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The Terrible Hours


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'A suspenseful tale of terror, courage, heroism . I couldn't put it down.' Tom Brokaw 20001218


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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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 Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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