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Book Review: Escape from the Deep: A True Story of Courage and Survival During World War II (Da Capo

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by dgmitchell, May 12, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    In the early morning hours of October 25, 1944, the U.S. Navy submarine Tang, patrolling in the dangerous waters of the Formosa Strait, nearly completed the most successful cruise of any submarine in history. Having already sunk two Japanese cargo ships earlier in the cruise, the Tang found a convoy of three Japanese freighters, a destroyer and a transport ship and proceeded to sink the freighters and the destroyer, while crippling the transport. With one torpedo left before the Tang would be heading to San Francisco for the crew’s much needed R&R, the Tang’s captain, Dick O’Kane, moved in on the surface to dispatch the immobilized transport with his final torpedo. O’Kane launched the torpedo and then watched in shock and horror as the torpedo malfunctioned, circled and then returned to its source to sink the Tang.

    In Escape from the Deep: A True Story of Courage and Survival During World War II (Da Capo Press 2008, 270 pages), Alex Kershaw delivers the riveting story of the men who served and died on the Tang and of the nine men who managed to survive her sinking in 300 feet of water, including five who emerged from the depths alive – to this day, the only men to survive after sinking with their submarine. The harrowing story of the survivors does not end with their safe escape from the depths. Soon after the Tang settled to the bottom and all of the survivors had reached the surface, a Japanese patrol vessel captured the nine Tang crewmen on the surface, including Captain O’Kane who had been washed overboard when the torpedo struck the Tang. At that point, life for the survivors grew ever worse.

    The Tang survivors were brought to Japan and interned as special prisoners in horrific POW camps. They were told that since no one ever survived the sinking of a submarine, the Japanese could do whatever they wanted with them and no one would ever know. They were never reported to the Red Cross as having been captured. They were alone without friends, except for each other, the other prisoners at the camp, and occasionally a humane Japanese guard. They would spend a grueling winter and tortured spring in captivity wondering every night if they would live to see the dawn, all the while being cruelly beaten and succumbing to the various diseases of deprivation.

    Mr. Kershaw has done an outstanding job of tracking down survivors and their families to compile this outstanding oral history of one of the most horrific events of World War II. But for the survivors of the Tang, we would not have any way of knowing the horror faced by the brave men who serve in the Silent Service and who know that if their submarine is sunk, the odds of survival are as close to zero as they can be. Indeed, in the history of submarine warfare, only five men – each a Tang survivor – have escaped from a sunken submarine and lived to tell the tale. Thanks to those men, we can know what the less fortunate submariners experience in their final moments, and thus pay tribute to them all the more.

    I can find no fault with Escape from the Deep. As with Mr. Kershaw’s previous works, including The Bedford Boys and The Longest Winter, both of which are also outstanding, Mr. Kershaw has delivered an excellently researched, powerfully compelling and scholarly story of both the horror and the heroism of war. Everyone who has any interest in the Second World War, submarine warfare or human drama should read this book.
     
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