How Allied Submariners and Western Australians Helped to
Win the War in the Pacific
Annapolis, Maryland USA: Naval Institute Press 2015
Hardcover 248pp RRP A$62.25
Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, April 2021
The submarine base at Fremantle, chosen for its harbour and inaccessibility to Japanese bombing, became a vital part of the Allied offensive against Japan during the Second World War. The importance of Western Australia as a forward operating base and the value of Perth and its environs for rest and recreation is unquestioned.
Fremantle’s Submarines by Michael Sturma covers the development of Fremantle as the pre-eminent submarine base in the South Pacific. The Fremantle submarine base started as a refuge for the United States submarine force, forced to retreat from the Philippines Cavite Bay stronghold and along with other Allied naval units were quickly driven out of the Dutch East Indies. Sturma’s book describes the three-year period from early 1942 to early 1945 when the focus shifted back to the Philippines.
Sturma presents a narrative of oral histories from submariners and residents and intermingles details of selected submarine operations with stories of life ashore for Allied submariners on leave and the Australians they meet. The author strives for a lighter approach than a typical military history blending naval history with stories of life in the Australian frontline. The mingling of submarine mission stories with those detailing relationships between, mostly, United States’ submariners and their Aussie hosts almost seems to trivialise the submarine operations. It is a juxtaposition this reader found difficult to reconcile and was subsequently hard to read.
Although the book’s chapters are organised chronologically, they lack consistency and the stories themselves appear as a random collection often lacking context. Furthermore, there is considerable information which can best be described as administrative and/or bureaucratic details. Many events described are of minor importance and are often, frankly, uninteresting.
Much of the book appears to be interpretation from sources almost certainly subject to mistaken memories and the author’s acceptance of claims which may be difficult to verify. The book overlooks a broader contribution by Australian defence forces in the area, for example, RAAF anti-submarine operations and there are some obviously incorrect facts presented. Together with merely superficial analysis of major events the result is a poor history.
Fremantle’s Submarines seems to be clearly aimed at a US readership of interest primarily, if not exclusively, to descendants of those who served in the US boats. Sturma’s attempt to intertwine social and military histories succeeds at neither.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.