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The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan
by Clay Blair, Jr.
Bantam Books, New York 1072 pages
IBSN: 0-553-34278-9

As the History of Sea Power is required reading for Naval Academy Midshipmen so should Silent Victory be for anyone involved with submarine warfare. The New York Times described it as “The most detailed and authoritative account of United States submarine operations ever printed.” Its author, Clay Blair, is no stranger to the submarine community. He served as Quartermaster on Guardflsh during the close of WWII and after the war became a Washington journalist who closely followed submarine developments. He has published many other books on submarines including The Atomic Submarine and Nautilus 90 North.

The book opens with a brief history of submarine development. Then follows a discourse on the use of submarines in WWI and the beginning stages of WWII. The early politics surrounding submarine warfare are also examined.

The author then concentrates primarily on the war in the Pacific beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor. One particularly interesting theme throughout the book is the importance that intelligence played. If the Japanese had resorted to more frequent code changes the war might very well have had a different ending. Without question our submarines would have been less effective.

The submarine campaign was not without its controversies. The infamous torpedo problems, professional disputes between not only force commanders but also various ship’s CO’s and XO’s, material problems, poor performing submarine commanders and discrepancies between claimed and confirmed sinkings are all given extensive coverage. You will also find an account of what can be interpreted as a wartime atrocity being committed, not by the enemy, but by a U.S. submarine.

Among the horrors of war are interspersed many personal stories and humorous anecdotes. Numerous maps are included portraying various submarine and surface operations. The bravery of our submarine crews is made well apparent. The severe poundings that many of these submarines endured attests to the quality and care that went into building these durable vessels.

The appendices provide a detailed listing of every submarine patrol of the second world war, both Pacific and Atlantic. They give the port of departure, ship name, patrol number, commanding officer and his graduating class, days on patrol, ships sunk and tonnage according to both wartime credit figures and JANAC statistics, and the area assigned to patrol. Additionally are found lists of best war patrols and the top submarines, by number of ships sunk and by total tonnage sunk, of all U.S. submarines lost during the war, and of the top skippers by number of confirmed ships sunk. An excellent source bibliography is also included.

This book is both informative and fascinating. A lot can be learned from this historical accounting that is very much applicable to modem day submarine warfare. It is hoped that the submarine community never repeats the mistakes of WWII.

Richard D. Lanning, Jr .


by Jurgen Rohwer, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD
ISBN: 0-87021-082-3

This publication contains a wealth of information on German, Italian, Japanese and Finnish submarine operations, as well as one sinking by a Vichy-France submarine, in World War II.

In the Introduction, the author briefly describes the research that preceded the book’s first publication in German, in 1968, and the additional research that preceded the publication in English at a later time. This English version uses patrol reports of the boats, naval records of the Axis countries, corresponding records of the Allies, and interviews with Allied naval and merchant marine personnel.

The heart of the book is a chronological listing of Axis submarine attacks during World War II. It leads off with the attack on the ATHENIA on 3 September, 1939 and ends with a Japanese attack using a manned suicide torpedo — a Kaiten carrying one man who directed the torpedo in its run. The Kaiten missed, however, against the USS TIIOMAS NICKEL, a DE, on 12 August, 1945.

The table listing the Axis submarine attacks is divided into seven parts, one for each of the following geographical areas: the North Sea; the Northern and Southern Atlantic theater; the Baltic Sea; the Black Sea; the Mediterranean; the Indian Ocean theater; and the Pacific Ocean. Sinkings in the Gibraltar area are listed under the Mediterranean.

There are fifteen entries for each submarine attack, eleven entries of which are supplied by the attacking submarine. These comprise: the GMT time and date of attack; the nationality of the attacking Axis submarine; the name and number of the submarine; the skipper’s name; the general area of attack; the target designation by the submarine; the weapon used; the convoy designation if applicable; the date of attack; the time of hit; and the nationality of the target. The remaining four columns are supplied by the targefs organization and give; the name of the target; its actual tonnage and damage assessment; and its position and time when it was hit. There are also comprehensive footnotes which give vital additional information. These are of particular interest for the reader who is intent upon analyzing submarine campaigns.

Some of the footnotes, for example, state that the torpedoes prematured prior to reaching the target. The Germans, it appears, also had troubles with their influence exploders. It is my recollection that U.S. magnetic exploders tended to premature at about the time when the exploder had armed itself — about 300 yards from the launch point. The German exploders however apparently prematured a second or so before reaching their target. A design study to understand why the two influence exploders functioned differently should be of interest. Other footnotes mentioned that the target was run aground and later destroyed, or was salvaged, or whatever.

There are four Indices (A through D) that refer the reader to the pages in the chronological list relative to: the skippers; the individual submarines; the convoys; and the targets which were attacked. Under A is listed the submarine by number or alphabetically, as appropriate, and refers the reader to the pages of the list when attacks were made by that specific boat. Index B lists the skippers, their rank, their commands and the pages on which their attacks appear. Index C lists convoys and where specific convoys were put under attack. And Index D is an alphabetical listing of all target ships.

