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It has been the editorial policy of the SUBMARINE REVIEW to print submarine experiences of the past which hold lessons that are seemingly applicable to today’s modem submarines and their submariners.

The sprinkling of World War ll submarine stories in past issues in effect were not mere “sea stories” to entertain the old hands, but were always ones chosen for some guiding principle which the present reader of the REVIEW could lash onto and say “I hope that today’s crop of submarine sailors will take this to heart.”

Seemingly, the conventional boats with their low mobility and limited submerged endurance did things in war which nuclear submarines would now do far better and in most cases do in a different way. Hence, it might appear that for a nuclearsubmarine-oriented audience, the occasional submarine account of past submarine matters makes for a waste of time. Yet Arleigh Burke emphasizes “God help any nation (or submarine force) which neglects to study its past.”

A perusal of SUBMARINE REVIEWs of the past eight years reveals a great number of insights, some of which are recorded here. These observations, it is felt, can be related profitably to today’s submarine problems. The most profound of these lessons from the past is that we must recognize that the character of the submariner may be more important to success in war than the equipment he employs.

Not only ought the crew of submarines be molded by the performance of past submariners, but a large number of areas involved in submarining might be made more effective if it is understood how they affected past submarine operations. Included in these areas would be: weapons, doctrine, tactics, strategies, policies, damage control, electronic warfare measures, mines, etc.

As for the importance of men in war: Sub Duty by Grover McLeod (April ’87) notes that “the success of the fleet boat was more due to the courage of officers and the men that sailed it than the submarine itself.” Captain Wayne Hughes in his Fleet Tactics (same issue) says that ,.Battles are won by the best warriors, not the best mathematicians or technologists.”

The importance of the crew versus the boats they sailed in is illustrated by Mike Sellars A Sa&a of the S-34 (July ’83). Such an old S-hoat had to be continually repaired at sea, had no air conditioning, had miserable living conditions, and yet the additional numbers of submarines on station which S-hoats contributed had an important effect on the war. By patrolling in widely diverse areas of the Pacifac they spread out the Japanese ASW forces, making it easier for the big Fleet Boats to get at their ship targets with less risk of being destroyed by Japanese ASW forces. Just keeping the S-hoats going to sea was a war in itself – but it was a war mastered by the crews of such boats.

Jan Breemer notes in The Submarine in World War I (October ’84) that submarines in war are likely to change their basic mission – from that decided on in peacetime and practiced for in exercises. “‘The German naval high command began the conflict using its submarines against the warships of the Royal Navy. It was also agreed that the submarine would be employed mainly as an auxiliary for patrol and reconnaissance on behalf of the battle fleet” But on February 1, 1917, the Germans initiated an unrestricted submarine war against merchant shipping ” … sinking over 8 million tons of Allied shipping in that year.”

Then in WW n submarine accounts, it is noted that before the war our submarines were trained to be far out scouts for the battle fleet But just after Pearl Harbor this role was changed to one of destroying ships in unrestricted submarine warfare. Fortunately, U.S. submarines sank Japanese ship targets of opportunity whether merchantmen or warships. Will the ASW mission of nuclear submarines be changed to an anti-ship one in The Third Power wars of this decade?

Admiral Brooks Harral in his Submarine Power — The Final Arbiter (July ’90) focussed on the importance of American submarines being used in “a two-pronged attack” against Japanese merchant ships and Japanese warships. As a result of this policy, “the U.S. submarine fleet established and maintained control of a vast sea area – the South China Sea, without surface ship or air support” Admiral Harral also makes the point from his survey of World War II submarine operations, “No historian appears to comprehend the extent of the benefits conferred on other and much larger operations by widely scattered submarine operations: Harral’s article describes how the antiquated S-hoats, operating in the South Pacific, not only profitably added to the number of U.S. submarines on station in widely diverse sea areas but also established the threat of submarines against Japanese invasion forces and the Japanese strategies for consolidating their acquisitions.

The value in war of deploying considerable numbers of submarines, low grade ones like the S-hoats as well as high performance Fleet Boats, is convincingly shown. And the effect on the enemy of posing a submarine threat which complicates enemy planning, affects the wisdom of the strategies used, and degrades the enemy’s tactical decisions, is even more impressive. For example; when the 69,000-ton Japanese aircraft carrier SHINANO was being pursued by Joe Enright’s ARCHERFISH in 1944 (July ’87), the SHINANO’s skipper, Captain Abe, began to imagine that a wolfpack of American submarines was closing in on his ship. Abe’s belief that he faced not one but several U.S. submarines caused him to give up his steady, rapid straightrunning course- which Enright couldn’t close– in favor “of a zig towards the ARCHERFISH” which proved his undoing.

