1934-10 Death in Silver

Cover Date: October 1934
Volume 4 # 2
Copyright Date: September 21, 1934
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains nine folders for this story, f.206-214
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

Death in Silver by Kenneth Robeson
Dead Man’s Bullet by Hal Field Leslie
Valley of the Lost by Richard Wormser

Doc Savage Portrait: Coupon Number 6

Doc Savage Club
– How Much Good
– The United States Under a Sheet of Ice
– Vampire Bats
– Modern Adventures

From Our Members

This is another pirate story, but it is operating on two different levels. On the surface a criminal gang is terrorizing New York City with a vicious streak of robberies and murders. It turns out that their secret getaway vehicle is a submarine used to escape under the cover of the Hudson River. Piracy exists in a second variety in the story in the form of a stock scheme.

The pirate submarine fires a shell from a three-inch gun into Paine L. Winthrop’s private office. Doc identifies the explosive as trinitrotoluene. The gun crew on the submarine scores high points for marksmanship, hitting their target with the first round. They are a well-trained and dangerous gang.

Gadgets: Wrist watches play an important part in the story. These devices show up again in a more sophisticate roles in “The Merchants of Disaster.”

Doc Savage had earlier used a wristwatch television device in “Pirate of the Pacific,” but it was not a communicator per se. The idea of a watch as a secret communication device also appeared in “The Skylark of Space” by E. E. Smith which was first published in serial form in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories. In this story, Brookings, the general manager of the World Steel Corporation uses a watch-like device to secretly communicate with his underlings.

On January 9, 1933, American inventor and engineer Kate Gleason died from pneumonia. Kate Gleason was an extraordinary person and gifted engineer. She was the first woman ever admitted to Cornell University’s engineering program. Her family ran a machine tool company where she learned the intricacies of mechanical engineering at a young age. She was also the first woman to achieve full membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. During World War I she became a bank president. Her death was mentioned in the January 23, 1933, issue of Time Magazine. Her will provided for the dispersion of her personal estate to public institutions and universities. Lester Dent tips his hat and creates a capable female manager in the person of Lorna Zane. She is Paine L. Winthrop’s secretary but what she really does is manage his shipyard.

The Destruction of the Helldiver:
Incidentally, this is the last time the Helldiver is ever named in a Doc Savage story. It seems certain that the trusty craft was destroyed by the naval mine Ull’s men left in it. It is explained that this is the same type of mine used by the Coast Guard to destroy wrecks. Given the fact that the Helldiver was flooded, and that water is virtually incompressible it makes it very unlikely that the submarine was worth salvaging.

Upon reconsideration, I have to revise this idea. The story explains that after Doc appeared to drown and sank into the interior of the Helldiver, he obtained a diving lung from one of the boat’s lockers. He exited the Helldiver and moved to the top of the other submarine. The story explains that Doc Savage did all this without great difficulty. It would have added only a few seconds to his task if he had grabbed the naval mine on his way out. The device was equipped with a clockwork mechanism. This would allow Doc Savage to see how much time was available before it detonated. He then only had to carry the device along with him on the submarine once it was underway for some twenty seconds or so before casting it away.

The United States Navy began building Porpoise-class submarines in 1933. These boats had a top underwater speed of 8 knots or 9.2 mph. Incidentally, these submarines were equipped with a three-inch deck gun which matches the kind used in the story. Ten seconds of travel at top speed would cover more than one hundred feet. Furthermore, we are told that water is not very deep. These factors would all lessen the damaging effect of the explosive mine.

USS Porpoise: SS-172

The Wikipedia article on Depth Charges notes the uselessness of explosions in shallow water: “Consequently, explosions where the depth charge is detonated at a shallow depth and the gas bubble vents into the atmosphere very soon after the detonation are quite ineffective, even though they are more dramatic and therefore preferred in movies.”

Harold Davis’ story, “Devils of the Death” published in October 1940, has a submarine very similar to the Helldiver but it is never named as such.