Contrary to the broader scope of most WWII submarine narratives, Alex Kershaw devotes an entire book to the fifth and final patrol of USS TANG (SS-306), one of the most legendary boats in submarine history. Having already accrued a superb war record under skipper LCDR Dick O’Kane, TANG sailed from Pearl Harbor in September 1944 for a patrol in the dangerously shallow waters of the Formosa Strait. En route, she had to battle a typhoon on the surface because she was unable to dive safely. Her greatest challenge ultimately came when one of her own torpedoes malfunctioned during a surface attack against a Japanese convoy. Within 20 seconds of being fired, the torpedo circled back and exploded into TANG’s stern. The blast tossed those who had been on the boat’s bridge into the water. Those still alive in the unflooded forward compartments on the boat found themselves 180 feet underwater.
Kershaw does a masterful job of drawing his readers into the suspenseful hours that followed the explosion. In the most dramatic portion of the book, Kershaw describes the efforts of several of the trapped crew to escape from what would prove to be an iron coffin for those left behind. The handful who made it to the surface alive, as well as some of those who had been on the bridge, were taken prisoner by the Japanese and subjected to torture and starvation for the remainder of the war in the infamous camps at Ofuna and Omori. As Kershaw closes the book with a discussion of the post-war lives of the survivors, one is struck by the brotherhood that bound these men together over the decades.
Escape from the Deep: The Epic Story of A Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew is a somber reminder of the sacrifices of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force in WWII (52 boats are still on eternal patrol). For those interested in this chapter of naval history, I strongly recommend both this book and William Tuohy’s biography of Dick O’Kane (The Bravest Man, 2001).