CONTROL OF SUBMARINES IN OPERATIONS ON ENEMY SEA LANES[Ed. Note: This is an astute Soviet article, apparently designed to indicate how submarine control should be exercised today.]
Many questions of the theory of naval art in the war years have been studied, analyzed, and clarified in the postwar period. One of them is the control of submarine forces in general and in operations on enemy sea lanes in particular. A careful analysis of this experience and skillful utilization of it will unquestionably promote refinement of the theory and practice of controlling submarines. It is very relevant here to recall the wise words of V. I. Lenin, 11 It is impossible to learn how to perform missions with new procedures today if yesterday’s experience has not opened our eyes.”
Combat operations on sea lanes in World War II were begun from the very first days of the war, but results were comparatively meager. This can be explained by the following considerations: low intensity of enemy maritime shipping and inadequate reconnaissance information on enemy operations at sea; underestimation of the danger of mines, failure to take account of combat experience with the use of submarines in World War I and the initial phase of World War II; and the lack of unified, smooth-working control organs.
However, as the submariners acquired combat experience, improved the quality of tactical training for commanding officers, and especially refined the methods of using submarines, they became more successful with each month.
Submarines operated under different conditions in different theaters. In various theaters, submarines had to operate under conditions of counteraction by the enemy, who sent all available ASW forces and means against them. In the North, for example. patrols were deployed near the basea, ports and on the approaches. Enemy ships and aircraft patrolled certain sectors of coastal sea lanes. Within a month after the start of the war the enemy switched to a system of convoys, usually consisting of 2-~ transports sailing in singlecolumn formation escorted by 3-~ ships and one or two aircraft. Moreover, all the German coastal sea lanes were protected on the seaward side by mine fields.
The Soviet submarines in all theaters patrolled in small areas located in shallow water and in the immediate vicinity of coasts occupied by the enemy and provided with submarine detection equipment. Up to 40 percent of submarine endurance was used transiting to the regions of combat operation. And, although the submarines were up to the standards of that time, their sailing range and independent cruise capability were low.
On the eve of the war and in its very first phase, submarines were controlled by fleet commanders. This centralization of the organization of control followed from the views adopted in prewar years concerning the use of submarines in combat .
Organizationally speaking, the submarines of the navy were grouped in brigades and divisions. The brigade, the highest operational-tactical unit. consisted of 3-5 divisions (a total of 20-25 submarines) and was beaded by a commanding officer subordinate to the military council of the navy. The division was the lowest tactical unit and included 6-9 submarines.
During peacetime the brigade commanding officers were usually not involved in the process of combat and operational training for performing the missions of controlling submarines at sea. They were only assigned to train crel-7S and ships for combat operations and to organize repair and restoration of their fighting effectiveness after returning from combat missions.
When the war got unden.1ay however, the control of submarines in all three active fleets was transferred partially (in the Baltic Fleet) or entirely (in the other fleets) to the brigade commanding officers who, although they were the best prepared specialists, had significant difficulties at first organizing and waging combat operations. This was a result of the lack of experience and the lack of trained control organizations. Specifically, the brigade headquarters did not have specialists in operational and reconnaissance training. Moreover, the tacticaltechnical performance and condition of the submarines in the prewar period did not fully correspond to the missions that they were assigned. Experience showed that the process of controlling submarines is complex and demands high qualifications from all who participate in it.
Full-fledged operational control demands a clear idea of the conditions in which combat operations are taking place, a knowledge of the specific conditions of the use of forces, and constant refinement and adaptation of tactics depending on how the situation develops. It is essential to give submarines full and accurate information on the enemy at the right time, to organize the process of guiding them to convoys, and to lead them away from strikes by escort forces. It was necessary to continuously summarize combat experience and anticipate the development and changes in the operational situation in the theater and the region.
Control was made complex by the specific operational-tactical properties of the diesel submarines, the remoteness of the regions of their combat operations from their bases, and the impossibility of using other naval forces there. There were also difficulties with organizing reliable underwater communications among submerged submarines and radio communication with cooperating forces and the control organization.
