THE TERRIBLE HOURS by Peter Maas (book review by Mark R. Leeper):

Want to read a story, a true story, of people putting their lives on the line for a military objective? Do you want a story about science and about engineering put to a practical use? Do you want to read about an individualist who has to defend his ideas from a hide-bound military bureaucracy that considers him a crackpot? Well, skip THE TERRIBLE HOURS and go directly to THE DAM BUSTERS by Paul Brickhill. If you have already read DAM BUSTERS you can find many of the same virtues in THE TERRIBLE HOURS by Peter Maas, a non-fiction writer who usually delves into true crime. THE TERRIBLE HOURS is about Navy officer Charles "Swede" Momsen who against resistance from his commanders revolutionized the science of diving and especially deep sea escape and rescue procedures. The book is really mostly about Momsen's biggest challenge. On May 23, 1939, the US submarine Squalus, cruising off course, had a problem with a valve, flooded, and sank in 243 feet of water in the cold waters off New Hampshire. Squalus had no heat and no communication, and the thirty-three men who had survived the flooding had only hours to live unless the Navy could somehow deduce what happened, locate the helpless submarine, and find a way to get thirty-three men to the surface. The men on the bottom of the sea knew only too well that no such rescue had ever been attempted. Maas chronicles Momsen's career, the events leading to the sinking of the Squalus, and then more vividly the sinking and the frustrating rescue attempts. He explains the science behind Momsen's inventions to aid in rescue. The recovery of the Squalus and its surviving crew is considered the greatest submarine rescue in naval history. Maas expanded this book from an article he wrote for the "Saturday Evening Post." The organization of the book is reminiscent of the sort of documentary article one finds in "The New Yorker," knitting together many threads leading to the main body of the story. It is intriguing reading, but is not as satisfying as the Brickhill book mentioned above.