A host of lessons were learned about submarines in war, as I noted in my World War n journals and are documented in my book, War in the Boats. The lessons concern submarines, not diesel submarines, in particular. They seem as applicable today as they were in a war half a century ago.
Before WWII, the lessons which should have been learned concerning the effectiveness of submarines-specifically, the German U-boats of WWI-were evidently forgotten. That U-boats sank 10 battleships and 18 heavy cruisers and 11.S million tons of merchant shipping in four years of war, was ignored in the planning guidance for winning the Pacific War against the Japanese-the U.S. Top Secret War Plan Orange. This Plan, a U.S. Grand Strategy for the war, visualized the U.S. Fleet centered around battleships, at the outset of war, sailing across the North Central Pacific to retake the Philippines and on the way meeting the Japanese Fleet which it would defeat in Mahanian style. Then the U.S. Fleet would go on to the Japanese homeland and force the Japanese to sue for peace. This scenario, however, neglected the impact U.S. submarines would have against Japanese warships and their merchant fleet. U.S. submarines were not considered to be influential in determining the war’s outcome.
Similarly, the failure of U.S. leaders to recall the effectiveness of U-boats in WWI, was just as culpable for the Atlantic sea war as for the Pacific one. No plans were developed for a U-boat war off the east coast of the United States. Yet, on 12 January 1942, Admiral Doenitz had five, 750 ton, Type VII U-boats with only 14 torpedoes per submarine, deployed a few miles offshore, for the highly successful operation called Drum Beat. Admiral Stark, the CNO, had wrongly thought that the Germans were incapable of employing their 6000 mile range submarines off the U.S. east coast. Supposedly, they couldn’t get there and then get back to their bases in western Europe. But Admiral Doenitz had brought two 4200 ton Milch Cows to replenish and rearm his Type VII Uboats for a second round of attacks before sailing back across the Atlantic. Also, our naval leaders, failing to learn from the history of WWI, made no attempt to convoy the coastal shipping until the U.S. bad suffered more than two million tons of sunken ships. (In the first two months, the Drum Beat submarines sank lOS ships of over one-half million tons of independently sailed ships.) Pearl Harbor with its loss of U.S. battleships finished off the validity of War Plan Orange. And the entry of Germany into the war then made submarines of great importance in the Atlantic sea war.
When the CNO sent an ALNA V in the afternoon of 7 December 1941: “Execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan”, the U.S. Submarine Force was taken by surprise, in that pre-war efforts had been directed towards support of the surface forces. Whereas, this directive initiated an attrition war against enemy warships and enemy merchant ships, for which there had been few exercises-but many for protecting battleships. (The U.S. torpedoes were too light in warhead size for either merchant ship or warship attrition, while the wake-making trail of this steam driven torpedo created many misses due to evasion maneuvers of alerted ships. The 560 pound warhead of the Mk 14 submarine torpedo and the 350 pound warhead of the old Mk 10 torpedo merely tended to damage big ships. On the other band, the Japanese Long Lance wake-less torpedo with its 1100 pound warhead, sank most ships outright.)
A lesson that I learned on my first war patrol was that any submarine no matter bow decrepit and inefficient it might be, is feared out of all proportion to the damage it might cause to enemy ships. This was proved true of the antique U.S. S-boats deployed in the Solomons area. The “Rusty Old Sewer Pipes”as they were affectionately labeled, with their Mk 10 torpedoes, produced only six confirmed sinkings in the first year of the war. Yet the Japanese allowed these old boats to disrupt their flow of shipping to Northeast New Guinea and Guadalcanal, assuring a breaching of their inner and outer perimeters of island defenses. They also caused faulty decisions to be made by their naval leaders. (The sinking of the 4700 ton troop-carrying OKINOSIHMA on 11 May 1942, the S-44’s sinking of the big supply ship SHOEI MARU and the S-37’s sinking of a troop transport-all in the St. George’s Channel area, caused the Japanese to use only destroyers in their unsuccessful attempt to take northeastern New Guinea. While the S-44’s sinking of the KEUO MARU, the S-38’s sinking of the troop transport MEIYO MARU, and the S-44’s destruction of the heavy cruiser KAKO seemingly stopped the use of merchant ships to reinforce the Japanese troops on Guadalcanal.)
A submarine’s quality of ubiquitousness-a major asset-causes an unreawnable expenditure of enemy efforts on false contacts. produces irrational responses in enemy operational decisions and causes much wasted time and naval resources trying to combat submarines everywhere they might be. The excessive employment of Japanese fleet destroyers in the 1942 Solomons campaign, their willy-nilly dropping of depth charges and their frequent changes in transit patterns on the suspicion of a submarine being somewhere, demonstrated a paranoia about the invisible submarines.
