RUSSIAN SUBS IN WW II
Commander Compton-Hall’s letter on the Oct. 1985 book review of Russian Submarines in Arctic Waters seems to have gone a bit overboard. He calls the book “a straight PH/propaganda effort, thoroughly unreliable and stocked with gross exaggerations of success” — “easily disproved with certainty.” And, that the reviewer of this book was taken in by the book’s disinformation.
As the reviewer, my main purpose was to point out to our own submariners the trials and tribulations in the Soviet submarine force which were so similar to our own. While I realized that the accuracy of most war stories is suspect, I feel that in fact, Kolyshkin’s description of submarine successes for the northern submarine force during WW II are relatively modest. For example, only one Nazi sub was mentioned as having been sunk, winning the skipper a highly-rated medal, while Compton-Hall notes that at least two German subs were sunk by the northern sub force, and other medals were awarded to skippers for sinking a couple of merchantmen. These are hardly gross exaggerations.
Additional support for the Russian submarine effort is in the account of the Russian S-13’s sinkings in early 1945 — detailed by Michael Martin in his story of the sinking of the WILHELM GUSTLOFF, in the Retired Officer magazine, January, 1986. As related, the German’s GUSTLOFF, a 25,000-ton ocean liner with 6,050 people aboard Can official count) was sunk in the Baltic by the S-13’s torpedoes. Then, it is noted that in February the S-13 sank the 17,000-ton GENERAL STEUBEN with a loss of 3,000 lives, and in April the GOYA was sunk by a submarine’s torpedoes with a loss of life of some 7,000 people. It was also noted in this account that S-13 held the tonnage record for Russian submarines. This was a modest score, but not to be casually written off, as Compton-Hall would try to persuade SUBMARINE REVIEW readers to do — with his statement that “by any standards, and shed of niceties, the Soviet submarine record in WW II was appalling.”
The January 1986 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW contained an article that fell far short of what you generally include. The need for additional phone lines to inport SSNs is not a surprise or a subject of debate. I personally know that a tender CO and Squadron Commander find that personal visits to the ships by their shop supervisors rather than desk-borne phone checks are beneficial to getting the job done correctly. It also works best when the submarine JO shows interest in what’s going on by occasionally visiting the Repair Department offices on the tender or base.
Anyone who thinks that an “official turnover (to a relief crew) could be carried out within hours of (an SSN’s) return to port” is not familiar with the complexity of today’s nuclear submarine, has no concept of the legal requirements for operating nuclear plants or safeguarding classified material, or perhaps had a momentary loss of memory of what went on during his twenty-four years of riding submarines. The Blue and Gold crews have been working on streamlining the turnover procedure for 25 years. If that 3 day ordeal can now be “carried out within hours of return to port,” then I certainly salute those marvelous young officers and men we have down on the waterfronts.
Captain c. G. Foster, Jr., USH(Ret.)
AN MHD TRANSDUCER
In reading the latest Review, I found the article on new submarine power plants most interesting, particularly the speculation on use of seawater MHD for propulsion. I have a patent, the result of some research done at McDonnell by my group in the dim dark past on an MHO type of sonar transducer.
Using Lorenz effect to drive the seawater core of the transducer, we were able to get good results at low power for limited sound transmission through the water with reasonable efficiency. The work in this area, slanted toward propulsion, did run into problems of basic physics and chemistry, in particular the effect of electrolysis due to the rather strong current required through the water. This added to the already serious problem or cavitation which occurred in the low pressure area at the front end of the beast. We concluded that, far from being quiet, this method of propulsion would be extremely noisy for any useable thrust, even using tbe extra field strength of super-cooled magnets. Maybe someone has come up with the answer to these problems, but I’ve seen no indication in the literature.
THE SSN-21 AND THE U.S. MARITIME STRATEGY
Phoenix served up some rather heady wine in his article, THE SSN-21 and U.S. MARITIME STRATEGY, by underestimating the upstream technological miracles and the high degree of Soviet cooperation, that will be required in order for SSN-21 to perform the various missions described.
Considering the basis of the author’s contentions relative to the u.s. maritime strategy, can we rely on the Soviets to provide SSN-21 with a target rich hunting ground — in the so called bastion — after the onset of hostilities? For them to allow this would be precedent setting in the misuse of sea power.
Russians are aware that historically, naval warfare is won through offensive — not defensive — action. Submarine campaigns in particular proved to be most productive when stealth was used to offset enemy control of the oceans surface in the forward areas. Soviet assets, VICTOR III, OSCAR, MIKE and SIERRA feature high speed, long range, low radiated noise and excellent weapons to perform effectively in the broad reaches of the oceans. There, with the aid of space-based surveillance systems and organic onboard sensors, these Soviet submarines should have excellent locating information on U.S. surface forces. Why then, would the Soviets permit their “free rides” to combat zones — particularly when their access to U.S. carrier battle groups extends oceanwide? Logic dictates otherwise. Prepositioning of Soviet SSNs along anticipated routes of u.s. surface forces before the onset of hostilities will make the most effective use of this asset.
Given the u .. s. “predilection to permit a foe to strike the first blow”, as stated recently by Admiral Al Whittle in a recent speech, the Soviets can prevent u.s. destruction of their SSNs in Russian home waters simply by moving them out to sea before the shooting starts.
Further, Phoenix departs from a pure bastion theory with establishment of a requirement for SSN-21s to “ensure control of the worlds ocean for logistic resupply of engaged forces.” However, the technological advances required to perform many of the described SSN-21 tasks will indeed be remarkable.