The functions of operational control at sea were then assigned to the commanding officer of the submarine brigade and his staff in addition to the missions of preparing the subs for performance of combat missions and restoring their fighting effectiveness after their return from the mission. As a result, brigade commanding officers at the start of the war used the simplest methods. In the course of the war they acquired skills in operational control, refined methods of operation in attacking the enemy and overcoming his resistance, and devised new methods. A directorate was formed in the Main Naval Staff, and submarine departments were organized at the headquarters of the fleets to summarize experience as to the use of submarines in combat and to direct the operational-tactical training of command personnel.
At first, submarines in all fleets were used according to prewar ideas, chiefly the positional method where each sub was assigned a patrol area of about 25 miles on a side, within which it was to wait for the appearance of the enemy. No provision was mad~ in this system for guiding subs to a target that had been detected.
There were a number of reasons for this. The fleets did not have reconnaissance personnel and equipment which could work in the interests of submarines, nor did they have stable operational communications with the subs. The brigade command had no experience using submarines in other ways. And the patrol area method was simple to organize. It made it possible to know the location of the subs at all times and alleviated fear that they would attack one another. In addition, it was considered necessary to assign a position if other naval forces were supposed to operate in the vicinity.
Meanwhile the amount of enemy maritime shipping increased and it became more and more important to disrupt it. The fleets searched for new forms and methods of using their forces. They began switching to commerce-raiding patrols of submarines in large regions of the theater and to the positional-maneuvering method. The introduction of these methods expanded the initiative of submarine captains. They could bunt actively for enemy ships and transports at sea. The effectiveness of submarine operations rose.
This made it possible to operate against the enemy in a large sector or his sea lanes with a limited complement or forces in the particular theater. The desire to constantly increase attacks against enemy warships and maritime shipping, especially in those cases where this was dictated by the situation on the coastal flanks of ground forces, led to constant refinement of the forms and methods of using submarines and controlling them. For example, 2-3 subs were required to destroy a small German convoy if the subs attacked it simultaneously or in sequence at intervals which prevented the enemy from restoring his defense or thwarting the attack of other ships. To achieve this the subs were used in a group, and guidance to the target was handled by the commanding officer of the group until the moment that the torpedo attack began or the subs were authorized to cross dividing lines, go into neighboring regions, and continue the attack on the convoy until it was completely destroyed.
In this way the techniques of massing several submarines against one enemy target for the purpose of reliably destroying it were realized in practice. Our own losses here were minimal. In 1944 the Northern Fleet used the “hanging screen” method, a variation or the maneuvering method. This involved the following: based on information from other forces (submarines or aircraft) the submarines of the screen would be guided from waiting areas located seaward or minefields to the enemy that bad been detected. They would then attack him and return to their initial areas.
As experience showed, limited maritime theaters important for data on the signals to move rapidly from during operations in it is especially enemy and control the command post to the submarines. Communications equipment at that time did not allow this to be done quickly, and often the information was so old that it could not be used. In rare cases it was usable by the captains of one or two subs which had time to meet the convoy and carry out one or two attacks, but because of heavy resistance and the fact that they did not have superiority in sailing speed they would lose the convoy. Under these conditions the tactical level of submarine control was important. To accomplish this, a group commanding officer capable of independently organizing the hunt for the enemy in a large region and organizing a combined attack by several subs would be assigned to one of the subs.
During the War our submarines normally operated independently in. the patrol areas assigned to them on enemy sea lanes. The Northern Fleet attempted to organize combined actions as part of tactical groups and cooperation with reconnaissance aircraft. For example, when sonar equipment was installed on K class submarines in January 1943 the command of the fleet decided to use them in tactical pairs. During the transit to the region of combat operations they tested the capabilities of the new equipment, practiced sailing in a quarter line formation — on the surface at night and submerged during the day, and carried on a sonar search for the enemy. Communication among the subs when submerged was unstable and often interrupted, and they would lose touch with one another.
