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Heroes Beneath the Waves: True Submarine Stories of the Twentieth Century

Heroes Beneath the Waves: True Submarine Stories of the Twentieth Century

by Mary Nida Smith


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The unbelievable stories of the heroic men who sailed under the sea.

In Heroes Beneath the Waves, many brave men who rode submarines to great depths and across the oceans into unknown territory share their experiences, fears, and thoughts. They allow us to travel back in time through their memories. Trained for years to keep silent—for “loose lips sink ships”—many still believe what they know to be classified and refuse to disclose even the minutest of recollections. Others, however, want to leave a legacy of reminiscences for people to learn and live by—to know that freedom is not free.

Some stories will never be told. Held within the secret confines of their souls, these deep sea veterans block them out for self-perseverance. Yet, there are others who will never escape their own minds; they relive their underwater experiences over and over with eyes open or shut.

Heroes Beneath the Waves is about teenage boys who left farms, small towns, and inner cities to defend the United States and democracy worldwide. Signing up for United States Navy submarine duty was an adventure of a lifetime during the early 1940s. Dreams of torpedoing Japanese and German ships and subs consumed their thoughts. Those who returned home as young men were older and wiser. Heroes Beneath the Waves was written to honor these men—gallant heroes—who served and are serving today on submarines.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634505123
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 11/17/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,129,335
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Mary Nida Smith is an author, freelance writer, poet, and photographer. She has lived in several states, submitting and publishing in local magazines and newspapers. As the wife of a submariner, Mary lived through many a troubled day. But through it all, she stuck by him—and found comfort in writing these sailors’ stories. She lives in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

Read an Excerpt


Life Under the Water:

Statistics & Interesting Submarine Facts


The history of "submersibles" — airtight, rigid diving vehicles, either remote or manned, designed for exploration while completely submerged in water — is fairly recent, but many are surprised to hear that such inventions have been traced back over 500 years. The earliest known example of such a vehicle is shown in a painting from 1500s India that shows Alexander the Great being lowered in a glass diving bell.

Around 1620, Dutch engineer Cornelis Drebbel built submersibles that resembled two wooden rowboats — one atop the other — made from grease-soaked leather stretched on a frame with oars stuck through waterproofed holes.

When designed for warfare, these submersibles are called "submarines," and the men who man them are called "submariners" (pronounced submarine-ers). What were the early submariners like, and what would it feel like to know you are going into combat for the first time in an environment where if your ship is destroyed you remain under the water? How can you store enough air in the compartments for all those men? What and how did they eat? The following facts and statistics will answer some of these questions, but in this book you'll also meet many of the men who experienced life on a submarine, and you'll hear their stories in their own words.

* * *

In 1776, Yale student David Bushnell built a hand-propelled, egg-shaped, two-propeller (for forward/backward and ascending/descending motion) submarine for the Americans during the American Revolution. This first combatant submarine was called the Turtle, and it carried explosive powder into battle. Some refer to this as the first use of a "torpedo." Bushnell was the only person capable of competently using this one-man submarine's combat functions, but due to physical impairments, he was not able to man the sub in any of its combat missions against British ships. Even so, General George Washington gave Bushnell a commission as an Army engineer, and later he became commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed at West Point.

About twenty years later, while studying in Paris in 1797, American inventor Robert Fulton developed the submarine Nautilus, a cucumber-shaped vessel slightly over twenty-one feet that contained the first "conning" tower (a glass eye for steering). He used Bushnell's hand-turned propeller for power, but used compressed air to raise the vessel and as an oxygen supply, with rudders for vertical and horizontal control. This submarine was tested by Napoleon. Fulton eventually built an armored submarine for the United States that carried ninety men. Robert Fulton has also been credited as the inventor of the steamboat.

Horace Hunley designed the CSS H.L. Hunley, a submarine launched in 1863 and used by the Confederacy in the blockade of Charleston. There is more about this submarine later in this book.

Jules Verne, in his great masterpiece Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, described in 1870 his vision of a great underwater vessel, the Nautilus (named the same as Robert Fulton's underwater invention of 1797), and its captain, Nemo, who considered it his mission to roam the globe supporting struggles against tyrannical oppression. Many of Verne's high technology and visionary ideas have since been created, and his work has merited a special article on the U.S. Navy website.