Enemy surface and air commanders understand little about submarines. They claimed easy sinkings of subs while irrationally fearing a submarine’s capability to counter their operational actions. The slight sub, sank same syndrome, for example, as used by Japanese aircraft pilots after attacking the S-37 with bombs when it had submerged, and Admiral Mibwa’s wrongheaded decision to tum away after a decisive cruiser victory at the Battle of Savo Island, in fear of the S-boata in the vicinity of Lunga Roads, were such Japanese actions.
Submarine crew habitability, so important in peacetime, proved far less important in wartime. The crew learned to live with it particularly when it had patrol successes. Miserable habitability, i.e., hot bunting, being plagued by cockroaches, lack of privacy, lack of water for personal cleanliness, lack of air conditioning, and a submerged environment of high temperature, high humidity, slowly increasing pressure and slowly decreasing oxygen content in the submarine were for the most part accepted without a gripe. Lack of operational success lowered crew morale far more than unsatisfactory living conditions-as experienced in S-37.
The submarine is basically an offensive unit. It is poor, at best, in the defensive or blockade role. Despite the historical proof of this dictum, the submarines deployed in the Solomons areas in the first year of the war were all positioned at the foot of St. George’s Channel or off Savo Island in a blockading role preventing ships from Rabaul to transit to New Guinea or to Guadalcanal. Hence, submarine sinkings were sparse. Only when these defensively oriented submarines moved out from their assigned patrol areas were there sinking of critically important Japanese ships. The S-44’1 destruction of the Japanese heavy cruiser KAKO north of New Ireland, and the S-38’s sinking of a critical troopship for reinforcement of the Japanese troops on Guadalcanal, were these important sinkings made possible.
The submarine can operate independently with great effectiveness when allowed to operate freely over a large area of the ocean. It can offensively attack surface ships without the support of other naval forces, and can attack the ships selectively with total surprise and then use a blanket of water to successfully evade counter attacks. (CREV ALLE’s attacb were of thia nature.)
Attacking with surprise is the submarine’s most important quality. It makes the submarine the equal or better than the biggest of warships. With a fraction of the crew size of the big warships and an even greater disparity in weapon power it can sink these big ships and get away successfully. Defensively, however, though many targets might be presented to tho submarine’s fire control system, its chances of achieving attack surprise are small because the targets are normally alerted to the possibility of an attack. (When many DDa came through the S-37’a blockade area, their topsides were jammed with lookouts, looking for the S-37’s periscope. Additionally they tried to give a wide berth to the area where S-37 had last charged its batteries on the surface-knowing that she could move only a few miles from that position.) Moreover, the lookout& in the tops of Japanese merchantmen or warships had superior binoculars and could see a submarine’s high periscope before the U.S. submarine could see the topmasts. And their destroyers exhibited a long-range passive listening capability far superior to that of the U.S. submarine.
Few submariners were wounded in submarine warfare. There were few Purple Hearts awarded to submariners. It was a matter of all or nothing. Even though the Submarine Service was the most lethally dangerous military service, submariners were fatalistic about their chances of dying-with the optimism of youth about their indestructibility. They were resolute in their acceptance of death as a consequence of their profession-like good samurais.
Being a Silent Service, for the most part, served the submarines well both for the generation of surprise in attack and for overall safety. (When Admiral Fife at Brisbane had two of his submarines, GRAMPUS and AMBERJACK acknowledged 107 of bis messages in early 1943, the Japanese with a good RDFing capability pinpointed the two submarines and sank GRAMPUS in February 1943, and AMBERJACK in March of 1943.)
When the oxygen content of a submerged submarine’s air gets low-even if the carbon dioxide is absorbed from the air in the boat-almost everyone makes mistakes in their thought processes, as illustrated by SEADRAGON’s torpedo attack against a large Japanese troop carrier late in the evening of 25 December 1942. (Replenishing the O2 was forgotten.)
Depth charging made equipment balky to operate and even necessitated hand operation of the equipment. This called for great strength to operate the gear in a manual mode. (SEADRAGON’s Strength Club proved invaluable, particularly for hand dlvlng the boat and for continuing the fighting capability of their submarine.)
A submarine’s high speed is at a premium in an attack on a high-speed valuable enemy warship (as with CREVALLE’s four hour, 20.S knot chase of a Japanese aircraft carrier-before a torpedo attack materialized.)
A submarine camouflaged for invisibility by using light gray paint on its vertical surfaces, is far less visible under all conditions of low visibility than an all-black painted job or a zig zag painted submarine to prevent a good estimation of its target angle. The light gray FLASHER and the traditional black-painted CREVALLE conducted visibility tests as they came south off patrol. The gray-painted FLASHER proved more difficult to see even on moonlit nights. Hence the day after their arrival in Freemantle, CREVALLE was painted gray except that her bridge shadow areas were painted white. A new idea.
