Fatal Dive: Solving The World War II Mystery Of The USS Grunion, by Peter F. Stevens
During the course of my preparation for an upcoming speech to some World War II veterans I have engaged in a bit of a crash course of reading books about some of the more interesting and noteworthy salvage operations relating to that conflict . Given those purposes, this book was exactly what I was looking for, in that it gave me an account of a noted wreck with a mysterious history that demonstrated the complicated factors that go into salvage and discovery operations. Not every reader will have the same purposes I do for reading a book like this, but those who have an interest in submarine warfare and in some of the more blameworthy activities of the US Navy during and after World War II in order to protect the reputation of some unworthy officers who knowingly put servicemen in harm’s way in order to avoid admitting that an untested weapon was dangerous will likely find much to appreciate in this book and in the author’s approach and in his meticulous and impressive research on his subject.
This book is far shorter than one would expect by looking at it, but that shortness is not an absence of worthy material but rather of an author who gets to the point, discusses what there is to discuss, and does not repeat himself or belabor himself over scarce material. The fact that the navy has been less than forthcoming about the ship itself suggests that the author’s bluntness has the goal of encouraging more transparency, which may allow for edits in future editions of this book. Be that as it may, the book’s contents are as follows, which take up a little less than 250 pages if one includes the lengthy biographical appendices. Beginning as is common in media res, the perspective then goes back to the military career of one Jim Abele, lieutenant commander of the USS Grunion, the development of the submarine force of the Pacific fleet, the career of the Grunion, the mysterious nature of messages sent and not received and the status of the submarine’s crew as missing in action, and then the efforts of Abele’s sons along with others in searching and finding the ruins with the help of Japanese information. The story is written with verve and a sense of suspense that demonstrates how tenacity, assiduous research, and divine providence can lead to the solving of difficult mysteries even with official stonewalling in the difficult conditions of the remote Aleutian islands of Alaska.
At the core of this ship’s mysterious fate is a defective torpedo that hindered early efforts by the US navy’s submarines during WWII. Abele had been reprimanded early in the war for expressing his frustrations with the submarine openly, but he remained unaware of the most disastrous design flaw of this troubled weapon, and that was a tendency to occasionally miss the target altogether and circle back on the sub that fired it, a design flaw that appears to have sunk this ship and three other submarines during the course of World War. Given how dangerous submarine warfare was for submariners in the best of circumstances, it is completely unacceptable that the Navy put its brave sailors in harm’s way knowingly and then sought to bury the evidence of what happened rather than risk the reputations of those who designed a defective weapon and approved of its use and hindered the development of more effective weapons. The author, and the Abeles and their associates, deserve a great deal of credit for bringing this case to light, and for allowing for some closure for the American and Japanese sailors who died in combat among the brutal seas of remote Alaska during one of World War II’s more forgotten campaigns.
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