Catalog: On the Bottom

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On the Bottom Book Cover

On the Bottom
by Commander Edward Ellsberg
Introduction by Edward L. Beach, Captain, U. S. Navy (Retired)

256 pages w/ photos, CD, & DVD
ISBN 978-0-9718303-0-1

One of the Greatest True Stories of Adventure, Dogged Determination, Courage and Loyalty Ever Written.
On the evening of September 25, 1925 the U.S. Navy Submarine S-51 was rammed by the steamship SS City of Rome in open seas off Block Island, Rhode Island, and sank in 132 feet of water, with the loss of 33 lives.

This disaster evoked such a storm of popular indignation against the Navy Department that something had to be done. It was felt that at all costs a determined attempt must be made to raise the S-51, if only to restore public confidence. No vessel had ever been raised from such a depth, and to the technical mind the thing was impossible.

The task of salvaging the submarine fell to Lieutenant Commander Edward Ellsberg and a group of naval divers scavenged from all over the fleet. It was done painstakingly over a nine month period and involved obstacle after obstacle, all the while battling rough seas, icy waters, and "the bends." Working in hard hats with lead boots, in minimal light, while dragging air lines behind them, each diver had about an hour of exhausting and terrifying work before a lengthy decompression process. It is no exaggeration to say that the impossible was achieved. Originally published in 1929, this magnificent account of the struggle on the ocean floor to salvage the sunken U.S. Navy submarine, S-51, has become a modern classic of the sea.

What was not included in Edward Ellsberg’s gripping account are specifics of the accident, the aftermath, and the extent that the event touched the nation. This expanded edition presents this and more by including an introduction, a publisher’s preface, additional photographs, an afterword, and appendixes. Also added is a recording of the period song "Sinking of the Submarine S-51," an oral history by Commander Ellsberg, and a video disc of rare on scene newsreel footage.

Acclaim for On the Bottom

"A marvelous tale, filled with moments of horrified expectancy, of glad thrills, of impossible deeds and endurances, of achievements that smack of magic."

--The New York Times

"A record of extraordinary fascination. For sheer vividness this battle with the treacherous waters has no equal in recent fiction or nonfiction. literally at times the reader holds his breath."
--William McFee in the New York Herald Tribune

"A narrative more thrilling than any imaginative tale of adventure in the dark depths of the sea. The reader is caught in the struggle so closely that he sweats and grumbles and cheers like any member of the crew".
--San Francisco Chronicle


About Edward Ellsberg

The son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Ellsberg was born in 1891 in Connecticut, but his family moved to Colorado when he was a boy. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910 and graduated first in his class in 1914. After varied service on the USS Texas, he was ordered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for postgraduate work in Naval Architecture and graduated in 1920. One of Ellsberg’s more notable assignments during his early career was solving boiler and ventilation problems aboard the passenger liner Leviathan, the former German liner Vaterland, following her conversion to oil.

In 1925 he led the salvage efforts to raise the sunken submarine USS S-51, for which he became the first sailor to earn the Distinguished Service Medal in peacetime and was promoted to Commander by a special act of Congress.

Shortly after the raising of S-51, Ellsberg entered civilian service but remained in the naval reserve. He returned to active duty briefly in December 1927, to assist with the salvage of the submarine USS S-4, which had been rammed and sunk off Cape Cod by a Coast Guard cutter.

In the late 1920s Ellsberg began his long and prolific career as a writer of naval history and fiction. On the Bottom, first published in 1929, is his account of the raising of the S-51. During this time Ellsberg wrote a novel about World War I submarines called Pigboats, which was later made into the movie Hell Below; and the important Hell on Ice, about the ill-fated U.S. Navy Jeannette expedition to the North Pole.

Ellsberg re-entered the Navy on December 8, 1941, and his World War II accomplishments in Ethiopia, North Africa and invasion of Normandy are considered his most valuable work. He chronicled his war years in the books Under the Red Sea Sun; No Banners, No Bugles; and The Far Shore.

Edward Ellsberg retired from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral. He returned to private life as a consulting engineer and continued to write and lecture. He and his wife Lucy of sixty years divided their final years between Maine and Florida. He died in 1983 at ninety-one and was buried in the cemetery at Willimantic, Connecticut.

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