When I read the flyer advertising this book, I had high hopes. Promoted as “an encyclopedia of the activity of our subs and their personnel during World War II,” its main features were said to include: (1) records of all patrols made by 249 submarines in the Pacific, including date, captain, duration, base, location of patrol, and sinkings claimed and confirmed; (2) Victory records (actually ships sunk) with date, ship, size, and location; (3) data on builder, boat’s history, awards, and final disposition; and (4) appendices ranking boats and skippers by both numbers and tonnage of ships sunk and providing lists of wolf packs, Presidential Unit Citations, Navy Unit Commendations, and other data. In addition there were photos of every boat, a section on the “torpedo scandal,” and other features of potential interest. This promised an impressive amount of data. Although I was aware that everything was available elsewhere, it had been presented piecemeal in various publications at different times and was not readily available to submarine buffs or the general reader. The book, therefore, offered considerable promise as a convenient source of data on U.S. submarine activities during World War II.
The author, identified as the brother-in-law of a former FINBACK sailor, has indeed pulled together a massive amount of data, apparently as a labor of love. He has also added a couple of nice touches for the sake of completeness by including photos of the SEALION (SS 195) and DORADO (SS 248), which were lost before making a patrol, and listing the Atlantic patrols made by the boats that were later transferred to the Pacific. With the exception of the R-12 and S-26, which also made no patrols, all 52 submarines lost during the war are covered. The boats are grouped
alphabetically within eleven classes, staning with the S-boats and ending with the Tench class. This could make it difficult for a casual reader to locate a particular boat, and even experienced submariners might have trouble remembering a boat’s proper class. In fact, the author has made the common error of including the GOLET, GUAVINA, GUITARRO, and HAMMERHEAD (SS 361-364) in the Balao class rather than the Gato class. (The photos of all four show the Gato-type covered wagon superstructure.) The name of FL YING FISH(SS 229) should be written in two words.
The main source of general information about each boat including the builder, commissioning date, and disposition, appears to be the eight-volume Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, in which the entries vary significantly in quality from volume to volume. However, the author has limited his extracts to only a few sentences per boat, and I made no effort to check these entries for accuracy. The photos, although often of interest, are not reproduced clearly enough to distinguish detailed features of the boats. These are minor criticisms and should cause casual readers no real problems.
Unfortunately, the useful features of the book are offset by some serious limitations of particular concern to readers looking for accurate and reliable information. The basic problem is revealed by the bibliography of only eleven entries, of which those that are clearly the main data sources are as much as 50 years out of date. In addition to perpetuating the errors or omissions in these sources, the author has introduced too many mistakes of his own in transcribing or interpreting material from them. This reviewer hates to harp on such errors, but as a general indicator, there are eight misspelled names in the otherwise useful charts reproduced inside the front and back covers, several of which errors are repeated throughout the book. The more serious deficiencies stem from the data sources used by the author.
The data on patrols have been taken from Appendix F of Clay Blair’s Silent Victory and rearranged by boat. In spot checking, I noted some errors in transcribing dates and place names, and many misspellings of skippers’ names. The big problems with the patrol data are that Blair gave only the month when each patrol was begun and showed all of them as starting from the fleet headquarters location (Pearl, Fremantle, etc.) although many boats underwent upkeep and started patrols at forward bases like Guam, Midway, Subic Bay, and others. Milton has simply repeated the same limited information.
The lists of sinkings appear to have been taken practically verbatim from Roscoe and thus perperuate many 50-year old errors that have long since been identified by later researchers. Among the more egregious ones are giving NAUTILUS half credit for the carrier SORYU (she made only a dud hit on KAGA, attributing the sinking of U-163 to HERRING (disputed by German sources), identifying the carrier sunk by RASHER as OT AKA (a mistranslation of the correct name, TAIYO); continuing to credit boats with the Unknown Marus never corrected by JANAC4, and perperuating that source’s characterization of certain ships as ex-light cruisers and ex-gunboats” (They were merchant ships converted to armed merchant cruisers or gunboats, not former warships.) There are also many misspellings of Japanese ship names, such as identifying the big tanker sunk by PINT ADO as the SUSAN MARU #2 instead of TONAN MARU #2. Also taken directly or with minimal modification from Roscoe and Blair are the various appendices ranking boats and skippers according to ships sunk, listing wolf packs, etc. Both sources based their rankings on JANAC data because there was nothing better when those books were written.
A few additional comments are worth noting. On page ix the author states that the S-34 claimed “what may have been the first sinking” of the war on December 12, 1941, but a few pages later he identifies the boat correctly as the S-38. The victim has finally been identified as the Norwegian freighter HYDRA II of 1,375 gross tons. The reader may decide what credit should be allowed for this sinking. Milton says CACHALOT and CUTTLEFISH were retired from patrols because they were worn out and broken down. Since they served reliably and effectively as school boats at New London for the rest of the war, the real reason was more likely their inadequate speed and endurance. PLUNGER is pictured on page 50 as toppled over in dcydock at Pearl Harbor; she really fell off the marine railway. On page 197 the author describes the Balao class as having a “slightly increased operating depth,” whereas most submariners viewed the 33 percent depth increase as a major improvement in the boats’ ability to withstand Japanese depth charges. LIONFISH and MANTA are stated to have been built at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company, which is true only in part. They were started there but completed by Portsmouth. The photo of LIONFISH on page 262 shows the incomplete boat in the process of being towed away.
In sum, the author of this book had good intentions and did a lot of work pulling material together. With such a mass of data, 95 percent or more of it may be correct, but the reader cannot be sure where the errors are. Regrettably, the use of obsolete data sources and insufficient checking or proofreading make it an unreliable reference work and one that perpetuates rather than corrects ancient errors.
1. Blair, Clay, Silent Victory. Philadelphia & New York: I. B. Lippincott Co., 1975.
2. Roscoe, Theodore, United States Submarine Operations in World War II. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1949.
3. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Volumes I-VIII. Washington: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1959-91.
4. Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II from All Causes. Washington: Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947.