Visits to Chatham Historic Dockyard, home among others to the diesel-electric submarine HMS Ocelot, and to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, home to HMS Alliance, a submarine built at the end of World War II, means I’ve got some photos of the outside and inside of the submarines to share. (Click on the gallery to enlarge photos.)
This being primarily a book blog, the photos are accompanied by a book list – half a dozen books set on submarines. Not a definite list, by any means; I have heard of several others well spoken off (but I haven’t got round to reading them yet). If you’d like to recommend a book on submarines that you enjoyed, please leave a comment below.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
No list of submarine books could start with any other book than Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by 19th century French author Jules Verne (yet I nearly forgot it and Young Friend of the Elephants had to remind me).
This novel comes to us from an age when no submarines lurked beneath the surface of the world’s oceans yet, because, quite simply, they haven’t been invented yet. Jules Verne, however, clearly had a knack to foresee the future in his novels: submarines, aeroplanes and going to the Moon were all possible in his books. The story of Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus is an absolute classic – and a cracking adventure besides.
Das Boot (The Boat) by Lothar Günther Buchheim
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of this book or who hasn’t seen the film? It’s a novel about a German submarine in World War II and the author knows what he’s writing about: he served on submarines during World War II, albeit only in the role of a naval correspondent. All the same, he was lucky to survive: the loss of life on German U-boats was huge.
Unbroken by Alastair Mars
The story of another World War II submarine but this time a British one – and not fictitious. Alastair Mars was captain of the Royal Navy submarine HMS Unbroken on the Mediterranean and tells a few hair-raising tales, such as sailing through a mine field. Although not particularly high on literary merit, it’s very readable.
Ice Station Zebra by Alistair Maclean
Another classic, a Cold War thriller by a man who served in the Royal Navy during World War II and turned writer afterwards.
An accidental fire has destroyed the British meteorological station Zebra in the Arctic and the survivors are in desperate need of rescue. The US nuclear submarine Dolphin, carrying on board the mysterious Dr Carpenter, attempts to reach the survivors. Needless to say things are not as simple as all that sounds… Although it’s primarily a thriller, not a novel about submariners, most of the action takes place on board the US submarine Dolphin. It’s a great page-turner (and it has been filmed in the 1960s).
Nimitz Class by Patrick Robinson
Like Ice Station Zebra, this too is a thriller rather than a submarine novel but submarines play an important part in the plot.
A mysterious submarine sinks a US aircraft carrier and the hunt for the submarine and its masters goes on with plenty of intrigue on land and at sea. My favourite submarine part was the underwater passage of HMS Unseen through the Bosporus. Given the title, I was a bit disappointed that more than half of the book is set on dry land, but overall it’s a solid page-turner, and Robinson continued the tale with Kilo Class and HMS Unseen.
The Hunt for the Red October by Tom Clancy
Another Cold War tale, which was duly filmed and made Tom Clancy a household name. A Soviet missile submarine is heading west across the Atlantic and is chased by just about everybody, including the Soviet Navy itself. What does the captain of the submarine intend? To attack the US? Or just to defect?…
You might also like: ⇒ Chatham Historic Dockyard ⇒ Royal Navy Museum, Portsmouth ⇒ View Through the Periscope ⇒ They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships