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Down through the ages, students or warfare have expounded basic “principles of war” which affect and control the outcome of battles. These so-called “principles of war” when knowledgeably used, provide the fundamental elements for creating a successful result — a victory.

Similarly, through all periods of history the principles of war have been seriously debated, ith         only     a    few    principles         being         generally accepted across the board as being applicable to all types of warfare, including sea warfare, and particularly for submarine warfare. However, in today’s environment of high technology, there is a confluence of supporting technologies which give credibility to additional principles of war technologies such as satellite navigation, surveillance and communications, electronic warfare equipment, and computer collation of vast amounts of information along with computer-aided decision making.

Nuclear submarines employing long range, powerful “smart” weapons should make today’s naval warfare planners drool at the indicated latent capability of the submarine for winning battles — against even the strongest combination of enemy warships. The covert, highly maneuverable nuclear submarine, using long-range, big-warhead program-med missiles and torpedoes can now use the offen-to attack with a maximum of surprise, with weapons which can effectively maneuver in their trajectories to provide a concentration of force on a well-defended objectiye — a target or a group of targets.(The words underlined comprise the five timeless well agreed upon “principles of war” which submarines enjoy with a uniquely high level of competence.) Additional “principles” are embodied in the nuclear submarine’s unusual capability to control the temPo of operations, to ~ the battle efforts of a group of submarines with-out their having to be in close proximity to each other, to use a calculable level of weapon power to do the job with an economy of force while producing a bonus shook or disorienting effect on enemy defenses — under all-weather conditions.

In light of these unequivocal statements, let’s examine the only recent battle action of a nuclear submarine — the British CONQUEROR’s sinking of the Argentine cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO on 2 May, 1982 in the Falkland Islands War. The CONQUEROR clearly took the “offensive” with the precise “objective” of sinking the GENERAL BELGRANO (and not her two escorts) before the Argentine cruiser left the threatening zone to the south of the Falklands. This called for precise timing — critical to the “tempo” of operations. Utilizing the great “all-weather”, “maneuver” capability of the nuclear submarine, CONQUEROR made a perfectly positioned “surprise” attack with an adequate “concentration of force” — three obsolete MK VIII torpedoes (an extremely austere “economy of force”) — to accomplish her mission.

By contrast, World War II diesel-boat submariners can recall how futile it was to be ordered to sink a specific escorted Japanese cruiser which would shortly transit through their patrol area. Then, it was recognized that submarines could effectively attack only targets of opportunity. Hence, priorities of ships to be sunk were established, with aircraft carriers heading the list for warships and oil tankers heading the list for merchant ships. (Battleships as targets were considered too improbable as were troop-laden merchant ships.) If a u.s. submarine skipper had chance to choose between various targets in a grouping of enemy ships, he followed the priorities as listed — but that was a rare occasion.

The  Offensive

Today,  taking the offensive  is  crucial  to winning battles. There is too big a gap between the offense and defense due to present technology, to depend upon a strong defense for victory. U.S. maritime strategy calls for U.S. nuclear submarines to play an offensive role — for which they are well fitted with their high maneuverability, covertness and high level of acoustic efficiency. Against an enemy which would wage a worldwide seawar, the unlimited endurance of the nuclear submarine and its ubiquitous quality, which poses threat to  the  enemy wherever   and   consequently dilutes   his   defenses,makes   the   gap   between offense and defense even more profound. Significantly, in the Falkland Islands War when an Argentine 209 diesel-boat was loose in the area of British naval operations its ubiquitous quality caused the British ASW forces to expend most of their ordnance on suspected contacts — most of which were false contacts caused by the ocean’s many anomalies. The 209-boat reportedly made two unsuccessful attacks. However, nuclear submarines would carry the war to the enemy on a sustained basis far more effectively than any diesel submarine today and more effectively in fact than any other u.s. naval unit.


