Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why is this creepy? (or "New addition to the library")

The Last Patrol, by Harry Holmes. (No, not Henry H. Holmes, who is a famous serial murderer, but Harry Holmes, who is a British historian. I can't believe anyone would get the two mixed up.)

Anyway, The Last Patrol is about each of the 52 US submarines lost in World War II. Does a fairly nice job recounting the circumstances of each loss, as well as their earlier careers, though I did notice a few rather glaring omissions.

For instance, Holmes discusses the mystery surrounding the sinking of the Gudgeon. Gudgeon's loss has been associated with, among other things, a Japanese air attack on April 18, 1944 near the island of "Yuoh." Except there is no island of "Yuoh" anywhere in the Pacific. Holmes mentions the date of the attack but does not mention the issue of "Yuoh" at all.

(To be perfectly clear, though, The Last Patrol predates the most recent scholarship on the issue of "Yuoh," which has established the island's identity as Iwo Jima.)

There are also some details left out concerning the mysterious loss of the Grampus. The last time anyone heard from the Grampus was February 12, 1942. Initially that was not considered unusual since submarines in enemy controlled waters often maintain radio silence and report in only when it is safe to do so. She may have been sunk in a Japanese air attack off New Britain on February 19 that claimed the sinking of the submarine. Holmes points out that the submarine Grayback reported seeing the Grampus in the Vella Gulf in the Solomon Islands on March 4, which would seem to indicate that whatever happened on February 19 did not involve the sinking of the Grampus.

Except it's a lot more complicated than that. After the February 19 attack, the Japanese reported seeing a large oil slick, which can indicate a sinking. What happened after that is murky. On the night of March 5-6 Grayback and Grampus were warned that two Japanese destroyers were entering their area. That same night, Grayback saw and heard through sonar a ship in the part of the Vella Gulf assigned to GrampusGrayback tried to exchange recognition signals with the mysterious ship but was unable to do so. Nevertheless, she understandably believed the ship to be the Grampus.

The Grampus was never seen again. A large oil slick was spotted the next day. The two destroyers, later established to be the Murasame and Minegumo, were themselves sunk shortly afterwards in the Kula Gulf and had no chance to make a formal report. Their survivors did not report sinking a submarine. Grayback heard no depth charging, but the Grampus could have been sunk by gunfire if she was running on the surface, as submarines often did at night.

All of these puzzle pieces were either left out of or glossed over in Holmes' account. Since his objective was to give a capsule of information for each submarine, that may be understandable, but personally I think the mystery adds to the story.

Finally, there is the issue of the Grenadier. I can't put my finger on it, but for some reason I find the picture Holmes uses of the submarine Grenadier really, really creepy:

I have no idea why. Does anyone else get the same unsettling impression from this picture?

In any event, though not perfect, The Last Patrol is still an excellent read that does justice to the sacrifices made by the crews of the 52 US submarines lost in World War II. I highly recommend it.

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