PART FOUR: 1941-2000

Prepared for NOVA by Captain Brayton Harris, USN (Retired)
Author, The Navy Times Book of Submarines: A Political, Social and Military History






On the first day of the war, 28 submarines of the U. S. Asiatic Fleet were in defensive positions around the Philippines. More submarines than the entire German U-boat fleet at the beginning of World War I; indeed, more submarines than had ever been assembled for one battle at the same time. They might as well have been in San Diego.

For the losing three-week Philippine campaign, with potential targets including seventy-six loaded transports and supply ships, the Americans averaged only two attacks per submarine, and sank only three Japanese ships. Only one American submarine was lost.

That is not meant as a compliment. Pre-war training had emphasized caution: "It is bad practice and is contrary to submarine doctrine," noted an official report of 1941, "to conduct an attack at periscope depth when aircraft are known to be in the vicinity." Of more significance: problems with torpedo supply, and design. As for supply: 1941 torpedo production was limited to 60 a month. For all of 1942, even with a war well underway, total production was 2,382. Submarine commanders, already too cautious, were cautioned not to waste their precious ammunition. For the year, they shot 2,010.

As for design: the Americans, British, Russians and Germans all had similar problems with their torpedoes. The depth settings were wrong; the fuses were inadequate; the torpedoes did not explode on contact. Example: during one period in 1940, U-boats launched four attacks on a battleship, 14 on cruisers, ten on destroyers, and ten on transports – with one transport sunk. The leading U-boat ace complained, "I cannot be expected to fight with a dummy rifle."

In all navies, senior management did not give credence to reports coming in from the fleet. The submariners themselves – who, after all, had the most to gain, or lose – continued to complain until someone took notice, or conducted their own indisputable tests. Amazing to note: some of these problems were hold-overs from World War I, and others were well known – but not well dealt-with – in the 1930s. The German problems were resolved toward the end of 1940.

As for the U. S. Navy: before the problems had been discovered, and fixed, an effort which took the first two years of the war, almost 4,000 torpedoes had been fired against the enemy – with marginal results. On one patrol "Halibut" fired 23 torpedoes; only one exploded (although one of the targets was sunk when the torpedo punched a hole through rusting hull plates). The U. S. score for all of 1942, 180 ships, 725,000 tons (about equal to a monthly U-boat total). The Japanese replaced 635,000 tons in the same period. As far as the undersea forces were concerned, it looked like it was going to be a long war.


Japan began construction of the 5,223-ton I-400 class of submarine aircraft carrier, each of which carried three dive-bomber seaplanes. Designed for attacks against the Panama Canal and the West Coast of the United States. Twelve were planned; only two were built, and did not see any useful service.

Japanese submarines also made some attacks on the West Coast, lobbing shells at Santa Monica, California, and Astoria, Oregon. The attacks had minor effect, although Radio Tokyo gloated, "Americans know that the submarine shelling of the Pacific coast was a warning to the nation that the paradise created by George Washington is on the verge of destruction."

Doenitz had hoped to send a blitzkrieg of U-boats against the East Coast of America, but Hitler, fearful of an Allied invasion of Norway, forced him to keep most of his assets closer to home. Nonetheless, he managed to get five long-range cruisers into position in January – where they found the whole coastline lit up like Times Square on New Year's Eve: no blackouts, all navigational aids aiding, all ships sailing with full navigational lights. It was high tourist season in Miami and the war was 3000 miles away; the northward-flowing Gulf Stream just a few miles offshore kept southward-bound ships close inshore, nicely silhouetted against a glowing Florida skyline. The score for two and a half months in American coastal waters: 98 ships. Coastal communities did not go under blackout until April.
The "Battle of the Atlantic" began in July, and continued for eleven months; the U-boats scored some 712 merchant victims. Ships were being sunk at more than twice the replacement rate, and new U-boats were joining the fleet at a rate of about one a day. Also in July, the Germans began deployment of a mid-ocean filling station. The Type XIV boat had a capacity for 700 tons of fuel and other supplies, rather than armaments. Dubbed the "Milk Cow," one could keep a dozen Type VII at sea for another month, or five Type IX for two months.
On September 13, in what may be the most spectacular – albeit unplanned – submarine event of all time, the Japanese I-19 launched a spread of six torpedoes at the aircraft carrier "Wasp." Three hit, sinking the ship. The others continued running for twelve miles, into another task group, where one caused fatal damage to the destroyer "O'Brien" and other send the battleship "North Carolina" to the shipyard for two months. The sixth cruised on, into the unknown.
Technological advances such as improved radar, the radar altimeter, the aircraft searchlight, and effective air-dropped depth charges began to enter the force. Before long, aircraft were accounting for 50 percent of all U-boat sinkings.

