Rising Tide Book Review

Rising Tide: The Untold Story of The Russian Submarines That Fought the Cold War

By Gary E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne

Hardcover in dustjacket, 354 pages, photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index

Published by Basic Books, October 2003

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎0-465-09112-1

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-465-09112-6

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches

The submarine service of any nation is generally cloaked in secrecy, and with good reason.  The primary advantage of a submarine is stealth – leave port, pull the plug, and disappear.  The submarine is then free to operate anywhere her speed and endurance can take her, and perform any task desired.  But if a submarine is detected it is suddenly vulnerable.

Rising Tide pulls back the curtain on Soviet submarine operations during the Cold War.  The authors base the book on interviews with several former Soviet submarine Captains.  While not widely known outside of naval circles, the Soviet boats were notoriously unreliable and several of the anecdotes in the book deal with fires and accidents, a number of which resulted in loss of life and / or sinking of the submarine.  There was a callousness towards the lives of the crews not seen in Western navies, and Soviet submarines employed technologies and design practices which would have not even been considered in other navies.  Adding to the problems were substandard maintenance and training practices.  These are illustrated by the deployment of several Foxtrot-class attack submarines during the Cuban Missile Crisis, none of which were completely operational after crossing the Atlantic.  A second example is the loss of the Oscar II class submarine Kursk, which was attributed to an explosion of a practice torpedo.  Subsequent investigation revealed the torpedo had not been properly maintained and that the crew had not actually fired a torpedo in years.

The book concludes with an analysis of Gorshkov’s History of the Soviet Navy and a brief comparison of American and Soviet submarines.  Gorshkov’s writings are at times insightful, and at other times almost laughable.  Overall, I found this book offered an interesting (though by necessity, incomplete) perspective on how the “other side” did things.  Recommended.

The Capture of U-505

Some ships are unlucky.  U-505 was arguably the most unlucky submarine in the German Navy during the Second World War.  Her career didn’t begin that way though – her first patrol was short and uneventful, and her second was a success with four Allied merchantmen to her credit.  Her third patrol also appeared to be a success with three vessels sunk, but one of her victims was a Columbian sailing ship named Urious, the sinking of which resulted in Columbia declaring war on Germany.  On her fourth patrol she claimed her eighth victim, but her luck changed when she was caught on the surface by an RAF Hudson with an Australian crew and hit by a 250 pound bomb aft of the conning tower.  While she managed to return to Lorient, she was the most seriously damaged U-boat to survive and make port.

After repairs she was repeatedly deployed again, only to return in short order each time after being damaged, or as a result of sabotage by French workers.  She gained the reputation as a “dock queen” which could not deploy effectively.  On her tenth patrol she endured a severe depth charging from British destroyers.  Her Captain, Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech broke under the strain and committed suicide in the control room, the only submarine Captain to do so during the war.