A great deal of very interesting submarine history can be obtained from this book. For example, according to the weapons column, the Germans started the war with a torpedo that only ran a straight course. In December of 1942, a torpedo which ran a preset course appears for the first time. In February of 1943, a homing torpedo appears for one attack but then doesn’t appear again until September 1943 – time probably to do some correcting of the torpedo’s performance. Significantly, the U.S. submarine’s first homing torpedoes didn’t appear until late in 1944. Also of interest was that the Germans started using a pattern running torpedo. And notably, the Japanese torpedoes seemed to be efficient from the very start of their submarine campaign. Japanese use of the suicide “Kaiten” torpedo was first listed in November 1944 at an attack at Ulithi. Later, most of the Japanese submarine attacks used this man-guided torpedo, but without success.

I was surprised at the amount of submarine activity in the Indian Ocean — including U-boat activity. In 1947 the Japanese were shown to have been very active between Australia and India. In October of 1942 this activity lessened and German U-boats more or less took over but along the East African Coast.

The Axis submarine commanders, like those of the Allies tended to be quite optimistic in their estimations of the tonnage of their targets. In very few cases does the actual tonnage from Allied records exceed the estimated tonnage from Axis submarine skippers.

The Germans had an interesting method for noting attack locations. The entire ocean area of attacks was overlaid with a numbered grid. The U-boats would then give the number of the grid as their attack position — although the grid squares were 50 to 75 miles on a side.

All in all, Axis submarine successes, 1939-1945, contains a great deal of information about the Axis submarine campaigns and should see considerable use in settling arguments between underseas warfare buffs.

CAPT Paul Loustaunllu, USN(Ret.)


by John Keegan
Published by VIKING, Penguin Editions, New York
ISBN: 0-670-81416

Have you ever read a naval history with only six maps or diagrams? If not, try John Keegan’s interesting and sometimes gory account of the “evolution of Naval Warfare” (the sub-title) from 1800 to the present.

Keegan has chosen an unusual format in which he selected four significant periods in naval warfare, choosing a battle within each to make his case. There are similarities amongst the four segments, and some differences as well.

A quick look at the whole is useful before a more detailed assessment of the parts.

Trafalgar is the centerpiece of the first segment. The development of the ship of the line, the wooden-walls as Keegan frequently describes these behemoths, is traced in great detail. The history of battles of the period, the evolution of strategy and weapons, the failures and successes of politicians and flag officers, and most important, the story of Horatio Nelson lead naturally to an account of the great battle of 21 October 1805.

The inexorable development of steam and screw propulsion, iron ships, and explosive shells sounded the death knell of the wooden-walls. The dreadnought or battleship, the battle cruiser, and the supporting cast of light cruisers, torpedo boats, and torpedo boat destroyers passed adolescence as World War I brought untold destruction of men and material upon Europe. Keegan had no problem selecting Jutland as his period battle, because there was no comparable action. A ship in the Grand Fleet’s order of battle which played no part is the stepping stone to the third phase of the book.

That ship was the seaplane carrier ENGADINE, whose aircraft “were a presentiment not only of the shape of things to come but of the mainstream of development which naval warfare would follow in the post-dreadnought years.” So we reach World War n and the coming of age of the aircraft carrier. Keegan speaks to several Pacific battles including Pearl Harbor, Java Sea, and Coral Sea but he singled out the Battle of Midway as a classic example of a “war-decision” engagement.

The last section of the book is entitled “lbe Battle of the Atlantic,” and is the link to a concluding chapter which is controversial because it contains predictions of things to come. He introduces the submarine as a developing force in World War I, and a major player in World War II. He speaks to the highly successful U.S. submarine operations in the Pacific, but selected the dramatic battle of 17-20 March 1943 between convoys HX229 (a fast one at 9 knots) and SC122 (slow at 7 knots) and the U-boats. A total of 100 ships with 20 escorts was pitted against 40 submarines in three patrol lines. The heroics of both the hunters and the hunted are well documented, but Keegan identified aircraft and radar as the deciding factors in the Atlantic.

Now, a few more details: Each chapter opens with historical and strategic factors bearing upon the central theme, and concludes with an analysis of the impact of the era upon the nations particularly affected. These portions are well worth careful study and merit investigation into bibliographical references which are also divided by subject area.

Keegan has used effectively many quotes from participants in the actions as well as pronouncements of statesmen and leaders to give the reader a feeling of “being there” to the point of over-emphasizing the casualties. A sampling:

• The broadsides of solid shot fired at 100 meters or less against the wooden-walls left a scene of blood and gore beyond belief with dozens decapitated, limbs cut off, and injured heaped with the dead. However, only rarely did a ship of the line sink as a result of close action.

