Imperial German Navy U-9 Class Submarines

The U-9 was the lead ship of class of four submarines built for the Imperial German Navy shortly before the beginning of the First World War. Small by the standards of today, they were 188 feet in length (57.4 meters) and displaced 493 tons surfaced. They were manned by a crew of 4 Officers and 25 enlisted men.

At the onset of WWI submarines were unproven and were looked upon derisively by many naval traditionalists. They were not capable of operating for prolonged periods while submerged and could not dive to great depths. They were uncomfortable and tricky to operate, and often dangerous to their own crews.

On 22SEP14 the U-9 encountered three Royal Navy cruisers patrolling the near the eastern end of the English Channel. These were cruisers of the Cressy class, HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, and HMS Cressy, which were of an outdated design but still useful. The photograph is of HMS Hogue.

Firing four torpedoes while submerged, U-9 hit two of the cruisers. She then reloaded her last two torpedoes and hit the third. All three cruisers sank. Within an hour the theoretical threat of submarine warfare had become a proven reality.

U-9 returned to Wilhelmshaven to a hero’s welcome. As if to demonstrate that her accomplishment was not just a fluke, on 15OCT14 she sank a fourth British cruiser, the HMS Hawke. U-9 was authorized to display the Iron Cross on her conning tower, one of only two Imperial German Navy ships so honored (the other being SMS Emden). Painting by Willy Stower.

U-10 was the second of the class, commissioned into service on 31AUG11. During the war she sank seven small commercial vessels. On 30JUN16 she was lost with all hands, likely the victim of a mine. Here she is seen operating with U-8.

This is an interesting photograph showing a nest of submarines in port tied op near the barracks ship Acheron. U-11 is the center vessel in the foreground. This gives a good opportunity to compare details of the U-9 class design with other contemporary Imperial German Navy submarines.

U-11 had a short operational career. She was mined off the Belgian coast on 09DEC14 and sank with all hands. She was not credited with sinking any enemy vessels.

The last of the four sisters, U-12 was commissioned on 13AUG11. She torpedoed the minesweeper HMS Niger on 11NOV14, but was herself sunk by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Ariel, HMS Acheron and HMS Attack on 10MAR15. Ten of her crew survived the sinking. Pictured is U-12 alongside an unidentified sister and a third submarine of a different class.

U12_Friedrichshafen FF.29
U-12s claim to fame is she was the first submarine to launch an aircraft. On 15JAN15 she left Zeebrugge with a Friedrichshafen FF.29 lashed to her fo’c’sle. The U-12 partially submerged allowing the floatplane to take off from the surface. The aircraft proceeded to patrol the English coastline and returned safely.

In 2008 divers located the wreck of U-12 under 50 meters of water off the coast of Eyemouth, where she has obviously been a nuisance to fisherman working the area.

U-Boat SM U-9_Das_Werk
Das Werk has announced an injection molded kit of the U-9 in 1/72 scale. The model will be 31.4 inches in length (79.7 cm) – large, but not prohibitively so. There will be nameplates and decals to build any of the four submarines of the class.

Russian Federation Submarine Rescue Ship Kommuna

The oldest active-duty naval ship in the world today is the Russian Federation Submarine Rescue Ship Kommuna.  She has served under three governments – the Tsarist Imperial Russia, Soviet, and now the Russian Federation.

She was launched on 17 November 1913 at St. Petersburg and commissioned in July 1915 as the Volkhov.  She was renamed Kommuna in 1922 by the Soviets after the Russian Revolution.

Kommuna was intended to serve as a submarine tender as well as a salvage ship.  She raised two Russian submarines during the First World War.  Notably, she raised the British submarine HMS L55 in 1928, the remains of her 34 crew members were repatriated to England.

During the Great Patriotic War she was based at Leningrad, where she was damaged by Luftwaffe bombs.  She operated as a submarine tender and recovered a substantial number of sunken vessels, and even tanks and trucks which had broken through the ice on Lake Ladoga.

Kommuna was built with a catamaran hull form and a four-point anchoring system which allows her to fix her position above a desired point on the sea floor.  In October 1957 she raised the Quebec-class attack submarine M-256 which had sunk as a result of fire.

She has four distinctive doubled truss and girder arches which join her twin hulls and still allow clearance for salvaged vessels to be hoisted between them.  This has given her a unique appearance.

A nice overhead view giving a good indication of the general layout.  Her hulls are relatively narrow, and she displaces only 3,100 tons with a length of 315 feet (96 meters).  Crew compliment is 99 men.

There is a small conning station high atop the forward girder structure.  While this would provide an excellent view it must certainly be a challenge to change the watch in foul weather.

The Kommuna was modified to carry a Project 1837 AS-5 Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV) along with remotely piloted vehicles, giving her the capacity to function as a rescue ship.

A profile view of the Russian Federation Submarine Rescue Ship Kommuna, 105 years of service and counting!