While not the best quality, this photograph shows the damage to U-505’s deck and conning tower caused by the bomb from an RAF Hudson during her fourth war patrol on 10NOV42. The Hudson was caught in the bomb blast and was lost, along with her crew. After two weeks of work, the U-505’s crew was able to make repairs and make her way back to their base at Lorient.
On the morning of 04 June 1944 the U-505’s luck ran out. She encountered an American anti-submarine group centered upon the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) and was detected by sonar by USS Chatelain (DE-149). Chatelain immediately fired a salvo of Hedgehogs without effect, then circled back to drop depth charges. These were on target, damaging U-505 and causing an oil slick visible to aircraft circling overhead.
U-505 surfaced, her crew immediately abandoning ship. Her rudder was jammed causing her to circle and her engines had been left running. Chatelain engaged the U-boat with gunfire and fired a torpedo, which missed. USS Pillsbury (DE-133) launched a whaleboat in an attempt to place a boarding party aboard. The photograph shows Pillsbury’s whaleboat pursuing the abandoned U-505, which was still making 7 knots.
Pillsbury’s boarding party scrambled aboard the sinking U-505 and entered through the conning tower. Inside they found the U-boat was flooding rapidly, her crew having removed an 8-inch (20 cm) strainer cover to flood the boat. The Americans were able to locate and replace the strainer cover, but by that time the U-505 was well down by the stern.
Pillsbury came alongside and attempted to take the submarine under tow. However, the ships collided, holing Pillsbury in three compartments and causing flooding. In the meantime Chatelain and USS Jenks (DE-665) were busy rescuing the submarine’s crew. All 58 survived but one, signalman Gottfried Fischer was killed by gunfire.
A boarding party from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) then came aboard and attempted a tow. The photograph shows the towing line being passed from Guadalcanal to the U-505.
With the U-505 in tow the Guadalcanal was able to resume flight operations. Here an Avenger makes her approach.
The Commanding Officer of the Guadalcanal and Task Force Commander CAPT Danial Gallery is seen atop the U-505’s conning tower. Note the damage to the tower and wear to her paint. Her captors have painted the slogan “CAN DO JUNIOR” on the conning tower.
German U-boats stowed extra torpedoes outside of their pressure hulls under deck panels. One of U-505’s reloads was found to have been damaged by gunfire and was jettisoned.
U-505 with Guadalcanal in the background. This photograph shows the wear to her paint, a useful reference for modelers.
After three days the Guadalcanal was met by the fleet tug Abnaki (ATF-96), which towed the U-505 to Bermuda. Her capture was classified Top Secret, out of concern that the Germans might change their naval codes (which the Allies had already broken) if word of her capture leaked out. Her crew was kept in isolation from other prisoners until after the war, not even the Red Cross was notified. The U-505 is currently on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Video of the capture is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgyF1R1D88&ab_channel=ZenosWarbirds

U-505 walk around photographs here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2019/10/06/u-505-submarine-walk-around-part-1/

Shadows on the Horizon Book Review

Shadows on the Horizon: The Battle of Convoy HX-233

By W. A. Haskell

Hardcover in dustjacket, 192 pages, appendices, sources, photographs, and index

Published by Naval Institute Press, March 1999

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-55750-887-9

ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-887-4

Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches

Shadows on the Horizon describes in great detail the sailing of Convoy HX-233 in April 1943, and its subsequent interception by eight German U-boats.  By this time the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic was turning against the Germans.  The Allied production effort was in full swing with new ships, both merchants and escorts, coming into service at a blistering pace.  Added to the sheer numbers of vessels were several technological advances in weapons and sensors.  Allied aircraft harassed the U-boats as they transited to and from operating areas, and groups of anti-submarine ships patrolled the Atlantic, acting independently to hunt U-boats or coming to the aid of convoys as needed.  In addition, the Allies had broken the German codes, giving advanced warning of their intentions.

In many ways HX-233 was a typical formation for the spring of 1943.  It consisted of fifty-eight merchant ships arranged in twelve columns, escorted by nine warships.  In addition, a support group of four Royal Navy destroyers supplemented the dedicated escorts during a portion of the transit.  Opposing them were a total of eight German U-boats which were vectored into position to intercept the convoy.

This book is a detailed technical assessment of the voyage of the convoy, and can be seen as a representative engagement of the Battle of the Atlantic during the spring of 1943.  The author has drawn on the national archives of the many nations and logs of the ships involved along with a plethora of interviews and other sources.  The appendices provide technical details and reports.  For the wargamer, this book supplies enough information to construct a Battle of the Atlantic convoy scenario.

While in reality a technical history, the narrative is interesting enough that the presentation does not bog down and remains engaging throughout.  The author’s inspiration is that he was serving aboard one of the merchant ships in the convoy, but this is not a personal narrative.  Several details were new to me, such as the organization of the merchant ships in the convoy and their Armed Guard detachments, along with the experiences of the survivors of U-boat which had been sunk.  Recommended.

