The initial talk by Admiral McKee at last year’s Submarine League’s Symposium and the follow-on comments by CDR Ryan are striking in their different approaches to the concept or what is “fundamental.” Admiral McKee limits his first offering on the “fundamental” principles of submarine warfare to a few which seem to bear directly on the success of wartime missions. Some may want to restate his principle “shoot first and at short range” to perhaps “shoot first effective-ly”. But, there can be little doubt that “remain-ing undetected” until forced to risk forfeiting stealth, “maintaining propulsion” (to get there, fight the ship, and return for a reload), and “knowing the boat” are fundamental keys to success. And few would argue that “learning to fight hurt” is not basic to all types of warfare.
On the other hand, the bulk of CDR Ryan’s article is concerned with the concept of “know your people and treat them fairly.” However, this is not a principle of submarine warfare, but a principle of leadership — as applicable to an infantryman as a submariner. Thus, mentioning it in the same context as “fundamentals” of submarine warfare is disturbing because it belies both the notion that in wartime the relationship or leaders to those led changes somewhat, and that the concept or a soldier or sailor’s duty in war must cause him to rise above peacetime social and organizational expectations. Although there is likely to be a place and reason for a “peacetime” mentality in this regard, this must be supplanted quickly by a “wartime” mentality when the shooting starts. And “fairness” is primarily a peacetime notion.
General s. L. A. Marshall has some comments on this:
. . . . .a final thought is that there is a radical difference between training and com-bat conditions.
In peacetime training, a commander may be arbitrary, demanding, and a hard disciplinarian. But so long as his sense of fair play in handling his men becomes evident to them, and they are aware that what he is doing is making them more efficient, they will approve his methods, if only grudgingly, be loyal to him, and even possibly come to believe in his lucky star.
His men are more likely to do what the commander demands however, if the commander takes a fatherly interest in their personal welfare. But this element is not as important as the commander winning the respect of his troops. If he shows he knows his business, his men are on his team.
A second aspect of “fairness” which makes it questionable as a fundamental principle of submarine warfare is that in war, on board a sub in combat, the crew must understand that fairness is a matter of opinion, and that the perceived welfare and fair treatment of individuals is no longer a matter of primary concern when compared with winning the battle. Each sailor and soldier must place his personal welfare and his perception of fairness secondary to the combat performance of the unit.
Enough on fairness.
This is CDR Ryan’s major point about leadership. But it falls far short of the reality of combat and the lessons of military and specifically submarine history which stress the element. of courage. General s. L. A. Marshall sheds some light on this historical experience:
“When it comes to combat, something new is added. Even if they have previously looked upon the commander as a father and believed absolutely that being with him is their best assurance of successful survival, should he then show himself to be timid and too cautious about his own safety, he will lose hold or them no less absolutely. His lieutenant, who up till then under training conditions has been regarded as a mean creature or sniveler, but on the field suddenly reveals himself as a man of high courage, can take moral leadership of the company away from him and do so in one day.
“On the field, there is no substitute for courage, no other binding influence toward unity of action. Troops will excuse almost any stupidity, but excessive timidity is simply unforgivable.”
We only have to reflect on the history of submarine warfare to see the truth in this statement. The first Pacific war patrols averaged about 1/2 ship sunk per patrol. In 1942, about 30 percent (40 out of 135) of the u.s. submarine commanding officers were summarily relieved of command, the majority for non-productivity. In 1943 and 1944, about 14 percent were relieved each year for mainly the same reason. A quick review of the records reveals that roughly 25 percent or the submarine commanding officers sank about 75 percent of the Japanese ships sunk by submarines. Such ratios were common in other countries as well, (and in some cases worse).
Thus, a “fundamental” principle or leadership in combat is “courage.” Nothing substitutes for courage, not even “luck.” But courage may well have a different character and be more or a cornerstone or submarine warfare, than for other warfare branches for two reasons. Leading a submarine in combat is somewhat different than leadership in surface ships or in the air. In WW II, Sir Winston Churchill stressed that “England expected each man to do his duty”, because all or England “was watching.” But each submarine CO is alone, with no one there to question his courage, supply heroic examples, define targets, and help him press an engagement to success. His human enemy is unseen, the tactical “truth” is unknown, the skipper is not in the view or the battle group nor is he visibly a member or a flight squadron. His engagements may go on interminably, and his temptation to break off or await a better moment to engage may be great. A second reason is that in any future undersea war, we simply can’t afford low sinking ratios from the majority or our submarines. We have to get more productivity from each submarine, and it is not likely that we will have a year to season our skippers and get our act together. Our national security is more highly leveraged on submarine successes from the outset with the first patrol having to be the best. We must have each submarine hitting hard and hitting fast. Courage in our skippers will prevent the recorded conflicts which Executive Officers had with their skippers in WW II over aggressiveness in battle. The seeds have to be sewn in sub school, nurtured through shipboard assignments, and brought to fruition in PCO school .
A final thought is that another new “fundamental principle” of submarine warfare seems to have emerged with the changed nature of submarine warfare in the past thirty years. A submariner leaving port must be preoccupied today with having as clear and complete an understanding of the sonar environment as possible. A submariner who does not know and exploit the sonar environment, both offensively and defensively, is imposing a severe handicap on himself. Hence the fundamental principle: “know and exploit the sonar environment.”