The Arab Revolt 1916–18, Osprey Campaign 202 Book Review



The Arab Revolt 1916–18: Lawrence sets Arabia ablaze

By David Murphy, illustrated by Peter Dennis

Osprey Campaign Series Book 202

Paperback, 96 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Osprey Publishing November 2008

Language: English

ISBN-10: 184603339X

ISBN-13: 978-1846033391

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

Most readers are familiar with the story of the Arab Revolt because of T. E. Lawrence’s book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and its movie adaptation “Lawrence of Arabia”.  This volume in the Osprey Campaign Series puts those works into context and provides a broad overview into the strategic background of the actions in the book and the film.

In 1916 the Ottoman Turks controlled Arabia by fortifying a series of towns and strong points.  These positions were supplied by the Hejaz Railway that ran South terminating in Medina, which was heavily garrisoned.  Keeping the railway open was vital to the Turkish presence in the Middle East and as such was heavily patrolled.  The British and French realized that for a relatively small investment in advisers, material, and support the Arab clans could be incited to revolt against Ottoman occupation.  Suppressing the revolt would tie up Turkish forces and divert resources away from other theaters.

For their part, the Arabs fought for independence and self-rule.  Native to the desert, they were masters of the terrain and could traverse “impassable” regions, appearing without warning and melting back into the desert before they could be engaged.  Guerrilla warfare suited them well, and they conducted numerous raids against isolated garrisons.  The vital railway line was particularly vulnerable to this type of attack, being difficult for Ottoman forces to defend effectively and requiring immediate repair whenever the line was cut.  As Arab strength grew, larger-scale assaults were directed against cities and towns and the Ottomans were driven back.

This book is a good primer on how the Arabian campaign was conducted and the post-war political maneuverings that followed.  It is particularly relevant for those wishing to understand the progression from Arabia at the beginning of the last century into the chaos which is the Middle East today.  Overall a good introduction into one of the lesser studied theaters of the First World War.



Rendezvous with Death Book Review


Rendezvous with Death: The Americans Who Joined the Foreign Legion in 1914 to Fight for France and for Civilization

by David Hanna

Hardcover in dustjacket, 332 pages

Published by Regnery History June 2016

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1621573966

ISBN-13: 978-1621573968

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.1 x 9.0 inches

The French Foreign Legion is one of the more storied of the world’s military formations.  In the Legion a man can make a fresh start regardless of his past – in exchange for the promise of military service to France a new identity is created.  The Legion is famous for attracting men looking for a fresh start for themselves or to forget past mistakes.  The men in this book did not join the Legion for the typical reasons.

Rendezvous with Death is the story of a group of Americans living in Paris at the beginning of the Great War in 1914.  Idealism is what drove them to fight for France against the Germans, and the Legion was their pathway.  At the time France was in dire need of all the help they could get, the German offensive initially met with success but had descended into a quagmire of trench warfare.  Any gains were small and only achieved at terrible costs.

The Americans in the Legion fought at Champagne, Verdun, and the Somme among other engagements.  Some later fought as aviators in the Lafayette Escadrille.  Author Hanna has done a remarkable job in following the actions of these men and describing their experiences whether in the trenches or in the air.

Overall a fascinating read which went quickly.  The Legion is a unique military organization in many ways so that perspective was interesting as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book which I can recommend without hesitation.


The Kettering Aerial Torpedo

Precision guided munitions have become a staple of modern aerial warfare.  Cruise missiles are high-tech vehicles which can fly hundreds of miles and hit their targets with pin-point accuracy.  While the common perception is that these are recent developments, the roots of these weapons go all the way back to the First World War.  One of the first “cruise missiles” was the Kettering Aerial Torpedo, designed by the famous American inventor Charles F. Kettering in 1917.

Kettering’s reputation as an engineer lead to a request from the U.S. Army for a flying bomb with a 40 mile range.  Orville Wright was the aerodynamics consultant, Elmer Sperry designed the controls.  The “Bug”, as the design was to become known, was produced by the Dayton-Wright Company of Dayton, Ohio, which also produced DH-4s and Standard SJ-1 trainers.  Film here:

The Bug was powered by a Ford De Palma four cylinder engine rated at 40 HP.  Flight speed was a modest 50 miles per hour (80 kph).  Kettering exceeded the design requirement with a range of 75 miles (119 km).  Payload was 180 pounds (82 kg) of explosives.  Each Bug cost $400.

The Aerial Torpedo was guided by a bearing and range system.  Bearing was maintained by a simple gyroscope.  Range was determined by calculating the number of engine revolutions required to cover the distance to the target, allowing for wind.  When the set point was reached, the engine was shut off and the wings were released, turning the Bug into a bomb.

The Bug was launched using a wheeled cradle which rolled on a set of rails.  The rails were portable, and could be quickly erected in the field.  The launch dolly fell away from the aircraft upon take off.

Wingspan of the Bug was 15 feet (4.6 m), length was 12 feet 6 inches (3.8 m).  Total weight was 530 pounds (241 kg).