The Sinking of U-175

U-175 was a German submarine of the Type IXC class.  She claimed nine Allied merchant ships on her first war patrol, and a single ship on her second.  On her third patrol she was part of a wolfpack of eight submarines which attacked Convoy HX-233 consisting of fifty-eight merchant vessels and their escort.  In the convoy’s screen were two Treasury class Coast Guard cutters, USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) and USCGC Duane (WPG-33).  Both vessels carried photographers who were able to record the engagement as it unfolded.

On 17APR43 Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Bruns had positioned U-175 directly ahead of the convoy and set his sights on a large tanker, the G Harrison Smith. Fixated on his target, Bruns was about to fire his torpedoes when he suddenly discovered the Coast Guard cutter Spencer bearing down on him. U-175 aborted her attack and crash-dived while Spencer dropped a pattern of eleven depth charges. This photograph shows the depth charges churning up the water while the approaching convoy closes in.
The depth charges were on target and the U-175 was driven down out of control. Just as U-175 was able to stop her descent, Spencer’s second salvo caused further damage. Here Spencer’s K-guns launch depth charges off the beams, which increase the area covered by the depth charge pattern.
This photograph appears calm, but there is actually a lot going on here. As the convoy passes over the U-boat’s position, the cutters attempt to maintain sonar contact on the stricken U-boat. The middle of convoy would not be the ideal position to maneuver a ship!
Bruns realized his submarine was unseaworthy and in no condition to continue to fight, so he surfaced after the convoy had passed overhead. Seeing the submarine, the cutters opened fire joined by Navy gun crews on several merchant ships positioned at the rear of the convoy. Here is U-175 under fire as seen from Spencer.
Spencer closed in on U-175 and prepared to ram. The Cutter was hit by a stray shell from one of the merchants, and signaled a cease fire.
At the last minute, the Navy Escort Commander aboard Spencer ordered her Captain to abort his ramming attack as the U-175 was out of the fight. The photographer took this shot as Spencer passed close astern. Her conning tower is smoking and shows the effects of multiple shell impacts. A portion of her superstructure is visible on deck aft next to her 37mm deck gun. If you look closely, a crewman can be seen on deck clinging to the port side of her conning tower.
Although Kapitänleutnant Bruns and several members of his crew were killed by gunfire, most of the submariners made it into the water. Spencer sent a boat over to U-175 in an attempt to board, but by the time they arrived she was well down by the stern and sinking.
Both cutters then set about rescuing the crew of their victim from the cold Atlantic. 13 men from U-175 were killed, Spencer rescued 19 survivors and Duane 21.
Here Maschinengefreiter Otto Herzke is being helped down the deck aboard USCGC Duane, his face displaying the stress of a close escape and the effects of the cold water.
The survivors were stripped of their wet clothing and given blankets, cigarettes, and coffee by their captors. Then they were taken below and fed a hot meal, a change in diet from submarine food. Removing the men’s wet clothing would later be a problem, as there were no rank or rating insignia to help the Americans identify the submarine crew.
With more U-boats still in the area, Spencer and Duane returned to their escort duties. Pictured is Spencer in her Atlantic camouflage.
U-175’s surviving crew were put ashore in Scotland. After interrogation, they were shipped to America where most spent the rest of the war working as farm labor.

First Shot Book Review

First Shot:  The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor

By John Craddock

Hardcover in dustjacket, 210 pages, bibliography, notes, photographs, and index

Published by McGraw-Hill, October 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎0-07-143716-9

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-07-143716-5

Dimensions: ‎6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The use of the five Japanese minisubs during the attack on Pearl Harbor has always been controversial.  Many Japanese naval officers opposed the idea, fearing the submarines would contribute little and risked alerting the Americans to the impending attack.  On the American side, the submarines represented missed opportunities to warn of the attack (just as many Japanese officers feared), and the penetration of the harbor revealed inadequacies of the defenses.  In the aftermath, the Japanese were convinced the minisubs had torpedoed American warships.  The American Navy insisted they had done no damage, a position which was maintained for decades.

