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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

Battle Submerged: Submarine Fighters Of World W...


Submarine warfare took place in both the Pacific and European theaters of war. However, U.S. Navy submarines saw their greatest success against Japanese merchant vessels and warships. Submarines also played humanitarian and special operations roles in the campaign against Japan. In many of the hardest-fought battles of the war, submarine crews rescued downed carrier pilots, including future President George H.W. Bush.




Battle Submerged: Submarine Fighters Of World W...


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The last World War II contribution of K-ships in the Atlantic occurred shortly after the war ended. On May 14, 1945, the captain of U-858 surrendered to the U.S. Navy. A K-ship helped escort the submarine into port, marking the end of anti-submarine warfare duties for K-ships in the battle of the Atlantic.


Because of the vastness of the Pacific, Japan built many boats of extremerange and size, many of which were capable of cruises exceeding 20,000 miles andlasting more than 100 days. In fact, Japan built what were by far thelargest submarines in the world, indeed, the only submarines over 5,000 tonssubmerged displacement, or submarines over 400 feet in length until the adventof nuclear power. These same boats were credited with a range of 37,500miles at 14 knots, a figure never matched by any other diesel-electricsubmarine. These large boats could each carry three floatplane bombers,the only submarines in history so capable. Japan built 41 submarines thatcould carry one or more aircraft, while the vast submarine fleets of the UnitedStates, Britain, and Germany included not one submarine so capable.


During the Second World War, there were 56 submarines larger than 3,000 tonsin the entire world, and 52 of these were Japanese. Japan built 65submarines with ranges exceeding 20,000 miles at ten knots, while the Allies hadno submarine capable of this feat. By 1945, Japan hadbuilt all 39 of the world's diesel-electric submarines with more than 10,000horsepower, and all 57 of the world's diesel-electric submarines capable of 23+knots surface speed.


Given their size, range, speed, and torpedoes, Japanese submarines achievedsurprisingly little. This was because they were mainly employed againstwarships, which were fast, maneuverable, and well-defended when compared tomerchant ships. Japanese naval doctrine was built around the concept offighting a single decisive battle, as they had done at Tsushima 40 yearsearlier. They thought of their submarines as scouts, whose main role wasto locate, shadow, and attack Allied naval task forces. This approach gavea significant return in 1942 when they sank two fleet carriers, one cruiser, anda few destroyers and other warships, and also damaged two battleships, one fleetcarrier (twice), and a cruiser. However, as Allied intelligence,technologies, methods, and numbers improved, the Japanese submarines were neveragain able to achieve this frequency of success. For this reason, manyargue that the Japanese submarine force would have been better used againstmerchant ships, patrolling Allied shipping lanes instead of lurking outsidenaval bases. Bagnasco credits the Japanese submarine fleet with sinking184 merchant ships of 907,000 GRT. This figure is far less than achievedby the Germans (2,840 ships of 14.3 million GRT), the Americans (1,079ships of 4.65 million tons), and the British (493 ships of 1.52 milliontons). It seems reasonable that an all-out blitz of the American westcoast, the Panama Canal, and the approaches to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australiaand India would have caused the Allies more difficulty than did the navaldeprivations that were actually achieved. Losing a significant number ofmerchant ships, and also needing to spread meager defenses even more thinlyalong two coasts, would surely have had some substantial consequences for theUnited States in 1942.


When Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the first stage of the international coalition response led by the United States was initiated. Operation Desert Shield saw deployment of military ground and air assets to the Middle East, primarily to Saudi Arabia, and a naval cordon stationed in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The most visible aspect of this naval cordon was the carrier battle groups. But nuclear submarines were also on station and ready to strike. On Jan. 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm was launched. The Los Angeles-class submarine Louisville in the Red Sea was the first to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles, and together with Pittsburgh, launched 12 Tomahawks (the Louisville eight and the Pittsburgh four) at Iraqi targets. Other attack submarines, both American and from other nations, stood guard over the incredible amount of cargo ships carrying war supplies.


