World War II tales of submarines

Veterans and their friends have given me more than an armful of books about war and the military over the years. One of the gifts I got this year was written by a Navy veteran from Allentown and printed by a military history publisher, indicating the author was a skilled writer.

The book is War in the Boats: My WWII Submarine Battles, by retired Capt. William J. Ruhe, published in 1994 by Brassey’s, now Potomac Books, with a foreword by Tom Clancy. Ruhe was a technical adviser for Clancy’s thriller The Hunt for Red October.

War in the Boats was based on a journal Ruhe kept, in which he wrote about eight patrols against the Japanese in the South Pacific. The Washington Times called it “The human side of submarine warfare…exciting reading.” He also wrote Slow Dance to Pearl Harbor: A Tin Can Ensign in Prewar America.

Even though I’ve been working at The Morning Call of Allentown for 28 years, I’d never heard of Ruhe. But a check of the newspaper’s archives showed we’d written about him in the mid 1990s, when he was living in McLean, Va.

Ruhe was the son of a longtime editor of The Morning Call, Percy Ruhe, and could sing and dance. At the University of Pittsburgh, which he attended, he once tap-danced with Gene Kelly. For years he sang in barbershop quartets. He wrote a song, “Take Her Down,” for the submarine service.

A 1939 Naval Academy graduate, Ruhe was a submarine captain in the war, skipper of the Sturgeon, and received three Silver Stars. He also served on other subs and on surface vessels. He went on to run the Naval Reserve Center in Allentown, edit Submarine Review and direct marine programs for submarine maker General Dynamics.

One of The Morning Call stories about Ruhe is his obituary. He died Nov. 4, 2003, at his home in McLean at age 88.

His War in the Boats book sits on the “need to read” pile on my desk, along with a submarine book someone gave me years ago, 1969’s Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II, by former U-boat commander Herbert A. Werner.

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