• In the days of the dreadnought, action was at ranges of thousands of yards, with explosive shells literally raining at high angles of impact. Death from explosion or fire was common. Moreover, many of the ships at Jutland capsized from flooding; and crews perished in the cold North Sea.

• Casualties in the carrier battles from bombs and torpedoes were principally from fires fed by aircraft fuel and fueling systems and bombs ready for loading.

• Great allied loss of life in the Battle of the Atlantic resulted from an inability to rescue those set adrift after abandoning ship. Many of the U-boats were sunk with all hands.

• Intelligence has played a significant role throughout the history of naval warfare, and Keegan’s episodes follow the norm. At Trafalgar, Villeneuve was aware that Nelson might attempt to breach his line and attack groups of ships close aboard from leeward — and, indeed, Nelson won in just that way. Nelson, concurrently, used his frigates to collect enemy information up to the very engagement. It was his unique signalling system which gave him effective tactical command.

The Royal Navy read German coded traffic from the earliest days of the war. Although the Imperial Navy likewise broke Royal Navy traffic, the Germans determined to destroy one source of RN intelligence, trawlers on Dogger Bank. This resulted in the battle of 24 January 1915, and it was no accident that the Royal Navy was on scene in force. (Faulty tactics let the German High Seas Fleet get home.)

The World War ll code-breaking story has been well documented. It was the single most important U.S. Navy advantage at Midway; it was also a major factor in U.S. submarine successes against the Japanese. But, while the Royal Navy read the ENIGMA code in the Atlantic, it was Admiral Doenitz’ strategic concept of controlling his U-boats and wolf packs from the French bunkers and later Berlin that cost him the “Battle. • His Uboats were regularly required to transmit enemy submarine and mine alerts, contact, OPSIT, weather, and own position reports, and respond to Headquarters messages. This gave the Allied DF network all the data needed to re-route convoys and concentrate forces against U-boat packs.

Keegan has done an admirable job, and apparently lives up to the reputation he gained from his “The Mask of Command” and “The Face of Battle.” But, no review would be complete without a criticism or two.

His technical description of submarines in the introduction to “The Battle of the Atlantic” is elementary and in part erroneous. The reader may then question whether his far more detailed technical dialogue on the wooden-walls and even the dreadnoughts may not be less than perfect, as well.

Finally, Keegan puts his reputation on the line by writing a ‘history of the future’ in his final chapter aptly entitled ” An Empty Ocean.” He concludes his admirable work with a dissertation on the development and refinement of U.S. nuclear attack and missile submarines, and submarine and ASW weapons and tactics (similarly open to some criticism). He then states categorically that today is: “the era of the submarine as the predominant weapon of power at sea – the ultimate capital ship, deploying the means to destroy any surface fleet that enters its zone of operations. ”

This is meat for debate!

M.H. Rindskopf


The H. A. Perry Foundation, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University of Boca Raton, Florida, sponsored the First Annual International Submarine Races in Riviera Beach on June 23-25, 1989. T

he Submarine Race was established to foster innovative advances in subsea vehicle technologies and featured the design, construction and racing of two-person, human-powered submersibles over an underwater course. There is an obvious parallel between this event and the well publicized humanpowered flight competition held for many years in England.

Over 20 university and corporate entrants registered for the races, and 18 teams and submarines assembled for the inaugural event Each submarine was manned by two persons; one provided propulsion power while the other person was required to have only piloting and safety duties.

Each crew member breathed through a SCUBA type apparatus, as these were “wet” submersibles.

The races were marked by high enthusiasm, creative and sound engineering, impressive craftsmanship and rugged perseverance. The normally balmy Florida weather took a tum for the worse midway into the race events, and the currents and surface chop provided a stem challenge to the racers and support teams.

National media groups provided comprehensive race coverage, complete with underwater color video, and included: National Geographic Society, PEOPLE magazine, CNN, CBS and ABC network news.

The entry from the U.S. Naval Academy took top honors for overall performance in the categories of Cost Effectiveness, Innovation and Speed.

The USNA submarine was constructed entirely of composites and was one of the most reliable vehicles across the four days of competition – when the flag dropped, they were always ready and missed top speed honors by only several seconds. Newly graduated Ensign Rick Miller headed the development team and piloted the USNA “SQUID.”

Individual category winners included: Cal-Poly, APLUniversity of Washington, Florida Atlantic University, Lockheed Advanced Marine Systems, Florida Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Innerspace Corporation and University of New Hampshire.

The race competitors, sponsors and those of us in attendance deemed the festivities a first rate success; and there are plans to continue the competition every two years. Any new competitors out there ???

Captain K. A. Lee, USN(Ret.) 


USS CASIMIR PULASKI (SSBN 633)(GOLD) will hold it’s 25th Commissioning Anniversary in Charleston, SC, on 1 August 1989. All previous members, new construction contractors and interested parties please contact Chief of the Boat, Mike Bauer (Gold Crew) (803) 743-6643, Building 646A Naval Station, Charleston, SC 29408 for more information.

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