Axis Midget Submarines Book Review

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Axis Midget Submarines: 1939-45 New Vanguard 212

By Jamie Prenatt and Mark Stille, illustrated by Paul Wright

Paperback, 48 pages

Published by Osprey Publishing June 2014

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1472801229

ISBN-13: 978-1472801227

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.8 inches

This is a typical Osprey New Vanguard volume and follows their well-established format.  The authors have organized the presentation by nationality, with the major Axis powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan each having their own sections.  The sections detail the developmental history of the various types of small submersibles employed by each nation and then gives a brief overview of their operations.

The various designs had inherent limitations imposed by their size which influenced the scope and effectiveness of their employment and chances for success.  Several types are marginal vessels at best, and while not strictly suicide missions, the odds are decidedly against the safe return of the crews.

Italian submersibles mainly fall into a category which we would call “Swimmer Delivery Vehicles” today.  The SLC delivered two divers to an enemy harbor, where the crew would attach large mines and then hopefully evade capture.  Their most notable success was the mining of the British battleship HMS Valiant at Alexandria.  The Italians also employed CB-type mini subs in support of German Operations against the Russians at Sevastopol.

The Germans came late to the midget submarine game but developed several types in anticipation of the Allied invasion of Europe.  The vast majority of these designs were ineffective, being much more a threat to their own crews than to Allied shipping.  The one successful design was the Type XXVII Seehund which accounted for 120,000 tons of shipping.  Like most German wonder weapons, this was another case of too little too late.

The Japanese were arguably the most successful of midget submarine operators, most famously employing five “Target A” as part of the Pearl Harbor Raid.  The authors’ view is that these submarines achieved no results at Pearl Harbor, although Japanese sources maintain one did hit the USS Oklahoma.  Target A submarines were also used at Sydney Harbor, the Aleutians, the Guadalcanal campaign, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Diego Suarez.  The latter is the least well known operation but is arguably the most successful, the battleship HMS Ramillies being damaged and the tanker British Loyalty being sunk on 30MAY42.

The space constraints of this series limits the narrative to only a brief discussion of each nation’s midget submarine programs but the space is used well.  Three very interesting books could easily be written by simply expanding upon this information and covering the operations in detail.  This book provides a quick introduction to the topic which leaves the reader wanting more.  Recommended.

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