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Part I appeared in the April 2009 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.


From 1874, Naval Institute Proceedings, the journal of the Naval Institute, has provided an independent window dedicated to Navy matters with articles from military professionals and civilian experts. Through the years and especially after the Navy’s April 1900 purchase of HOLLAND submarine, commentaries directed to submarines have appeared in the Proceedings. A bibliography of submarine commentary in the Proceedings from 1903 to 1992 that appeared in the January and April 1994 issues of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW reveal more than 200 hundred articles, most with the word submarine in the title. The intention is to look again at some representative articles of how the submarine was perceived in the pre WWII period by Navy officers and others.

The Value of the Submarine in Naval Warfare

Proceedings, May 1926 Rear Admiral Arno Spindler, German Navy Like other submarine-related Proceedings articles in the middle and late 1920s, Spindler’s essay immediately addresses the issue of” … the extension of the restriction of naval armaments to I the submarine.” Other aspects of the significance of the submarine are supported by data and observations about the wartime activities of the German submarines. Comments regarding the future of the submarines are based on careful examination of the wartime experience. The article stresses the strength of the submarine in the military role. It does not address the interrupted use of the submarine in the intense commerce raiding that began in 1917.

During WWI, Spindler was assigned to the German Ministry of Marine in the section charged with construction and development of submarines. He was considered a leading authority on submarine warfare and published four of the official histories of the First World War U-boat campaign. In 1929, Spindler became head of German anti-submarine warfare.

An appropriate comment made by the author sets up the value criteria for the submarine. “In the same sense that we speak of a ‘fleet in being,’ a fleet which exerts its effectiveness merely by its presence, … we can apply this idea to the submarine weapon. 2 This view is supported in many ways but the vast antisubmarine effort taken in both world wars is an example of the response to the fleet in being.

The essay establishes that prior to the war in 1914 no preparations were made by the German Navy for the employment of submarines against enemy commerce. The number of submarines available at the beginning of the war was in agreement with the military estimate of the number required as auxiliaries in naval warfare, not commerce raiding.

As Spindler’s careful analysis of German WWI submarine strategy against England points out, it was heavily driven by the geography of the primary areas of operation. The German Bight, located in a small triangle of the North Sea with the submarine bases close together, was much easier to blockade with mine fields than a Jong coastline with scattered harbors. The narrow channel between Dover and Calais and the stretch of water between Norway and Scotland allowed blocking of submarine routes. German submarines found it further time consuming to go on station west of England to interdict overseas trade. A Heligoland- based submarine needed about two weeks of a three-or four-week operation to go and return from station. With 60 submarines in service at the North Sea bases during the summer of 1917, there were on the average only 23 at sea at one time.

Perhaps the crucial importance of adapting submarine strategies and needs to the geography of where some future unknown encounter might possibly occur is Spindler’s mid-1920s gift to the reader in the 21st Century.

The September 1914 German submarine antiwar ship success demonstrated to the Germans the Allies’ lack of suitable means for combating the submarines. According to Spindler ” .. .the complete discontinuation of the submarine warfare from the summer of 1915 to the beginning of 1917 which gave the allied nations the time to develop and organize their anti-submarine offensive on a large scale after the short flare-up of the submarine warfare 1915 had made them aware of the danger.” 4 In this period, mines and depth charges became effective enemy antisubmarine measures. Of the 166 German submarines destroyed, 37 were lost due to mines and 33 by depth charges. The effectiveness of the English convoy system was recognized as an exceedingly great obstacle to the Gennan submarine.5 The end of the war saw Gennany balancing the monthly loss of seven submarines per month with new construction.

Spindler observes that submarine warfare in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in addition to bases needed would require larger submarines with increased radius of action and good sea-keeping qualities. This view coincided at the time with current views held by some in the United States. His understanding of the submarine’s military and non-military values provides guidance appropriate to today as well. This summation and comment of his essay suggest that reading of the entire article may be valuable.

