would depend upon one man, U.S. Navy officer Charles "Swede" Momsen—an extraordinary combination of visionary, scientist, and man of action. In this thrilling true account, prize-winning author Peter Maas vividly re-creates a moment-by-moment account of the disaster and the man at its center. Could he actually pluck those men from a watery grave? Or had all his pioneering work been in vain?
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Editorial Reviews

Associated Press
A thrilling tale of naval heroism.
Boston Globe
Peter Maas offers insights only the best reporters can unearth.
Boston Globe
Riveting.
Chicago Tribune
Suspenseful.
Life
Take a deep breath before diving into this Navy rescue.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Each time I pick up Maas, I feel that I have been given a backstage pass to an American moment.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Each time I pick up Maas, I feel that I have been given a backstage pass to an American moment.
New York Times Book Review
Gripping.
New York Times Book Review
Mr. Maas...proves once again there is little he cannot achieve with the written word.
New York Times Book Review
Mr. Maas...proves once again there is little he cannot achieve with the written word.
Portland Oregonian
Thrilling....A wonderful book...a harrowing tale of suspense.
Tom Brokaw
Peter Maas has given us a suspenseful tale of terror, courage, heroism and American military genius. I couldn't put it down.
Vanity Fair
Riveting.
Washington Post
Thrilling...breathlessly written.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786224289
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Thorndike General Series
  • Edition description: LARGEPRINT
  • Pages: 375
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Terrible Hours


By Peter Maas

Thorndike Press

Copyright © 2000 Peter Maas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0786224274

Chapter One



It was a Tuesday, May 23, 1939.

In New York City, Bloomingdale's department store was promoting a new electronic wonder for American homes called television.

With great fanfare, United Airlines began advertising a nonstop flight from New York to Chicago that would take only four hours and thirty-five minutes.

In baseball, a young center fielder for the New York Yankees named Joe DiMaggio was headed for his first major league batting title.

The film adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights, starring the English actor Laurence Olivier in his first hit movie, was in its sixth smash week.

Another novel destined to become an American classic, Nathanael West's portrait of Hollywood, The Day of the Locust, was dismissed in the New York Times as "cheap" and "vulgar."

In Canada, the visiting British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, met the Dionne quintuplets for the first time.

In London, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy advised an association of English tailors that they would never gain a foothold in the American market unless they stopped making trouser waistlines too high and shirttails too long.

In Berlin, as Europe teetered on the brink of war, Hitler and Mussolini formally signed a military alliance between Germany and Italy with a vow to "remake" the continent. In Asia, meanwhile, Japan had finished another week of wholesale carnage in China.

 

That Tuesday morning, in the picture-postcard seacoast town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Federal architecture and cobblestone streets dating back to the late eighteenth century, Rear Admiral Cyrus W. Cole, commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, the nation's oldest, received a group of visiting dignitaries. Cole was a peppery little man with an imposing head and a piercing gaze that made him seem larger than he actually was. Although not a submariner himself, he had a particular affinity for the men who manned the Navy's "pigboats." His only son served on one, and before coming to the Portsmouth yard, which specialized in submarine construction, Cole had commanded the Navy's underseas fleet. Now he liked to wisecrack, "They sent me back to see how they're built."

When one of his visitors asked the admiral if he thought the United States might be drawn into the looming conflict in Europe, he said he hoped not. If it proved otherwise, though, any enemy would rue the day.

You hear a lot about those German U-boats, he declared, but they couldn't compare with the submarines that the Portsmouth yard was sending down the ways. This very afternoon the newest addition to the fleet, the Squalus, would return to her berth after a series of test dives. He promised a tour, so they could see her for themselves.

"Squalus? What kind of name is that?"

Cole confessed that he'd had to look it up. "It's a species of shark. A small one. But with a big bite," he added, smiling.

Then Cole passed his visitors over to Captain Halford Greenlee, the yard's industrial manager. Their arrival, arranged at the last minute, had forced Greenlee to cancel plans to go down to the overnight anchorage of the Squalus and board her that morning. Greenlee had been especially looking forward to it. His son-in-law, Ensign Joseph Patterson, was the sub's youngest officer.

