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Surface And Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific, by Michael Sturma

Michael Sturma’s latest book, Surface And Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific, traces the use of deck guns by American and Allied submarines during World War II. This is a topic not covered in the same detail in any other work, making Professor Sturma’s book a welcome addition for anyone who does research in this area or who just enjoys reading about American submarine operations against Japan.

Before the war, the U.S. submarine navy doctrine did not advocate surface gun actions, except as a means for finishing-off damaged opponents; combatant ships should be engaged only if a submarine were unable to dive. The accepted means for attacking enemy vessels was with torpedoes at periscope depth or from deeper depths with sonar. Anger over the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor and enemy atrocities elsewhere fueled the engine of unrestricted submarine warfare. The number of submarines making gun attacks on enemy vessels increased at a compound annual growth rate of 52.11 percent, from 1942 through 1945. There was also a corresponding increase in the number, size, type, and power of deck guns installed on each submarine.

In the Lockwood-era, American submarine navy doctrine espoused the concept of independence of command. Unlike surface vessel commanding officers who were generally part of a group of warships with a rigid command and control system, submarine commanders were lone wolves who executed their operation orders and hunted independently. Due to the nature of submarine warfare, the submarine captain was in the best position to orchestrate attacks and to determine when surface gun actions should be employed. Therefore, how and when a boat’s deck guns were used against enemy assets were often influenced by a particular captain’s personality, prejudices, and beliefs.

The author includes chapters on the Wahoo and its legendary captain, Mush Morton. A very balanced discussion of the controversial Buyo Maru incident is included. The Wahoo had sunk this troop transport, leaving many life-jacketed survivors in scows and launches around the Wahoo when it surfaced. Morton later said that in response to machine gun fire from the Japanese, he returned fire with all of his weapons – the deck gun, two cannons, machine guns, and small arms. All of the boats carrying survivors were sunk. Back at Pearl Harbor, Morton claimed killing between 1,500 to 6,000 of the troops from the transport. It is probable that this incident cost Morton a Congressional Medal of Honor. Lockwood’s request for the award was denied and downgraded to a Navy Cross. The author diligently examines all the evidence and presents an objective and informative picture of the events. He also includes examples of other deck gun incidents taken from the actual deck logs and patrol reports of numerous other American, Dutch, and British submarines. There is even a generous sprinkling of German U-Boat tales and adventures.

The book also includes an appendix with a summary of submarine gun attacks in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, made by American, British, and Dutch submarines. The figures for each country are presented separately and include the types of vessels attacked. Here you will find a lot of “spitkits” – sampans, prau, junks, fishing boats, etc., but there is a goodly number of more substantial vessels, as well.

As in his two previous books on the USS Flier and the USS Harder, this book is very well written and thoroughly researched and documented. I truly enjoy browsing Professor Sturma’s bibliographies, because I always find new sources of information to research for my lost boat articles. I highly recommend this book.

A closing note – I corresponded with Professor Sturma a while back about something in his book on the Harder, and he shared with me that his next book will be about the development of the submarine base at Fremantle during the Pacific war. I can’t wait!