By the end of the year, with the U-boat fleet clearly in trouble, Hitler authorized the design of a fully combat-capable Walter-cycle 1,600 ton U-boat, designated Type XVIII. Two prototypes were ordered. However, it was soon obvious that there was not enough time – or money – to turn this dream into reality. The design was converted into a conventionally-powered submarine – diesel on the surface, batteries for submerged running – and the rather large space intended for storage of the Perhydrol was given over to an extra-large bank of batteries.

Two classes were ordered: the 1,600-ton Type XXI, and a coastal version, the 230-ton XXIII. Type XXI had only half the range of the comparable Type IX, could manage bursts of 17 knots underwater (compared with 7 knots), dive to almost 1,000 feet (300 feet deeper), and remain totally submerged at economical creep speed for 11 days. With a sophisticated fire control system the Type XXI could launch an attack from a depth of 150 feet.

Type XXIII had twice the submerged speed and five times the underwater endurance of the small pre-war Type II. However, combat effectiveness was severely limited: two torpedoes, no reloads. All other submarine construction was quickly phased out in favor of Type XXI and Type XXIII.

Hoping to hide existing U-boats from the increasingly devastating air patrols, Germany perfected an idea that had been kicking around for a long time: use of a breathing tube to allow running on diesel power just below the surface, thus also keeping the batteries fully charged. They dubbed it the "snorkel." It was not a perfect solution: the tube could break if the boat was going too fast; the ball-float at the top would close if a wave passed over, thus shifting engine suction to the interior of the boat and occasionally popping a few eardrums. The snorkel also left a visible wake, and returned a pretty good radar blip. But it helped.

The Germans underestimated the industrial capacity of the United States. The prediction against which "Tonnage War" was by then being waged was that the 1943 ship-production of Great Britain and the U. S. together would be less than 8 million tons. The U. S. alone launched more than double that figure.

The Germans also underestimated the ability of the Allies to develop and implement highly-effective anti submarine weapons and tactics. During the year, the U. S. Navy established anti-submarine "Hunter-Killer" groups, centered on the small, "Jeep" carrier. Long-range aircraft, such as the B-24 adapted for anti-submarine efforts, went into service. Among other efforts, they put an end to the "Milk Cow." The rendezvous were too easy to spot by air patrol. Of nine Type XIV in service in June, 1943, seven had been sunk by August.

Also operational: the "hedgehog" – so-called because the array of twenty-four 65-pound projectiles looked like the bristles of a porcupine. Launched 230 yards in front of the surface warship, the projectiles would cover a 100-foot circle, and explode on contact. The wepaon proved to be highly effective.

By the end of May, 1943, the Germans had clearly lost the Battle of the Atlantic. In that month alone, 41 U-boats were sunk – 25 percent of current operational strength. Things got worse: in the last four months of the year, almost 5,000 ships sailed in Atlantic convoys; nine were lost. Sixty-two U-boats were destroyed.

In June, a Hunter-Killer group became the first American force to capture an enemy warship on the high seas since the War of 1812. The Type IX boat, U-505, was forced to the surface by depth charges; quick action by a boarding party saved the boat from being scuttled by the crew. U-505 is now a permanent exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. In a small quirk of fate, it is only several dozen miles from the wreckage of the World War I UC-97.

The captured U-505 and the American jeep carrier, "Guadalcanal."

In a reprise of the "Deutschland" efforts of World War I to move high-priority cargo through the blockade, the Japanese cargo-carrying I-52 (356 feet long, cruising range of 27,000 miles at 12 knots) was sent from Indonesia with a cargo of ruber, tin, opium, quinine, tungsten, molybdenum and 2 metric tons of gold bullion, bound for Nazi-occupied France.