Great stealth is built into u.s. nuclear submarines, but to a lesser degree in the weapons they employ. Thus, the nuclear submarine can virtually always gain an attack position without alerting its target. This is true for the firing of long range missiles as well as torpedoes. Given a quiet weapon launch and a covert mid-course trajectory for the submarine weapon, the total submarine weapon system — of which the submarine is a part — should provide the highest element of surprise in attack of any powerful warship in the annals of history. In fact, its capability for generating “surprise” is revolutionary. Not only can the nuclear submarine totally surprise an enemy target in a one-on-one attack, but a “massing” of several submarines can be coordinated for a similar type of surprise attack on a grouping of targets. Whereas the submarine wolfpacks of WW II enjoyed sporadic moments of attack-surprise, in general the wolfpacks operated overtly on the surface like urface raiders. At  times, however,  a  convoyright move across an undetected submerged submarine and be subject to an unexpected attack. Today with all submarines submerged at all times, a coordinated group of submarines can be in widely dispersed positions and  generate a surprise weapon attack rrom many quadrants and at such a long range from their targets that there is little chance of the enemy being alerted to the attack ahead of time.


The capability to effectively “maneuver” forces — whether it be men to and on the field of battle or ships on the seas to concentrate their weapon power against the enemy — is a decisive element in winning battles. In fact, it was the greatly increased maneuver capability of WW II submarines, when operating on the surface as opposed to submerged, that made surface operations far more profitable. The large wolfpacks of German submarines — seven or more per U-boat wolfpack — had devastating results until they were overwhelmed by the great numbers or Allied ASW units brought into action. Even a single submarine, by operating most if its time on the surface was usually rar more successful. The WAHOO, for example, and as noted by Admiral Dick O’Kane in his book “Wahoo” on her first two patrols which averaged over 500 hours of submerged operations per patrol, sank only two ships. But from the third patrol on, with a new skipper who had less than 50 hours or submerged operations for each patrol, the number of ships sunk on the third patrol were five and for the rourth patrol nine. Mush Morton of the WAHOO understood the great value of “maneuver.” The same sort or excellent results were inherent to u.s. wolfpacks — even though no more than three submarines per wolfpack were    ever     used. In a  two-day  battle  in  August 1944  against Japanese convoy  HI-71,  Munson’s RASHER,   Underwood’s    SPADEFISH and  Henderson’s BLUEFISH had seven conrirmed ship sinkings including the Japanese carrier TAIYO, while also damaging at least six more merchant ships.

It should be recognized that today’s convoys will be at least double the speed of those or WW II, and that today’s enemy surface warships will be of about the same speed and maneuverability as those of WW II, but nuclear submarines will be more than three times as fast submerged as the WW diesel-boats when submerged, and double the speed of surfaced diesel-boats under all-weather conditions — and particularly in heavy weather on the surface of the oceans. The maneuver capability exhibited by the CONQUEROR in sinking the GENERAL BELGRANO signaled a new era of war-fighting capability vested in the nuclear submarine. This same sort of maneuver capability when employed by submerged coordinated wolfpacks of submarines using long range weapons, should revolutionize sea warfare. This sort of optimism is however tempered by the general caution against communications which tend to destroy the covertness of submerged submarines. Yet a submarine force that is resolved to sail in harm’s way will recognize that to get big payoffs there is some risk involved.

Within the foreseeable future there should be significant sound quieting of all nuclear submarines — enemy as well as friendly — and the probability of close proximity dog fights will put a high premium on submarine mobility. But for the present, platform mobility using long range weapons has become less important than maneuver of weapons in their trajectories and particularly in their terminal phase when an enemy has been alerted many seconds earlier.

This shifting of the importance of maneuver from the submarine firing platform to the weapons it employs, is best exemplified by the SSBN and the ballistic missiles it might use in strategic war. The SSBN should have little need to “maneuver” prior to firing but the ballistic missile it launches may in time need some degree of mid-course maneuvering to ensure arrival close to its land objective, and certainly the MIRVed warheads will need a deceptive maneuvering capability in their terminal phase to assure destruction of a grouping of targets in the enemy’s homeland.

Concentration  of Force

In the past. a maximum concentration of force at sea was achieved by a congregating or massing of capital ships into tightly knit tactical formations which when properly maneuvered could pour the fire-power of their big guns into major targets of the enemy. At Trafalgar, Nelson’s ships-of-the-line in close order were slowly maneuvered to cut through the enemy’s line of capital ships. in such a fashion as to concentrate the broadsides of successive ships against the two flagships of the enemy. By destroying the enemy’s major units in a matter of hours, the follow-on British actions then encountered a shocked and disorganized enemy which was decisively defeated through subsequent ship sinkings.

