Can there be any better book for those who are interested to know what day-by-day life, injury and death, was like on an operational British submarine during the Second World War? I wish I’d read this book some years back when I visited HMS Alliance at the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Haslar, Gosport, England [ https://www.submarine-museum.co.uk/wha...
]. HMS Alliance dates from the end of that war- and usefully gives the visitor the sense of how little space there was in a British submarine of that period. How did the crew (a) physically fit, and (b) manage to sleep, eat, and fight in so confined a space? I still wonder at it all. Young perfectly describes the ‘pleasantly beleaguered air’ of the land at and around Haslar Creek (p.111). Even today that area feels strangely separate from the surrounding civilian urbanisation.Young describes his training and operational submarine experience in the Royal Navy, from rookie to commander, with such verve for the kind of detail that brings that life to life.
During an electrical storm he mentions the sound of hailstones hitting the sea- a sound that could be heard by the hydrophone operator even though the submarine was eighty feet below the surface (p.104)! He’s not adverse to recounting interesting meetings- such as that with Admiral Sir Max Horton who described some of his adventures in the North Sea in a submarine during the First World War! (p.139). How often does history ever feel as close as this? Neither does Young shy away from expressing a certain wistfulness for the significantly spacious submarines operated by the American navy (p.295 on)!
Dates (month/year) are tracked throughout this Penguin edition: the left-hand page top right indicating the month in which the events of narrative took place- the right-hand page top left indicating the year. Very helpful. Why don’t more authors/editors do this?Indeed Young explains life and service in submarines SO interestingly and well that I surprised myself how eagerly I lapped up the technical detail- even that from the occasional footnote- such as how to navigate by the stars (p.167).
I now need to try that out for real! Thanks to the attention-grabbing accounts of active service seen in the Far East- which the excellent and detailed maps helped me to closely follow- I have newly acquired a geographical knowledge of the Straits of Malacca and the northern end of the Mergui archipelago.Overall, this book is not only a compelling and fully immersive read, but also one which humbly reminds of the terrifying difference in scale between those wars we have termed World War in order to differentiate from ‘War’.
But War or World War, my heart goes out to those very many individual submariners who did NOT live to see the declaration of peace that they so passionately and so very bravely fought for a free world.