In First Shot John Craddock documents what was known about the attack and the fates of the minisubs in 2005.  The midget submarine (I-20-tou) sunk by USS Ward’s gunfire had been located, but not positively identified.  I-16-tou had not been located although she was suspected to have torpedoed the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) by some.  He also briefly describes the midget submarine raids against Sydney Harbor and Diego Suarez, the latter arguably their most successful operation.  Operations in the Solomons are briefly mentioned.  There is some interesting information on ENS Kazuo Sakamaki, who commanded I-24-tou and became PoW Number One.

However, for a good part of the book Craddock is exploring peripheral subjects.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s early career is described in detail, and there is an entire chapter on his assassination.  There is a chapter on Coral Sea and Midway, as well as the use of the Kaiten manned torpedoes during the last year of the war.  Another chapter discusses Japan after the war.  All interesting and well written, but not the topic of the book.

There are also some missed opportunities which are not mentioned.  For instance, Ward had a busy morning on 07DEC41, and reported depth charging a total of four submarine contacts off the entrance to Pearl Harbor – and at least three of the minisubs were known to have been damaged by depth charges outside the harbor.  Tracing her movements could have filled a chapter, and she was not the only destroyer prosecuting submarine contacts in the area at the time.  Midget submarine operations in the Solomons and the Aleutians would also be interesting, and would give some insights into the evolution of doctrine and employment of these vessels as the war progressed.

While this book is worth reading, it is limited by what was known at the time.  The author “gets out into the weeds” with topics outside of the book’s scope, and doesn’t fully explore topics which are related.  This work is a start, but there is a comprehensive book still waiting to be written on the saga of the fifty Ko-hyoteki midget submarines used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War.

Type A Ko-hyoteki (甲標的甲型) Target “A” Midget Submarines and the Attack on Pearl Harbor

The Japanese Ko-hyoteki midget submarines were used in several theaters of the Pacific War, but their first and most famous use was during the attack of Pearl Harbor on 07DEC41.  They were 80 feet in length.  They were powered by a 600 horsepower (447 kW) electric motor, which could drive them at a maximum speed of 23 knots (43 km/h) or for 100 nautical miles (190 km) at a low speed.  They carried a crew of two and two torpedoes, which were loaded externally from the bow.

For the Pearl Harbor raid they were carried piggy-back by five I-16 class fleet submarines and launched outside the harbor entrance.  The minisubs were launched during the night before the raid, with orders to penetrate the harbor and attack.  Nominally they were to rendezvous with their parent submarines after completing their missions, but the crews were under no delusions of the likelihood for successfully completing this phase and expected not to return.

The actions of the midget submarines are listed below in order of their parent subs.  “I-16-tou” means “I-16’s boat”. There are some loose ends remaining.  The Light Cruiser USS St. Lewis (CL-49) reported being missed by two torpedoes outside the harbor entrance at 1004.  The Japanese fleet submarines were not positioned there so if the report is accurate, it is possible these were fired by I-16-tou.  Alternatively, many believe a photograph taken of Battleship Row during the attack shows a midget sub broaching after firing her torpedoes.  In either case, it is likely that I-16-tou ended up in the West Loch at the end of her mission and her wreckage was dumped off the harbor entrance in 1944.

Individual details:

I-16-tou, ENS Masaharu Yokoyama and PO2c Tei Uyeda, launched at 0042.  Likely penetrated Pearl Harbor, skuttled in the West Lock.  Many believe a photograph taken by a Japanese aviator during the attack shows I-16-tou firing torpedoes at the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37).  Three messages were received from I-16-tou confirming a successful air attack, claiming that she had damaged U.S. warship(s), and a final message received at 0051 local time on 08DEC41 reporting that the submarine was unable to navigate.  Her wreck was discovered in three sections in the debris field of the West Lock disaster, dumped outside the harbor during the clean-up.  Torpedoes fired, scuttling charge detonated, crew unaccounted for.

