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Submarine Warefare in World War One

Michael Wilson and Paul Kemp
Crecy Publishing Ltd., Wilmslow, Cheshire, UK 1997
ISBN 0 947554 57 2
Reviewed by Antony Preston

The literature on submarine warfare in World War One is voluminous, but most of the better known English language work concentrates on the havoc wrought by U-boats in the North Sea and the Western Approaches. When the Mediterranean is discussed, the focus is almost always on the achievements of the Royal Navy in the Dardanelles in 1915-16; even the efforts of the French in that theater are largely ignored.

The authors have rectified this, documenting and analysing all the belligerents and their submarine operations, even those of the Russians and Bulgars in the Black Sea. Michael Wilson is a former submariner, and he looks at the problems with a sympathetic eye. The achievements are all the more remarkable when we remember that effective submarines had been in service for little more than 15
years. Yet even that short span was sufficient to turn the submarine into an advanced weapon of war. Torpedoes were sufficiently reliable, and so were diesel engines and electric motors. Living conditions were primitive, but already the concept of an elite was emerging in all the submarine operating navies, prepared to accept the danger and the dirt.

The heroes are the officers and enlisted men who fought so hard, notably the French, who valiantly persevered with attempts to penetrate the main Austrian fleet base at Pola, and the Austrians, who achieved great results with small numbers of largely obsolescent boats. There are not many villains, apart from senior officers like Admiral Haus, who berated Linienschiffsleutnant Rudolf Singular for not sinking the other cruisers after he had torpedoed the big armored cruiser GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI! The Italians showed excessive timidity, and the British failed to achieve the results they hoped for in the Adriatic, despite their ill concealed contempt for their Italian and French allies. There are sad stories too, like that of Nazario Sauro, navigator of the Italian boat GIACINTO PULLINO, which ran aground of the Dalmatian coast. Although serving in the Italian Navy, Sauro was a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and when the submarine grounded some of his crew apparently beat him up for suspected treachery. One hopes they were conscience stricken when the Austrians hanged him as a traitor at Pola. The photograph of him in captivity, still bearing the bruises on his face, is very moving.

The extent to which the authors have trawled among surviving archives can be seen in the unusual photographs and the comprehensive bibliography. There is also analysis of the results: 16 battleships and large cruisers were sunk in the Mediterranean by torpedoes or submarine-laid mines, and hundreds of merchant ships. Eight submarines were sunk by other submarines, five of them Allied, and two were sunk by air attack. Main characteristics of all the belligerents’ submarines are provided. A fascinating book and a worthy addition to the literature on submarine warfare.

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