Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 9 Jan 2012
Full Title: Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
With a long daily commute to my day job each weekday, recently I had noticed that the WW2 section of my local library's audio book section becoming a bit too familiar for my preference. I never imagined that I would one day deplete an area of any kind in a large library! Never one to want to leave home empty handed from a library, I decided to branch out on my interest and checked out a book from the sports shelf, something that only remotely touched upon WW2, Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson.
This book began with sport of deep sea diving and about the men who enjoyed this highly dangerous type of adventure. The author set up the scene for me, who knew absolutely nothing about diving, explaining everything from nitrogen narcosis to decompression sickness, from the rivalries between fishing and dive boat captains to the competitions between treasure hunters, all the way to why divers need pressure regulators and why technical divers began to adopt trimix in the 1990s. On the surface, the main characters of this book John Chatterton, Richie Kohler, Bill Nagle, and the rest of the gang were a group of foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, rough-around-the-edges individuals who thrived on the opportunities to gather artifacts from the sea floor and scoffed at the novices of the sport. But as the book progressed, I began to know about each of them, seeing through their tough appearances and building respect for the each of them. Ultimately, they were not the brutes they appeared to be. Once they had discovered the wreck of the German submarine that was central to the book, they transformed from athletes to academics, passionately devouring resources at the local libraries, traveling to Washington DC to flip through mountains of historical documents, and even traveling to Germany to interview experts and German submarine veterans. While most technical divers embark on day-long or weekend-long trips, these men embarked on an adventure that lasted seven years. The author was an excellent storyteller, narrating this adventure with dramatic and descriptive words, on several instances making me stare at the clock waiting for the workday to end so that I could continue the audio book on my commute home.
The piece of WW2 history that allowed the story to take place, of course, interested me. When German Navy submarine control sent U-869 an order that changed her patrol area from off the United States to off Gibraltar, the submarine's captain simply did not get it, thus when Allied ships attacked and damaged or sank an unknown target off Gibraltar a short time later, US Navy analysts thought it must had been U-869. Had it not been for these divers' persistence, this small part of WW2 history would remain wrong forever.
Some of the regular WW2DB visitors might already know that I had slowly becoming a fan of Michael Prichard, who read this audio book. Once again he did not disappoint, meeting the high expectations I had set in my mind when I saw his name on the cover of the book. A wonderful addition to this audio book was a conversation between the author Kurson and the divers Chatterton and Kohler. After getting to know them through Kurson's words, I felt that it was great to hear their own words in their own voices. As they reminisced about Bill Nagle (who passed away as a direct result to his alcoholism during the course of the book), discussed the technology of diving, and shared their experiences on their accidental transformation into historians, it beautifully wrapped up a great audio book.
I was very glad that I accidentally stumbled upon this book, and highly recommend Shadow Divers.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945