I-18-tou, LTJG Shigemi Furuno and PO1c Shigenori Yokoyama, launched at 0215.  Found outside of Pearl Harbor, East of the entrance, recovered by USS Current (ARS-22) on 13JUL60 from depth of 76 feet.  Damaged by depth charges, abandoned by her crew, torpedoes were not fired.  Currently on display at Eta Jima, Japan.

I-20-tou, ENS Akira Hiroo and PO2c Yoshio Katayama, launched at 0257.  Sunk by the Destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) at 0645.  The crew died in the attack, her torpedoes not fired.  Found on the sea floor in 1,312 feet of water by a University of Hawaii submarine in August 2002.  Declared a war grave.

I-22-tou, LT Naoji Iwasa and Petty Officer 1c Naokichi Sasaki, launched at 0116, penetrated Pearl Harbor.  Fired one torpedo at the Seaplane Tender USS Curtiss (AV-4) and one torpedo at the Destroyer USS Monaghan (DD-354).  I-22-tou was struck by shellfire from Curtiss at 0840, then rammed and depth-charged by Monaghan.  Crew was killed in the attack.  Her wreck was recovered on 21DEC41 and used as fill during construction, remains of the crew still aboard.  LT Iwasa’s shoulder insignia was recovered from the wreckage confirming the identification, as he was the only full Lieutenant among the crews.  The insignia is currently on display at Yasukuni.

I-24-tou, Ha-19, ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, launched at 0333.  She had a faulty gyrocompass which delayed her launch.  She was depth charged twice off the entrance to Pearl Harbor and ran aground.  Broke free and proceeded east, then ran aground again off Bellows Field.  Submarine broke free during air attack and hauled ashore by U.S. forces.  Torpedoes not fired due to damage, scuttling charge failed to detonate.  Inagaki killed, Sakamaki taken prisoner.  Ha-19 was salvaged and went on a War Bond tour, and is currently displayed at The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

The Ko-hyoteki crews were deified after the raid. Based mainly on the radio report from I-16-tou, the Japanese believed that the midget submarines penetrated Pearl Harbor and that at lease one had attacked successfully. Missing from the portrait is ENS Sakamaki, who was captured.
A photograph of Battleship Row taken from a Japanese B5N2 “Kate” during the attack. In the center, both West Virginia and Oklahoma can be seen after taking torpedo hits and beginning to list, with oil slicks forming on the water.
A tighter expansion of the previous photograph. The disturbance in the water to the left has been interpreted as the I-16-tou breaching after firing her torpedoes. The three sprays to the left of her conning tower are water being thrown up by her screw, and two torpedo wakes are visible originating from that point. Just to the right of the submarine is a small boat. The interpretation of this photograph remains controversial.
The West Lock Disaster occurred on 21MAY44, when an accidental explosion spread through amphibious assault ships loading ammunition prior to the Marianas invasion. The explosions sank six LSTs and killed 163 sailors. The accident was hushed up and remained classified until 1960.
Debris from the West Lock Disaster were quickly cleared away and dumped off the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Among the debris lie the remains of I-16-kou, broken into three sections. In places the hull is pierced and cables have been threaded through the holes so the sections could be hoisted, visible to the left in this photograph. The bow section has empty torpedo tubes and the unique “figure 8” cable cutter fitted to the Pearl Harbor attackers.
I-18-tou was discovered by U.S. Navy divers outside of the harbor to the east of the entrance. Her torpedoes remained in their tubes, her hatch had been opened and there was no trace of her crew. Submarine contacts were reported off the harbor entrance throughout the morning and many were depth charged (the USS Ward attacked four separate contacts). I-18-tou showed damage from depth charging, perhaps she was another of Ward’s victims?
There can be no question about this one. This is the I-20-tou resting on the sea floor, the hole from Ward’s #3 4-inch gun clearly visible at the base of her sail.
This is I-22-tou. She penetrated the harbor and worked her way around to the west side of Ford Island. There she was engaged by the USS Curtiss and USS Monaghan. She fired a torpedo at each ship but missed. Her hull shows the “washboard” effect of Monaghan’s depth charges and her hull is broken from being rammed and rolled under the destroyer. She was recovered two weeks after the raid.
I-24-tou was plagued by misfortune. The last midget sub to be launched because of trouble with her gyrocompass, she ran up on a reef outside the harbor. After working free she was depth charged and her crew disoriented. She worked around Oahu to the east until she hung up on another reef. Her crew exhausted and overcome by fumes, they abandoned ship after the scuttling charge failed to ignite. ENS Kazuo Sakamaki made it to the beach to become PoW #1, CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki drowned. I-24-tou is seen after being hauled up onto the beach off Bellows Field.
The control station of I-24-tou. Behind the ship’s wheel a man has his hand on the faulty gyrocompass. Reportedly it began to work properly after it was hit firmly.
One of the items recovered from I-24-tou was a detailed map of Pearl Harbor, the entrance is at the bottom. Mooring positions and target ships are indicated. Also note that courses and turning times have been annotated to assist navigation. The Imperial Japanese Navy had spies who provided detailed observations of the harbor prior to the raid, proof such as this only fueled suspicions concerning the Japanese population on Oahu.
The I-24-tou was shipped to the mainland for use in War Bond drives. She is seen here being inspected by shipyard workers in California.