Although the U.S. maritime strategy is not Phoenix’s child, it is worthy to note that the last time our Navy bet everything on it’s anticipation of the opponent’s plans instead of on known capabilities, the result was a Pearl Harbor. We would do well to remember that.
CAPT D. M. Ulmer, USN(Ret.)
A SILENT SERVICE?
In my new career as an independent consultant I’ve had to deal with military information which was advertised as very classified and extremely sensitive. Since my training as a “nuke” has hopelessly contaminated me with the irrational notion that one shouldn’t talk about a subject he doesn’t understand, I felt obliged to learn about various subjects from open literature.
There was no lack of defense-related journals from which I could compile a great deal about the “classified” projects I was a consultant for. In fact, the first “deliverable” to one of my customers was a compilation of all that I’d been able to piece together about their “secret” field of endeavor. The last paragraph contained some rather smug remarks about how well the “Silent Service” has managed to keep their business out of print and among themselves.
When I subsequently tuned in on conversations in public places like Providence’s Greene Airport, the plane taking me to Washington, and then the concourse at National Airport, what I heard relative to SUBACS, the SSN-21 and weapon and sensor characteristics embarrassed me as a submariner.
As a young submariner, I remember my XO taking a JO seriously to task for mentioning TOTO, the “tongue or the ocean,” a1.. a wardroom party. It was used in regard to submarines going there for sound trials. Even though such matters have passed into the public domain, I still have twinges of concern when words such as “towed array” or “narrowband” are used in public.
The submarine service still has an enviable reputation tor not airing their problems or their secrets in public. I would like to think, with a little effort on the part or all or us, we can still personify the image or “where did you go?• “Nowhere!;” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” We certainly ought not come down on those who write fascinating pieces of fiction, but perhaps we should speak harshly to those whose prior duties make them feel qualified to be “technical advisors” to such authors.[Ed. Note: This letter was sent in unsigned and appears to be a tactful appeal to shut down the SUBMARINE REVIEW for the sake or having a “silent service,” which is better orr that way. Fiction indeed? ]
WW II EXPERIENCE — USEFUL TODAY?
I think it’s appropriate to comment on the differences between submarining in our days and in the modern nuclear age. The REVIEW at times seems to inter that the nuclear skippers can benefit from the experience or those of us who took diesel submarines to sea against the enemy in wartime. However, there is a vast difference. It is somewhat analogous to the shift from sail to steam — only in reverse. The sailing ship was slow and ineffective but she was self-sufficient and could keep to sea for long periods. A naval officer was first a seaman, next a warrior and never much of a logistician. The steam warship became much more effective but she lost ner se~f-sufficiency. She was tied to her refueling facilities. Power could carry her through situations where sail was helpless and the need for good seamanship diminished.
In the nuclear submarine the need for seamanship, as we knew it, has dwindled close to zero. The officers come directly from the Academy through nuclear school to the boats. In the latest “SHIPMATE” the Superintendent stated that cross-training between surface and submarine navies is no longer practical. These officers are not seamen in the proper sense of the word. They dive when they pass the forty fathom curve and are divorced from the surface for their whole cruise. They are, perhaps, “undersea men.”
The principles of command responsibility remain the same, of course. So I feel that the present submarine commander is not likely to appreciate any lectures on these principles from the old “fire-eaters” of World War II.
Recently I took a bus load of Navy Leaguers to MacDill Air Force Base for a briefing on the tactical training Wing which provides qualification for all F 16 fighter pilots.
This focused attention on the dogfight for aircraft and my attention on the submarine “melee”.
John Leonard’s article has a lot of serious thought and we should heed the advice therein. I differ somewhat from his approach which he defines as “a confused, general hand-to-hand fight, a rumble, a free-for-all, a dog fight, or a firefight.” I just don’t believe that our sub vs sub tactics will ever degenerate into this kind of mass confusion involving even possibly a large number of subs on both sides.
Air superiority is gained or challenged by such tactics and US Air Force tactical training is guided by such circumstances. For example, in a plane at mach 2 the pilot will shoot himself down (traveling faster than his weapons!) before he can attack the enemy. The pilot cannot afford even a split second to look down at his gauges -so the plane has a pod which projects ~ information onto his canopy. He looks through it.
The phrase used at the last Submarine League meeting was “submarine submerged superiority.”
There may be more than 2 or 3 subs battling each other in the “melee”, but I think it will be very much controlled, precise and cautious — and while tragking more than one enemy, the attack will involve but one sub at a time — but being ready to shift quickly to the next target.
What this implies, is constant training in the skillful use of all available detection instruments, correlating tactics to achieve a favorable attack position for whatever weapon system is selected.
Chuck Yaeger approached his training of pilots with this philosophy, demonstrating that even with planes which are marginally inferior, it would be possible to engage the enemy and “wax him” — one plane at a time.
I accept the premise that the enemy will have subs as quiet as ours, that they will have sonars as capable, and a variety of good weapons. Therefore we can expect chance encounters.
With the judicious use of decoys and a crew that has trained again and again in the immediate response to a contact, I have sufficient prejudice to believe that our subs will have an advantage.
Leonard says “Our ability to sustain a significant edge over opposing submarines is strictly dependent upon technology and tactice.” Absolutelyl I recall with great clarity the special missions or COs like Al Kelln, Steve White and others who evolved the tactics and the skillful use of detection and surveillance systems. I trust the same effort is being applied today.