Simon & Schuster. 426 pp. $28
At the outset of World War II, the Japanese empire stretched across 20 million square miles and seven time zones. The United States realized early on that victory depended on disrupting Japan’s shipping. U.S. submarines played a critical role in sinking 1,113 Japanese merchant ships and 201 warships, starving Japanese troops and industry of what they needed to wage war. In “The War Below,” James Scott tells a compelling story of this epic struggle through the exploits of three subs and their crews. Relying on memoirs and interviews, he vividly conveys the tension, fear and exhilaration of the combatants.
Scott has a gift for dramatic narrative that illuminates the human dimension of this drama beneath the seas. He underscores the U.S. Navy’s inexcusable reluctance to rectify torpedo defects that compromised our submarines’ ability to do their jobs, causing one of the three subs to sink. He concludes with a painful saga of Japan’s cruel treatment of POWs that interestingly overlaps with many of the same characters and events in Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken.” This is a riveting tale for World War II buffs.