Kaiten (回天) “Heaven Shaker” Manned Torpedo

The Kaiten was a manned torpedo employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the last months of the Pacific War. It was constructed by using the propulsion section of the successful Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo, but with an enlarged forward section containing the pilot and a 3,420 pound warhead. The photograph is of a preserved example at the Yasukuni Museum in Japan.
The Kaiten were carried to the target area on the decks of fleet submarines, which could carry between four and six depending on the type. The pilot could enter the Kaiten while the submarine was submerged, but there was no way to recover the Kaiten once lunched. It was intended to be a one-way trip. The photograph shows I-361 with Kaiten aboard on 24MAY45, she was sunk with all hands eight days later.
A pilot poses with two Kaiten on the forward deck of I-36.
Pilots cheer from atop their Kaiten as their last voyage begins. Note the details of the securing arrangements.
Kaiten secured to the deck behind the conning tower as the crew musters on deck for departure. 89 Kaiten pilots were lost in combat, many before they could be launched. Eight IJN fleet submarines were sunk by American forces while transporting Kaiten to their operating areas.
The first employment of Kaiten was against the U.S. Fleet Anchorage at Ulithi Atoll. A total of eight manned torpedoes were launched from I-36 and I-47 on 20NOV44. One of these struck the oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59) which emitted a column of smoke visible for miles. This was observed by the parent submarines, and assessed by the Japanese as the destruction of three aircraft carriers and two battleships.
The Mississinewa rolled over and sank, extinguishing the fires. One of the more surreal photographs from the war.
The USS Antares (AG-10) is most famous for sighting one of the five Japanese midget submarines attempting to enter Pearl Harbor on 07DEC41, which resulted in the USS Ward (DD-139) sinking the midget with the first shots fired of the Pacific War. Antares’ war with Japanese minisubs was not finished however, on 28JUN45 she was attacked by a Kaiten launched by I-36 off Guam. By this time she had been fitted with defensive armament, and sank the Kaiten herself with gunfire. An escorting destroyer, USS Sproston (DD-577) sank another, but the I-36 escaped. The strange story of the USS Ward here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/uss-ward-dd-139-apd-16/
The USS Underhill (DE-682) was the last victim of Kaiten. On 24JUL45 while escorting a convoy she detected a swarm of Kaiten launched from I-53. Defending the convoy aggressively, she depth charged the contacts. As she was passing over a Kaiten she had rammed, she was struck by a second and both exploded. She sank almost immediately with heavy losses to her crew.
The Imperial Japanese Navy intended to launch Kaiten from surface vessels to oppose the anticipated invasion of the Home Islands. They began modifying several ships to carry Kaiten, including destroyers of the Minekazi and Matsu classes, and the Kuma-class light cruiser Kitakami. Kitakami could carry up to eight Kaiten in her final configuration.
The Kaiten were carried on deck atop a rail and roller system. This is a launching trial aboard Kitakami.
The Kaiten were deployed by rolling them off the stern. The launching cradles would then separate, and the torpedoes would then attack the American fleet. The surface ships never launched Kaiten in operationally.
While small models, Kaiten kits have been offered by several manufacturers, including this pair from Fine Molds. Finished model here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/kaiten-japanese-manned-torpedo-in-1-72/

