Reviewed by Larry Blair
On December 10. 1941, Japanese bombers plastered Manila, Philippine Islands in one of the most destructive air attacks of the early war in the Pacific. Bombs straddled the overhaul dock at the Cavite Naval Station, where the submarines SEALION and SEADRAGON were in various stages of repair. Gun crews from both subs didn’t take long to get into a battle with their .50 caliber machine guns, however, the attacking planes were too high for the angry submariners. On the second attack wave. Jap bombs slammed into SEALION’s cigarette deck and after engine room batch. Four men were killed there. while a fifth man aboard SEADRAGON was mortally wounded by shrapnel. These were the first fatalities of the submarine war. and SEALION became the first sub victim. With a starboard list, she sank by the stem. and was to be out of action permanently.
On August 6, 1945, just a few days before the war ended, fate closed in over BULLHEAD and her entire crew. Lieutenant Commander Edward R. Holt took the sub out on her third patrol, his first as skipper. Traveling close to shore off Bali, a Jap plane pounced on the boat scoring two direct hits with bombs. The pilot observed the sub sink with much debris and bubbles rising to the surface.
Between the above two dates, author Harry Holmes has covered in chronological order the mournful sagas of the other 50 submarines lost in the war. He has painted an endless surrealistic word picture. Men and their boats traveled far, far from home both on and under the water, to engage the enemy in this most unusual, sometimes bizarre form of warfare.
This must-read volume for naval historians and the general public alike pays due respect to the gallant 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted men who volunteered for this duty and were killed in the service of the silent service. The casualty rate was about 17 percent, the highest for any branch of the military. The Submarine Force represented only about two percent of Navy personnel, yet it accounted for 55 percent of Japanese maritime losses. Our losses when compared to Germany, however, were low. They lost 700 to 800 U-boats. Japan only bad 58 subs remaining at the end of hostilities, loosing 128.
A breakdown of our losses shows DORADO and R-12 lost in the Atlantic. S-28 was an operational loss during training at Pearl Harbor, and S-26 was sunk in a collision off Panama. The other 48 boats were lost directly or indirectly by enemy action. S-39, S-36, S-27 and DARTER were lost due to stranding on reefs. All personnel was rescued in all of the strandings. Three officers and five men from FLIER were saved in the manner of John F. Kennedy. Some men from the following submarines were held prisoners until the war ended: GRENADIER, PERCH, SCULPIN, TANG, one survivor out of the entire crew of TULLWEE, and two from the complement of S-44. Four survived ROBALO’s sinking by a mine but died later while prisoners. All remaining submarines were lost with all hands.
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction as fearless, youthful heroes prepare to meet their maker. Their stories are brought forth in stark detail and serve to remind us they are for all eternity on their last patrol.