Allied radio intercepts had pin-pointed a mid-ocean rendezvous with U-530, to transfer a coast pilot, a radar technician and some new radar equipment to assist I-52 in running the Allied gauntlet. Sunk on June 23, 1944, by an aircraft from the jeep-carrier USS BOGUE, I-52 was discovered in May, 1995 -- lying under 17,000 feet of water.


The American verison of code-breaking, dubbed the "Pacific Ultra," allowed the fleet to plot Japanese merchant convoys in advance – no need for long open-ocean hunting expeditions. U. S. submarine production was scaled back radically early in the year – the already-existing submarine force was running out of targets. With perhaps 140 submarines operating in the Pacific, the U. S. Navy submarines sank more than 600 Japanese ships, 2.7 million tons – more than for the years 1941, 1942 and 1943 combined.

As the targets disappeared, many submarines were assigned to picket duty to rescue downed aviators making B-29 raids on Japan, or anyone else who happened along. A total of 540 were hauled aboard – including the youngest pilot in the U. S. Navy, Lt(jg) George H. W. Bush.

Japan fielded the "Kaiten" suicide torpedo, incorporating elements of the 24-inch, 40-knot version of the "Long Lance" with a control compartment into which the pilot was locked. Range: not more than five hours, no matter what. "Kaiten" were carried into battle by I-class submarines; the record is ambiguous. A fairly large number of "Kaiten" were sent into action; one American tanker and a small landing ship were sunk, perhaps also a destroyer escort, and two transports were damaged

One model of the "Kaiten" sucide torpedo
Germany, also pursuing weapons of desperation, developed a two-man, two-torpedo midget submarine, the "Seehund." Thirty-nine feet long, fifteen tons, "Seehund" could dive to 165 feet with a surface range of 120 miles at 8 knots, or 250 miles at 5 knots; submerged, 20 miles at 5 knots, 60 miles at 3 knots. At least 268 had been built and were ready for service when the war ended in May, 1945.
To minimize the effect of Allied bombing, the late-war Type XXI boats were built in virtually complete sections at scattered locations, and transported by barge to assembly yards.

Note the "figure 8" cross section of the pressure hull. The lower section was initially intended for storage of hydrogen peroxide for a Walter powerplant; it became, instead, the compartment for the enlarged battery capacity that gave these boats the nickname "Electroboot."
The largest ship ever sunk by a submarine: the brand-new aircraft carrier "Shinano," 71,890 tons, November 28, by the U. S. submarine "Archerfish."

The first Type XXIII went on war patrol in February. By the end of the European war – May 7 – six were in service, 53 were in the water, and 900 were under construction or on order.

The first Type XXI, U-2511, left Hamburg on war patrol on April 30; when she returned home to surrender, 30 Type XXI were in shakedown and training, 121 were in the water and another 1000 were under construction or on order.


U-3008, one of only two Type XXI U-boats to make a wartime patrol – albeit brief, as the war ended en route.

For some, the war ended too soon. With more hope than sense, Germany had more than 1,900 Type XXI and Type XXIII under construction or on order on the last day of the European war.

Germany's largest U-boat, the 1,700 ton Type XB minelayer U-234 – was at sea when the war ended, and surrendered in mid-ocean to an American destroyer escort. Her original destination had been Japan; her cargo included two complete ME-262 jet fighters (disassembled in crates, but with complete technical data) and 550 kilograms of Uranium 235 (or Uranium oxide -- sources differ), packed in lead containers. The reason the uranium was being sent to Japan has never been determined – or, at least, revealed.




GERMANY U-boats claimed 14.4 million tons, but Germany lost 821 U-boats. Allied aircraft were responsible for (or directly involved in) the loss of 433; surface ships, 252; mines, 34; accidents 45, submarines 25 (only one of which happened when both hunter and victim were submerged); unknown, 15, scuttled by their own crews, 14; interned in neutral ports, 2; sunk by shore battery, 1.

