Rising Tide: The Untold Story of The Russian Submarines That Fought the Cold War
By Gary E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne
Hardcover in dustjacket, 354 pages, photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index
Published by Basic Books, October 2003
Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
The submarine service of any nation is generally cloaked in secrecy, and with good reason. The primary advantage of a submarine is stealth – leave port, pull the plug, and disappear. The submarine is then free to operate anywhere her speed and endurance can take her, and perform any task desired. But if a submarine is detected it is suddenly vulnerable.
Rising Tide pulls back the curtain on Soviet submarine operations during the Cold War. The authors base the book on interviews with several former Soviet submarine Captains. While not widely known outside of naval circles, the Soviet boats were notoriously unreliable and several of the anecdotes in the book deal with fires and accidents, a number of which resulted in loss of life and / or sinking of the submarine. There was a callousness towards the lives of the crews not seen in Western navies, and Soviet submarines employed technologies and design practices which would have not even been considered in other navies. Adding to the problems were substandard maintenance and training practices. These are illustrated by the deployment of several Foxtrot-class attack submarines during the Cuban Missile Crisis, none of which were completely operational after crossing the Atlantic. A second example is the loss of the Oscar II class submarine Kursk, which was attributed to an explosion of a practice torpedo. Subsequent investigation revealed the torpedo had not been properly maintained and that the crew had not actually fired a torpedo in years.
The book concludes with an analysis of Gorshkov’s History of the Soviet Navy and a brief comparison of American and Soviet submarines. Gorshkov’s writings are at times insightful, and at other times almost laughable. Overall, I found this book offered an interesting (though by necessity, incomplete) perspective on how the “other side” did things. Recommended.
Some ships are unlucky. U-505 was arguably the most unlucky submarine in the German Navy during the Second World War. Her career didn’t begin that way though – her first patrol was short and uneventful, and her second was a success with four Allied merchantmen to her credit. Her third patrol also appeared to be a success with three vessels sunk, but one of her victims was a Columbian sailing ship named Urious, the sinking of which resulted in Columbia declaring war on Germany. On her fourth patrol she claimed her eighth victim, but her luck changed when she was caught on the surface by an RAF Hudson with an Australian crew and hit by a 250 pound bomb aft of the conning tower. While she managed to return to Lorient, she was the most seriously damaged U-boat to survive and make port.
After repairs she was repeatedly deployed again, only to return in short order each time after being damaged, or as a result of sabotage by French workers. She gained the reputation as a “dock queen” which could not deploy effectively. On her tenth patrol she endured a severe depth charging from British destroyers. Her Captain, Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech broke under the strain and committed suicide in the control room, the only submarine Captain to do so during the war.
Shadows on the Horizon: The Battle of Convoy HX-233
By W. A. Haskell
Hardcover in dustjacket, 192 pages, appendices, sources, photographs, and index
Published by Naval Institute Press, March 1999
Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches
Shadows on the Horizon describes in great detail the sailing of Convoy HX-233 in April 1943, and its subsequent interception by eight German U-boats. By this time the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic was turning against the Germans. The Allied production effort was in full swing with new ships, both merchants and escorts, coming into service at a blistering pace. Added to the sheer numbers of vessels were several technological advances in weapons and sensors. Allied aircraft harassed the U-boats as they transited to and from operating areas, and groups of anti-submarine ships patrolled the Atlantic, acting independently to hunt U-boats or coming to the aid of convoys as needed. In addition, the Allies had broken the German codes, giving advanced warning of their intentions.
In many ways HX-233 was a typical formation for the spring of 1943. It consisted of fifty-eight merchant ships arranged in twelve columns, escorted by nine warships. In addition, a support group of four Royal Navy destroyers supplemented the dedicated escorts during a portion of the transit. Opposing them were a total of eight German U-boats which were vectored into position to intercept the convoy.