Dick O’Kane in his WAHOO story (October ’87) notes that a skipper who keeps tenaciously after the enemy puts him into a state of confusion and makes him easier to sink. O’Kane emphasized how taking risks gives very high payoffs and cites the outstanding successes of Mush Morton’s WAHOO because of the great risks taken by her skipper. O’Kane also noted the value of using the Exec on the scope because he, O’Kane, was about the best periscope man on the WAHOO, if not in the entire submarine force. This was an innovation subsequently followed by other submarines.

As for taking high risks; The BONEFISH in WW II by Tom Hogan (July ’84) states that “”The Japanese were fully aware of the danger of night surface attacks by U.S. submarines. Where possible, they would bring their convoys into protected anchorages overnight. Cam Ranh Bay was one such convoy anchorage.” BONEFISH “penetrated the Bay and sank a very large tanker, a medium freighter and got two hits in a tremendous ship, a converted whale factory with a raised deck platform carrying 26 Zero-type aircraft” George Street’s going into a harbor with TIRANTE to sink a large merchant ship and two frigates earned him the Medal of Honor and his Exec, Ned Beach, the Navy Cross. And Hank Munson’s night surface attacks and reattacks against a large convoy to gamer almost 80,000 tons of Japanese shipping and warships – sunk and damaged – is a saga of risk taking with very high payoffs during RASHER’s Fifth {January ’90).

BOWFIN by E. W. Hoyt (April ’85) tells of “the great pressures brought to bear on the aggressive successful CO” -Walt Griffith, the BOWFIN’s skipper. Hoyt states that skippers are affected by a “loss of physical energy which is restored quickly by short periods of rest,” but that “‘The restoration of nervous energy requires a longer period of time for recuperation and tends to have a much greater cumulative effect on the individual than loss of physical energy- and may well reduce (a skipper’s) effectiveness as consecutive patrols are completed.”

WW II torpedo performance was thoroughly wrung out by many SUBMARINE REVIEW articles. In WW n Steam Torpedoes vs Electrics (January ’87), it is observed that the wakes of steam torpedoes in attacks against destroyers alerted them in sufficient time to make their evasions effective and then allow them to counterattack rapidly. Also, that sighting the wakes of American torpedoes alerted ships in convoys who then took action to avoid further torpedo attacks. SEADRAGON’s fifth war patrol in 1942 produced this observation: “‘Three Mk 14s fired at DD. DD spotted torpedo wakes quickly, swung to miss all 3 torpedoes, then charged back at SEADRAGON dropping depth charges very close.” On REDFISH’s first patrol: “When the two steam torpedoes were almost at their targets in a large convoy, steam was observed coming from one of the AKs — indicating a single-toot which warned the rest of the convoy that the ship was being attacked from the starboard side. With such a warning, the entire convoy would be zigged away.” USS RAY (July ’84) by Rosy Kinsella records: “Attention was diverted to RAY’s heavy torpedo wakes on the glassy sea. At 0623 the RAY received the first of 126 depth charges. The mighty RAY was tough and took them in her stride.” How many subs were lost during WW n because the wakes of their torpedoes were sighted early?

However, submarines using the wakeless electrical Mk 18 fish had somewhat different experiences: on CROAJ(ER’s First War Patrol (January ’87), “Four Mk 18s fired. All missed. All probably ran under the target which sailed unconcernedly on its way.” SPADEFISH confirmed this advantage of electric torpedoes. “Fired four Mk 18s at a Mutsuki DD. All missed. No evidence DD detected the torpedoes.” The Mk 18 torpedo also proved to be a capable anti-warship torpedo despite its 29 knot speed. “A1ULE fired four Mk 18s at 2540 yards range, at Hatsuhara class DD. 2 1/2 minutes later his stem went under.” In fact, “electrics were preferred by the submarine skippers over the 14s –from mid 1944 on.” Dick O’Kane fired 23 Mk 18s on TANG’s fifth war patrol getting 22 hits. “With the advent of the Mk 26, 45-knot electric, the problem of low speed was solved.”

Significantly, at the start of WW ll in the Pacific there was a shortage of steam torpedoes and by the end of 1942 about 500 torpedoes were required to meet patrol needs but only about 290 were produced. During the war, 14,393 torpedoes were expended at a rate of about 10 per patrol and 10 for each ship sunk. What should the Mk 48 stockpile be?

