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Now, military historian Thomas Parrish tells the story of those who first dreamed of underwater ships; of the practical and ingenious inventors and engineers who created and developed the submarine; of visionary naval strategists; of famous skippers on all sides—steel-nerved men like America's Dick O'Kane, Germany's Reinhard Hardegen—who wielded this weapon; of the famous and infamous deeds of boats like the U-20, the Wahoo, and the nuclear-powered Nautilus and George Washington; and of the tragedies that befell boats like the American Thresher and the Russian Kursk. Parrish's compelling narrative blends strategy, high policy, technology, heroism, and perilous adventure.
Author Biography: Thomas Parrish is the author of a number of highly respected books on twentieth-century history, including Berlin in the Balance, The Cold War Encyclopedia, The American Codebreakers, and Roosevelt and Marshall: Partners in Politics and War. He also created and edited the acclaimed Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of World War II and the six-volume Men and Battle series.
Although it had a colorful past in the minds of dreamers, the submarine reached its form and developed genuine usefulness only at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it went on to play dominant and diversified parts in the three great conflicts of the century: World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. In the first war (aptly called the Great War by most Europeans), it exercised decisive political influence (a startling realization for people at the time), even though it was still a brand-new part of the world’s navies. Was it a warship that should fight other warships—one good and proper soldier against another—or was it a wide-ranging highwayman, a commerce raider operating outside all conventions to attack merchant shipping? Once realizing the question, politicians and admirals endlessly argued it. In the second war the submarine played a central economic role, seeming to offer victory to one side in the struggle only to withdraw the prize and then, in another ocean, present it to the opponents. In the Cold War the submarine became the direct agent of strategy as the guarantor of the strange two-sided peace that ended in the 1990s when the world returned to its state of normal chaos. In each of the three conflicts, of course, the submarine played more than one part, but its dominant influence exerted itself in these three differing ways.
The story of the submarine is also a story of boats and people: those who created the boats (including the early dreamers), those who employed them, and those who fought against them. Influences can hardly exist in a realm apart from the personal and concrete and technical (for instance, the character of a chief like Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto or of a daring skipper like Lieutenant Commander Mush Morton; the effectiveness of torpedoes or the development of nuclear propulsion).
Lastly, and specifically, the story of the submarine is a story featuring a cast of heroes— many more than could find mention here. There are villains, too, and some of them are the same as the heroes.
The names of cities, islands, and other geographical entities are given as they were at the time under discussion (Surabaya, Formosa), with clarification supplied where it seemed needed.
The Notes, which begin on page 519, give the sources of all quotations and of other material in the main body of the book. In some instances the Notes present background information or give further details about particular points.
THE PERIPATETIC COFFIN
On the sunny morning of Tuesday, August 8, 2000, the city of Charleston gave itself a party. Men in Civil War uniforms and women in dresses of the period—some in the symbolic black of widows—mixed with other residents and tourists, while out in the harbor and beyond more than two hundred boats of all sizes rode the swell, their owners waiting for a special moment. Crews from the broadcast TV networks, the History Channel, and German TV had come for the occasion, and even a team from Fox Sports, though, as a reporter commented, “they weren’t exactly sure why.” A place on the media boat went for $150.
About four and a half miles out from the Battery, a huge crane began raising a steel superstructure and the sling that hung from it, and at 8:39 a strange-looking object broke the water—a 40-foot cigar, encrusted with corrosion and marine growths, that had lain on the bottom, just thirty feet below the surface, for 136 years. Hesitating, carefully timing his move against the swell, the crane operator deftly deposited the 23-ton object on the barge that would carry it into the harbor. A great wave of sound arose from sirens, whistles, and bells, and the thousands of people began applauding as the tugs maneuvered the barge shoreward. Then, as it passed the Maritime Center, with members of the recovery team constantly wetting it with garden hoses to protect it from the air, Confederate battle reenactors fired a twenty-one-gun salute.
At Waterfront Park, a woman said, “I can’t even find the words to describe what I felt when they went by. We don’t have heroes like that any more.”
The cradle holding this strangest of cigars bore the sign:
At the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln had ordered a blockade of the Confederate coast, and the navy, unprepared for such a responsibility, cobbled together a scratch force that even included the Staten Island ferry.
For a year or more the blockade proved ineffective, but as the Union navy grew, it stood guard in ever greater force outside Confederate ports. The Reverend Franklin Smith, a Tennessee inventor as well as preacher, published a letter, widely reprinted across the South, in which he proposed a new kind of weapon against the tightening Yankee hold— a cigar-shaped craft that could move underwater to attack enemy ships.
A group of like-minded New Orleans citizens, including a planter and merchant named Horace L. Hunley, began working to create such a vessel. By 1863 the group had moved to Mobile, with Hunley as one of the designers as well as the chief contributor. Their work produced a craft that was constructed from a converted iron boiler and was only about five feet in diameter. When put to the test in July 1863, this tiny vessel performed perfectly, as its “torpedo,” a trailed explosive charge, sank a coal barge. After the test the Confederates shipped the vessel, named for the man who financed it, to Charleston, where the blockading Union ships were almost shutting down the port, giving the North a symbolic as well as an economic victory. Charleston merchants put a $50,000 bounty (presumably in Confederate currency) on each blockading Union ship.