The Japanese, in not allowing themselves to be taken prisoner after CREVALLE sank their gunboat, demonstrated a Japanese belief that a man who allowed himself to be taken prisoner was a contemptible person-and was to be so treated when be became a prisoner of war. The bad treatment of submariners who allowed themselves to be captured can be thus rationalized.
The weaker of two assailants in high seas warfare (in this case, the Japanese) will cause bis operations to gravitate to shallow waters where mines can restrict the mobility of the stronger enemy (the U.S. Submarine Force) and bays and inlets can be utilized for protection. At the same time, bugging the coast reduces the escort requirements by allowing escorts to protect only the outboard flanks of the ships they are protecting. (CREVALLE’s third war patrol off Borneo demonstrates this principle.)
Significantly, although some Burn messages of decoded Japanese ship movements were received by CREVALLE which might have been capitalized on, they never were. In some cases, Japanese ships might have been missed because of own navigation errors.
Submarines can be highly selective in their targeting of enemy ships and can attack deliberately-controlling the tempo of the battle. (This was well illustrated by CREVALLE’s attack of a large tanker, the last and most important ship in an eight ship convoy. The tanker was sunk aft.er letting the other seven ships with their outboard escorts pass on by at close range before six torpedoes were fired at the converted whale ship.
Women in a submarine caused bad judgement by her male officers who might have been trying to show off for the fairer sex. This resulted in a near disaster for the boat. Additionally, they were not compatible with the submarine’s design. (This was CREVALLE’s experience when she evacuated 16 women from the Japanese-held Island of Negros in the Philippines.) Submarines throughout the war carried out Special Missions. They rescued downed flyers, landed coast watchers and saboteurs, rescued Allied personnel after ship sinkings, evacuated friendly people from Japanese-held territory, did coastal reconnaissance, allowed cartel and hospital ships of the enemy a free passage, and laid mines to restrict enemy ship movements.
From the air, a surfaced submarine proved difficult to identify as such. (Ibis weakness in the enemy’s ASW was capitalized on by CREVALLE when she sped on the surface to the head of a convoy with air escort.) The Japanese pilots also proved susceptible to spurious voice communications as when CREVALLE’s Executive Officer sent a Wolfpack diving message and then kept CREVALLE on the surface. Thia caused the air escort to break off bis search for CREVALLE when he had closed to less than 10 miles, and returned to his station over the convoy.
- U.S. submarines proved to be tough warships. They were difficult to sink and were readily repaired at sea by their technologically competent crews. Their damage control equipment was well designed and the damage control measures were well thought out and proved very effective.
- Submarines, at best, proved to be poor pickets for a rapidly moving fleet of surface ships, (the mission for which they were designed). This defensive mission with its poor sonar detection ranges on enemy surface ships, and only limited visual and radar detection ranges, provided little coverage for distant surface or submarine threats.
- Appreciating sound layers in the ocean (with the introduction of the bathythermograph in submarines) proved of great value in effective evasion and in achieving attack surprise.
- Submariners were virtually all volunteers. They were phlegmatic while under a depth charging or bombing attack; there was no yelling within the submarine; they never showed signs of being afraid (with only one man going catatonic from fear-but he was identified as a psychological misfit who should have been screened out of submarines); they liked each other, showing no signs of having spats (no marked up faces or angry words tossed at each other); it was indicated that submarine was a young man’s game, requiring the endurance of healthy youths; there was little need for discipline of the men; they had a high esprit de corps, feeling that they were in an elite service; and they were offensive minded, wanting to go on the next and the next and the next patrol and not be stuck in a shore assignment, (for a 15 man draft for new construction I got only three volunteers). Most importantly, submariners were well above average in intelligence. So I must confess that I’m alive today because, unlike those where were taught that: “When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout”, a submariner on CREVALLE was resourceful enough to order “All back emergency!
It should be emphasized that, for the most part, these submarine lessons of WWII are apparently universal and timeless: the mystique surrounding submarines was seemingly continued through the Cold War; their quality of ubiquitousness was maintained (but perhaps to a lesser degree) despite major technical advances in undersea surveillance devices; and the threat posed by Polaris submarines was an offensive one despite its being labeled defensive.
Admiral Rickover was well aware of the public’s ignorance in regard to submarine matters as he rehashed their past performance in war in his testimony before Congressional Committees-in order to justify the expenditure of funds for his nuclear submarine project. The Admiral argued that the far greater mobility and usefulness of a submarine when nuclear power was well worth its cost. And so it has proved.