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Book Review: Resurrection

Resurrection: Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor by Daniel Madsen


Salvage workers. Gas masks are worn as a precaution against lethal Hydrogen Sulphide gas.

The Japanese attack left the US Pacific Fleet in a dreadful state. USS Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma were total losses. USS West Virginia, California and Nevada were also sunk and not much better. USS Tennessee and Maryland, only lightly damaged, were pinned to the wharves by the sunken West Virginia and Oklahoma. Many smaller ships were sunk or badly damaged, including the urgently needed repair ship USS Vestal.

A special organisation was formed to salvage the fleet and this is their story. And a harrowing one it is. The salvage divers and workers toiled in appalling conditions of oil and filth. The work was dangerous too; two men died after being overcome by deadly Hydrogen Sulphide gas from the decomposition of organic material, including bodies

Most dangerous of all was the work of the salvage divers, who had to make hundreds of dives, opening and closing watertight doors, in dark, murky waters full of debris which could small their faceplates or tear holes in their suits when any leak could expose them to the lethal Hydrogen Sulphide. One was trapped for hours when machinery fell on him. Another fell through a gaping hole. Special procedures were hammered out to minimise the hazards but two divers died. In all, seven men lost their lives in the salvage effort

And then there was the horror. Buckling to pressure from relatives, Washington ordered an attempt at recovering some of the 1,177 bodies from the Arizona. Some 45 were removed but were headless and with extremities rotted to the bone. None could be identified. Thereafter, the dead were left where they were.

Some 70 tons of rotting meat and dairy stores were removed from West Virginia by pumping the contents of the meat locker out onto a garbage scow.

Yet morale never sank lower among the divers than when they discovered that trapped men had still been alive on West Virginia two weeks after the attack.

This is a superb book, a fitting tribute to the salvage divers and the men

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