Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

University Press of Kentucky
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World War II submariners rarely experienced anything as exhilarating or horrifying as the surface gun attack. Between the ocean floor and the rolling whitecaps above, submarines patrolled a dark abyss in a fusion of silence, shadows, and steel, firing around eleven thousand torpedoes, sinking Japanese men-of-war and more than one thousand merchant ships. But the anonymity and simplicity of the stealthy torpedo attack hid the savagery of warfare -- a stark difference from the brutality of the surface gun maneuver. As the submarine shot through the surface of the water, confined sailors scrambled through the hatches armed with large-caliber guns and met the enemy face-to-face. Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific reveals the nature of submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and investigates the challenges of facing the enemy on the surface.

The surface battle amplified the realities of war, bringing submariners into close contact with survivors and potential prisoners of war. As Japan's larger ships disappeared from the Pacific theater, American submarines turned their attention to smaller craft such as patrol boats, schooners, sampans, and junks. Some officers refused to attack enemy vessels of questionable value, while others attacked reluctantly and tried to minimize casualties. Michael Sturma focuses on the submariners' reactions and attitudes toward their victims, exploring the sailors' personal standards of morality and their ability to wage total war. Surface and Destroy is a thorough analysis of the submariner experience and the effects of surface attacks on the war in the Pacific, offering a compelling study of the battles that became "intolerably personal."

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About the author

Michael Sturma, chair of the history program at Murdoch University, is the author of several books on naval history, including The USS Flier : Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine. He lives in Perth, Australia.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University Press of Kentucky
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Published on
Mar 2, 2011
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Pages
280
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ISBN
9780813129990
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / World War II
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Content Protection
This content is DRM free.
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Available on Android devices
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The fate of the USS Flier is one of the most astonishing stories of the Second World War. On August 13, 1944, the submarine struck a mine and sank to the bottom of the Sulu Sea in less than one minute, leaving only fourteen of its crew of eighty-six hands alive. After enduring eighteen hours in the water, eight remaining survivors swam to a remote island controlled by the Japanese. Deep behind enemy lines and without food or drinking water, the crewmen realized that their struggle for survival had just begun. On its first war patrol, the unlucky Flier made it from Pearl Harbor to Midway where it ran aground on a reef. After extensive repairs and a formal military inquiry, the Flier set out once again, this time completing a distinguished patrol from Pearl Harbor to Fremantle, Western Australia. Though the FlierÕs next mission would be its final one, that mission is important for several reasons: the story of the FlierÕs sinking illuminates the nature of World War II underwater warfare and naval protocol and demonstrates the high degree of cooperation that existed among submariners, coast watchers, and guerrillas in the Philippines. The eight sailors who survived the disaster became the first Americans of the Pacific war to escape from a sunken submarine and return safely to the United States. Their story of persistence and survival has all the elements of a classic World War II tale: sudden disaster, physical deprivation, a ruthless enemy, and a dramatic escape from behind enemy lines. In The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine, noted historian Michael Sturma vividly recounts a harrowing story of brave men who lived to return to the service of their country.
“Eugene Sledge became more than a legend with his memoir, With The Old Breed. He became a chronicler, a historian, a storyteller who turns the extremes of the war in the Pacific—the terror, the camaraderie, the banal and the extraordinary—into terms we mortals can grasp.”—Tom Hanks

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In The Wall Street Journal, Victor Davis Hanson named With the Old Breed one of the top five books on epic twentieth-century battles. Studs Terkel interviewed the author for his definitive oral history, The Good War. Now E. B. Sledge’s acclaimed first-person account of fighting at Peleliu and Okinawa returns to thrill, edify, and inspire a new generation.

An Alabama boy steeped in American history and enamored of such heroes as George Washington and Daniel Boone, Eugene B. Sledge became part of the war’s famous 1st Marine Division—3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Even after intense training, he was shocked to be thrown into the battle of Peleliu, where “the world was a nightmare of flashes, explosions, and snapping bullets.” By the time Sledge hit the hell of Okinawa, he was a combat vet, still filled with fear but no longer with panic.

Based on notes Sledge secretly kept in a copy of the New Testament, With the Old Breed captures with utter simplicity and searing honesty the experience of a soldier in the fierce Pacific Theater. Here is what saved, threatened, and changed his life. Here, too, is the story of how he learned to hate and kill—and came to love—his fellow man.

“In all the literature on the Second World War, there is not a more honest, realistic or moving memoir than Eugene Sledge’s. This is the real deal, the real war: unvarnished, brutal, without a shred of sentimentality or false patriotism, a profound primer on what it actually was like to be in that war. It is a classic that will outlive all the armchair generals’ safe accounts of—not the ‘good war’—but the worst war ever.”—Ken Burns


From the Trade Paperback edition.
From unpromising beginnings in March 1942, the submarine base at Fremantle became a vital part of the Allied offensive against Japan. Pushed back from the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies, American submariners, accompanied by small numbers of Dutch, retreated to Fremantle on the remote west coast of Australia as a port of last resort. Far from their prospective patrol areas and their own supply lines, they had little reason to feel optimistic. Thanks largely to a welcoming civilian population, the morale of Allied submariners quickly improved, as did their effectiveness in fighting the enemy.

The first arrival of American and Dutch submarines at Fremantle coincided with a period when Western Australians felt especially vulnerable. On 3 March Japanese Zero fighters bombed the towns of Wyndham and Broome, while the same day there were three Japanese submarine attacks on shipping off the Western Australian coast. With many locals convinced that a Japanese invasion was imminent, Allied submariners got an appreciative reception. While in relatively small numbers, submariners were widely perceived as an elite force not only within the navy, but more generally by those who admired their courage and commitment. Although the Australians had no submariners of their own, they supported the base through the mobilization of resources and labor. Joined by British submariners from 1944, Allied submarines made a total of 416 patrols from Fremantle during the course of the war, becoming the most active base in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Some of the most famous submarines of the Second World War – including USS Harder, USS Flasher and HMS Trenchant – operated out of Fremantle, and many of the submariners who sailed from that port made the ultimate sacrifice.

The success of Fremantle’s submarines depended not only on personal heroism, but cooperation between allies. From disastrous beginnings, the Allies overcame inertia and national suspicions to become a much more effective fighting force than their enemies. The Australian government provided unstinting support, while Australian commandos shared the perils of many submarine patrols. Meanwhile cooperation between American, Dutch and British submariners pioneered joint naval operations in the Pacific.

This book documents not only the courage of submarine crews and the multinational cooperation that developed between Allies, but integrates the experiences of submariners on shore with their operations at sea. The promise of leave in Australia made the hardships and perils of lengthy war patrols more bearable. News that a submarine was ending its patrol in Fremantle inevitably created an expectant excitement among the crew on board. The hospitality and sense of belonging fostered by Western Australians became legendary among Allied submariners and remains central to their wartime memories. Many of those memories focus on relationships with young women, frequently sealed permanently through marriages. Many submariners also remember fondly the high alcohol content of Australian beer. Most of all, however, they recall the generosity of those civilians who welcomed them into their homes and hearts. At the same time, visiting submariners helped fill the emotional void created in many Australian families by absent sons, brothers, fathers and husbands fighting overseas. In an atmosphere of wartime austerity and rationing, the submariners also proved generous in sharing scarce resources with the local population. From the standpoint of morale, Fremantle became one of the most successful military outposts of the Second World War.
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