Dark Waters Book Review


Dark Waters: An Insider’s Account of the NR-1 The Cold War’s Undercover Nuclear Sub

By Lee Vyborny and Don Davis

Hardcover in dustjacket, 243 pages, appendices, photographs, and index

Published by New American Library January 2003

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-451-20777-7

ISBN-13: 978-0-451-20777-7

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.0 x 9.2 inches

The NR-1 was a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, unique in many respects.  Its stated purpose was scientific research, survey, and rescue, but it also performed clandestine military operations, many of which remain classified today.  It was the smallest nuclear-powered vessel in the world, displacing only 400 tons with a length of less than 150 feet (45 meters).  It was never commissioned into the U.S. Navy but was administered through the Nuclear Reactors department, one of several manipulations which kept the program firmly under Admiral Rickover’s control.

Author Lee Vyborny was one of the commissioning crew (a “plank owner” in Navy parlance) personally selected by Rickover.  As such he was present during the construction and fitting out of the ship and was part of the crew responsible for developing her operational procedures during her first missions.   He is uniquely qualified to record the story of the construction of the ship and training of her crew.  Vyborny pulls no punches in discussing the technical obstacles and budget over-runs which delayed the NR-1’s construction, and he relates Rickover’s controlling nature and infamous temper.

Only a select few of the NR-1’s operations are described here for security reasons.  Her well-known retrieval of an F-14 Tomcat and the AIM-54 Phoenix missile she carried from 2,000 feet (610 meters) below the North Atlantic is related, along with routine aspects of shipboard life which give the reader a good feel for what it was like to serve aboard her.  I was surprised at how vulnerable the tiny submarine was and how close it came to disaster on several occasions.  Her reactor was only able to produce 160 HP which gave NR-1 a maximum speed of five knots, barely enough power to get her out of trouble.  Getting entangled in nets or cables or stuck in the muddy sea floor could have proven fatal.

This account is interesting and well-written, and provides an insight into the guarded world of the submarine service and covert operations.  I was constantly aware that the author was leaving out as much of the story as he was able to tell, but what is there is fascinating.  Perhaps someday the NR-1’s entire history will be open to the public but I doubt I’ll still be around to read it.  This is a good book with a great story, recommended.

Escort Commander Book Review


Escort Commander, originally published as Walker R.N.

By Terence Robertson

Hardcover in dustjacket, 200 pages, appendices, notes, and index

Published by Nelson Doubleday 1979, Book Club Edition

Language: English

Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches

This is the biography of Captain Frederic “Johnnie” Walker, Royal Navy, who gained fame as the most successful submarine hunter of the Second World War.  He held simultaneous command of HMS Stork and was in overall command of the 36th Escort Group during 1941-42, and later was Captain of HMS Starling and the 2nd Support Group during 1943-44.  Ships under his command destroyed nineteen German U-boats during the war, and HMS Starling was the ship credited with the highest number of U-boat kills with fifteen, the majority of which were scored during her time with Walker in command.