In 1943, cooperation with reconnaissance aircraft was sporadic because sea lanes were scouted irregularly, mainly during the daylight hours when our subs were under water and could not receive radio messages. While, aerial reconnaissance data received during the hours of darkness would become out-dated.
Cooperation with aviation improved in late 1943. Submarines located in a waiting region would, upon receiving data on the movement of a convoy from reconnaissance aircraft and the shore command post, . sail out to intercept the convoy and, after attacking it, would withdraw to their former position. Control was exercised by the commanding officer of the brigade who would send a communications officer to the air force headquarters for better organized cooperation.
In 1944 the Northern Fleet began to receive aircraft and new classes of torpedo boats and the fleet command began conducting special operations to disrupt enemy sea lanes with participation by submarines, aircraft, and torpedo boats. The organization of such combined actions by mixed naval forces against convoys demanded flexible control from the command.
The first operations demonstrated the complexity of organizing combined operations with mixed naval forces, especially during the period of polar night and under unfavorable meteorological conditions: the airplanes could not always take off at the scheduled time because of non-flying weather and the torpedo boats could not go out in storms. Despite the difficulties, a number of operations conducted by submarines in cooperation with other naval forces, above all aviation, were successful in 1944 and submarines became the leaders among forces of the Northern Fleet for numbers of ships sunk.
WW II experience also showed that where there was one operations command for one brigade of submarines in the theater, control was exercised more precisely and operationally, as in the Northern Fleet. But when there were several brigades in the theater, as in the Baltic, it became complicated for several command levels (brigade commanding officers) to carry out control functions. At first each brigade was assigned its own region of combat operations. However, because of uneven utilization of the submarines of different brigades in combat and a decline in the overall productiveness of operations, it was necessary to combine all of them in a theater into a single operational-tactical force and to appoint a single operational command. This made it possible to move subs from one position to another and stepped up the introduction of stable, concealed communications between the headquarters of the consolidated force of submarines.
The question of the location of the command posts from which control at the operational and tactical levels was exercised was largely solved. Operational control, in brigade headquarters. was located on the shore, while tactical control was on the submarine at sea. This made it possible to obtain more complete data on the situation, maintain communications with the submarines, notify them while at sea of the presence and location of an enemy, carry out cooperation among different groups of submarines and with other naval forces, and organize joint actions by them in battle.
The experience of World War II confirmed the important role that submarines play in operations on enemy sea lanes. At the same time, it demonstrated the significant difficulty of using and controlling them in maritime theaters of restricted dimensions — on sea lanes running along a coast occupied by the enemy. Under these conditions combined actions by submarines and other naval forces and precise organization of control over them become especially important.
The continuously increasing complexity of the control process led to a division of control functions.
Assessing the importance of the problem of control under contemporary conditions, Commander in Chief of the Navy Admiral of the Fleet or the Soviet Union, S. Gorshkov, notes that “It is not possible today to accomplish assigned missions if the organization of the control system, its readiness, the available technical equipment for control (automation, communications, and situation illumination equipment), and the work methods of the commanding officers, their staffs, and other control organs do not correspond to the objective laws of warfare and the conditions of waging combat operations at sea.
Because combat operations at sea in the future will assume global scope, it becomes especially important to combine the centralized and decentralized methods of control optimally.
Giving a certain degree of independence to the commanding officers of tactical groups operating in the ocean (and in certain cases to the captains of individual subs as well) makes it possible to improve the stability of control.
It is very important today for commanding officers and staffs, using the latest advances of military science, to constantly refine the system and means of control of naval forces, to maintain them in a high degree of combat readiness, to develop their ability to work in a fast-changing situation, and to try to reduce the time required to make decisions and transmit commands and signals to ship at sea.
By Captain 1st Rank G. Karmenok
(This condensed article is from Morskoy Sbornik, No. 5, 1983.)