The Bugs were first flight tested in October 1918.  Approximately fifty were produced before the war ended and the remaining units were canceled.  The Army continued to test the Bug into the early 1920s.  Army film of 1919 testing here:

No original Kettering Aerial Torpedos exist today.  However, a reproduction is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

USS Ward (DD-139 / APD-16)

The USS Ward (DD-139) was a Wickes-class destroyer, one of 273 “flush deck” or “four-piper” destroyers built for the United States Navy in WWI.  She was constructed in record time using a construction technique which would later be called “pre-fabrication”.  Her keel was laid on 15MAY18 and she was launched on 01JUN18 – a mere 17 1/2 days.

Here is Ward alongside at the Mare Island Shipyard.  Ward was commissioned into the US Navy on 24JUL18.  During her sea trials she made an impressive 37 1/2 knots.

A nice view of Ward underway in her WWI dazzle camouflage.  If you look closely you can make out her hull number 139 painted under the bridgewing at the deck line. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

A good view of the port side showing the WWI camouflage pattern.  Wickes class destroyers were armed with four 4″/50 guns, twelve torpedo tubes, and depth charges for anti-submarine work.  Note that the after 4″ gun is mounted on the main deck, later this gun was moved to the top of the after deckhouse.  Ward was decommissioned and place into reserve on 21JUL21, and recommissioned out of reserve on 13FEB41.

The USS Ward is most famous for firing the first shot of the US involvement in the Second World War.  Ward was patrolling the approaches to Pearl Harbor when she received a report from the USS Condor (AMC-14) that a periscope had been sighted in the area.  Ward found the submarine attempting to follow the USS Antares (AKS-3) into the harbor.  The submarine was a Japanese “Target A” mini sub, one of five launched as part of the Pearl Harbor attack.  Ward engaged the submarine and claimed it as destroyed.  Her Commanding Officer, LT William W. Outerbridge reported,  “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.”  This was 70 minutes before the first Japanese aircraft arrived over Hawaii.  (Painting by Tom Freeman)

A publicity photograph of Ward’s No. 3 gun crew.  The first shot from No. 1 gun missed but the second shot from No. 3, fired at minimum range, was seen to hit the submarine’s sail.  Most of the crew of the Ward were reservists from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Ward’s No. 3 gun is preserved today in the courtyard at Minnesota’s state capitol building in  St. Paul.  (US Navy Photograph)

Some skeptics doubted the Ward’s claim.  Those doubts were put to rest on 28AUG02 when researchers from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory discovered the Japanese mini sub on the seafloor within four miles of the entrance to Pearl Harbor in 1,200 feet of water.  The hole made by Ward’s 4″ projectile is clearly visible at the center of the base of the sail – a perfect shot.

The “four pipers” were obsolete as fleet destroyers by the standards of WWII and many were converted to other roles such as seaplane tenders, convoy escorts, minelayers, minesweepers, or fast transports.  Ward was one of 32 flush deckers converted to the fast transport role and was reclassified as APD-16 in FEB43.  In this new configuration she could land 120 troops along with small vehicles using four LCP(R) landing craft.  The 4″/50 guns were replaced by 3″/50 dual-purpose guns and augmented with five 20mm cannon.  Ward lost her torpedo tubes but retained her depth charges which allowed her to still function as an escort.

Ward participated in frequent landing operations both large and small during the better part of 1943/44.  Typically the APDs would land their troops and then provide anti-aircraft and anti-submarine protection of the landing area, and be on-call for Naval Gunfire Support of the troops ashore.  They were also useful for hauling and landing supplies.

On 07DEC44 – exactly three years after the Pearl Harbor raid, Ward landed 108 Army troops at Ormoc Bay, Philippines and was providing ASW screening of the landing area when she was attacked by three Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.  Two attempted kamikaze runs but missed, the third struck Ward squarely amidships on the Port side. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

Ward lost power and was unable to control her fires.  Here the destroyer USS O’Brien (DD 725) moves in to assist the stricken Ward. (US Navy Photograph)

O’Brien is alongside with her firehoses at work.  Even with her assistance it was clear that the fires were uncontrollable and the Ward was doomed.  Less than half an hour after the kamikaze hit her Captain, LT Richard E. Farwell, ordered abandon ship.  O’Brien and other vessels took aboard Ward’s crew, then O’Brien moved off 800 yards to sink Ward with gunfire.  Her first salvo detonated Ward’s after magazine.  When the smoke cleared, Ward was slipping beneath the surface stern first.

In a strange twist of fate, the Captain of the O’Brien that day was William W. Outerbridge, now a Commander.  He was the Captain of the USS Ward during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and commanded the destroyer which sank her exactly three years to the day later.  O’Brien was later hit by a kamikaze herself off Okinawa and was damaged.  Outerbridge survived the war, among his decorations was a Navy Cross for Ward’s actions off Pearl Harbor, and a Purple Heart earned at Okinawa. (US Navy Photograph)