The specifications for a quiet, wakeless torpedo for shallowwater, Third Power sea wars in the ’90s can draw heavily on WW II torpedo experience. Moreover, such wars are likely to put a premium on surface warship destruction rather than on that of enemy submarines. And the noisy wake-making torpedo is likely to lose its efficiency in the environment of developing technology for countering such a torpedo.

U.S. submarines, it is noted, were fitted with four small sound heads on their outer hulls to detect “loud” torpedoes and indicate the best direction to take, to avoid such torpedoes. Importantly, Submarine Lessons of the Falklands War (April ’83) notes that: “the high mobility of the nuclear submarine (the CONQUEROR) allowed the use of simple, very low cost torpedoes in the antiship role.”

The value of midget submarines in WW II is well described by Richard Compton-Hall in his The Menace of the Mideets(April ’89). Additionally, many of the midgets’ operational successes are listed in Jurgen Rohwer’s The U-Boat War in the Atlantic — 1939-1945 (April ’90). The tiny subs, for example, penetrated harbors and did damage to enemy warships out of all proportion to the crews involved — i.e. the several crew members of a midget were capable of destroying battleships with thousands of men aboard. “Two Italian midget submarines sank the British battleships VALIANT and QUEEN ELIZA BE1H in Alexandria Harbor.” A German midget “seriously damaged the British battleship RAMILLES in Diego Suarez,” and a British midget “put the 40,000-ton German battleship TIRPITZ out of action,” – in a Norwegian fjord. Though modem submariners may think of them as mere “toys”, their value in today’s possible sea wars could be considerable. Using a satellite receiver, for positioning within fifty feet, remedies the problem of navigation which proved the greatest failing of the midget in World War IT. The use of midgets from a mother submarine to project submarine power into port areas is thus suggested for the environment of the ’90s.


Jurgen Rohwer’s account also provides these insights: “The best protection against depth charges was to dive deeply.” Deep diving nuclear submarines will also reduce the efficiency of enemy torpedoes by making them attack at great depths, and “The utmost priority must be applied to the development of an effective anti-destroyer torpedo — or the future of U-boat operations,” according to Admiral Doenitz, “is in jeopardy.” Admiral Doenitz, in fact, admitted near the end of the war that it was a mistake not to attack the escorts of convoys. His antishipping campaign would have been far more profitable, he felt, had his skippers been directed to attack enemy warships and particularly their destroyers.

Pirate Submarines and Non-Intervention by Jon Boyes (October ’83) examines the use of unidentified submarines in the Spanish Civil War. The Italians were accused of covertly using their submarines against Soviet shipping. The Soviet merchant ships KOMOSOMOL, TUNIY AEV and BLAGAEV were torpedoed in the Mediterranean. “The attacks were carried out by the Nationalists and Italians to cut down shipments to Republican Spain. ” How these pirate submarines were employed should be understood in light of the greater possibility of wars of liberation in the ’90s.

These samplings of the history of submarines, as described in past SUBMARINE REVIEWs, should serve to generate some contemplation as to how submarine warfare has changed with the advent of the nuclears — and yet, how it is still much the same, despite the differences between the old boats and the new ones.


Rear Admiral Curtis B. Sliellman, Jr., USN(Ret.)

Loyal member of NSL since 1983

Member of NSL Advisory Council

Curtis B. Shellman, Jr., Electric Boat Division’s vice president of operations, died November 29, 1990 after suffering a heart attack in the main shipyard. Following retirement from his final Navy position as Deputy Chief of Naval Material for Logistics and Operations, Rear Admiral Shellman joined Electric Boat in 1980. During his stewardship of all divisions of shipyard operations, be delivered 18 LOS ANGELES-class and 11 OlllO-class submarines to the Navy.

In his expression of grief at the news of Curt’s death, James E. Turner, Vice President and General Manager of Electric Boat said:

“Curt’s distinguished career in the Navy was followed by an equally distinguished career at Electric Boat. By adhering to uncompromising standards for quality and safety, he built and maintained a reputation for himself and the division as the best builder of submarines in the U.S. The performance of the U.S. submarine fleet is in large part attributable to his efforts. We will all miss his companionship, his valued counsel and the capabilities he brought to Electric Boat.”

[The preceding excerpt from Employee Bulletin Vol. 1, No. 16 Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics is printed here as a tribute to Rear Admiral Curtis B. Shellman, Jr., USN(Ret.)]

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