The military commander in Charleston, General P. G. T. Beauregard, took the H. L. Hunley over from its private owners, but army proprietorship immediately proved disastrous. After bumbling soldiers allowed it to be swamped by a passing ship, with the loss of five members of the crew, the general permitted Hunley himself to take control of the vessel, but the financier also proved incompetent as a skipper. Two months later, a hatch mistakenly left open caused the submarine to sink again, taking Hunley and his seven crewmen to their deaths. General Beauregard, who saw the Hunley brought up, said that “the spectacle was indescribably ghastly. The unfortunate men were contorted into all sorts of horrible attitudes.” The Hunley, raised and repaired, became known as the “peripatetic coffin.”
The motive power of the boat came from the muscles of the crew, who turned cranks attached to a drive shaft; she could achieve a speed of about 4 knots. Night after night in January 1864, the laboring crewmen would crank the boat out into the bay in search of a Union victim, but, warned by Southern turncoats, the Union commander, Admiral John Dahlgren, had spread iron booms to protect his ironclads. Then, at the beginning of February, a new Union ship arrived, the wooden-hulled steam sloop Housatonic, which, most conveniently for the hard-working crew of the Hunley, anchored closer in to the harbor than the other Union ships, just about 4 miles out.
On the cold night of February 17, the Hunley set out from Breach Inlet, near Charleston, heading toward the Housatonic, which lay at anchor just 6 miles from Fort Sumter, where the war had started. The submarine would employ a new mode of attack; instead of trailing the black-powder charge, she would now assault the enemy with the torpedo mounted on a 15-foot spar protruding from the bow. At about 8:45, a deckhand on the Housatonic spotted the approach of what looked to him like a dolphin swimming on the surface. But as suspicion spread among the crewmen, they began peppering the craft with small arms fire. Others slipped the anchor chain and tried to get the ship moving away from the impending attack.
But they had not moved quickly enough. The Hunley plunged the point of her spar into the wooden hide of the Housatonic, forward of the mizzenmast on the starboard side and just in line with the powder magazine, as if administering a lethal injection with a hypodermic needle. Then, backing the boat away under the small arms fire to a distance probably considerably less than the desired 150 feet, the skipper, Lieutenant George Dixon, pulled on the rope trigger that detonated the torpedo. A large explosion resulted, sending the Housatonic heeling to port and sinking stern first. When she went down, the tops of her masts remained above water, and sailors took refuge in the rigging. Only five of them died. Meanwhile, having done her work, the Hunley sailed away into a lasting mystery. She sank about half a mile seaward of her victim, carrying nine men to their deaths, but no one knew why. Before disappearing, she flashed the blue lantern, the agreed-upon signal of success, and a soldier on shore at Breach Inlet lit a bonfire to guide her home. But she never arrived.
In her one brief engagement, however, the Hunley had entered history by becoming the first submersible craft ever to sink an enemy ship. The world and the submarine itself would undergo vast changes before such an event occurred again.
|List of maps|
|Ch. 1||The peripatetic coffin||3|
|Pt. I||The underwater pioneers|
|Ch. 2||Dreamers and some doers||9|
|Ch. 3||The dream realized : Holland and Lake||23|
|Pt. II||The great war : the u-boats and Mr. Wilson|
|Ch. 4||"Those damned Englanders"||45|
|Ch. 5||"The dreaded little submarine"||57|
|Ch. 6||Blockades for a new war||67|
|Ch. 7||"My God, it's the Lusitania!"||82|
|Ch. 8||A president too proud||94|
|Ch. 9||From Folkestone to Dieppe||105|
|Ch. 10||In the med||113|
|Ch. 11||"The cursed crowd"||123|
|Ch. 12||The fight for sea shepherds||139|
|Ch. 13||Ideas, methods, and triumph||150|
|Pt. III||From war to war|
|Ch. 14||Boats and builders I||165|
|Ch. 15||Arms and the nations||171|
|Ch. 16||Boats and builders II||178|
|Pt. IV||World War II : the struggle for the Atlantic|
|Ch. 17||Lieutenant Lemp's great decision||195|
|Ch. 18||U-boats in trouble||207|
|Ch. 19||Atlantic raiders : the "happy time"||220|
|Ch. 20||Deja Vu in the North Atlantic?||234|
|Ch. 21||Raiders in the far west||251|
|Ch. 22||Massacre in the north||265|
|Ch. 23||"Too much for the hun"||284|
|Pt. V||World War II : the Pacific prize|
|Ch. 24||Surprise and shock||299|
|Ch. 25||"Execute unrestricted warfare"||317|
|Ch. 26||Battle : boats vs. invaders||334|
|Ch. 27||Submarines at Midway||355|
|Ch. 28||War mission for the giants||378|
|Ch. 29||The star and the torpedoes||388|
|Ch. 30||Medals of honor||404|
|Pt. VI||The cold war : the nuclear guarantee|
|Ch. 31||Toward the true submarine||427|
|Ch. 32||"The price that would be paid"||442|
|Ch. 33||Admiral Burke makes a choice||462|
|Ch. 34||The reign of the boomers||476|
|Ch. 35||Killers, spies, and tragedies||491|
|Epilogue : on eternal patrol||513|
Posted July 6, 2004
Thomas Parrish provides a reference for one seeking to grasp why the submarine brought as enormous a fear to mariners during WWI and WWII as did the fear of bombing from airplanes for civilians and military on land. The material exhibits the possible truncation of an editorial hand when more information is desired, yet to have not kept the overview of material in focus would have led to a loss of the continuity Parrish brings to this story of a weapon--combined with the nuclear missle capable of being fired from beneath the ocean surface near any land mass--as much responsible for the end of the Cold War as on ground events. This is a volume for the general reader as well as an important coalesence of stories on these boats and their people. And, if not for the submarine rescue of one George H. W. Bush, we would not have known one of this century's warrior/hero Presidents.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.