UNITED STATES: American submarines sank at least 1300 Japanese ships, 5.3 million tons, including one battleship, eight carriers, eleven cruisers and 180 smaller warships. The U. S. Navy lost 52 boats; 22 percent of the submarine personnel who went on patrol did not return. It was the highest casualty rate of any branch of service– but not as high as that of the German submarine force, which lost an astonishing 630 men out of every 1,000 who served in the U-boat fleet.

SOVIET RUSSIA: The Soviets started the war with the largest submarine fleet: 218. They added 54 and lost 109. They did not have much impact on the course of the war. However, S-13 was credited with the single greatest disaster in maritime history: the 1945 sinking of the German liner "Wilhelm Gustloff," engaged in an effort to get German soldiers out of the path of the advancing Red Army. There may have been more than 8,000 troops and civilians aboard; fewer than 1,000 were rescued.

JAPAN: Japanese submarines had great success early in the war, especially in the Indian Ocean area. However, the tide of battle began to turn with the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal in August, 1942, and Japanese submarines were pulled off combat duty and assigned to carry vital supplies to beleaguered troops or to pull troops out of failing campaigns. The Japanese built submarine landing ships; the Japanese Army built twenty eight cargo submarines.

Japanese submarines scored a few important victories – the carriers "Yorktown" and "Wasp," and the last American surface warship sunk, the cruiser "Indianapolis" in late July, 1945; overall, however, they sank only about one-fifth as many ships as did the American submarine force.

On the last day of the Pacific war, Japan had only 33 submarines in commission (excluding midgets), seven of which were in the training command. Except for the midgets, the submarine force had become irrelevant.


With more desperation than hope, the Japanese launched a massive building program of suicide and midget submarines. Here, eighty-four midgets, of four different designs, are huddled in drydock, October, 1945.

Just as with WWI, there was only one verified German submarine atrocity. In March, 1944, a U-boat commander, on his first combat mission, ordered his crew to kill all survivors of "Peleos" and try to pulverize all floating wreckage with hand-grenades. His motive: to hide the sinking from patrolling aircraft and thus conceal his own presence in the area. He, and two of his officers (who claimed they were only "following orders") were convicted and executed.


Karl Doenitz, who started the war as commander of submarines, became Navy Chief of Staff in January, 1943, and ended the war as Hitler's chosen successor as Chief of State – even though he had never been a member of the Nazi Party. Hitler committed suicide on April 30; Doenitz assumed command on May 1 – and issued "cease fire" orders on May 3.

The 1945 Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal brought Doenitz up on charges, especially for "breeches of the international law of submarine warfare" for authorizing and encouraging unrestricted operations. The best witness in his defense: U. S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, who acknowledged that the United States Navy had authorized unrestricted operations against Japan, throughout the Pacific ocean area, from the first days of the war.

Nonetheless, Doenitz was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for being "fully prepared to wage war" – a specious charge, in the eyes of most observers; any military force should always be thus prepared. Most observers believed that he was being tried as a stand-in for the unavailable Adolph Hitler.

The U. S. Navy took two Type XXI and a handful of Japanese boats for study, and applied some lessons-learned to a fleet upgrade dubbed "Greater Underwater Propulsive Power" (GUPPY).

Fifty-two boats were modified: snorkels were added, guns removed, the superstructures streamlined, and battery-power greatly increased. Another nineteen boats received some improvements. The net result: greatly increased underwater speed and endurance.
Dr. Philip Abelson proposed a marriage of the Walter hull form with a nuclear power plant. The Navy detailed eight engineers to the home of the Atomic Bomb, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to see what might be developed.

Testing some newly-discovered peculiarities concerning the transmission of sound in the open ocean, a U. S. submarine was able to detect a destroyer at a distance of 105 miles and hear depth-charges exploding 600 miles away. This, and other research, led to the development of a deep-ocean array of hydrophones called SOSUS. One of the earliest installations could detect a snorkeling submarine at 500 miles.

The U. S. Navy began experimenting with submarine-launched missiles, starting with a copy of the German V-1 buzz bomb.

