Cover image for The terrible hours : the man behind the greatest submarine rescue in history
The terrible hours : the man behind the greatest submarine rescue in history
Maas, Peter, 1929-2001.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
259 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 8.6 14.0 47669.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
VA65.S68 M33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
VA65.S68 M33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
VA65.S68 M33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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On the eve of World War II, America's newest submarine plunged helplessly to the North Atlantic bottom during a test dive. Miraculously, thirty-three crew members still survived. While their wives and girlfriends waited in nearly unbearable tension on shore, their ultimate fate would depend on one man.

In this thrilling true narrative of terror, heroism and courage in the depths of a malevolent ocean, prizewinning author Peter Maas brings us in vivid detail a blow-by-blow account of the disaster and its uncertain outcome. The sub was the Squalus. The man was a U.S. Navy officer, Charles "Swede" Momsen, an extraordinary combination of visionary, scientist and man of action. Until his advent, it was accepted that if a submarine went down, her crew was doomed. But Momsen, in the face of an indifferent, often sneering naval bureaucracy, battling red tape and disbelieving naysayers every step of the way, risked his own life again and again against the unknown in his efforts to invent and pioneer every escape and rescue device, every deep-sea diving technique, to save an entombed crew. With the crippled, partially flooded Squalus lost on the North Atlantic floor, Momsen faced his personal moment of truth: Could he actually pluck those men from a watery grave? Had all his work been in vain?

The legacy of his death-defying probes into our inner space remains with us today, and in this depiction of the perseverance and triumph of the human spirit, Swede Momsen is given his rightful place in the pantheon of true American heroes.

Author Notes

Peter Maas was born in New York on June 27, 1929. He graduated from Duke University in 1949 and served in the U. S. Navy during the Korean War. After the war, he became a journalist and wrote for such magazines as Collier's, Look, Saturday Evening Post, and New York Magazine.

His nonfiction works include Marie, Manhunt, and Underboss. The Valachi Papers and Serpico were adapted into films. He died on August 23, 2001 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Maas, best known for his chronicling of the urban underworld (Underboss, Serpico, etc.), takes readers underwater for a thrilling account of the world's first rescue of a submarine. Before WWII, submariners were second-class citizens. Worse, until Charles "Swede" Momsen came along, it was standard procedure to treat downed subs as irretrievable. Fortunately for 33 men aboard the Squalus, Momsen had developed and tested pioneering rescue equipment (often at the risk of his own life) and was ready with his crew when the sub sank to a depth of 243 feet off Portsmouth, N.H., on May 23, 1939. While the captain of the Squalus kept the air slightly toxic so that his crew stayed drowsy and therefore docile, Momsen lowered his huge pear-shaped diving bell until it made contact with the sub's deck, then began to bring the men up in groups. Bad weather threatened, and then, on the last ascent, the cable tangled, and the final group of men had to be lowered to the ocean floor again and there await repairs. To the amazement of the surface crew, who had telephone contact with the occupants of the bell, they maintained morale by singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Unfortunately, 26 men had been drowned in the first few minutes of the sinking, and their bodies were not retrieved until the Squalus was recovered 113 days after the mishap. Maas anchors the gripping story in Momsen, whom he portrays as a larger-than-life hero, a brainy, brave iconoclast of the kind one associates with action movies. It's a white-knuckler of a readÄbut it's not for the claustrophobic. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-In 1939, the Navy's newest submarine, the USS Squalus, was test diving off the coast of New Hampshire when it plunged 243 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Thirty-three crew members survived but there was no known way to rescue them. The admiral in charge of the Portsmouth Navy Base called in the one man who was involved in underwater rescue work. Naval officer Charles Momsen had set up a diving lab and created a large steel rescue chamber shaped like a bell to lower from the surface to the deck of a sunken sub. The project was unfinished and not tested under any but lab conditions. Earlier, Momsen had created a forerunner of the scuba tank called the Momsen lung that divers could use to remain underwater for an extended time. He had trained a small group of divers who worked with the lung and the diving bell at his Washington Navy Yard lab. Momsen and his group responded quickly to the emergency call and boarded a navy vessel hovering over the site of the sunken sub. Overcoming many obstacles and challenges to their personal courage as well as their scientific knowledge, they were able to rescue all surviving crew within 40 hours. Alternating chapters about the trapped men, their agonized families, and the rescue team make this a riveting account that is impossible to put down.-Penny Stevens, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.