The fifty-one submarines at Pearl Harbor, on the west coast of the U.S., and at Manila, Philippine Islands were the only ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet able to retaliate after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The attack put the U.S. Battle Force out of action. Our Fleet Class submarines had been designed as advanced scouts for that force. However, by good fortune, they had the speed, endurance, and weapon load to make them admirably suited for another role; attacking Japanese shipping throughout the Pacific. As a result they were immediately assigned the new role, and a basic military strategy of strangulation of Japan was fashioned about them.Cutting the Japanese JugularJapanese shipping routes spanned the Pacific from the Gilbert Islands in the east to the Malay Peninsula in the west, and from the Kuriles in the north to the Dutch East Indies in the south. This ocean traffic was the life blood of Japan's war effort for she had few natural resources and was dependent upon imports of oil, coal, iron, food and other materials for her war effort. Consequently, it was essential that the same Japanese ships that distributed food, fuel, war materials and troops to the many scattered Japanese outposts carry raw materials back to the Empire. Cold statistics on ship sinkings do not describe the plight of the Japanese outposts when guns, ammunition, tanks, fuel and food failed to arrive. Devastating, too, was the loss of thousands of troop reinforcements when they went down with the transports sunk by our submarines. These losses were serious, but a far more serious loss brought about by our submarines was the failure of the Japanese merchant marine to provide the Japanese home islands with critical war materials. They blanketed the areas around the Japanese home islands and outposts throughout the Pacific. They were active off Indonesia, the Philippines, the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline and Mariana Islands, New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, and the western Aleutians. They quickly began sinking Japan's merchant fleet, and prevented it from supplying their far-flung empire with arms, fuel, food and troops.Operation GalvanicThe U.S. surface fleet was repaired during 1942 and 1943 and augmented by new construction. As things started looking up at Pacific Fleet Headquarters at Pearl in the fall of 1943 plans were made for a big offensive drive. It was to start at the eastern end of the line of Japanese outposts, extend to the Philippines, and continue from there to Japan. An operational concept with ships organized into fast carrier task forces was tested in a strike on the Japanese held Wake Island in early October 1943. Meanwhile, a plan was finalized for Operation "Galvanic", an attack on Japanese bases in the Gilberts. Within two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a force of 118 warships was assembled at Pearl. It included 13 battleships, 19 carriers, and 10 submarines.2 Japanese outposts in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, weakened by failure of supplies to get through submarine infested waters, were overrun by our carrier task forces in late 1943. Encouraged by early success, the carrier forces rolled on during the spring and late summer of 1944, mopping up Japanese bases in the Marshalls, the Carolines and the Marianas. In the meantime, while supporting these offensive operations, our submarines continued to take a heavy toll of Japanese merchant and combatant ships throughout the Pacific. Hunting was excellent and submarine sinkings of Japanese merchantmen during 1944 averaged one and a half ships a day.Japanese Merchant Ship LossesThe Japanese cargo carrying capacity of 6 million tons at the start of the war was reduced to about 5 million tons by the end of 1943, and to less than 3 million tons by the end of 1944 despite a rigorous ship building program. At war's end in August 1945 Japan had less than 2 million tons of cargo shipping, but only 312,000 tons of it was in condition to haul cargo. Despite ship construction of 3 1/4 million tons during the war, replacement tonnage amounted to only about a third of losses due to all causes. Because of shipping losses, Japanese imports of bulk commodities fell from about 20 million tons in 1941 to about 16 1/2 million tons at the end of 1943, and further to 10 million tons in 1944. The importation of materials had essentially ceased by the time Japan surrendered in August 1945. By then Japan's war industry was stalled, and it was impossible for the military to wage war abroad. It was also nearly impossible for the civilian population to exist on the meager rations of food and energy available.American submarines acted alone to destroy the Japanese ocean transport system during the first two years of the war. Thereafter, other elements of U.S. forces contributed to its destruction. However, our submarines deserve most of the credit, as revealed in the following table.Japanese Merchant Tonnage Sunk, Pearl Harbor to War's End:


Miscellaneous Japanese Ship LossesSix Japanese ships totaling over 30,000 tons were sunk by inadvertently running over their own mines by the end of May 1942.Submarine Attacks on Trawlers, Sampans and Other Small Craft:BLENNY (Hazzard) sank 63 trawlers, sampans, and other small craft by gun fire and/or grenades during one patrol.BUGARA (Schade) sank 57 small craft by gunfire during one patrol.COD (Westbrook) temporarily lost a boarding party when forced to dive while boarding a small craft.SILVERSIDES (Burlingame) on her first patrol conducted a gun action against a small trawler. Although riddled by gunfire, the trawler's return fire killed SILVERSIDES' first loader, Mike Harbin.TIRANTE (Street), when torpedo targets were scarce during her second patrol, put boarding parties aboard several junks, removed their skippers for questioning and set the junks on fire after the crew were put in lifeboats.COBIA (Becker) on 20 July 1944 engaged three small armed vessels in a running gun battle. After sustaining slight damage when one of them rammed her, she sank all three of her attackers.8 Lifeguard MissionsAs the war progressed submarines were assigned to Lifeguard stations in areas where Navy Carrier Task Force operations, and Army Air Corps bomber raids were planned. Their assigned task was to pick up airmen from planes that ditched in the ocean. In late 1943 SKATE was the first submarine specifically assigned to Lifeguard duties. Her mission was to rescue airmen shot down at sea in support of the fleet strike by Task Force 14 on Japanese held Wake Island, October 7-10, 1943. She plucked 6 airmen from the sea during the strike. One of SKATE's officers was killed by a strafing Japanese aircraft while approaching close to the shore to pick up survivors.Toward the end of the war there were fewer Japanese ships afloat to serve as targets for our submarines, and more U.S. carrier strikes were conducted. As a result, 380 airmen were rescued in 1945.86 American submarines spent a total of 3,272 days on Lifeguard stations during the war, and rescued 504 airmen.TIGRONE held the record of 31 airmen rescued. SEALION picked up Sgt. B. R. Grier on April 2, 1945 after he had drifted in the China sea for 23 days.Special MissionsIn addition to anti-ship, anti-patrol vessel, and Lifeguard missions, U.S. submarines were sent on special missions to rescue civilians and troops, transport ammunition and food, conduct sabotage, and other tasks in enemy held territory.The following list summarizes most of these other types of missions: 041b061a72


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