Victory Syllabus for UT-SAGE, Quest, Sr. Univ.
"There are two kinds of ships: submarines and targets."
Of four submarine campaigns in World War II, only the American was a strategic success, because our submarines isolated Japan, destroying their merchant fleet. Less than 3% of the people in our Navy, 16,500 men, in 1,682 war patrols sank two-thirds of enemy merchant ships and one-third of warships. Over a fifth of those men are on "eternal patrol." The 22 months after Pearl Harbor were frustrating — with faulty torpedoes and hesitant skippers.
That our submarines were strong and well built was shown by the Skipjack built in the late 30's submerged tethered at the Bikini Atoll a-bomb test and subjected to severe pressure. The circular pressure hull remained strong though non-circular parts of the ship were damaged. The structural welding was almost 100% intact. She was seaworthy enough to be towed to California.
World War II
In our fleet submarines two distillers provided water for batteries, cooking, cleanliness. They had thinner periscopes, and the significant Torpedo Data Computer (TDC). It was an analog computer developed by the Arma Corporation that calculated where to fire torpedoes at multiple targets, whatever the submarine's course. These submarines were longer than a football field, carried 24 torpedoes, and had 6 tubes forward and 4 aft — twice as many as most German U-boats. To keep crews effective on long patrols they had a mess/recreation compartment, another with triple-deck bunks for much of the crew, and a walk-in freezer. They had space and extra buoyancy so radar and other improvements could be added and kept cool. One was the bathythermograph that recorded depth and sea temperature. The goal was find the depth where the sea temperature rose or fell several degrees within a few feet of depth, then get the entire boat below that thermal layer to deflect enemy active sonar searching. See more technical information.
Before the war they dove in 60 seconds; during the war they learned to "crash-dive" in thirty-five! The result was the similar Tambor/Gato classes of fleet submarines that selected U.S. shipyards mass produced. The Navy thought they could safely dive no deeper than 300 feet, but in March 1942 the Gudgeon under depth charge attack slipped to 425 feet and recovered, the Thresher to 400 feet, and in June the Grouper to 600 feet with some leaking before rising. Their pressure hulls were stronger than any one realized! The pressure hulls of the Balao class of 1943 were built of a thicker, high-tensile steel to dive deeper; Tang of the Balao class under attack slipped to 750 feet in 1944 and recovered.
Intelligence breakthroughs that started in 1922 were developed despite obstacles. The U.S. Naval Academy sent top graduates to Japan yearly to master the language. Codes became progressively harder to break, so by December 7 the Japanese used the 25th iteration of the naval code. By 1943 most subs were directed to where targets would be by the code breakers.
Crewmen & "skipper problem"
Crewmen on their first fleet sub learned the many systems in the submarine — hydraulic, electric, mechanical, and controls. When they proved their knowledge to the Chiefs, they were "qualified" in submarines, earned extra pay, and could wear the twin dolphins. Many submarines were saved from tragedy because crewmen near the problem acted on that knowledge — in World War II and in nuclear submarines since.
Skippers were thoroughly trained before Pearl Harbor to be extremely cautious; their duties were master ship handling and avoid mistakes. They had no realistic training in war patrols. On Pearl Harbor day they were ordered to wage "unrestricted war." In the first year a third of skippers were relieved for being unaggressive "unproductive." A new skipper named "Mush" Morton, given command of the unproductive Wahoo, led an aggressive, innovative war patrol starting over two years after Pearl Harbor. He became the model for how to conduct the submarine war. Many skippers became legendary for aggressive yet thoughtful action and inspiring their crews.
Using the modified torpedoes, the Sailfish with a new skipper was first to sink an aircraft carrier. The attack was in a typhoon in a modern version of a Greek tragedy.
Submarines aggressively hunting
With aggressive skippers, experienced crews, and effective torpedoes, our submarines developed new tactics to clear most enemy freighters, tankers, and troop transports the "marus" from the Pacific. The "hell ships" were a new, traumatic experience; they carried allied POWs but were unmarked. Survivors of their sinkings called submariners "liberators;" some swam to land, though most drowned. Submarines were modified to be more effective. Several submarines were almost fatally damaged, but saved by the initiative and courage of their crews. The loss rate, 22%, was the highest of any U.S. service branch, but much lower than German U-boat losses.
Submarines probably spent too much time chasing enemy warships, since they were faster than our submarines, though with impressive results. In the Battle of the Philippine Sea Albacore and Cavalla each sank a carrier in the morning of the Marianas turkey shoot. That was the only naval battle in which submarines participated fully, provided intelligence before the battle, then sank key ships — without loss. A simple plan prevented our ships attacking our subs. During that month other submarines sank 54 marus. The Sealion II after a chase in a storm sank a battleship. Archer-fish after a long chase sank the super carrier Shinano in a David and Goliath fight.
Our submarines in the "lifeguard league" rescued over 500 aviators from carrier strikes and Air Force bombers who were forced to ditch at sea. One was Avenger pilot George H.W. Bush rescued by Finback.
The Pharmacist Mates treated normal illnesses, injured crewmen, rescued airmen, rescued POWs, and performed three appendectomies.
Admiral Lockwood urged scientists to develop new weapons: electric torpedoes, a decoy device, radar on top of periscopes to get accurate range, "Cutie" and "Dogy" homing torpedoes, a device to record outside sea temperature to find thermal layers that deflected enemy sonar, and "FM Sonar" that enabled submarines to "see" mines to go through minefields. Nine submarines penetrated the minefields in Tsushima Strait guarding the Sea of Japan to cut the last route for Japanese imports. On the way Tinosa found a B-29 crew in rafts. When they learned where she was headed, they elected to wait for a different rescuer. It was nerve wracking slipping past the mines. These submarines in 15 days sank 28 marus, then escaped to the Pacific, though Bonefish was lost.
For a list of our submarines "on eternal patrol" and information about their crews click here.
Several American fleet submarines were kept as memorials and are available for us to visit in cities across the U.S. The U. S. Submarine Force Museum is in Conn. (the two rings in the photo compare the size of the hulls of the first sub, Holland and the Ohio ballistic missile submarine).
After World War II
The U.S. Navy began in 1940 studying nuclear propulsion. Rickover joined in experiments that led to the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus. After a year and a half of high speed at deep depth the Nautilus had major damage from hydrodynamic forces that required stronger, better designed hulls.
Adm. Momsen scientifically developed the hull shape that is most efficient for speed underwater, using test basins, that led to building the fast, very maneuverable, Diesel powered Albacore. The Albacore hull was combined with nuclear power for the Skipjack attack subs. Some Skipjack hulls were cut in half to insert missile tubes, becoming the George Washington class of nuclear missile submarines – designed to be a deterrent so effective it would never be used. Eight were on station near the USSR during the Cuban missile crisis.
American fast attack submarine crews during the Cold War furnishing decisive intelligence in daring, very secret operations. They tapped Soviet telephone cables, so we read uncoded messages; surveyed Soviet anchorages; followed Soviet submarines to record their sounds, performance, and patrol patterns; and studied sunken Soviet gear, including the sunken Golf II missile submarine K-129 that revealed it may have been a rogue submarine that attempted to launch a nuclear missile against Hawaii as described by Kenneth Sowell in Red Star Rogue.
Copyright © 2004, 2010 John F. Yeaman