This book is a detailed technical assessment of the voyage of the convoy, and can be seen as a representative engagement of the Battle of the Atlantic during the spring of 1943. The author has drawn on the national archives of the many nations and logs of the ships involved along with a plethora of interviews and other sources. The appendices provide technical details and reports. For the wargamer, this book supplies enough information to construct a Battle of the Atlantic convoy scenario.
While in reality a technical history, the narrative is interesting enough that the presentation does not bog down and remains engaging throughout. The author’s inspiration is that he was serving aboard one of the merchant ships in the convoy, but this is not a personal narrative. Several details were new to me, such as the organization of the merchant ships in the convoy and their Armed Guard detachments, along with the experiences of the survivors of U-boat which had been sunk. Recommended.
U-175 was a German submarine of the Type IXC class. She claimed nine Allied merchant ships on her first war patrol, and a single ship on her second. On her third patrol she was part of a wolfpack of eight submarines which attacked Convoy HX-233 consisting of fifty-eight merchant vessels and their escort. In the convoy’s screen were two Treasury class Coast Guard cutters, USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) and USCGC Duane (WPG-33). Both vessels carried photographers who were able to record the engagement as it unfolded.
First Shot: The Untold Story of the Japanese Minisubs That Attacked Pearl Harbor
By John Craddock
Hardcover in dustjacket, 210 pages, bibliography, notes, photographs, and index
Published by McGraw-Hill, October 2005
Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
The use of the five Japanese minisubs during the attack on Pearl Harbor has always been controversial. Many Japanese naval officers opposed the idea, fearing the submarines would contribute little and risked alerting the Americans to the impending attack. On the American side, the submarines represented missed opportunities to warn of the attack (just as many Japanese officers feared), and the penetration of the harbor revealed inadequacies of the defenses. In the aftermath, the Japanese were convinced the minisubs had torpedoed American warships. The American Navy insisted they had done no damage, a position which was maintained for decades.
In First Shot John Craddock documents what was known about the attack and the fates of the minisubs in 2005. The midget submarine (I-20-tou) sunk by USS Ward’s gunfire had been located, but not positively identified. I-16-tou had not been located although she was suspected to have torpedoed the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) by some. He also briefly describes the midget submarine raids against Sydney Harbor and Diego Suarez, the latter arguably their most successful operation. Operations in the Solomons are briefly mentioned. There is some interesting information on ENS Kazuo Sakamaki, who commanded I-24-tou and became PoW Number One.
However, for a good part of the book Craddock is exploring peripheral subjects. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s early career is described in detail, and there is an entire chapter on his assassination. There is a chapter on Coral Sea and Midway, as well as the use of the Kaiten manned torpedoes during the last year of the war. Another chapter discusses Japan after the war. All interesting and well written, but not the topic of the book.
There are also some missed opportunities which are not mentioned. For instance, Ward had a busy morning on 07DEC41, and reported depth charging a total of four submarine contacts off the entrance to Pearl Harbor – and at least three of the minisubs were known to have been damaged by depth charges outside the harbor. Tracing her movements could have filled a chapter, and she was not the only destroyer prosecuting submarine contacts in the area at the time. Midget submarine operations in the Solomons and the Aleutians would also be interesting, and would give some insights into the evolution of doctrine and employment of these vessels as the war progressed.
While this book is worth reading, it is limited by what was known at the time. The author “gets out into the weeds” with topics outside of the book’s scope, and doesn’t fully explore topics which are related. This work is a start, but there is a comprehensive book still waiting to be written on the saga of the fifty Ko-hyoteki midget submarines used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War.
The Japanese Ko-hyoteki midget submarines were used in several theaters of the Pacific War, but their first and most famous use was during the attack of Pearl Harbor on 07DEC41. They were 80 feet in length. They were powered by a 600 horsepower (447 kW) electric motor, which could drive them at a maximum speed of 23 knots (43 km/h) or for 100 nautical miles (190 km) at a low speed. They carried a crew of two and two torpedoes, which were loaded externally from the bow.
