Hunters and Killers

Hunters and Killers: Volume 1

Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776-1943

Norman Polmar and Edward Whitman

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2015, 224 pages

Book Review published on: April 14, 2017

In Hunters and Killers: Volume One: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776-1943, Norman Polmar and Edward Whitman have written a fascinating description of the advances in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) from the American Revolution to the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic. This is the first book in a two-volume series describing the submarine as an asymmetric threat and the numerous countries that have developed techniques and resources to combat this subsurface weapon system.

Beginning with a description of David Bushnell’s first submarine design, the Turtle, and its attack on British warships in 1776 through the invention and fielding of the Hedgehog ASW in 1942 and the expansion of the escort carrier, Polmar and Whitman appropriately balance the fluctuation in initiative between the submarine and the resources used to combat the threat. As German submarines in World War II go from the hunter to the hunted in early 1943, this is a well-timed end to the first volume in this series.

During the first several chapters of the book, the authors describe the development of the submarine and do an excellent job describing the strategic and tactical reasons why submarines were often built and used by nations with a weaker surface navy. The submarine, used to combat blockades, provide reconnaissance and defeat unaware surface vessels, provided a valuable, relatively inexpensive resource to weaker navies that when used correctly, could achieve strategic effect. As submarines become a very real threat to surface ships in 1914 rather than just a nuisance weapon, the book then shifts to the ASW technical development and lessons learned before transitioning in the remainder of the book to the world wars.

Experts in their field of naval history and the three-dimensional strategic effect a nation’s navy can have, Polmar and Whitman have mentored and counseled both civilian and military leaders in the application of Seapower and collectively have published over fifty books and numerous articles on naval, aviation, and intelligence subjects. With today’s contemporary asymmetric threats, this is a relevant book for the security community with Polmar and Whitman’s description of how weaker adversaries will attempt to thwart our military advantages by using minimal resources.

Some other interesting topics discussed within the book are the development of the torpedo, a comparison of the role of mining operations versus submarine warfare, and an in-depth description of American innovator John Holland, widely known as a pioneer in submarine development. Although volume one covers nearly two centuries of ASW within only 224 pages, Polmar and Whitman provide an extensive and organized list of notes and references, allowing readers to expand their understanding of different topics if they desire more information. Additionally the appendix and multiple indexes provide complementary information on the countries that have made a dramatic impact in ASW and have fielded a traditional submarine force. Hunters and Killers is recommended for any naval enthusiast or individual interested in a casual understanding of ASW throughout its staggering history.

Book Review written by: Maj. Matthew Prescott, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas