This book begins--one might instead says 'gets off on the wrong foot'--with an odd title. 'Wolf Pack' is, after all, a term associated in military history and the popular imagination with the dread Nazi submarine formations of the same war but a different ocean. It's as odd as if today we called the high-speed assault on Iraq as a blitzkrieg.
Be that as it may, 'wolf pack' is the right term: That's what American submariners aimed at creating in World War II (they were well aware of the effective U-boat tactics used in the Atlantic). Author Steven Trent Smith does a good job of explaining how the Navy's Pacific submarine chief, Adm. Charles Lockwood, and others worked to adapt German tactics for use against the Japanese (they started on the checkerboard dance floor of the officers' club). It wasn't easy. For one thing, communications between submarines was unreliable for a long time; another problem was that American sub skippers were used to being 'lone wolves' and didn't want to change.
Another problem--in the book as well as the war--is the need to develop 'pro-submarine' equipment, which slows the narrative down. Lockwood wanted improved torpedos (ours were lousy early in the war) but he also sought important devices that would help subs defend themselves. One of them was submarine sonar to help them penetrate minefields. The reader has to be a little patient here because the climax of the book involves infiltrating two wolf packs through minefields guarding the Sea of Japan--the huge Inland Sea between Japan and the Asian mainland.
Smith makes clear that sub skippers on both sides sought naval targets and considered merchant ships low class. Eventually the Americans realized that merchantment were the way to go--there were so many more of them and Japan, and island nation, was dependent on shipping. (The Japanese mostly stuck with naval targets, even though America's many Pacific bases were also islands, also fed by sea.)
As a writer smith is workmanlike at best; he did better in his previous book, "The Rescue," about Americans hiding in the Philippines from the beginning of the war until rescued by submarine some years later). He's sometimes a little weak on details; I noted a couple of muffed details. Some editing or copy-editing might have helped; publisher please note.
His biggest problem is the need to explain so many technical details. This is not a simple subject, and so you don't get here the slam-bang action of Cmdr. Edward L. Beach's famous "Run Silent, Run Deep." But Smith does get his licks in at least twice. And is doing so almost rises to 4 tars.
His description of the sub Parche's all-out cowboy assault on a convoy in July of 1944 is delightfully hair-raising, and it brings the book to life just in time. He also develops sweaty-palms tension when two wolf packs do at last penetrate Sea of Japan. Knowing something about mines will help, because Hollywood has taught you all wrong. They NOT big round cannisters of TNT bobbing free on the surface.
Mines float but they float below the surface, where they can't be seen. They are tethered by long cables to anchors on the sea bottom. Lockwood's packs had two choices. They could make a mad, high-speed surface dash, escaping the mines but risking surface attack, or they could snake through the minefields, using their new (and not battle-tested) sonar to locate the mines, and all their skill to steer their 300-foot subs safely between them.
Here Smith screws up the tension. The first time he puts you in a sub that come so close it grazes a mine's cable--and that awful grating, scraping sound inches its horrible way the whole length of the hull at a walking pace of two knots--well, check your palms. They'll be wet.--By Bill Marsano, a long-time devotee of WWII nonfiction books.