Escape From the Deep: The Epic Story of a Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew
By Alex Kershaw, read by Richard Poe
Length: 6 hours on 5 compact discs
Program Type: Audiobook
Publisher: Recorded Books
Release Date: October 2008
The Balao-class fleet submarine USS Tang (SS-306) was the most successful US submarine of the Second World War and is arguably the most famous. In five war patrols she was credited with sinking 33 Japanese ships totaling 116,454 tons and rescuing 22 airmen. Her Commanding Officer, LCDR Richard O’Kane was legendary. Before taking command of Tang, he was Executive Officer on the USS Wahoo (SS-238), completing five war patrols with her. During WWII he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, and three Silver Stars for his service.
The first section of the book focuses on Tang’s fifth war patrol during which she was credited with sinking thirteen Japanese ships. O’Kane’s preferred method of attack was to sail directly into the center of a Japanese convoy on the surface at night and attack the formation from within, counting on his submarine’s low silhouette and the ensuing confusion of the attack to make good his escape. In the early morning of 25OCT44 O’Kane fired the last of his twenty four torpedoes to finish off a damaged freighter. The torpedo malfunctioned and circled back, striking Tang in her aft torpedo room. Tang sank in 180 feet ( 55 meters) of water, her shattered stern resting on the bottom, her bow remaining on the surface. Ten of her crew, including O’Kane, remained on the surface when she sank, blown overboard by the impact. The rest of the crew were either already dead or trapped below.
Thirty surviving crewmen made their way to the forward torpedo room. Ironically, the first order of business was to trim the bow down to the seafloor in order to attempt escape through the forward escape trunk. The book goes into the harrowing details of the obstacles facing the survivors trapped below. Thirteen made it out of the ship. Of those who were thrown into the water with the initial sinking and those that escaped from the bottom, only nine were rescued by the Japanese in the morning.
The last section of the book deals with the treatment of the crew as captives of the Japanese. As most already know conditions were brutal. Beatings, cold, sickness, and starvation were the norm. When the war ended and the survivors were freed, O’Kane weighed only 88 pounds (40 kilos).
An excellent book, but not one for the squeamish. Recommended.