Loon was tracked by radar and command-controlled from the submarine. However, erection of the launching ramp and preparation of the missile kept the submarine on the surface for five minutes; therefore, a hand-off control system was developed, whereby another submarine, 80 miles downrange, could take over for the last 55 miles of missile flight.
The Soviet Union moved to regain status as operator of the world's largest submarine fleet: over the following eight years, they built 235 "Whiskey" class, using the Type XXI as a template.
"Pickerel" ran from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor – twenty-one days, 5,194 miles, on snorkel.

One of the officers detailed to Oak Ridge in 1946 assumed control of the Navy nuclear propulsion program (and kept control, until finally retired in 1982). Captain Rickover was a submariner and an engineer, with a passion for safety and an obsession for control. He was brilliant, and difficult – and made nuclear power a reality, not just in submarines, but in many major surface warships as well.

He also well-understood the role of the Congress in procurement decisions; his friends on Capitol Hill ensured Rickover's professional standing by assisting in a series of promotions, eventually to the four-star rank of admiral.

"Tang," the first of the post-war U. S. submarines, set an American depth record, 713 feet.
The next generation sub-launched missile was "Regulus I," able to carry a 3,000 pound nuclear warhead for five hundred miles.

The missile hangar on "Grayback," SSG-574, could house two "Regulus I" missiles and was integrated into the hull. When "Regulus" was overtaken by later developments, the hangar became a compartment for clandestine amphibious assault troops.
The U. S. Navy began operation of a fast-submarine test bed, the 203-foot "Albacore." The hull form was similar to that of an airship; the boat went through five experimental configurations; in the first, she demonstrated underwater speeds of 26 knots.

The successful hull-form was applied to the last class of U. S. diesel boats, "Barbel," 1959, (shown here) and to the "Skipjack" nuclear class, 1959.

Testing completed, "Albacore" was retired to a public park near Portsmouth, NH -- towed in along a ditch dug for the purpose, which was then filled in. These photos -- courtesy of Robert Marble -- show "Albacore" in place, but not yet dressed for company.

The first nuclear-powered submarine went to sea: the 323-foot, 3,674-ton "Nautilus." Surface speed 18 knots, 23 knots submerged. On her shakedown cruise, she steamed 1,381 miles from New London to San Juan, Puerto Rico – submerged all the way at an average speed of 15 knots. She was so fast that, on her first exercise with an ASW force, she outran the homing torpedoes.

Note the use of the term, "steamed." The nuclear plant finally made a steam-powered submarine practical: the reactor generates heat that turns water into steam to drive the turbine. Two different reactor configurations were proposed: one used pressurized water to transfer heat from the reactor to the steam plant, the other used a liquid sodium potassium alloy.

Rickover built one of each; the first was installed in "Nautilus," the other in the second nuclear boat, "Seawolf," where it proved to be difficult to maintain and not as effective as the "Nautilus" plant. It was replaced a few years later.


The Walter hull-form ancestry is clearly shown in this 1985 post-retirement photo (while "Nautilus" was being taken to a memorial berth at Groton, Connecticut).
The U. S. Navy experimented with various propulsion systems, including so-called "closed circuit" engines that did not require access to atmospheric oxygen. However, development of the nuclear power-plant tended to put other technologies on the shelf – at least, in the United States. The development of closed-circuit systems has continued, especially in some European navies seeking a lower-cost alternative to nuclear power.

The 49-foot-long X-1 tested a closed-circuit diesel-hydrogen peroxide plant, which exploded in May 1957 and was removed.
Based on hard experience with the Japanese "kamikaze" suicide aircraft, the U. S. Navy developed a prototype nuclear-powered radar-picket submarine. At 447 feet and 5,963 tons, "Triton" was the largest U. S. submarine to date, but by the time she was in commission, in 1959, advances in airborne detection systems had rendered her intended mission unnecessary. She became the first nuclear boat to be retired, 1969.
The German V-2 rocket became the U.S. Air Force "Jupiter" missile; although exceeding large, at least one scheme was proposed to mount four V-2s in a submarine. However, timely development of the "Polaris" missile permitted sixteen on a boat.
The V-2 -- a 46-foot long, 5.5 foot diameter (12 feet across the fins),12.46-ton missile fueled by liquid oxygen and alcohol – on a submarine? Well, no.
The A-1 "Polaris" – solid-fuel, compact (28 feet and 4.6 feet), range 1,200 miles – was ready for deployment by 1960. An A-2 version, 1,500 miles, entered service in 1962, followed a year later by the 2,500 mile A-3, all of which could fit in the same launch tubes. Here, tube hatches open on "Sam Rayburn," SSBN-635 – one of 41 U. S. ballistic missile submarines built between 1960 and 1968.

