THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
Reviewed by CAPT. Bill Norris
Dan Gillcrist. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse,
Inc. 2006. 249pp. Illus. Glossary.
In a way the forward to this book should not be read until the
reader has finished the book. It maintains a zero angle in
summarizing the many fine and varied interviews that Dan
Gillcrist has gathered. The book portrays the Power Shift for what
it was; a transformation of the Submarine Force from diesel boats to
nuclear power. It was an inevitable transformation driven by
technology and the book tells of the price paid and rewards won by
the people during such a transformation.
This is a trade publication and it will mean different things to
different generations of submariners. Those who were submariners
before there were nuclear submarines will enjoy the interviews about
how it used to be when the world was pure. Those who lived through
the transformation as diesel submariners and who didn’t convert, for
whatever reason, will find solace either in the interviews with the
DBF’ers or those who understood necessity for the course of events.
Those who lived through the transformation, either as nuclear
submariners or those who converted to nuclear submarines, will
relive the difficulties of a transformation of men and machinery.
Those who never really knew a diesel submarine or a diesel
submariner will feel they are reading about today’s disputes between
warfare communities, maybe even in an internecine sense, but at
least the world is now pure again.
A few personal reflections:
Life is not fair, especially to those caught in transformation.
Many who entered the Submarine Force after World War II
were joining a very elite group that had played a key role in
the defeat of the enemy (and we should always treasure that
heritage). To many of these, the advent of nuclear submarines
turned many super careers into fine or average careers
regardless of their real performance. It also began the end of
an era, and many good people are always lost in such a
Those that started the Power Shift had a tough time not only
because they had a great legacy to try to build on, but with nuclear
power came an awesome responsibility. That required hard work that
was beyond what the post World War II diesel boat was experiencing.
But without that transition to nuclear submarines and that hard
early work, the Submarine Force would have not been able to
maintain its elite position (By the way, it’s still hard work). There
were too many advantages to a true submersible that could be further
enhanced by the increased design space and electrical and propulsion
power available. And thus, just as in World War II, submarines were
a key element in the victory in the Cold War.
In every fleet and organization there are good and not so good
ships and parts. Most of us served in both. There were good and not
so good leaders in diesel boats and in nuclear submarines as well.
One ship or organization does not stay good or not so good. People
can and do change things. Whether ships or organizations are good
or not so good, the experiences are what made us better, if we
learned from them.
The camaraderie of the diesel submariners seems to be played
much better than that of the nuclear submariners. Just as there was
a Power Shift from diesel to nuclear, there was a change in what
people saw as camaraderie. The harder work needed to make nuclear
submarines a success begat a different closeness. Looking back, I
would have judged the camaraderie on the diesel submarine I served
on as fourth (of six submarines). I would bet that other submariners
who have served on both sides of the Power Shift would vary and
run the gamut from top to bottom.
There have been many who have written chronicles of Admiral
Rickover. Dan adds some balanced anecdotes to the collection. A lot
is made of whether Admiral Rickover stayed too long. Maybe he did,
but where would we be today if he hadn’t started us out with his firm
hand and high standards. One should also not discount the Grand
Dolphins of OP-02 who never received much credit but worked so
hard to marry the right operational tools to the nuclear propulsion
system, and also served as a check and a sounding board for Admiral
Power Shift reveals many tales across the submarine spectrum.
Every time one listens to the stories of the experiments, such as with
pancake diesels, you suffer with the crew. The NAUTILUS
experiment and the others of the early nuclear Submarine Force were
equally painful for those crews. Many of Dan Gillcrist’s interviews
will stir memories, good and not so good. Great credit goes to Dan
for his perseverance in telling a story that spans a generation of
submariners and submarines.
Power Shift is neither a great book nor a classic. It is a book
worth reading for the human stories about the Power Shift that Dan
Gillcrist has brought to light and life. We older submariners will
enjoy it more. We will all have our favorite stories within its covers.
We will disagree with some of the portrayals and resonate with
others. We will find lost shipmates and contemporaries and friends.
We will remember similar tales from our past. This is another piece
of our great submarine tradition.