On November 19, 1943, the submarine USS Sculpin, under attack by the Japanese, slid below the waves for the last time in what would become one of the most remarkable stories in U.S. Naval history. Not only did several crewmembers survive the sinking - an extremely rare event in World War II submarine warfare - but several were aboard a Japanese aircraft carrier enroute to a POW camp when it was in turn torpedoed and sunk by the Sculpin's sister ship, the USS Sailfish.
At the end of World War II, several unlikely survivors would tell a tale of endurance against these amazing reversals of fortune. For one officer in particular, who knew that being captured could have meant losing the war for the allies, his struggle was not in surviving, but in sealing his own fate in a heartbreaking act of heroism which culminated in the nation's highest tribute, the Medal of Honor.
Sculpin Lt. Commander John Phillip Cromwell was one of the few who knew that American Naval Intelligence had succeeded in cracking Japan's top-secret codes. Cromwell also knew that if the Japanese confirmed this by torturing him, it would force Naval Intelligence to change their encryption, which would potentially change the course of the war. This is Cromwell's story as well.
The incredible interconnection of the Sculpin and the Sailfish has been thoroughly researched by Jonathan McCullough. Through access to the few living survivors, scores of oral histories, never-before translated Japanese war documents, and interviews with Navy veterans, McCullough delivers a gripping and, intimate account for the reader.
McCullough, an editor at Lyons Press, debuts as an author with this disappointing popular history of WWII submarine warfare. The USS Sculpin and USS Sailfish were built "side by side" at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Both subs were assigned to the Pacific Fleet, where, in 1943, the Sculpin was sunk by the Japanese destroyer Yamagumo. The Japanese transferred 41 survivors to two aircraft carriers the Unyo and the Chuyo bound for Japan. Unaware of the Sculpin's fate and acting on intelligence from the naval code breakers, the Sailfish intercepted and sank the Chuyo; only one of the Sculpin's men on board survived. He and the Unyo's contingent of Americans spent the remainder of the war in Japanese captivity. Not only is the link between the two American subs tenuous, but the author tries with limited success to assimilate an account of the U.S. Navy's code-breaking operation that resulted in "hot tips to the submarine command." The account of the Sculpin's sinking is harrowing, but it's the singular highlight in a tedious narrative weighed down with extraneous material.