World War II submarine mystery solved in Fatal Dive

FATAL DIVE

By Peter F. Stevens

$24.95; Regnery History,
256 pp.

The fate of the USS Grunion is a mystery. The U.S. Navy officially classified the submarine as lost during World War II, but makes no claims about what might have happened to it. In his narrowly focused book, Peter F. Stevens explores the known and unknown of the submarine’s disappearance. He begins with a short history of the family of the commanding officer, Mannert L. “Jim” Abele. Abele was badly burned on a submarine in 1938, nearly ending his career. After a long recovery, he spent a year teaching at Harvard.

Then, he was called to war. His first assignment was to make a submarine built in 1918 seaworthy again as well as train a crew. The USS S-31 had been decommissioned, but by Dec. 1940, Abele was ready to bring the sub for practice exercises.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Abele was assigned to command the USS Grunion. He and his crew immediately began to notice problems with the Navy’s new top secret M 14 “Exploder” torpedo. The faulty device, Stevens speculates, might be the key to the mystery of the disappearance of the Grunion.

Since so much of the later part of Stevens’ book rests on the location of the sinking of the submarine, a map of the area would have been helpful for readers.

In June 1942, the Grunion left Pearl Harbor and headed for the Aleutian Islands to pursue Japanese destroyers. The Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska was the site of engagements between American submarines and Japanese ships supplying their troops on the island of Kiska. Normally, Japanese freighters traveled with sub chaser escorts, but, on July 29, 1942, the Kano Maru lost hers.

The Grunion moved in for the kill, but something happened. This is where the mystery begins. Somehow, though the submarine launched four torpedoes at the freighter, the ship survived.

The Grunion sank.

From here, Stevens takes the story to Abele’s sons, who are determined to find their father’s submarine.

What follows would not have been possible except that the youngest, John, had become a billionaire, co-founding Boston Scientific.

Together, the three sons launched a search for the missing submarine. Stevens is able to make the quest to find the Grunion suspenseful, even through the reader knows that there would be no book to write if the sub were not found. Clues, unexpected coincidences and near disasters keep the reader engaged. And, like so many stories, the interest is in the journey, not the destination.