Escape from the Deep
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 25 Dec 2010
Full Title: Escape from the Deep: A Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew
The USS Tang, although not commissioned into service until late 1943, quickly became one of the most effective submarines of WW2. In her short career, she sank 31 Japanese ships of various types, including one destroyer. The aggressiveness of the commanding officer Richard "Dick" O'Kane directly contributed to this achievement. Bad luck, however, was to blame for the submarine's end. On 24 Oct 1944, while attacking enemy shipping in the Taiwan Strait, one of her own torpedoes turned in a circle, and against all odds, struck USS Tang. In a feat even more amazing than the submarine's combat record, some of the survivors trapped below were successful in escaping the sunken Tang and float up from the depth of 180 feet with the aid of Momsen Lungs. This was the first time that this method of escape was ever attempted.
In Escape from the Deep, author Alex Kershaw narrated the story of Tang's final patrol, the sinking, and the crew's desperate attempt to escape. The book was excitingly written and definitely could be described by the cliché "page turner". Interviews with survivors and their families allowed the author to put together a collective memoir that vividly portrayed the overwhelming circumstance that submariners must endure as they became trapped deep under water, everything from panicking, flooding, to toxic air. Although not all members of the crew acted properly (the episode of a junior officer setting a fire in the sunken submarine to burn confidential documents came to mind), the author treated all with utmost respect, partly by making the me understand the extreme situation they were in, providing analysis of their decisions and actions given the circumstance.
I had reviewed the book in its audio book format. The narrator Richard Poe did a superb job. The slight pauses at the end of each sentence provided the necessary time for the listener to take in the information being read, while his deep voice, for reasons I could not describe, seemed to be perfect for a book about sailors. What I was rather impressed with was his pronunciation of foreign words, which regular WW2DB visitors should know that I could be rather picky with. Words such as Kobe and Yokosuka, two cities whose names typically troubled Americans, were read consistently accurately. I greatly appreciated the research he must had done while undertaking this project, and wondered why some of the other audio book narrators could not do the same.
Of the crew of 83, only 9 survived the sinking. All of them were imprisoned in Japan, not as prisoners of war but as special prisoners who had committed war crimes, for that they were considered responsible for the countless Japanese civilian sailors who had died at the hands of submarine attacks. Kershaw dedicated the final pages of the book detailing their experiences at Ofuna prison camp, which was unfortunately filled with episodes of violence and abuse. The famed aviator "Pappy" Boyington had a cameo in these final pages of the book, as he was imprisoned in the same camp as the Tang survivors. The stories of their subsequent liberation was bittersweet, especially as some of the survivors' wives thought they had long died, and several had already re-married. Post-traumatic syndrome would also plague several of them through the remainder of their lives.
Well-researched and well-written, Escape from the Deep was easily one of the most exciting memoirs of a naval tragedy I had came across in a while, and I would recommend it to WW2DB visitors.
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937