The Navy Times Book of Submarines: A Political, Social and Military History

Article excerpt

Harris, Brayton. The Navy Times Book of Submarines: A Political, Social and Military History. New York: Berkley Books, 1997. 398pp. $15

This historical book is a compilation of thousands of facts surrounding the evolutionary development of today's modern submarine. In an effort to separate fiction from fact, Captain Harris (U.S. Navy, Ret.) debunks many commonly held myths that have been perpetuated in submarine lore.

With twenty-four years of active duty service, Harris is well suited to speak on these matters. The huge number of facts interlaced throughout this work is evidence in itself of the thoroughness of his research. Harris has also written The Age of the Battleship, 1890-1922, and a study of the role of the newspaper during the American Civil War that appeared in the magazine of the Civil War Society, Civil War. He has written for the Saturday Review and the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

This book begins with the late sixteenth century. Little-known names like William Bourne, Frederico Gianibelli, and Cornelius Drebbel are joined by that of Robert Boyle (formulator of Boyle's Law) in the development of submarine craft. While Gianibelli carried out the first successful wartime assault using submerged explosives, Drebbel is credited with the first craft capable of transporting men and equipment under-water. Here begins Harris's correction of folklore. Drebbel's craft, rowed by twelve strong men, did not actually operate submerged, but awash. The boat's submerged operations became such a fish story that a hundred years after the event, it was claimed that King James I himself had ventured underwater in Drebbel's craft. Harris puts the matter right.

Harris points out two issues that plague military inventors. First, wars create necessity; without the threat of war, there is no drive to create new technology. Second, bureaucratic inertia is extremely difficult to overcome. Interest in these "infernal machines" would wax and wane depending upon the state of political and military unrest. …