Blog Updated! November 20, 2013
Story Updated! October 3, 2013

Book Review:
OPERATION STORM

Remember that big sub at the end of (SPOILERS!) The Philippine Cache? How it was majestic and bad ass and nothing more than a backdrop that might as well have been a pile of gold or a sign that has 'YOU'RE A WINNER!' on it? The reason for that, is that I had no references material for what the inside of those things are like. Personally I don't like writing about historical items I'm not too sure on and my knowledge of World War II submarines is entirely from visits to American Balao (USS Bowfin) and Tench-class (USS Torsk) submarines, so as soon as I heard that there was a full-sized book all about the I-400 I knew I had to read it.

Beyond being future fodder for fiction, the I-400 aircraft carrier submarines were built to be the follow up attack to Pearl Harbor, underwater aircraft carriers that could launch air strikes against American cities such as New York and Washington, DC. This meant designing a submarine the size of a cruiser capable of very long range patrolling and handling three specially built Seiran  attack planes. Operation Storm is the only book I know of that really gets into the story of these ambitious super weapons that despite their promise in the end were simply enormous drains on Japan's limited resources and ultimately a historic footnote that accomplished nothing. But it is still one heck of a story that hasn't fully been told. (In English anyway. It looks like there are some Japanese books on the subject.)

The unusual tale of the I-400 submarines begins at the end of their journey as the last of them is confronted by the American submarine USS Segundo (SS 398) in late August 1945. Will they fight? Surrender? Stay tuned until the end to find out! Or at least that's the atmosphere created to prime the story.

Though a meticulously researched history, John J. Geoghan's Operation Storm reads more like a novel with smooth prose that makes for engrossing and fast reading. The main focus is the whole existence of the I-400 class submarines from their conception to their ends but that story is also intermixed with chapters on the Segundo and chapters that highlight the careers of the I-400 captains and Seiran pilots before becoming part of the I-400 program.

While I loved reading about the people involved with the I-400s, the best part of this book for me was the chapter that explains the design and layout of the submarine. It gave a good picture of what it was like on the inside and out, giving the reader a feel of what life was like inside this confining steel tube. There was also a good amount of print spent explaining Japanese submariner culture, the quirks of Japanese subs and the quirks unique to this class in particular.

The author paints very human pictures of the primary players in this story, both Japanese and American, and in order to do so can be quiet opinionated about them and their personalities. I didn't find it detracted from the story though, because the opinions are checked against facts and not treated as facts themselves.

The Segundo chapters are unnecessary from a historian's stand point as it was irrelevant to the I-400 program, this isn't a fiction story where somehow all the now enemy subs went to high school together, y'know, but they flesh out the adversary I-401 meets in the beginning and helps it maintain that novel feel. It all pays off in the end as understanding the men and their machines on both sides are critical in the climactic resolution to that opening confrontation.

There isn't a lot of material on the I-400s, but what there is can be contradictory so I appreciate that while the author may have chosen to go with one set of facts over the other, it was always done with explanation why and also a foot note explaining the conflicting version of events. This is something I wished more histories did.

I found Operation Storm to be a worthy read that both entertained and informed. I recommend anyone with an interest in World War II submarines or just unusual weapons spend some time with it.

Now I think I have to go back and add some more about that submarine to the Secret of Morolonago, maybe give it some action too...

Ghosts of Seattle

Mariveles, Bataan Province, Philippines

This metal 'Soldier's Grave' is part of the Death March Memorial at Kilometer 0, where the march began in Mariveles. An identical sculpture is on Corregidor as well. We found this by accident, we were driving to the bancay boats to get to Corregidor when we missed our turn. I noticed the Death March marker we passed said "2 km" on it, so I asked our driver if he could go another two kilometers before turning around. Sure enough two kilometers down the road, across the the beach and nestled in a quiet little park next to a Jollibee fast food restaurant was the Death March Kilometer 0 Memorial Park.

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