By contrast, today several nuclear submarines from diverse positions at long standoff ranges can produce the massed effect of concentrated weapon power on a grouping of enemy ships at a level of destructiveness never before contemplated for battles at sea — and do this in a matter of

minutes. A few Soviet OSCAR submarines, for example, could rapidly salvo, with surprise, about 100 missiles carrying one ton warheads at more than 100 miles standoff ranges — at a u.s. carrier task group. Such a concentration of force should overwhelm the best of defenses and cause such devastation and “shocking as to assure a decisive victory, after rapid mop-up operations, following the coordinated attack. If the potential of nuclear submarines to concentrate force is properly capitalized on, a revolution in naval warfare is indicated. Even a single nuclear sub-marine can produce such a level of concentrated force as to assure destruction of the biggest of capital ships of today’s navies — and in short order.

The  Objective

Before WW II the “objective” for submarines attached to a fleet was, as far-out scouts and screens, to warn the fleet of possible surface threats and to destroy such threats if possible before they could make contact with the main body of the surface fleet. Our u.s. submarines were so employed at the Battle of Midway on 3 June, 1942. Their objective, then, was quite impractical due to air reconnaissance having taken over most of the scouting function. And as screens, their scouting line disposition promised at best the possibility that one or two submarines would ever make contact with the enemy ships — and then with little chance of getting into a torpedo-shooting position.

Today, “the objective” for nuclear submarines in war must be clearly postulated or the great value of the nuclear submarine will be squandered. If naval planners are kept aware of the special qualities of nuclear submarines relative to the principles of war, they will be assigned missions with clear objectives which can be carried out with precision. A coordinated, surprise, long-range weapon strike with missiles or torpedoes against an enemy grouping of ships is one such use with a clear objective — creating a win in a very short period of time. Or, as is presently contemplated, using our nuclear submarines in a rapid forward offensive against the enemy’s submarines knowing that most of the enemy’s submarines are defensively deployed close to their homeland.


When  a     special       opportunity        to     attack      an unprepared enemy, or one lacking all-weather capabilities in a moment of adverse weather, or when the enemy is geographically restricted, a strike needs to be generated swiftly to catch the enemy at his moment of greatest weakness. Nuclear submarines are best configured to do this in carrying out well defined objectives. Whereas the tempo of submarine operations in WW II was erratically slow and virtually uncontrollable, the tempo of today’s submarine operations can respond to a maritime strategy calling for a quick decimation of the enemy’s submarine fleet and the producing of decisive actions early in a conflict ensuring a short war while reducing he likelihood of causing a nuclear exchange.


The shock effect of many ship sinkings in rapid succession — from a convoy — was reported by WW II crew members of Allied convoys going to Murmansk. They told of ships ramming each other, incorrect whistle toots indicating direction of submarine attack, lost discipline of the escorts and ships of the convoy which scattered wildly to become easy prey of the submarines, shooting wildly at each other and killing survivors by depth charging the waters where there were no submarines. Panic and disorganization compounded the damage done by the U-boats’ torpedoes.

Today the bonus effect from the shook created by a submarine attack on a grouping of ships should be greatly magnified, making it easy to destroy      large       numbers    of     ships       following           an initial attack. Only weapon-load restrictions should limit the follow-on destruction.


This has not been a principle of war up to now . But today it has become an important one. With all-weather precise navigation, 24-hour~a-day worldwide communications, and with wide-area ocean surveillance, the nuclear submarine can capitalize on    its unique  capability  to  fight,                 unimpeded    by weather conditions. Even in WW II, submarines held a marked advantage in low visibility and heavy weather engagements. Bob Ward’s SAILFISH, for example, in typhoon weather and at night — on December 1943 — made three successive torpedo attacks on the heavily escorted Japanese aircraft carrier CHUYO, first wounding her then sinking her with a final salvo of three torpedoes at 1700 yards. Significantly, the seas were so mountainous and the flying weather so bad that all enemy ASW units were unable to function.

Summarizing the advantages held by nuclear submarines in today’s sea battles, as illustrated by their potential relative to the principles of war, it seems evident that the role of submarines in our Navy is expanding and that the utilization of nuclear submarines is the best guarantee of “victory at sea.”


Naval Submarine League

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