Escape from the Deep by Alex Kershaw

Alex Kershaw has done it again – he has written another fine non-fiction book that reads like a novel. His latest book, Escape from the Deep, tells the story of one of the most famous submarine patrols of World War II – the attack of the U.S.S. Tang in the Formosa Strait in September and October of 1944.

The book basically describes the final patrol of the U.S.S. Tang and how its crew dealt with a submariner’s worst fear – being alive in a submarine that has sunk to the bottom of the sea. The submarine was on its fifth patrol in the mine-infested waters of the Formosa Strait and its captain, Commander Richard O’Kane, was one of the most aggressive submarine commanders in the U.S. Navy. This aggressiveness pays off with the sinking of thirteen ships – one of the most destructive patrols during the war. However, the submarine’s last torpedo boomerangs back to the submarine and sinks it. Close to half of the crew survived the initial blast that sunk the submarine, but only nine survive the whole ordeal (five escaped from the sunken submarine and four others escaped before it sunk). The men then endured torture and captivity as POWs.

Kershaw has a unique knack for telling a true story in a novel- like fashion (similar to his previous books entitled The Bedford Boys, The Few, and Longest Winter). He brings the reader into the unique world of submarine warfare and the lives of the Tang’s crew. Kershaw’s account of the crew’s plight in the sunken submarine is especially gripping – you sense the fear and eventual resignation of most of the men as they realize that most of them will die 150 feet below the surface, but he also captures the intense desire of others to live.

Kershaw does not end the book with the release of the men as POWs, but he explains what the survivors did after the war. Some were able to fight their survivor’s guilt and others unfortunately were not. Kershaw also details the various medals and awards the crew were awarded (some posthumously) after the war, including the submarine’s second Presidential Unit Citation – becoming one of only three U.S. Navy vessels ever to receive that honor twice.

In addition to an excellent story, the book includes a map of the Tang’s last patrol, 16 pages of black and white photographs, and a side view diagram of the submarine (a helpful resource for when Kershaw discusses where the crew was when the submarine sunk). The book is a page-turner at 216 pages.

This book is an excellent tribute to the courage and service of the submariners of the U.S.S. Tang who gave everything, in most cases their lives, to their country.

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