Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Last Dive

A Father and Son's Fatal Descent into the Ocean's Depths

Chowdhury, Bernie

2000, Harpercollins
ISBN 0060194626
Hardcover, 356 pages

Type. Personal account
Pros. Interesting and well-written
Cons. Only marginally about the dive on U-869 referred to in the title

The "last dive" of this book’s title refers to a 1992 incident in which two divers exploring the wreck of U-Who (later identified as U-869) died of decompression sickness. The title itself is somewhat misleading; this book is more about diving in general than about this specific dive on a U-boat, and just as much about the author’s personal diving experiences as about the father-son team who died.

The book begins with an almost minute-by-minute account of the morning of what was to be a fatal dive. Next follows a rather lengthy portrait of the Rouse family - father Chris, son Chrissy, and mother Sue - who shared a common enthusiasm for sport diving. Then the author turns to an overview of the history of diving from ancient times to the present, and of more technical aspects of modern diving (air chemistry, equipment, etc.).

A large portion of the book is devoted to the author’s own experiences in cave diving, and in wreck diving off the coast of the northeastern US, with particular focus on the wreck of the Andrea Doria. The author also shares his own near-death experience from decompression sickness, his slow recovery afterward, and his struggle to understand why he is drawn (like so many others) to this dangerous sport.

Here the purpose of the book finally seems to become clear - haunted by the deaths of the Rouses and others, and by his own close call, Chowdhury struggles to analyze the attractions of technical diving, the personalities of those who pursue it, and the errors that result in loss of life or permanent disability. He cites motivations ranging from "artifact fever" to the desire to change the history books, and provides an explanation as to why some divers continue to dive on war graves:

Toward the end of the book the threads of the U-Who story are finally picked up again. Based on the hallucinatory mumblings of Chrissy Rouse a few hours before his death, and on evidence found a week later inside the wreck itself, the author reconstructs the combination of carelessness and chance events that led to father and son being forced to rush from a depth of 230 feet to the surface without any decompression stops. The final stages in positively identifying U-Who as U-869 are also summarized.

Chowdhury writes well and compellingly, but the Last Dive of the title is only a starting point for a lengthy exploration of his own and others' diving adventures and motivations. If you're interested in diving, there may be a lot in this book for you. If you are only interested in U-Who, you may be better served by viewing the documentary Hitler’s Lost Sub.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 28 Nov 2001.

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