Throughout the article, the unique and exacting demands of submarine service, the technical needs of the boat, its complement and command are stressed. The importance of communications with the submarine is cited with examples given of its lack.

Sunderland Operation August 16-19, 1916

In this sea battle not long after Jutland, the German goal for the operation was to find some way to isolate and bring portions of the British Grand Fleet to battle. With few Gennan at sea military operations during the war, Spindle uses this operation in the North Sea off England’s east coast to present an early example of a modern, but primitive, naval operations integrating air, surface, and subsurface platforms, a step toward developing submarine operations in conjunction with the fleet.

A 2005 essay commented about the Sunderland engagement. “Understanding how the Gennan High Seas Fleet dealt with the complexities of integrating these assets may help the U. S. Navy today learn important lessons as it tries to integrate network centric concepts into its operational doctrine.”

The Gennan entourage moving toward Sunderland, in addition to battle cruisers and dreadnoughts, included screening support from eight zeppelins and 24 submarines. Moving tines of submarines were deployed so that British forces standing out from the north or south would have to pass over one of the lines of submarines. Although British forewarned by German activity sailed to encounter the Gennan forces on the I 9 1 h of August there was no fleet encounter.

With the German commander of Submarine Forces embarked on one of the High Seas Fleet battleships, reports from the zeppelins and some of the submarines enabled the tine of the submarines to be in the direction of the main enemy body. Six boats were stationed initially in the latitude of Sunderland another four boats directly across the mouth of the Huber. Six submarines sighted the enemy and five were enabled to fire torpedoes. Of the twenty torpedoes fired on the 19th and 20 1 h by submarines, eight were hits. Cruisers Nottingham and Falmouth and one destroyer were sunk.

Admiral Jellicoe later emphasized the value of the submarine in a book. His comments noted the extensive submarine trap, submarines causing large alterations of course to avoid them, and light cruisers at highest speeds needing screening by destroyers even when proceeding at highest speed. ” … Representations were made to the Admiralty to the effect that it was considered that in the future light cruisers should be screened by at least one destroyer per ship … ” The submarine showed value when engaged in strictly military operations in naval warfare. 7

Spindler’s 1926 concluding remarks emphasize the future from technical and military standpoints. The submarine’s field of activity would be increased, and it would become a more effective weapon in naval warfare, as would the methods of conducting naval warfare to meet the submarine threat. The burden of future submarines cited included double machinery requirement (surface and submerged), speed, and radius of action and range of visibility. Finatty, the submarine would increase in value for naval warfare “if its further development is not forcibly stopped by other means.” 8 Submarine Will Last Despite All its Foes Proceedings December 1926 Professional Notes, Hector C. By water· Baltimore Sun October 7, 1926

This pro-submarine article brings attention to the submarine’s demonstrated success during WWI by both the Allies and Germans. Attention is directed to the U-boat operations not related to merchant ship sinking. At the time the essay was written, the author notes that the British were embarking on the construction of 24 submarines, and he contrasts this with the negative position of complete abolition or restricting submarines taken by the British at the Washington Conference several years earlier, (l 921-22), and unsuccessfully again in 1930 at the London Naval Treaty sessions.

The Admiralty’s long-lasting diffident view of submarines was first noted in 1804. Robert Fulton proposed building a submarine to the Admiralty. Prime Minister, William Pitt (the younger) was favorable. The First Lord of the Admiralty was opposed and, referring to Pitt, said, “was the greatest fool that ever existed to encourage a mode of war which those who commanded the sea did not want, and which if successful would deprive them of it.”

By water points out that in addition to the widely-publicized sinking of merchant ships, the U-boats took a heavy toll of Allied warship tonnage and that their presence in the various war zones was a source of grave embarrassment to the Attied naval plans all through the war. The deterrent effect of submarines. present or not, forced the battleships that put to sea to steam at high speed and pursue a zigzag course that impacted fuel consumption with a consequent restriction of cruising endurance, a serious military disadvantage.

