Alexander Fullerton: Surface!

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Alexander Fullerton Surface!
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Surface!: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The original novel of submarine warfare, available for the first time as an ebook after selling over half a million copies in its original editions. Written with a blazing intensity, it is a stirring and compellingly authentic journey through the greatest conflict in history, drawing upon the author’s first-hand experience. Get ready for adventure! Surface! This is life on HMS : routine and special operations; boarding Chinese junks; creeping through minefields; engaging a Japanese cruiser; evading depth charges; returning to the port of Ceylon and the Depot Ship; and then off again into action with unerring zeal. But can they keep evading tragedy forever? And if the war ends, will they really be able to cope with life on the surface?

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Alexander Fullerton


To A. H.

Publisher’s Note, 2017

Originally published in 1953, this book contains views and language on nationality and ethnicity which are a product of the time. The publishers do not endorse or support these views, but they have been retained in order to preserve the integrity of the text.

Author’s Note, 1953

This story is the product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity between characters mentioned in the story, and actual persons, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Nor is there any connection between the ships and submarines which are mentioned in this story and any ships or submarines which actually existed. True, there was a flotilla of submarines with their Depot Ship at Trincomali, in Ceylon: but the flotilla described here is entirely imaginary, and none of the officers or men of that flotilla are represented in any way in this book.


One summer evening, a few years ago, three or four of us were leaning on the rail outside the Wardroom of a submarine Depot Ship. We stood smoking cigarettes and looking down on our submarines which lay alongside. It was just after tea, and we were the Duty Officers of those submarines. You had been dead a year.

One said, “It’s time someone wrote a novel about life in submarines. There have always been lots of books about surface ships: people’d be bound to be interested in these things.”

“Don’t think it could be done. The story would be so enclosed, so limited.”

“Yes,” agreed another. “And it’d be damned hard not to bring in all sorts of technicalities that’d be more than most people would trouble to read.”

I said that I thought it could be done, one way or another. I’d thought about it, for a year.

“Have a go, old boy. But if you get it published, I’ll eat my hat and give you a fiver into the bargain.”

Well, I’ve tried, and this is it. I wish I could remember who it was that laid the bet: I’d like to see anyone trying to digest a well-used submariner’s cap, and what’s more I’d have that fiver. Nobody could say then that the book hadn’t paid. Everything has to pay, in peace-time: that’s one of the things you learn.

But that conversation was not the real reason for doing this thing. It was only the excuse for letting go on something that I’d wanted to do ever since I’d heard that you had been killed, so unnecessarily, in an accident, when the war was over. A stupid way for you to die. You would so much rather have had it in the way that you had so often seen it coming. But you were too good for them, then. They got you a mean way: alone, out of your element: none of us were there to share it with you.

So I wrote this. It’s an odd sort of wreath for you, Sir: but you wouldn’t have wanted flowers.

Chapter 1

The submarine creeps quietly along, patrolling a mile or so off the coast of Sumatra, in the Straits of Malacca. This is the northern end, the widest part, the entrance to the Straits.

A fisherman on the shore stands for a moment staring out across the water that lies beyond the mud-banks. He is emaciated, this man, and clothed in rags, because most of the fish he catches are taken to feed the Japanese occupying troops. Lately they have increased their demands, since junk after junk, laden with rice and other food, has failed to arrive in the river-mouth. Some of the junks’ crews, landing later in fishing-boats to which they have been transferred, have carried strange tales of Englishmen boarding them in the middle of the silent night, taking them into their ships which float under water, and later putting them into any other smaller craft that they have encountered. They were given fine food in the Englishmen’s ships, and some have said that they would be happy to repeat the experience.

The fisherman cannot understand these things. Turning slowly away towards the fringe of palm-trees, he remembers the pall of smoke that darkened the horizon a few days ago. The Japanese were always more angry when these things happened: no man could call anything his own, in Sumatra, when the Japanese were angry.

A haze of heat hangs over the mud-banks. There has been no breath of wind for many days.

* * *

Thirty feet under the surface of the Straits a young man lay dreaming on his bunk: he lay on his back, moving as little and as seldom as was possible, following the habit that he had learned in the interests of keeping cool. There was little comfort in a bunk soaking and reeking of sweat, even when it was your own. Yet this bunk was comfortable: he knew it well, saw it as a sort of haven in which he could think his own thoughts, dream his own dreams. On patrol, the bunk was the nearest, the only approach to privacy. There were five bunks lining the sides of the submarine’s tiny wardroom, and the space was such that any two officers could have stretched out their arms from their respective bunks and shaken hands across the wardroom table. When you were used to it, the lack of space was no disadvantage: you learnt to take up as little room as possible, you learnt to do what you needed to do with a minimum of inconvenience to your fellows.

You learnt to lie in your bunk and dream. Many people more or less live on dreams, and most people entertain them to a greater or lesser degree. At periscope depth the silence and the warm inaction of being off watch are conducive to deep and happy dreaming: being young, wanting something softer than steel, more understanding than regulations, you dream mostly about the next leave and about getting back to England, the girl on leave and the girl in England being of course distinctly different people. The one on leave is in Kandy, the ancient capital of Ceylon, where unless you’ve had the best part of a bottle during the evening you’re liable to be woken and kept awake by the drums from the Temple of the Tooth. This girl in Kandy is surrounded by at least four hundred other officers who appreciate her as much as you do, and as a result the drums are rarely loud enough to wake you up, which is in its way a consolation. The girl in England is in many ways quite different, one of the ways being that she is fond of you, worries about you: she writes letters frequently, and she has none of the attraction of the girl on leave. She is, however, linked in your dreams with an old car, freedom of movement in a countryside dotted with your favourite pubs, the fact that you can rub your hand along the old wood of one of her father’s five-barred gates and feel all England under your hand. That’ll be when the war’s over, and another dream is the actual going home and telling them you’re on the way. This one takes you to sleep, where a real dream tells you there’s a target, and when Jimmy wakes you by kicking you in the side as he slides down from his bunk, it’s true, there’s a target and the order’s Diving Stations, stand by Gun Action for the nineteenth time.

A coaster steaming through the Straits with food for a Jap garrison, shells for Jap guns, clothes and comforts for Jap soldiers, and it’s going nowhere except to the bottom. From forty feet the submarine comes up like a cork, a rocket that hits the surface in an explosion of flying spray, wallows with the water streaming off her flanks. The hatches were open when they were level with the water, and the first thing the coaster knows of it is a shell that smacks in below the bridge: if they had a chance of living, that’d teach them to keep a better lookout. The shell kills the helmsman, smashes the steering-gear, and the coaster begins to swing off her course.

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