Undersea Warriors: The Untold History of the Royal Navy’s “Secret Service, by Iain Ballantyne, Pegasus Books, New York, 2019, $35

Many historians date the end of the Cold War to the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany 30 years ago. To this day, however, many military operations carried on during that fraught and dangerous era remain shrouded in secrecy. Undersea Warriors lifts at least a corner of the veil regarding the role played by Britain’s Royal Navy submarine service. While not as numerous as their U.S. Navy co-belligerents, British submarines nevertheless were kept very busy during the Cold War.

Undersea Warriors explores in detail the little-reported exploits of British intelligence and ballistic missile submariners during the Cold War through the experiences of four commanders at the sharp end of such operations, whom author Iain Ballantyne writes possessed “steely courage and technical competence, not forgetting an ability to think fast—and to come up with solutions to problems that only a nonconformist mind could find.” Much of the material in the book was previously classified.

A prolific author of books and articles on naval matters, Ballantyne has extensive firsthand knowledge of his subject. He also has a facility for rendering nonfiction into a narrative as brisk and readable as a novel. In fact, some of the events recounted in his book may have inspired novels. Part action-adventure and part spy thriller, Undersea Warriors blends the writing approaches of C.S. Forester and John le Carré to reveal a world of which few outsiders have been aware.

—Robert Guttman