Underwater Warriors Book Review

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Underwater Warriors

By Paul Kemp

Hardcover in dustjacket, 256 pages, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index

Published by Naval Institute Press 1996

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-55750-857-7

Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches

Midget submarines were used by all the major naval powers of WWII except for the United States.  The Italians, British, Germans, and Japanese all fielded small submarines, manned torpedoes of various types, or what would now be called swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs).  These generally were deployed against enemy shipping at anchor or in harbor, and utilized standard torpedoes or mines to sink their targets.  While not technically suicide weapons (at least in most cases) the operations were extremely hazardous and often resulted in the death or capture of the crews.

The author begins with Bushnell’s Turtle of American Revolutionary war fame.  While unsuccessful as a weapon, it had some basic success as a submersible and proved the concept.  Strangely, the successful CSS Hunley is not mentioned, although this may be due to the discovery of her wreck happening after publication of this book.  The first modern operation covered in detail is the sinking of the Austro-Hungarian battleship Viribus Unitus by the Italians during the closing days of the First World War.

The Italians were certainly the first to capitalize on the midget submarine concept in WWII, using SDVs to sink the British battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth at Alexandria with their Maiale and covertly operating against Allied shipping from the tanker Olterra at Gibraltar.  The British copied the Maiale for their own Chariot SDV, and developed the four-man X-craft which were used successfully against the German battleship Tirpitz and the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao.  Germany was a late comer to the midget submarine game, employing a variety of types in an effort to disrupt the Allied invasion of Europe, without much success.  The Japanese developed their “Target-A” two-man midget to engage the U.S. Navy on the high seas in a climactic battle, but in the end used them mainly against ships at anchor or in harbor, the most well-known attacks being the Pearl Harbor raid and attack on Sydney Harbor.  More successful but less well known are the torpedoing of HMS Ramillies at Madagascar and the attacks on American invasion shipping at Guadalcanal.

The author also evaluates the different vessels and their employment from a technical perspective, tracing the development of each.  The smaller one-man submersibles, although tried on several occasions, were never able to be made practical for a variety of reasons.  The larger types such as the British X-craft and Japanese Target-A were designed by submarine officers and engineers and were quite functional, their main limitations stemmed from their deployment to the combat area which required the services of fleet submarines as transports.

This work fills a void as very little has been written about the operations of midget submarines, the author has done an excellent job researching the stories of the men involved.  These operations were quite secret at the time, and in some cases more information has only come to light recently – the details of the five Japanese mini-subs at Pearl Harbor being one example.  Overall this is a very well written book which I can recommend without hesitation, and one which fills a gap in the naval history of the Second World War.

Battleship Ramillies Book Review

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Battleship Ramillies: The Final Salvo

Edited by Ian Johnson with Mick French

Hardcover in dustjacket, 256 pages, well illustrated

Published by Seaforth Publishing June 2014

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-84832-2110

Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.0 x 9.2 inches

HMS Ramillies was one of five Revenge class battleships built for the Royal Navy during World War I.   Her main armament was eight 15 inch (381 mm) guns carried in four twin turrets.  She was quite active during the Second World War.  She was part of the escort for HMS Illustrious during the Toranto Raid, and her presence with Convoy HX 106 was enough to prevent the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from attacking.  She was the flagship for the British invasion of Madagascar, and was torpedoed by a Japanese midget submarine there at Diego Suarez on 30MAY42.  She participated in Operation Neptune, the naval portion of the Normandy Invasion where she expended over one thousand rounds of 15 inch.  Her last major action in WWII was Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France.

This book consists entirely of “sea stories” from the crew as collected by the HMS Ramillies Association.  These are very personal accounts and vary greatly as each sailor tells his story from his own perspective.  All seem to have a lasting affection for the ship and shipmates, Ramillies is consistently described as a clean ship and a happy ship.  The Royal Marines are also represented, as are the wives and sweethearts.

Most accounts mention that HMS Ramillies was the first battleship to call on New Zealand, where her Captain was presented with a Māori warriors’ skirt, the piupiu.  It was said to be able to protect the crew from harm if worn in action.  The Captain did indeed wear the skirt, and the Ramillies suffered no losses due to enemy action while he was wearing it.

I enjoyed this book.  It really conveys what life was like in the Royal Navy during WWII, both on the ship and ashore.  Sailors from any navy will recognize much from these accounts, although some of the jargon is unique to the British – the Royal Navy is “The Andrew” and sailors are “matelots”.  The book also contains several photographs, my one criticism is that they should have been reproduced in a larger format to better see the details.  Recommended.

Note:  The dustjacket on this copy is not torn, the “damage” is a rather odd artistic choice of the publisher and is printed on.

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Japanese Target A Mini-Sub in 1/72 Scale

The Japanese Target A mini-sub (Ko-hyoteki ko-gata) was a two-man submarine which carried two torpedoes.  Their name was part of a deception plan to pass off the type as an ASW training vessel.  They were designed to be transported to the target area on the deck of a fleet submarine, then to infiltrate an enemy harbor and torpedo the ships within.  Five participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, where one may have torpedoed the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37).  On 30MAY42 three mini-subs infiltrated Sydney Harbor, one firing two torpedoes at the heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29).  Both missed Chicago, but one sank the depot ship HMAS Kuttabul.  Two mini-subs attacked Royal Navy ships in Madagascar on 30MAY42, damaging the battleship HMS Ramillies and sinking the tanker British Loyalty.  Mini-subs were also active in the Aleutians and in the Solomon Islands.

This is the Fine Molds kit in 1/72 scale.  It is a simple build with no vices.  The kit comes in two boxings, the Pearl Harbor version as built here, and a Sydney attack version which has a cable cutter on the sail.

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