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Imagine dozens of small wooden boats frantically scouring the seas for German U-boats bent on starving England into submission.

The U.S. Navy did as it entered World War I, and ordered the construction of what became a fleet of about 300 sub chasers. The 110-foot craft were equipped with depth charges, deck guns and rudimentary underwater listening devices.

Their efforts are described in “Hunters of the Steel Sharks,” by Todd Woofenden.

In describing the vessels’ design, construction and deployment, the account relies heavily on documents kept by Woofenden’s grand-uncle Lt. George Dole, who commanded one of the scrappy little craft during the war.

While larger destroyers escorted freighter convoys between the United States and Europe, the sub chasers waited, watched and listened for their prey in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Adriatic. They also helped with mine-clearing and diplomatic duties, and even participated in the ill-fated Allied intervention in the young Soviet Union in 1919.

Woofenden does a good job of weighing sub chasers’ value to the war effort. Some writers have doubted their effectiveness, citing a scarcity of evidence that they sank many U-boats. However, Woofenden points out that they were tools in the much larger effort to combat the German subs, and contributed greatly to the budding field of anti-submarine warfare.


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