Mr. Kershaw, in his book, Escape from the Deep, (Da Capo Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-306-81519-5) has brought into focus the ordeal of USS T ANG’s (SS-306) fifth patrol better than any previous description. The story of the boat’s remarkable successes is the story of its crew and in particular, its captain, LCDR Richard H. O’Kanc. After single-handedly destroying an entire convoy in the Formosa Strait, TANG shot its last torpedo. A circular run brought it back into the maneuvering room . Every submariner who reads Escape from the Deep will feel a frustrating fury at the rotten luck of ending the Second World War’s most aggressive and successful patrol by a defective torpedo rudder.
For most of TANG ‘ s crew the story ends in the few minutes it took the after compartments of the boat to flood. For others, their desperate attempts to reach the forward torpedo room with its escape hatch was a nightmare of darkness, smoke and confusion. About twenty crew members reached the compartment, but the saga continued as the strongest and most self-confident managed the Mom sen Lung procedure of rising slowly from 180 feet. Four men on the bridge and in the conning tower slid out of the boat as it sagged to the bottom. In all, nine men kept themselves afloat by remembering the loved-ones at home and clinging to hope. They swam to each other and survived long enough for a Japanese gun boat to pick them up.
While O’Kane’s exploits on TANG arc well covered in several publications, including those of SRC , the experiences of TANG survivors on board Japanese ships, on Taiwan and finally in the infamous funa and mori prisoner of war camps have never before been so accurately and comprehensively portrayed. The fierce comradeship and loyalty of TANG survivors remained throughout the terrible days of captivity and into the post-war years when they returned to the United States. President Harry Truman pinned the Medal of Honor on Richard O’Kanc while other survivors received medals including the Silver Star. TANG had received the Presidential Unit Citation during the war.
Kershaw’s thorough research rises above the norm including numerous personal interviews with TANG crew members. Additionally, he uses written resources as a basis for his description of submarine events which ring of authenticity. Those diesel sailors who have ridden out storm-driven, mountainous seas can relate to Kershaw’s description of the 1944 typhoon which kept TANG and much of the US Pacific Fleet in its grasp for days.
From pulling open ballast tank emergency vents to running a clandestine gillie still in the pump room , the story of TANG is a story every diesel submarine veteran will recognize. Like skipping across a stream on stepping stones, previous TANG narratives have touched only the high spots. Kershaw wades through the stream of momentous events in descriptions of elation at success to uncertainty of capture, to inhuman torture and finally, to release and recuperation. He docs so with the surefooted of the professional historical writer. Escape from the Deep is a must read for any submariner, but particularly so for veterans of Fleet Boats and Guppies.