Walker was an innovator in anti-submarine tactics and was very aggressive.  He determined that the best way to ensure the safety of the convoys under his protection was not to provide close escort, but to pursue and destroy any enemy submarine that was detected.  He often sent his warships several miles from the convoys after reported submarines; captains under his command were under standing orders to immediately attack any U-boats detected without awaiting further orders.  Three of his enemy submarine kills were sunk by ramming after they were forced to the surface.

A favored tactic was the “creeping attack” where sonar contact was maintained by one ship while another approached at low speed to deliver a depth charge pattern.  This was generally employed against a deep-diving submarine which could not detect the screw noise of the slow ship and thus was not expecting an attack.  Another tactic was known as “operation plaster” where two or preferably three ships steaming abreast would drop large patterns of depth charges simultaneously over a target.

While at sea Captain Walker lived on the open bridge of his ship, taking meals there and only retiring briefly for cat naps when the situation permitted.  The stress of combat and exposure to the North Atlantic elements eventually took its toll, he died of a cerebral thrombosis in July 1944.  His honors included the Distinguished Service Order with three bars and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

The only nit I would pick with this book is the author credits the promulgation of Walker’s tactics and innovative leadership style as the cause of the Battle of the Atlantic turning against the U-boats in 1943.  While certainly a factor, the introduction of centimetric radar in patrol aircraft (which the German submarines could not detect) and the use of escort carriers certainly played a major role. Never the less this is a well-written biography, and Walker is worthy of study as an example of inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.

New York City Vintage Photographs Part III

A flight of Boeing Y1B-17 Flying Fortresses banks in to fly over Manhattan on 28 March 1937. The bombers were assigned to the 96th Bombardment Squadron, which had twelve Y1B-17s on strength. At the time these were the only heavy bombers in the USAAC inventory. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

The Royal Mail Ship Queen Elizabeth pulls into the pier with the skyscrapers of New York in the background. The Queen Elizabeth was a huge ship even by today’s standards – 1,031 feet in length and displacing 83,000 tons.

Here is the RMS Queen Mary in her gray warpaint. She served as a troop transport during World War Two and was capable of carrying as many as 15,000 troops at a time. Because of her high speed she was thought to be immune to attacks by German U-boats and made the majority of her trans-Atlantic crossings unescorted. She is pictured returning U.S. servicemen home on 20JUN45. Currently Queen Mary is preserved as a museum in Long Beach, California. She is reputed to be haunted.

The French battleship Richelieu on her way to the Brooklyn Naval Yard on 18FEB43 for repairs and modernization. While under Vichy control she was hit by the British battleship HMS Barnham and suffered an internal explosion in her number seven 15” (380 mm) gun in turret two. After her defection to the Free French she was outfitted for service in the Pacific.

The Dornier Do-X makes an eye-level pass along New York’s skyline on 7 August 1931. The largest aircraft of her time, the Do-X was powered by twelve 524 horsepower Bristol Jupiter engines which can be clearly seen in this view.

A Swedish Airlines DC-4 seen over Manhattan in 1946. It did not take long after World War Two for the international airline industry to establish regular routes between major cities around the world.

Three U.S. Coast Guard Grumman JRF-2 Goose (Geese?) fly formation over New York on 10 April 1940. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

Another Coast Guard amphibian in pre-war livery, this time it is a Hall Aluminum PH-3. This photograph was taken on 21 February 1940. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) enters New York harbor on 13 May 1956. The Nautilus was the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, and the first to travel to the North Pole under the ice sheet.

The aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) travels up the Hudson River in 1939.  Considered too slow for combat in the Pacific she operated in the Atlantic for the majority of the war.  She supported the landings in North Africa on 8 November 1942, where her fighters engaged Vichy French aircraft and her dive bombers hit the French Battleship Jean Bart.

Part IV here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2021/02/10/new-york-city-vintage-photographs-part-iv/