In 1893, at the request of the U.S. government, John Philip Holland built the USS Plunger, but he realized in the fall of 1896 that he had failed. He then built his sixth submarine, which was commissioned the USS Holland on October 12, 1900.


The average age of submariners during World War II was nineteen. The average age of submariners during the Cold War was twenty-three. As time has gone by, older submariners have been recalled to service, since they have had the necessary personality and experience to work in the close and exacting environment of a submarine. Every submariner must know his and everyone else's job. Normally, the crew takes turns at different posts. It makes sense to utilize the experience of veterans of the subs.


Submarine crew size depends on the type and class of submarine, but a typical U.S. Navy submarine crew consists of fourteen officers, eighteen chief petty officers (senior enlisted men), and 109 other enlisted men.


A diesel-electric submarine can stay at sea as long as its supply of fuel lasts, and as long as it is able to snorkel to recharge batteries. In the early days, oxygen was also a consideration. Today's nuclear submarines can stay submerged for more than ninety days, and are only limited by the food that is stored.


In the beginning, submarines would go approximately 300 feet deep. However, today's U.S. Navy submarines can submerge deeper than 800 feet. The actual depth is classified.


It is hard to believe the number of submarines that were put into service during World War II that were made so early in the century. One can only imagine what might have gone through a new submariner's mind as he readied himself for his first mission aboard a submarine that had been built for World War I. The following is a list of the numbers of submarines of various classes that were used during World War II.


Less than 2 percent of U.S. sailors served in submarines, yet that small percentage sank over 30 percent of Japan's navy, including one battleship, eight aircraft carriers, and eleven cruisers. They also sank almost five million tons of shipping — over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant marine, causing great harm to the Japanese economy. In this effort, the Submarine Force lost fifty-two boats and 3,506 men.

During World War II, American submarines and their crew sank:

1 Battleship

The Japanese empire was an island empire, and if all those ships got through with all that food, fuel, tanks, trucks, troops, planes, guns, and ammunition, thousands and thousands more American sailors, soldiers, marines, and fliers would have been maimed or killed. In all, U.S. submarines sank more than 55 percent of all ships sunk — more than surface ships, Navy air, and the Air Corp. combined. They laid mines, hauled ammunition, transported troops, rescued refugees, deployed secret agents, delivered guerilla leaders, and rescued 504 fliers (including George H. W. Bush). They also had the highest loss rate of any Navy unit.

Please remember these facts the next time you see the U.S. Submarine emblem.


Submarines entered the navy fleet in 1900, where the first was named Holland in honor of John Holland, a submarine designer and builder. Later, submarines were given names such as Grampus, Salmon, and Porpoise. Some were given names of stinging creatures, such as the Adder, Tarantula, and Viper. Submarines were renamed in 1911 with alphanumeric names, such as A-i, C-i, 11-3, and L-7, until 1931. In 1931, they started naming them after fish and other residents of the sea.

While out to sea during War World II from 1939–1945, during lifeguard duty, submarine crews rescued over 520 downed airmen. They evacuated civilian refugees when needed. Patrol duration could be up to eighty-three days before any shore duty was assigned.

Diesel engine submarines were launched in 1912 and were used during World War I (1914–1918) and into World War II (1939–1945). They didn't start numbering them until 1913, and during war patrols the numbers were removed. There were fifty-six boats in the U.S. Submarine Fleet that were assigned to the Pacific at the outbreak of war in December 1941.

At the beginning of WWII, lithe submarines were plagued with dud torpedoes. Some shot at an angle or not at all. The USS Tang shot one, and it came back like a boomerang and blew the boat that sent it. It took two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor before U.S. submarines had torpedoes that worked consistently.

The submarines and their crews performed many tasks, including evacuating the Philippine government, stopping enemy countries from receiving goods for their military and civilians, secret surveillance, and gathering weather data, photographing enemy shorelines through the periscopes, as well as carrying ammunition to the troops and rescuing civilians and nuns and other missionaries. In February 1942, the USS Trout arrived in Pearl Harbor with twenty-five million dollars of Philippines gold and silver.

Every crew member and officer was a volunteer — the cream of the fleet. It took a special person who could take orders. Everyone had to get along with their fellow crew members, for they would become a close family — a brotherhood. For many days while submerged, they saw no sunlight or stars, and they would not even smell the fresh salty air.

