The War Below: The Story of Three Submarines That Battled Japan
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 18 Mar 2015
Submarines were among the most lethal weapons in the United States Navy arsenal, but yet, submarine warfare also suffered highest rate of casualties during the war. In The War Below, author James Scott selected three submarines, USS Silversides, USS Drum, and USS Tang to tell the American submariners' story. Scott told of the personalities of the officers and sailors, how various captains hunted prey, the frustration of the early-war faulty torpedoes, the successful sinkings, and the suffering as prisoners of war. While the author told each of the three stories well, with excitement and drama and backed by sound research and interviews, I felt that the three stories were independent of each other, giving me the feeling that the author failed to weave the experience of the three submarines into a coherent story. As a torpedo fired by Tang circled back and headed back toward Tang, the author decided to add suspense by suddenly changing the story to that of Drum's. When the focus came back to Tang an entire chapter later, I felt that I had to remember exactly where he left off, as Drum's story had little to do with that of Tang's. Scott probably could have broken out this book into a series of three titles, each title dedicated to one boat, using the same rich material that he had included in The War Below. A chapter about the first appendectomy conducted in a submarine, although mattering little in the outcome of the war, was written so well that I found myself completely gripped by the author's words; for me, this chapter would be the most memorable.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Donald Corren did a good job reading in terms of volume and pace. Many WW2DB readers had probably noticed my (admittedly excessive) finickiness about readers' poor pronunciation of foreign words, since I view such as indication of poor preparation for the production. Corren had his share of mis-pronunciation of Japanese names, but he was consistent in them, thus redeeming by my fussy standards.
The War Below did a wonderful job telling each of the three submarines' stories, but the author's presentation, jumping from boat to boat between chapter, was disjointed, making it a difficult read at times. The rich content, especially those resulting from interviews with veterans, earned a recommendation from me, however; one might simply need to be prepared to flip back pages for quick refreshers as the author jumped from one boat to another.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939