The Soviet Union fielded their first nuclear powered submarine. They gained a head start by following, stealing from, and copying, the Americans. Five years into their program, the Soviets had 24 nuclear boats in three classes, all with the same reactor.

Unfortunately – for submarine crews – the Soviets had copied what they saw, but apparently did not understand the underlying problems which could be associated with the use of nuclear power. There are rumors that entire crews of early Soviet boats may later have died from radiation poisoning.

The first submarine to utilize the potential of both the nuclear powerplant and the high-speed "Albacore" hull was "Skipjack" – officially rated at 29 knots, submerged.
"Triton" completed the first submerged circumnavigation of the globe: 36,014 miles in eighty-four days.

"Triton," SSN 586

The U. S. Navy has lost two nuclear submarines, to accident. The first was "Thresher," on April 10, 1963. After two years in commission, the boat had just come out of a shipyard availability and was on sea trials when something went wrong – perhaps the rupture of a section of piping, no one knows for certain. "Thresher" sank in some 8,300 feet, taking 128 crew members with her. The boat had an operational depth of 1,300 feet – more than any other U. S. submarine class to that date – but clearly the hull would have passed "crush depth" well before hitting bottom.

At least two things came out of this accident. The first: the entire design was scoured, looking for any possible defects; they were corrected in all boats of the class then under construction.

The second: in recognition of the fact that the U. S. had no viable method for rescuing trapped submariners at any depth below a few hundred feet. Thus was developed the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV), to assist any submarine that bottomed short of crush depth.


The DSRV is air-transportable, able to mate with and remove crew from U. S. submarines to a depth of at least 5,000 feet. Two were built; neither has ever been needed.

The accident also spurred the adoption of an individual escape suit, the "Steinke Hood," designed and tested in 1961 by a junior officer, Harris Steinke. While this would have been of little use to "Thresher" crew, it has been demonstrated to an open-ocean depth of 318 feet.
"Albacore" was reported to have set an underwater speed record of 33 knots, although the "official" speed is posted as 25 knots.
The second U. S. nuclear submarine lost: USS SCORPION (SSN-589), possibly the victim of one of her own torpedoes, May 22. The accident may have been monitored by the then-secret SOSUS sound arrays planted on the ocean bottom.

A Soviet "November" class nuclear submarine surprised the U. S. Navy by keeping up with a 31-knot high-speed task force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier "Enterprise."

Spooked by the "November" surprise, the U. S. Navy developed a new class of fast attack boats, "Los Angeles." The class had some teething problems, but the 62 boats in the class demonstrated respectable performance, with submerged speed in excess of 30 knots.

The C-3 missile, "Poseidon," with multiple independently-targeted warheads, went to sea.

Development was underway on the next generation submarine-launched ballistic missile, "Trident," C-4. With twice the range of the C-3, a C-4 equipped submarine could launch at the most logical targets in the Cold War world while sitting in New York harbor. The United States would no longer be required to maintain overseas submarine bases in Scotland, Spain, and Guam; in truth, those bases were closed when the C-4 became operational. The C-4 missile first flew in January, 1977.

The C-4 did pose some problems for the people who design submarines. Too large to fit in any extant sub design, "Trident" required a new, very large class of submarine: "Ohio," 560 feet long, 42 feet wide, 16,674 tons.


USS OHIO, SSBN 726. Eighteen have been built. The first entered service in 1981.
The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) attempted to raise a Soviet GOLF-class Soviet diesel-powered boat, K-129 (which sank in 1968) -- under cover of a deep-ocean mineral recovery effort using a ship built for the purpose, the "Glomar Explorer." In the event -- code name "Project Jennifer" -- the sub apparently broke apart and the back half fell back to the bottom.

