Although they don’t get as much credit as they deserve, the US submarine forces were probably the most effective part of the US Navy in the Pacific, almost destroying the Japanese merchant fleet as well as sinking an impressive number of warships, including several aircraft carriers. This book focuses on the clash between those submarines and purpose built Japanese escort vessels.
We start with a look at the development of US submarines, through a series of inter-war designs of varying quality to the excellent wartime boats, all largely based on the Gato class, followed by a brief look at the troublesome torpedoes in use and the deck gun. We then move onto the Japanese escort vessels, starting with the inadequate number of pre-war escorts and moving on to the much larger scale wartime construction plans.
This is followed by a look at the two side’s pre-war planning, with the Japanese coming across as the least well prepared despite having planned deliberately for war. The important of protecting shipping doesn’t appear to have sunk in until it was too late, so by the time a sizable number of escorts did appear the battle was already lost.
Next we return to the submarines and ships with a section of technical specifications that would have been much better placed with the design and development section – splitting this off means that some material has to be repeated, and the extra info presented here wouldn’t have disrupted the earlier section.
The comparison of the two side’s organisation and tactics for the struggle suggests a similar lack of preparedness on the Japanese side, which combined with the low status of anti-submarine warfare to greatly reduce the impact of their efforts. A look at the map of convoy routes rather demonstrates their problem, with a network of key routes stretched out across the Pacific, all needed defending and all vulnerable.
The combat section is very much written from the US point of view. It’s organised by year and then by US submarine base, which does mean that we sometimes jump backwards in time, and also explains why the exploits of one US submarine commander, Sam Dealey, are described more than once.
We leap from the end of 1944 to the statistics and analysis chapter without any mention of 1945. This chapter gives a clear picture of the scale of the eventually Japanese defeat, although also acknowledges the US failures in 1941-42. A comparison between US losses and U-boat losses isn’t entirely valid as the two battles were on rather different scales, but it does demonstrate how poorly the Japanese performed – the US lost 52 submarines and about 3,500 men, the Germans lost nearly 800 U-boats and 28,000 men. One of the most surprising stats is that the large scale production of dedicated anti-submarine warfare vessels by the Japanese almost entirely failed, with them only sinking five known US submarines.
I would have liked at least one example of a convoy battle from the point of view of the Japanese defenders, to balance to focus on US submarines and their exploits, but otherwise this is a useful examination of a key part of the war in the Pacific.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
Author: Mark Stille