Seventeen Fathoms Deep

Seventeen Fathoms Deep
Seventeen Fathoms Deep

Seventeen Fathoms Deep

The Saga of the Submarine S-4 Disaster
By Joseph A. Williams


304 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, Mobipocket, PDF, EPUB

Cloth, $26.95 (US $26.95) (CA $31.95)

ISBN 9781613731383

Rights: US, CA & MX

Chicago Review Press (Sep 2015)


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This is the first full-length history of the S-4 disaster, which was the first rescue attempt made of a modern submarine
The rescue divers could hear the crew tapping out a message in Morse code: “Is there any hope?” After being accidentally rammed by the Coast Guard destroyer USS Paulding on December 17, 1927, the USS S-4 submarine sank to the ocean floor off Cape Cod with all 40 crew members aboard. Only six sailors in the forward torpedo room survived the initial accident, trapped in the compartment with oxygen running out. Author and naval historian Joseph A. Williams has delved into never-revealed archival sources to tell the compelling narrative of the S-4 disaster. The book tells of the terrible diving conditions endured due to a raging winter storm; the heroic efforts of the rescue divers, including one diver who became trapped in the wreckage while trying to attach an air hose to the sunken sub. The lessons learned by the U.S. Navy improved submarine rescue technology, which resulted in subsequent successful rescues of other downed submariners.


“Mr. Williams has scavenged maritime history to unearth a forgotten and deeply unsettling story, a classic cautionary tale.”  —Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805

“In Seventeen Fathoms Deep, Joseph A. Williams brilliantly recounts the tale of a forgotten American tragedy. Taking readers back to the epochal year of 1927—the year of Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth—Williams’s vivid account of this heartbreaking submarine disaster plumbs the depths of emotion and despair. Highly recommended for readers interested in American history and maritime history, Seventeen Fathoms Deep will entertain and educate in equal measure.” —Matthew Algeo, author of The President Is a Sick Man

“Joe Williams’s gripping Seventeen Fathoms Deep fixes the 1927 loss of the submarine S-4 in its time and place and captures the desperate resolve that attended the rescue-turned-salvage. He paints full-fleshed portraits of the men at the center of the story, while making the technical and often harrowing details of hard-hat diving accessible to the layman. He also does a fine job of showing what the recovery effort meant for the careers of the people involved, and for the submarine service as a whole.” —Lincoln Paine, author of The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World

“A worthwhile purchase for fans of such recent best sellers as Erik Larson’s Dead Wake and Hampton Sides’s In the Kingdom of Ice.”  —Library Journal Xpress

“[Williams'] recreation of the S-4 disaster is absorbing, lucid and paced like a novel.” —The Day

“This book presents an engaging story […] Offers a lucid picture of the dangers involved in rescue and salvage diving and the inherent perils of submarine service.” —The Journal of America's Military Past

Author Biography

Joseph A. Williams is the deputy director of the Greenwich (Connecticut) Public Library and the author of Four Years Before the Mast: A History of New York’s Maritime College. He lives in Harrison, New York.