December 2, 2002
Capt. Edward L. Beach, the skipper of the nuclear-powered submarine TRITON when it made history's first round-the-world undersea voyage in 1960 and the author of the best-selling war novel "Run Silent, Run Deep," died yesterday at his home in Washington. He was 84.
The cause was cancer, his family said.
Captain Beach, a highly decorated officer in World War II, blended the daring of a submariner with the descriptive talents of an accomplished writer. He lived a life of high adventure that he shared with readers in memoirs, novels and naval histories.
Captain Beach's submarines sank or damaged 45 enemy ships during World War II, and he wrote of undersea warfare against Japan in "Submarine!" (Holt, 1952). A passage telling of a torpedo attack in November 1942 by his submarine, TRIGGER, on a Japanese convoy of 17 ships reflected his passion for action and his ability to bring to life dramatic moments at sea:
"Four white streaks bubble out toward the convoy, and a large dark shape moves unknowingly and inexorably to meet them. The lure of the jumping trout, the thrill of the hunt, stalking the wild deer, or even hunting down the mighty king of beasts — none could hold new and unknown thrills for those of us who have watched our torpedoes as they and their huge target approach each other and finally merge together.
"The first torpedo must have missed. Count 10 for the second. WHAM! WHAM! Two flashes of yellow light stun the secret darkness. Two clouds of smoke and spume rise from alongside our target. Slowly he rolls over, men appearing magically all about, climbing down his sides, crawling over his bottom, instinctively postponing their inevitable doom."
As a writer he was best known for "Run Silent, Run Deep" (Holt, 1955), a novel that presents vivid accounts of submarine warfare against the Japanese, explores the moral dilemmas facing military commanders and tells of a rivalry between a skipper and his executive officer. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Herbert Mitgang said, "The combat passages rank with the most exciting written about any branch of service." The novel was adapted as a film starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster in 1958.
The TRITON was the largest submarine in the world at 447 feet, and the most powerful, equipped with dual nuclear reactors. When Captain Beach took it on its submerged trip around the world, he set a course similar to that of Ferdinand Magellan's sailors, who went around the world from 1519 to 1522.
The expedition was designed to measure the impact of a prolonged undersea trip on submarines and their crewmen (the TRITON carried 176 sailors and six scientists).
The TRITON left Groton, Conn., on Feb. 16, 1960, and formally began its circumnavigation eight days later at St. Paul's Rocks, near the Equator, 600 miles off the Brazilian coast.
The TRITON went around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, traversed the Pacific and Indian Oceans and completed a circumnavigation of 30,708 miles in 61 days. It finally surfaced near Delaware on May 10, 84 days after departing Groton. A helicopter flew Captain Beach to the White House, where President Eisenhower presented him with the Legion of Merit.
Edward Latimer Beach Jr. was born on April 20, 1918, in New York City, and was named for his father, a Navy captain who saw action at Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War and commanded the battleship NEW YORK, the flagship of the American Battle Squadron, in World War I.
Like his father, Captain Beach attended the Naval Academy; he graduated second in his class in 1939.
In January 1942, he joined the submarine TRIGGER as it was being outfitted in Mare Island, Calif., and served on it until May 1944, rising to executive officer, the second in command.
The TRIGGER engaged in a memorable encounter on June 10, 1943, after lying submerged in Tokyo Bay for 30 days. The officer manning the periscope spotted the Japanese aircraft carrier Hitaka on its first trial run, zig-zagging out of dockside at high speed accompanied by two destroyers. The TRIGGER fired six torpedoes, four striking the carrier, then dived to well below its customary depth as the destroyers retaliated with depth charges. Crippled by holes in its hull, the Hitaka required lengthy repairs.
In July 1944, Captain Beach joined the submarine TIRANTE, which sank nine ships on its first patrol, an action for which he received the Navy Cross.
On March 28, 1945, Captain Beach received word that the TIRANTE was to rendezvous with his old sub, the TRIGGER, for a joint patrol in the East China Sea. The TIRANTE's radio man set out to contact the TRIGGER, but it could not be reached. A postwar investigation found that the TRIGGER had been destroyed by Japanese ships and planes.
After a variety of postwar assignments, including command of a second submarine named TRIGGER, Captain Beach served as naval aide to President Eisenhower from 1953 to 1957. He retired from the Navy in 1966.
He recounted the TRITON voyage in "Around the World Submerged" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1962). In "The Wreck of the Memphis" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966), he wrote of a tidal wave off the Dominican Republic in August 1916 that swamped the cruiser Memphis, commanded by his father, killing 43 crewmen. He also wrote "Keepers of the Sea" (Naval Institute Press, 1983), an illustrated account of the modern Navy, and "The United States Navy: 200 Years" (Holt, 1986).
He is survived by his wife, Ingrid; two sons, Edward Allen Beach of Eau Claire, Wis., and Hugh Beach of Stockholm; a daughter, Ingrid Alice Beach Robertson of Nelson, New Zealand; a sister, Alice Beach of Palo Alto, Calif.; and four grandchildren.
In the final pages of "Submarine!" Captain Beach wrote of his feelings, while skipper of the submarine PIPER, when Japan surrendered: "Instead of wild exultation, a fit of the deepest despondency descended upon me. The same old thoughts were still running through my mind. Why TRIGGER, and not PIPER, or TIRANTE? What about Johnnie Moore, the man who had ordered me to submarine school against my will, back in September 1941? He had gone down as skipper of GRAYBACK, after a series of outstanding patrols.
"We had won the war. It was over — finished — and somehow I had had the incredible luck to be spared. But what little divided those of us who were alive to see this day from those of us who were not?. . .
"A call from the bridge, with a sort of wild, half chuckle to it. `Captain, Captain. Here's a message for you.' I walked swiftly forward.
"The message said: For PIPER X Message to Commanding Officer from Mrs. Beach says daughter was born August 10th X Both well X Congratulations.
"The war had come to an end, and life, for some of us, was beginning."
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