Former Charleston Post and Courier journalist James Scott of Mount Pleasant is sharing his expertise on the history of submarine warfare on a new Smithsonian Channel documentary airing Sunday night.
Scott has been named Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association, reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Indonesia, and has written several books on submarine warfare. One, Target Tokyo, was named a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Hell Below, Smithsonian Channel’s weekly documentary series looking at the nation’s submarine operations from WWII and The Cold War, premieres 9 p.m. Sunday. Click here for more information.
Scott said his fascination with submarines comes from their effect on a country’s economy.
“It’s about money,” he said. “Submarines are the perfect weapon to blockade an enemy nation’s economy, their ability to bring in resources, natural, oil, rubber, things of that nature — food even… So it’s a commerce-raider. . . That’s was one of the most fascinating experiences of studying the submarine in war.”
He said the same investigative techniques he used as a reporter are used to research his books.
“It’s a historical scavenger hunt,” he said. “You start piecing together these pieces of the story no different than you would working for a newspaper. So you spend a lot of time going through archives.”
Scott recalled how he came across a treasure trove of letters from a submarine officer who served on the U.S.S. Silversides in the Pacific Theater but died in the 1970s. Through an obituary, he tracked down the officer’s son in Maui.
“‘Im glad you called,'” he recalled the response from the son. “‘My mom passed away about a year ago and right before she died she came to me with a box. And in that box was all of my dad’s wartime letters and she told me, ‘son, hang onto these. Someday somebody’s going to want them.'”
Scott used the more than 300 letters from the officer for his book, The War Below.
“Those things pieced together that story,” he said.
On the enemy’s side, submarine warfare affected the United States convoys of supplies sent to help Great Britain and France during World War II.
“They (the Germans) were very successful in attacking our convoys, particularly early in the war,” he said.
German submarines patrolled the east coast of the United States, including South Carolina.
“South Carolina was right there in the middle of it all and we had convoys that were leaving here out of the Carolinas and the east coast that were hauling all sorts of supplies and material that were needed by Great Britain and France during World War II,” Scott said. “And so we had German U-boats literally parked in the waters right off our coast.”
“They were out there torpedoing ships and trying to destroy them,” he said. “So, it was, literally, waters off the east coast were the front lines.”
“It’s a truly unique window into this powerful point in American history and World War II history.”