Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific


World War II submariners rarely experienced anything as exhilarating or horrifying as the surface gun attack. Between the ocean floor and the rolling whitecaps above, submarines patrolled a dark abyss in a fusion of silence, shadows, and steel, firing around eleven thousand torpedoes, sinking Japanese men-of-war and more than one thousand merchant ships. But the anonymity and simplicity of the stealthy torpedo attack hid the savagery of warfare -- a stark difference from the brutality of the surface gun maneuver. As the submarine shot through the surface of the water, confined sailors scrambled through the hatches armed with large-caliber guns and met the enemy face-to-face. Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific reveals the nature of submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and investigates the challenges of facing the enemy on the surface.

The surface battle amplified the realities of war, bringing submariners into close contact with survivors and potential prisoners of war. As Japan's larger ships disappeared from the Pacific theater, American submarines turned their attention to smaller craft such as patrol boats, schooners, sampans, and junks. Some officers refused to attack enemy vessels of questionable value, while others attacked reluctantly and tried to minimize casualties. Michael Sturma focuses on the submariners' reactions and attitudes toward their victims, exploring the sailors' personal standards of morality and their ability to wage total war. Surface and Destroy is a thorough analysis of the submariner experience and the effects of surface attacks on the war in the Pacific, offering a compelling study of the battles that became "intolerably personal."


For a submarine crew there was no maneuver more exhilarating, or more fear-inducing, than a surface gun action. Relying on surprise and speed, the submarine would suddenly punch through to the surface, while half-drenched sailors scrambled through the hatches to reach their guns and ammunition lockers. a crack team aimed to get off the first shots within twenty seconds of surfacing. Men who were usually kept cramped beneath the sea were at last unleashed to encounter the enemy face-to-face.

For Ignatius “Pete” Galantin the human face of the enemy materialized when the uss Sculpin battle surfaced to attack a sampan in 1943. the submarine quickly riddled the small wooden craft with bullets, leaving a heavy tang of gunpowder hanging in the air that enveloped even those below decks. When the Sculpin moved in closer to the sampan the crewmen witnessed the effects of their automatic weapons—they were close enough now to see the purple eruptions of bullets in bodies and the blood-stained water sloshing in the bilges. “How different, how personal was war when the target was flesh and blood instead of steel,” Galantin observed.

His experience was far from exceptional. George Grider recalled a similar incident when he ordered the uss Flasher to gun attack a sampan. After the craft burst into flames and it appeared that the occupants had jumped overboard, the Flasher pulled alongside to lob in hand grenades. a man who had been hiding behind the gunwales leaped up and went overboard, but not before staring directly at Grider “with an expression of piercing accusation.” At least for that moment, Grider recalled, the war had become “intolerably personal.”

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