It could take six months to a year to put a newly constructed submarine into commission. One patrol run could make a sailor change his mind once he returned to shore. If he did, he was assigned to a "tin can" — a destroyer, anti-submarine escort vessel with about 150 to 200 crew members. Roughly one-third of the crew transferred or was disqualified after their first run.

Due to the urgent need for submarines during World War II, many of the crew went to sea without time to learn the basics. Crew members who at first thought they would be able to handle the confined quarters, the sounds, and the fear — serious realities in a submarine — but were unable to do the job that they were asked to do, were often sent to other areas of Navy service. At times, commanders were relieved of their command and accused of not being aggressive while on war patrols.

The Manitowoc Company shipbuilders in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where some of the submarines were built, sailed with their assigned captains and crews to Chicago to be placed in dry dock barges. Later, the barges were transported down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. After the final fit-out in New Orleans, the submarines started their war patrols in the Pacific Theater.

Into the mid-1970s, attack submarines continued to be named for sea creatures. However, a few were named for legislators such as Richard B. Russell and L. Mendel Rivers.

When a submarine and its crew were overdue for their shore duty or new assignment, they were presumed "missing in action." Families at home received this message of their loved ones, but always held out that they would return, because many did.

Some torpedo men wrote their loved ones' names on the torpedoes. As each one fired, the man would say, "Go get them, honey!"

"Loose lips sink ships," as they did during World War II, when a congressman on the House Military Affairs Committee returned from a war zone visit and reported to the press that the Japanese depth charges were not deep enough, and that our submarines were out of harm's way. This cost the Americans ten submarines and 800 officers and men. From that time on, the submarine forces were known as "The Silent Service."

In 2000, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp series on submarines in honor of the 100th anniversary of submarine service.


"Eternal Patrol"

In Memory of the Fifty-two Submarines Lost in World War II

December 10, 1941–August 6, 1945

U.S. Navy submarines paid heavily for their success in World War II. A total of 374 officers and 3,131 men are on board these fifty-two U.S. submarines, "Still on Patrol."

"We shall never forget that it was our submarines that held the lines against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds."

— Fleet Admiral C. W. Nimetz, USN

"I can assure you that they went down fighting and that their brothers who survived them took a grim toll of our savage enemy to avenge their deaths."

— Vice Admiral C. A. Lockwood Jr., USN, Commander Submarine Force 1943–1945

December 10, 1941


Excerpted from "Heroes Beneath the Waves"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Mary Nida Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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.

Table of Contents

Life Under the Water: Statistics & Interesting Submarine Facts,
"Eternal Patrol": In Memory of the Fifty-two Submarines Lost in World War II,
"Mentality in Submarines",
H. L. Hunley,
USS Thresher (SS-200),
USS Guitarro (SS-363),
USS Perch (SS-176),
USS Nautilus (SF-9/SS-168),
USS Scorpion (SS-278),
USS Sawfish (SS-276),
USS S-28 (SS-133),
USS Seal (SS-183),
USS Billfish (SS-286),
USS Puffer (SS-268),
USS Snapper (SS-185),
"Christmas Below the Sea",
USS Tullibee (SS-284),
USS Blenny (SS/AGSS-324),
USS Sea Cat (SS/AGSS-399),
"Thank God that I'm a Sub-Vet's Wife",
USS Boarfish (SS-327),
USS Guavina (SS/SSO/AGSS/AOSS-362),
USS Tinosa (SS-283),
USS Torsk (SS-423),
USS Pogy (SS-266),
"Recalling Brutal Winter Days of Old at Electric Boat Shipyard," by John Steward,
USS Sea Fox (SS-402),
USS Tiru (SS-416),
"Submarine Career as a Spook Rider" by Curtis Grant,
USS Sunfish (SSN-649),
USS Daniel Webster (SSBN-626) / USS James Monroe (SSN-622),
USS Skipjack (SS-184),
USS Raton (SS/SSR/AGSS-270),
"The Life of a Submarine Man," poet unknown,
The Submarine Veterans of World War II,
WWII Submarine Patches & Battle Flags,
Typical U.S. Submarine Cutaway Showing Compartmentation,
Retirees-When Can I Wear My Uniform?,

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