Reviewed by Richard B. Thompson
As is well known to most readers of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, the Naval Underwater Systems Center (now part of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. headquartered at Newport) was the origin of much of the important submarine technology developed during the Cold War. Formed from the Navy Torpedo Station founded in 1869 at Newport, and the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory established at New London, NUSC was clearly a jewel in the Navy’s RDT&E crown during those years. Working under essential restrictions, John Merrill and Lionel D. Wyld have crafted a fascinating history, but ultimately a disappointing one.
The book begins with some of the early history of Navy activity in this area, but the bulk of the narrative has to do with the developmental history of Cold War submarine systems. Thus, major space is devoted to developments in sonar; combat systems; weapon systems and launchers; optical communications and ESM systems; warfare analyses; and range and test facilities. There are scores of photographs, most collected here for the first time. There is a glossary of terms and acronyms, a usable index, and a modest bibliography at the end of each chapter.
It should be noted that the authors are laboring under three burdens. First, much of the technical history of these developments is classified and (notwithstanding the chuckleheaded inclination to declassification in the present Administration) should properly remain so for several years to come. As a result, there is little technical detail here, not only of the devices and systems themselves, but also of the thinking behind them. Thus the competitive shoot out nearly 30 years ago of the Westinghouse turbine-powered version of the Mark 48 and the Gould pistonengined version is briefly described, but there is no discussion of the engines themselves, or the technical issues involved in generating several hundred horsepowers with a small motor. For someone interested in the details, this teasing is extremely frustrating. One will simply have to be patient in awaiting the sort of informed discussion found in Norman Friedman’s design histories. The second burden is that this is evidently an official history, certainly authorized by the Navy and produced with official help and blessing. Official history has the virtue that the product is thorough, and as a result the names of many persons who played important parts in these developments appear in the book. These engineers, scientists, and naval officers are truly unsung heroes of the Cold War, and the book plays an important role in recognizing their passion and drama of the work as well. The contrast with the histories of Code 1500 and Naval Reactors (Nuclear Navy 1946- 1962 by R.G. Hewlett and F. Duncan, and Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology by F. Duncan) with their discussions of Navy politics and personalities, is striking. Moreover, it is very much a NUSC-eye view of developments in these fields, with a natural tendency to focus on NUSC’s achievements as opposed to other Navy and contractor activities. The final burden with which the authors have had to contend is the minimal amount of source material available. I feel the authors have done a splendid job in pulling together this story in the virtual absence of such material in any organized form.
For this reviewer, the best parts of the book were the descriptions and photographs of the test facilities and ranges. Considering the technical difficulties in accurately tracking submarines, torpedoes, and other objects in three dimensions over many miles, the AUTEC range is a remarkable facility. Again, technical details would have been welcome. Similarly, the torpedo ejection test facilities depicted in the book are fascinating, and lead one to appreciate the engineering problem in launching a torpedo at depth and speed, while emitting a minimum of noise. The reviewer is left wondering how many such unique facilities have been closed or abandoned throughout the Navy by downsizing.
Ultimately, while this book remains a valuable contribution and an essential starting point for historians of the future, it is only a starting point. The technical histories of these submarine developments remain to be written.