By water further highlights submarine effectiveness. German U-boats sank two British battleships in quick succession during a critical period of the Dardanelles campaign, causing the whole Allied fleet to withdraw to a fortified anchorage. Troops ashore were without the support of naval artillery. Two British battleships lost in the Dardanelles campaign were the IRRESISTIBLE and OCEAN. This could not be confirmed as a U-boat victory. Various historical sources indicate loss due to mines. The density of the watercraft limited U-boat operations in the Dardanelles.

The author suggests, “It is still a moot point whether Germany, by concentrating her submarines against the British fleet instead of using them as commerce destroyers would not have achieved more decisive results. There is scarcely any doubt that the former course of action, by rendering the North Sea untenable for Allied warships, would have made the British blockade exceedingly precarious and might even have reduced it to a farce. It was well for us that the German high command became obsessed with the idea of wholesale commerce destruction as a 10 short cut to victory.”

Again addressing the British dichotomy of in or in favor of submarines, the observation that the unending construction of 157 new British submarines built or ordered during the WWI years, even in 1917 when the popular cry was for mercantile tonnage and destroyers, points out that the War had shown the submarine to be absolutely indispensable. The laying down of 140 new submarines by the six leading powers during past few years is proffered to indicate the submarine has come to stay and will last.

A Brief for the Submarine Proceedings, August 1928 Midshipman (now Ensign) Albert C. Burrows USN

As a midshipman, Burrow’s essay surprisingly brings out the importance of the submarine as a formidable naval weapon demonstrated during WWI, then ten years past. His defense of the submarine as an important component of the Navy’s fleet is cleverly supported in several interesting and logical viewpoints.

With his strong pro-submarine brief, he mentions the persistent attempt by some to abolish submarines. It is surprising that eight years after the failed attempt at the 1921-22 International Washington Naval Conference to abolish submarines, this was still a topic to be considered. The earlier antisubmarine argument was the danger of the submarine to non-combatants. In contrast, the essay points out the broad support for airplanes that could also be used against non-combatants.

Submarine merits in the essay include a quote from the sub- marine designer Marley F. Hay. “It may be surprising to learn that in point of armament, radius of action and seaworthiness, a modem submarine already considerably surpasses any destroyer of equal size.”

A case for the submarine, even in its infancy of development, presents a proven record of its operational versatility. Scouting, advance guard, protection of trade routes and naval bases, and unsupported attacks on moving fleets and convoys are offered as examples.

Burrows points out the submarine’s scouting role in the buildup to the First Battle of Heligoland Bight (August 28, 1914) during the early weeks of WWI. Heligoland is a small island in the North Sea off the German coast, sometimes referred to as Germany’s Gibraltar of the North Sea. In the battle, the Royal Navy sank three cruisers and a destroyer with no loss. British submarines brought back valuable intelligence about German patrols that supported the British to plan and attack German patrols off the northwest German coast. Burrows notes in support of submarines as a deterrent that following the British triumph, pursuing the enemy was curtailed because of the presence of a flotilla of U-boats covering the German squadron, as well as mines.

The main impact of the British success confirmed the Kaiser in his determination not to risk the High Seas Fleet in any major encounters, and thus to confirm British control of the North Sea, and the security of the blockade of Gennany. The effect upon the Gennan government and in particular the Kaiser was to restrict the freedom of action of the Gennan Fleet, instructing it to remain in port and avoid any contact with superior forces.

In January 1915, the Battle of Dogger Bank, half way across the North Sea, was scene of a stem chase clash by British Grand Fleet ships with the Gennan High Seas Fleet. Again a British win, the ubiquitous but not always present submarine impacted the actions. There were no submarines in the area. Acting Vice Admiral Beatty the leader of the British forces did not know this. This time it was a false submarine periscope sighting, fog, and poor communications that limited a greater victory by the British. Towing the damaged battle cruisers the British flagship Lion and Indomitable during their slow return to England demonstrates the strong influence of a potential U-boat attack. Under this threat, a screen of over 50 ships was assigned to guard the heavily damaged cruisers. The defeat at Dogger Bank brought a further pronouncement by the Gennan Kaiser ordering fewer risks at sea.

