Think of all those submarine films from the 1940s and 1950s that turn up on the afternoon TV schedules. Submariner is like these, yet it isn’t.
Malta, summer 1942. The island has been under siege for two years. Supplies are short, but the situation is beginning to improve, and the 10th Submarine Flotilla has returned after a brief period of deployment. Among them is HMS Ursa, commanded by Lieutenant Mike Nicholson. We follow Ursa on two patrols to Sicilian waters, on the second of which she lands a party of commandos on a sabotage mission against German airfields.
Alexander Fullerton was a wartime submarine officer, and the book has a strongly factual feel to it. There are all the details with which we are familiar from those afternoon films, but the action is low-key, even when Ursa is being depth-charged. We are dealing very much with an experienced crew whose morale is high and who work smoothly as a team. Perhaps this is a more accurate reflection of the reality of submarine warfare than all those motifs we instantly think of, but it makes the book a little dull. Even the food shortages of an island under siege do not really affect the crew, as the flotilla commander has started a pig farm, and the air raids seem a long way off. The love interest is also superfluous. However, this is Fullerton’s last book – he died in February 2008 – and perhaps what he is really writing is not a novel as such but a tribute to the 10th Submarine Flotilla, or to Second World War British submariners in general.