Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

Lost Subs’ leaves void for readers

Book fails to mention worthy submarines

December 29, 2002


This magnificently illustrated coffee-table book is a bit disappointing -- not because of what it contains but because of what it leaves out.

"Lost Subs" is a promising title for devotees of submarine lore, but Spencer Dunmore's book deals with only a handful of lost submarines when many more are worthy of inclusion.

Some of the sunken subs are mentioned almost in passing, which will leave the more curious reader feeling unfulfilled.

The first chapter, following an introduction by oceanographer Robert D. Ballard, devotes a few pages to early efforts to navigate underwater.

Chapter 2 is about the Confederate submarine Hunley, which was lost near Charleston, S.C., after attacking and sinking the USS Housatonic in 1864. The Hunley was located in 1995 by divers of the National Underwater and Marine Agency and was raised in 2000, after having languished partially buried in silt for 131 years.

The Hunley was found in very good condition and is being examined at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston. This chapter includes spectacular photos of the ship during various stages of recovery.

Another chapter is devoted to the research and experiments conducted by Simon Lake and John Holland a century ago. Holland built the most advanced and successful submarines of his day, which he sold to the U.S. and British navies.

The Holland I, acquired by the Royal Navy in 1903, sank while under tow 10 years later in Plymouth Sound. It was relocated in 1981 and soon salvaged. This story is given one paragraph and only six of the book's many photos.

A chapter about the development of submarines by the German navy includes the sinking of the liner Lusitania by torpedo during World War I. Considerable space is given to dramatic photographs and text about the German submarine offensive, but it doesn't specifically deal with losses.

The years between the world wars are highlighted by the sinking of two submarines: the USS Squalus and HMS Thetis. Their stories are accompanied by abundant illustrations and lengthy descriptions of salvage techniques that refloated the vessels, and of the human rescue procedures of the era.

"The U-Boat War" is about World War II and examines the case of two sunken subs: HMS Perseus and the German U-352. A noteworthy inclusion is the Japanese submarine I-52, destroyed by aerial bombs in 1944 while en route from Germany to Japan and only recently discovered. The book shows a series of dramatic photos of the wreck, which contains a cargo of gold bullion that may never be recovered.

Other sections tell about American subs lost in the Pacific, notably the USS Tang and the USS Wahoo, and of the postwar tragedies of the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion.

The briefest of mentions, with no photos, is made of the Soviet submarine K-129, which sank near Hawaii in the early 1970s. The U.S. Navy's attempt to raise the ship was only partly successful, as it broke apart during the attempt.

The book ends with the most recent submarine tragedy, the Russian navy's nuclear super-sub Kursk, lost with its entire crew in the Barents Sea in 2000 due to an internal explosion. The Kursk was raised about a year later.

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