Burrows supports the value of submarines during WW l: “For proof of the efficacy of the submarine, one need only recall that nearly 1500 anned vessels were required to patrol the largest mine field ever laid down in naval warfare to limit the activities of 100 to l 50 U-boats issuing from their only bases on the German and Flanders coasts.” 12

The author comments that the best defense against submarines was found to be submarines. A strong summation in the essay regarding the effectiveness of submarines states “Admiral Sims in The Vict01y at Sea points out that in proportion to the number of antisubmarine craft employed the Allied submarines destroyed three times as many German subsurface craft as Allied destroyers and twenty times as many as auxiliary patrol craft.” Burrows in his concluding remarks consider submarines as underwater cruisers and points to the direction of submarine technology toward significant operational enhancement and performance. “The submarine is an American invention. It belongs to America along with the airplane, the steamship, and the telegraph. It is ours to keep, to improve, to perfect to use-but not to misuse.”

The Effect of Depth Charges on Submarines Proceedings March 1935

Lieutenant Commander Leonard Doughty, Jr., U. S. Navy This essay, written eighteen years after the end of WWI, examines the effectiveness of the submarine countermeasure, the depth charge introduced during the War. The first reported depth charge attack on a U-boat was made July 20, 1915 in unsuccessful attempts by two British armed cruisers. Ten wartime depth charge sinkings or related to the sinking of U-boats are analyzed to support the essay title. Depth charge, deterring an enemy submarine from pressing home an attack, and the success of the Allied convoy system after April 1917 using depth charges against submarines are acknowledged as examples submarine counter measure.

Regarding submarine vulnerability Doughty draws on Admiral Jellicoe’s 1920 The Crisis of the Naval War, citing a submarine danger ranges from depth charges exploded within 14 feet (destruction), within 28 feet (submarine disability), and within 60 feet (a demoralizing effect). Statistics on numbers of depth charges expended during the war by the Allies place the number at more than 38,000. With a total of 38 German U-boats sunk by this means, the average number of depth charges for each submarine sunk would be in the vicinity of 1,000.

Considering the submarine to be an important factor in any naval war of the future and the depth charge to again be the principal weapon in antisubmarine warfare, the author points to the need to study the effect of the depth charge on the submarine to determine the actual damage done and what measures might be taken to reduce the submarine’s vulnerability. Measures included “Greater ruggedness and resistance to shock in the depth- regulating mechanism, protection of the batteries and motors from entering water, and protection of personnel from gas.”

Based on the accounts of the sinking or damage of various submarines given by the interrogations of survivors or by submarines’ war diaries, it was found that in some instances repair of the damage from the depth charge was possible but that due to the frequent circumstance of enemy surface ships on the surface, the opportunity for repair was not present.

In all but one of the 1917-8 U-boat case histories examined in the essay, the submarines were sunk as a result of depth charges, ramming, gunfire, or in some combination of these. In three situations after extensive damage attacks on certain occasions lasted for more than a day. Three sinking were the result of demolition by the crew of the submarine. Analysis attributes resilience for both the U-boats and the crews.


Of the ten U-boats encounters analyzed, nine were commissioned in 1917 and 1918. Between July 9, I 917 and July 26, 1918, all except one were sunk with the depth charge playing a significant role.

In the August 1936 issue of the Proceedings comment regarding Doughty’s essay addressed future antisubmarine progress in areas such as placing depth charges with better precision and greater explosive power and better underwater detection of submarines. The article summarized the impact on the submarine; “The attack will be concentrated and not diffused, and the under- water vessel of the future, no matter how robust her construction is, may find herself has as bad and even a worse time of it from the depth charges than did the U-boats in the World War of 1914- 18. ,

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