"Sorry you couldn't go out with her today," Cole said.

"It's not the end of the world," Greenlee replied. "I can always catch her another time."

 

Two reporters for the Portsmouth Herald at the yard on assignment for other matters were the first outsiders to hear the news. After frantically gathering whatever scraps of information were available, they raced back to the paper.

Minutes later, just past two p.m., the first stark, bell-ringing bulletin clattered over Associated Press teletypes to newspapers and radio stations throughout the country:


Continues...

Excerpted from Terrible Hours by Peter Maas Copyright © 2000 by Peter Maas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2000

    Great Tribute

    I am a scuba diving instructor.I started reading The Terrible Hours because some one told me that it had some references on mixed gas diving. What they didn't tell me was that I would not be able to put it down until I had read it from cover to cover.The writer portrays the main character, Swede Momsen , in a way that the reader can relate to.I had no idea that this one man had made such an impact on the sport that we divers take for granted

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    A Very Good Read

    There was a time in which, if you were in a submarine; having a malfunction was a death sentence. Stuck in the watery coffin you would be forced to live your last moments in utter fear, and desperation. Many sailors perished, and many more would have if it weren¿t for a fellow named Charles ¿Swede¿ Momsen. The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas follows Momsen as he works to find a way to save unfortunate submariners stuck at the bottom of the ocean, even if he has to put his own life in danger to test these methods; and finally in which he uses this technology in hope of saving those aboard The Squalus. A submarine which suffers from a devastating mishap; causing it to sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Leaving the men inside stranded. By reading this book you will see that by perseverance, you can accomplish anything. Knowing that you can accomplish that goal of yours through determination; even when others are doubtful you can. The Terrible Hours is a well written book that has quite a few moments that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. The writer has a way of portraying the events of this book, that make you feel as if you are there experiencing these moments for yourself. The book itself although nonfiction, can sometimes feel like a fiction book especially when you hit some of the most. However; although a greatly written book it suffers from a bit of mechanical jargon. After the spectacular opening the book serves it slows down a bit, which may cause you to become a bit bored. This book is best for those interested in the navy, or the history of it. Being extremely informative it¿s also nice for those who just enjoy feasting themselves on a bit of history. For younger readers this may not be the best choice, requiring a good attention span, and at least a moderate interest in such a topic. If you have read this and enjoyed it there are many other works written by Peter Maas that will certainly satisfy your thirst for more. Such as The Valachi Papers, and King of the Gypsies. Overall the book gets an 8/10 from this reviewer. However as I would like to stress, this book is not for those who do not hold any interest in the subject, so if this book doesn¿t sound like something you would want to read, it might not be the best for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2001

    Amazing

    I think Peter Maas did an excellent job, on writing this book. He told the history behind the man and the things that he invented. I like how he gave a minute-by-minute detail on the rescue and the events surrounding it. I couldn't put this book down. Peter Maas really did a great job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2000

    Excellent Chilling Account of Submarine rescue

    I really enjoyed this audio book. I learned alot and enjoyed the account of heroism in the NAVY. I was inspired by the excellent well researched account of a true american hero. I hope they don't make a film about this story, because I know they won't do this book justice, because it is too full of interesting details to shorten it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2000

    Extremely well done, worthy of a ton of attention

    To put it simply, I could not for the life of me put this book down. This non-fiction book has ALL of the excitement and suspenseful action of a fictional story. As others have said, its easy to read and extremely well written. Maas really has outdone himself here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2000

    Survival Instinct at its Best

    Reading THE TERRIBLE HOURS is a spellbinding, heartbreaking and hopeful experience. It explains technicalities in everyday language and makes the reader hang onto every word through the developing scenarios. It reveals human determination to overcome impossible odds and retain hope for the survivors as well as the inventor. Had to read it through to the end before putting it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2000

    What A Movie This Would Make!