During the Falklands War, two British ASW carriers, more than a dozen other surface warships, five submarines (four of them nuclear) and a gaggle of patrolling aircraft were occupied – almost paralyzed – in protecting the force against two badly maintained, poorly manned Argentine submarines – one, a post-World War II Guppy and the other an eight-year old German boat that, in the end, had nil effect upon the war. The predictions of Fulton – and Admiral Dewey – as valid as ever.

However – be not deceived by this comic-opera vignette: the submarine war, on the other side, was deadly serious business. The British submarine "Conqueror" sank the World War II-vintage Argentine cruiser "Belgrano" (ex- USS Phoenix) with two World War II-vintage torpedoes; 368 sailors were killed.


Planning began for the next-generation American attack submarine: "Seawolf," SSN-21. The hull number was adjusted – the next in the series would have been 774 – to celebrate "Seawolf" as the "submarine of the 21st Century." Size: 353 feet, 40 foot diameter, 8,000 tons – and with the most sophisticated systems imaginable. Top speed: probably in excess of 35 knots.

According to one program manager, when underway at quiet speed, "Seawolf" would be as quiet as a "Los Angeles" boat sitting at the pier. Quiet speed may be in excess of 20 knots.

On October 6, a Soviet YANKEE-Class nuclear-powered missile boat, K-291 sank in the Atlantic, 680 miles northeast of Bermuda, from an explosion in a missile tube.

Soviet submarine "Komsomolets" sank in the Norwegian sea. Most of the crew were able to abandon ship; 34 of them died – from hypothermia, heart failure or drowning while waiting for rescue in the frigid waters.

This accident prompted the Russians to develop individual escape-survival suits (designated SSP), rated to a depth of 328 feet, and led the U. S. Navy to adopt the Mark 10 British-designed Submarine Escape Immersion Module (SEIE). This provides individual full-body thermal protection, and has been tested to 600 feet.


Shown below: photos of Russian submarines during the Summer of 1994. Top: a Delta III-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile boat; below, a Victor III-class nuclear-powered attack submarine.

"Seawolf" joins the fleet.

USS SEAWOLF, SSN-21, on sea trials, 1996.
In preparation for development of the next submarine class ("Virginia"), the U. S. Navy elected to create a one-fourth scale, unmanned, submarine, to test new and emerging technologies before they are committed to full-scale ships. Designated the Large Scale Vehicle (LSV) 2 and named after a species of trout, "Cutthroat," the 111-foot boat is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in the Spring of 2001.
The U.S. Navy is testing "Avenger," a 65-ft mini-sub with a closed-cycle engine powered by diesel fuel and liquid oxygen. Intended for use by the SEALs -- the Navy's clandestine amphibious assault teams -- "Avenger" can carry 18 troops and a crew of 6.

The Russian missile attack submarine "Kursk" K-141 sank while on maneuvers in the Barents Sea. Placed in service in 1995, the 510-foot Oscar II-class "Kursk" had a surface displacement of 14,700 tons and speed in excess of 30 knots. On August 12, the sound of at least two explosions were picked up by The Norwegian Seismic Service and five other ships operating in the area – including two American and one British submarine shadowing the exercises. The actual cause of the accident is unknown, although "Kursk" had radioed for permission to launch an exercise torpedo about an hour and a half earlier.

"Kursk" went down in about 350 feet of water with 118 men. Although the boat was equipped with several escape systems – including individual escape-survival suits – none were used. Efforts to reach "Kursk" were hampered by weather, but upon inspection, authorities determined that there probably had not been any survivors. Initial reports of tapping from inside may have been accurate -- we now know that there were at least twenty-three survivors . . . for a time. "Kursk" was subsequently raised (except for the immediate bow section, which may contain hair-trigger ordnance) and is being studied.


In this year of the "official" 100th Anniversary of the submarine – dating from the purchase of "Holland" by the U. S. Navy – some 47 nations operate more than 700 submarines, almost three hundred of them nuclear powered. New designs are being pursued in the United States, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Japan.

The submarine appears to be in the best of international health.





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The Navy Times Book of Submarines:
A Political, Social and Military History"

by Brayton Harris

February 6, 2010