An Australian Submarine Life
Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2023
Paperback 288pp RRP $34.99
Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, April 2023
Commodore Peter Scott’s account of his naval and submarine career is, in his own words, intended to inspire the next generation of Australia’s submariners. Scott’s memoir includes tales of courage, commitment and compassion which capture the mystery, thrlll, occasional terror and enduring satisfaction of his life in the submarine service. However, readers expecting a ‘tell-all’ of Australia’s currently very topical ‘silent service’ will be disappointed. There are no state secrets disclosed and mystery boats are not given even a passing mention.
A prologue describes a desperate flooding, not a happy situation for any vessel, but particularly fraught in a submarine. It serves to whet the reader’s interest as Scott quickly recounts his early years and family history of military service. Grandfather and uncle serving during World Wars 1 and 2 respectively influenced Scott to join the RAN.
The first third of the book describes Scott’s rise through the ranks as a submarine officer. Recounting how he learned his craft as a submariner, with occasionally exciting experiences, the author also manages to describe the intricacies of operating a submarine above and below the water. The descriptions of intricate pilotage and seamanship skills, especially in littoral waters at periscope depth whilst remaining undetected, fascinated this reader.
In the second third Scott describes his ascent to command rank, including his successful completion of ‘Perisher’, the world’s most demanding military command course, and his struggles aboard and ashore. Scott writes honestly of his time ‘at sea’, away from his family, taking a heavy toll. He laments about missing important days and events of his wife and daughter and growing apart from his parents and siblings.
Paradoxically, he writes, it was easier to remain connected with his family while at war in Iraq than when at sea and the last third of ‘Running Deep’ covers Scott’s staff and senior command postings including a spell in Iraq. Whilst there his ‘difficulty coming to grips with misery and violence’, affected him more than any sea deployment; being less in control, thus causing constant vigilance and greater fear of death.
Scott makes some startling personal confessions as he honestly and candidly describes his social and mental health issues, including alcohol abuse, which affected himself and his family. Deprived of the mystery, thrlll, and occasional terror of life under the sea and burnt-out, the author suffered from, well, real life, which he combatted by running and spending time in the bush. Eventually, linking continual anxiety to impacts of multiple service-related traumas and stressful job demands, he chose mental health over career protection and became willing to use support services offered by the RAN.
In the latter part of his book Scott clearly expresses his thoughts about government mismanagement of submarine programs and his perceived serious decline in Australia’s most strategic weapons platform. The inability to deploy submarines, because of extended dockside time undergoing refit and repair, or lacking experienced submariners, left the RAN without credible combat power. Scott’s comments about the government and outsourcing companies having different priorities and objectives that don’t always align with the RAN or the submarine service are heartfelt and credible.
One shortcoming in Scott’s writing is that he describes everything - the action, the jobs he held and the personal consequences of his service - only at a high level, leaving this reader with many questions and wanting more. Like a cheese sandwich without bread, tasty, but unsatisfying, it feels like a lot of description is missing and the reader is left to fill in the blanks. The latter part of the book is also prone to jargon overload and ‘middle-management’ waffle muddling several descriptions of his activities.
Scott served as a submariner during the RAN submarine service’s zenith to possibly its nadir and has clearly contributed much to his country and its security. His contributions to Strategic and Maritime Warfare thinking and RAN submarine service mission may have been partly responsible for its recent renaissance and a rise in morale.
‘Running Deep’ is an interesting book which may attract many young readers to pursue a similar career and in this regard the book achieves its goal. His memoir is a good read.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.