    I'm an ex-submariner of the diesel and nuc era. I couldn't put this book down. Even if you're not familiar with submarine lingo, you'll sail through this book. Mr. Maas does an excellant job of blending many situations, all spellbinding, into one historical document that you will surely love and not turn away from.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2000

    The Terrible Chapters

    The story of the USS Squalus, her crew, and her rescuers is one that deservedly needs to be told. It, like the saga of Apollo 13, demonstrates how the direst situations can bring out the very best in us. Unfortunatly, this book, though well meaning I'm sure, tells the tale in a manner so irritating that making it to the last page is an heroic achievement in itself. For reasons unknown, Mr. Mass has chosen to write this book in the form of a narrative, rather than as straight, documented history. The result reads like a poor novelization of an even poorer made-for-TV movie, 'based on a true story'. We are presented with the assumed thoughts and emotions of the trapped crew, and page after page of clearly invented (and often, exceedingly lame) dialog. It is too easy to see the brave square jaws of the officers, exhorting the crew to be strong in their plight. An abrupt shift away from the sub, just as the disaster strikes, to a biographical background of Swede Momsen, reeks of prime-time suspense. It would be all too easy to insert a beer commercial at this point. The conception of Momsen's diving bell is covered in a single paragraph, almost as if he had come up with the idea while snoozing on the back porch one lazy afternoon. The development of the Momsen lung is omitted altogether, despite the Squalus crew having had some aboard. All we are told of their use is that you have to 'hang on to the ascent line'. The Momsen lung was a significant invention, predating Cousteau's Aqualung, and deserves much more clarification. A book of this type cries out for illustration. A cutaway view of the submarine is essential, as well as photographs of the sub and the significant personages. A recent newspaper review contained a wonderful photo of the diving bell - didn't Maas encounter it in his researches? Anyone with a true interest in naval history will be deeply disappointed by this book, and ought not to risk spending the same 'terrible hours' that I did with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2000

    Fascinating look into sumarine rescue

    Spellbinding, cover to cover, page turner. Absolutely must read for anyone who likes real stand up and cheer heroics. This is one that Ron Howard should look into with an eye to making a great movie. On a par with Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2000

    Wonderful adventure

    A great, spellbinding, tension filled, educational adventure. A must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2000

    Outstanding account of a man dedicated to saving lives

    This was a timely book to read given the events that occured with the Kursk accident. The story is an account of a submarine that went down off the coast of NH in 1939. While some of the crew were lost upon it's sinking, 33 of the crew where saved largely by the efforts of one man; Swede Momsen. Momsen spent 14 years developing deep sea rescue techniques and equipment and it was put to the ultimate test during those fateful days in May of 1939. If you enjoy history and heroic accounts then this book is a must read. I started it one morning and didn't put it down until I finished it that same night.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2000

    The Terrible Hours Is A Gripping True Story

    Peter Maas has produced a masterful story about a miraculous rescue that was all but forgotten. Having served on a U.S. Navy submarine rescue vessel, I remember what it was like to train for rescues on pitching decks while deploying unwieldy diving bells and deep water equipment. 'Swede is a legendary figure among submarine rescue sailors and this book gives him credit that he so richly deserves.This is a 'must read' for anyone who enjoys action adventure stories that really happened.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2000

    Another great one from Maas

    An outstanding book that brings to light a hero America may have never have heard of. I only picked it up to flip through the first few pages, and put it down the next day when I was done. Highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2000

    Momsen--An Unsung Hero

    Although the naval community may be familar with the innovations of Charles 'Swede' Momsen, it is a shame his accomplishments may have eluded the rest of the American population. The Terrible Hours not only chronicles a horrific moment in submarine history, it introduces the reader to a genius ahead of his time. Not only was I inspired by how Momsen led the rescue mission, I was also intrigued by the loyalty he earned from those who knew him. Kudos to Peter Maas for sharing the story of this incredible man.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2000

    Long overdue on probably the greatest submariner in history

    In addition to inventing the Momsen Lung for deep sea rescue, Swede Momsen perfected the diving bell for sbmarine rescue while fighting Naval Department bureaucracy which resisted his efforts in improving submarine warfare throughout his career. He was known as the man 'who could get things done'; including---fixing defective torpedo firing pins in the South Pacific, perfecting breathing air mixtures for extreme depths, pushing for nuclear subs and their reconfiguration for prolonged undersea duty, and undoing the mail snafu in the Navy Dept during WWII.

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