For the Pearl Harbor raid they were carried piggy-back by five I-16 class fleet submarines and launched outside the harbor entrance. The minisubs were launched during the night before the raid, with orders to penetrate the harbor and attack. Nominally they were to rendezvous with their parent submarines after completing their missions, but the crews were under no delusions of the likelihood for successfully completing this phase and expected not to return.
The actions of the midget submarines are listed below in order of their parent subs. “I-16-tou” means “I-16’s boat”. There are some loose ends remaining. The Light Cruiser USS St. Lewis (CL-49) reported being missed by two torpedoes outside the harbor entrance at 1004. The Japanese fleet submarines were not positioned there so if the report is accurate, it is possible these were fired by I-16-tou. Alternatively, many believe a photograph taken of Battleship Row during the attack shows a midget sub broaching after firing her torpedoes. In either case, it is likely that I-16-tou ended up in the West Loch at the end of her mission and her wreckage was dumped off the harbor entrance in 1944.
I-16-tou, ENS Masaharu Yokoyama and PO2c Tei Uyeda, launched at 0042. Likely penetrated Pearl Harbor, skuttled in the West Lock. Many believe a photograph taken by a Japanese aviator during the attack shows I-16-tou firing torpedoes at the USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37). Three messages were received from I-16-tou confirming a successful air attack, claiming that she had damaged U.S. warship(s), and a final message received at 0051 local time on 08DEC41 reporting that the submarine was unable to navigate. Her wreck was discovered in three sections in the debris field of the West Lock disaster, dumped outside the harbor during the clean-up. Torpedoes fired, scuttling charge detonated, crew unaccounted for.
I-18-tou, LTJG Shigemi Furuno and PO1c Shigenori Yokoyama, launched at 0215. Found outside of Pearl Harbor, East of the entrance, recovered by USS Current (ARS-22) on 13JUL60 from depth of 76 feet. Damaged by depth charges, abandoned by her crew, torpedoes were not fired. Currently on display at Eta Jima, Japan.
I-20-tou, ENS Akira Hiroo and PO2c Yoshio Katayama, launched at 0257. Sunk by the Destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) at 0645. The crew died in the attack, her torpedoes not fired. Found on the sea floor in 1,312 feet of water by a University of Hawaii submarine in August 2002. Declared a war grave.
I-22-tou, LT Naoji Iwasa and Petty Officer 1c Naokichi Sasaki, launched at 0116, penetrated Pearl Harbor. Fired one torpedo at the Seaplane Tender USS Curtiss (AV-4) and one torpedo at the Destroyer USS Monaghan (DD-354). I-22-tou was struck by shellfire from Curtiss at 0840, then rammed and depth-charged by Monaghan. Crew was killed in the attack. Her wreck was recovered on 21DEC41 and used as fill during construction, remains of the crew still aboard. LT Iwasa’s shoulder insignia was recovered from the wreckage confirming the identification, as he was the only full Lieutenant among the crews. The insignia is currently on display at Yasukuni.
I-24-tou, Ha-19, ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, launched at 0333. She had a faulty gyrocompass which delayed her launch. She was depth charged twice off the entrance to Pearl Harbor and ran aground. Broke free and proceeded east, then ran aground again off Bellows Field. Submarine broke free during air attack and hauled ashore by U.S. forces. Torpedoes not fired due to damage, scuttling charge failed to detonate. Inagaki killed, Sakamaki taken prisoner. Ha-19 was salvaged and went on a War Bond tour, and is currently displayed at The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Dark Waters: An Insider’s Account of the NR-1 The Cold War’s Undercover Nuclear Sub
By Lee Vyborny and Don Davis
Hardcover in dustjacket, 243 pages, appendices, photographs, and index
Published by New American Library January 2003
Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.0 x 9.2 inches
The NR-1 was a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, unique in many respects. Its stated purpose was scientific research, survey, and rescue, but it also performed clandestine military operations, many of which remain classified today. It was the smallest nuclear-powered vessel in the world, displacing only 400 tons with a length of less than 150 feet (45 meters). It was never commissioned into the U.S. Navy but was administered through the Nuclear Reactors department, one of several manipulations which kept the program firmly under Admiral Rickover’s control.
