The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine
The fate of the USS Flier is one of the most heroic stories of the Second World War. On August 13, 1944, the submarine struck a mine and sank to the bottom of the Sulu Sea in less than one minute, leaving only fourteen of its eighty-six crewmen alive. After enduring eighteen hours in the water, the eight remaining survivors swam to a remote island controlled by the Japanese. Deep in enemy territory and without food or drinking water, the crewmen soon realized that their struggle for survival had just begun. Noted historian Michael Sturma’s vivid recounting of the harrowing story of the USS Flier has all the elements of a classic World War II survival tale: sudden disaster, physical deprivation, a ruthless enemy, friendly guerrillas, and a dramatic escape from behind enemy lines. The eight sailors who survived the disaster became the first Americans of the Pacific conflict to escape from a sunken submarine and return safely to the United States. Though some of the Flier’s mysteries remain with the submarine beneath the sea, this account sheds light on the nature of underwater warfare and naval protocol and demonstrates the high degree of cooperation that existed among submariners, coast watchers, and guerrillas in the Philippines. Sturma fills a historical gap by detailing this important episode of the Second World War.
The fate of the USS Flier is one of the most astonishing stories of the Second World War. On August 13, 1944, the submarine struck a mine and sank to the bottom of the Sulu Sea in less than one minute, leaving only fourteen of its crew of eighty-six hands alive. After enduring eighteen hours in the water, eight remaining survivors swam to a remote island controlled by the Japanese. Deep behind enemy lines and without food or drinking water, the crewmen realized that their struggle for survival had just begun. On its first war patrol, the unlucky Flier made it from Pearl Harbor to Midway where it ran aground on a reef. After extensive repairs and a formal military inquiry, the Flier set out once again, this time completing a distinguished patrol from Pearl Harbor to Fremantle, Western Australia. Though the Flier’s next mission would be its final one, that mission is important for several reasons: the story of the Flier’s sinking illuminates the nature of World War II underwater warfare and naval protocol and demonstrates the high degree of cooperation that existed among submariners, coast watchers, and guerrillas in the Philippines. The eight sailors who survived the disaster became the first Americans of the Pacific war to escape from a sunken submarine and return safely to the United States. Their story of persistence and survival has all the elements of a classic World War II tale: sudden disaster, physical deprivation, a ruthless enemy, and a dramatic escape from behind enemy lines. In The USS Flier: Death and Survival on a World War II Submarine, noted historian Michael Sturma vividly recounts a harrowing story of brave men who lived to return to the service of their country.
Michael Sturma is chair of the history program at Murdoch University in Australia. He is the author of several books, including Death at a Distance: The Loss of the Legendary USS Harder and South Sea Maidens: Western Fantasy and Sexual Politics in the South Pacific.
“A detailed, beautifully written slice of the history of U.S. Navy submarine warfare. The important story of the hellish explosion of a Japanese mine against the American submarine Flier is the crucial incident in this insightful account. This is an example par excellence of combat history coupled with thoughtful analysis at the tactical and operational levels with an occasional strategic perspective and frame in the not too distant background. The reader can almost smell the stench of Second World War submarine diesel fuel while also gaining an appreciation for the importance of U.S. Navy undersea warfare in helping to bring about the collapse of the Empire of Japan in August 1945.”—Carl Boyd, author of American Command of the Sea through Carriers, Codes, and the Silent Service
“Michael Sturma has done an admirable job of compiling existing work and bringing it together in one place, applying it as necessary to enhance the understanding of the time, place, and events while he tells the story of one particular submarine and her crew. The work is a worthy contribution to World War II history in general and to scholarship on the submarine service in particular.”—Don Keith, author of Final Patrol: True Stories of World War II Submarines
“Readers will encounter lively essays about undersea tactics, the claustrophobic world of submariners, the history of mines and torpedoes, the American-supported Filipino guerrilla movement and the nasty politics of the U.S. submarine high command. Sturma tells an engrossing story of courage, suffering and survival.” --Kirkus Reviews
"Michael Sturma has produced a first-class naval history that will delight general and specialist readers. It adds to what we know of Australian involvement in the American submarine operations and of their contribution to Japan’s eventual defeat. The production values are superior, and the notes and bibliography are important guides for further inquiry.” --Australian Book Review
“A great read. . . . The author . . . carefully examines the sub’s all-too-short service and the fate of her survivors.” --Proceedings of the US Naval Institute
“This is an amazing story of survival during wartime.” --Military Heritage
"There have been a substantial number of stories of U.S. submarines published during the past two decades. Michael Sturma’s tale of the USS Flier is a quality addition to that list. The Flier’s story has most of the elements of a classic adventure: impending fate, sudden disaster, escape, deprivation, rescue, recrimination, and remaining mystery." --Journal of Military History
"It is an enlightening addition to World War II Pacific Theater of Operations historiography." --Military History of the West
“Sturma’s familiarity with the breadth of his topic is simply amazing and his research, using many primary and secondary sources, is impeccable. . . . I highly recommend this work to naval history scholars and to those who are interested in learning more about the intricacies of how modern navies actually work.” --World War II Quarterly
“Michael Sturma has done an effective job conveying the dramatic story of the loss of the USS Flier.” --Journal of America’s Military Past
"The story of how eight men managed to survive the boat’s loss, a look at guerrilla operations in the Philippines, and more, give us an engaging and valuable account that is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the undersea war in the Pacific." --NYMAS
"An interesting combination of an Australian historian writing about an ill-fated American submarine that was lost with most of its crew on its second long patrol.... The amazing aftermath is particularly well described in considerable detail. A fascinating story." --Work Boat World
"Sturma sheds light on the trauma and personal tragedies of the Pacific war, recounting the great sacrifice and heroism of these remarkable men."--Lone Star Book Review