Author Lee Vyborny was one of the commissioning crew (a “plank owner” in Navy parlance) personally selected by Rickover. As such he was present during the construction and fitting out of the ship and was part of the crew responsible for developing her operational procedures during her first missions. He is uniquely qualified to record the story of the construction of the ship and training of her crew. Vyborny pulls no punches in discussing the technical obstacles and budget over-runs which delayed the NR-1’s construction, and he relates Rickover’s controlling nature and infamous temper.
Only a select few of the NR-1’s operations are described here for security reasons. Her well-known retrieval of an F-14 Tomcat and the AIM-54 Phoenix missile she carried from 2,000 feet (610 meters) below the North Atlantic is related, along with routine aspects of shipboard life which give the reader a good feel for what it was like to serve aboard her. I was surprised at how vulnerable the tiny submarine was and how close it came to disaster on several occasions. Her reactor was only able to produce 160 HP which gave NR-1 a maximum speed of five knots, barely enough power to get her out of trouble. Getting entangled in nets or cables or stuck in the muddy sea floor could have proven fatal.
This account is interesting and well-written, and provides an insight into the guarded world of the submarine service and covert operations. I was constantly aware that the author was leaving out as much of the story as he was able to tell, but what is there is fascinating. Perhaps someday the NR-1’s entire history will be open to the public but I doubt I’ll still be around to read it. This is a good book with a great story, recommended.
Escort Commander, originally published as Walker R.N.
By Terence Robertson
Hardcover in dustjacket, 200 pages, appendices, notes, and index
Published by Nelson Doubleday 1979, Book Club Edition
Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
This is the biography of Captain Frederic “Johnnie” Walker, Royal Navy, who gained fame as the most successful submarine hunter of the Second World War. He held simultaneous command of HMS Stork and was in overall command of the 36th Escort Group during 1941-42, and later was Captain of HMS Starling and the 2nd Support Group during 1943-44. Ships under his command destroyed nineteen German U-boats during the war, and HMS Starling was the ship credited with the highest number of U-boat kills with fifteen, the majority of which were scored during her time with Walker in command.
Walker was an innovator in anti-submarine tactics and was very aggressive. He determined that the best way to ensure the safety of the convoys under his protection was not to provide close escort, but to pursue and destroy any enemy submarine that was detected. He often sent his warships several miles from the convoys after reported submarines; captains under his command were under standing orders to immediately attack any U-boats detected without awaiting further orders. Three of his enemy submarine kills were sunk by ramming after they were forced to the surface.
A favored tactic was the “creeping attack” where sonar contact was maintained by one ship while another approached at low speed to deliver a depth charge pattern. This was generally employed against a deep-diving submarine which could not detect the screw noise of the slow ship and thus was not expecting an attack. Another tactic was known as “operation plaster” where two or preferably three ships steaming abreast would drop large patterns of depth charges simultaneously over a target.
While at sea Captain Walker lived on the open bridge of his ship, taking meals there and only retiring briefly for cat naps when the situation permitted. The stress of combat and exposure to the North Atlantic elements eventually took its toll, he died of a cerebral thrombosis in July 1944. His honors included the Distinguished Service Order with three bars and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.
The only nit I would pick with this book is the author credits the promulgation of Walker’s tactics and innovative leadership style as the cause of the Battle of the Atlantic turning against the U-boats in 1943. While certainly a factor, the introduction of centimetric radar in patrol aircraft (which the German submarines could not detect) and the use of escort carriers certainly played a major role. Never the less this is a well-written biography, and Walker is worthy of study as an example of inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.