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From Monitor to Musashi: a Tale of Legendary Warships

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Musashi and Monitor

I have been thinking about two ships this past week. One of these ships was the Japanese Super-Battleship Musashi. The Musashi was one of the two largest battleships ever constructed and her wreck was discovered last week where she sank in the Sibuyan Sea. The other ship was the USS Monitor. The tiny Monitor was progenitor of all the great battleships that followed and 153 years ago Monitor helped propel naval architecture and warfare into a new era when she challenged the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads.

The Monitor was one of three experimental designs chosen by the Navy’s Ironclad board to deal with the Virginia. Her design and construction were remarkable, especially for her day. The ship was entirely experimental, nothing like Monitor had ever been built before, but even so it was less than five months from the date she was ordered until she was commissioned and just a few days more than that before she was in action. I cannot imagine any warship ship new design ever breaking that record.

Her designer was John Ericsson, a Swede. Ericsson was the inventor of the screw propeller and designer of the first U.S. Navy Screw Frigate the USS Princeton. Ericsson had be shunned by the Navy after a rifled cannon, which was not of his design or construction exploded aboard Princeton during a gunnery demonstration which killed the Secretary of the Navy and others. Ericcson was not planning to submit a design but was persuaded to and his design, the Monitor was one of the three designs selected.

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The Officers of Monitor

The Monitor was like nothing ever seen on the ocean. Described by some as a “cheese box on a raft” the small ship had all of her machinery located below the waterline on a completely iron hull that only drew 11 feet of water. She was 179 feet long, had a beam of 41 and a half feet and displaced 987 tons. Her single vibrating lever steam engine powered by two boilers produced 340 horsepower and drove her at a top speed of six knots.

Her hull was protected by armor plate, but the most notable and innovative feature was a heavily armored revolving turret with eight inches of armor, mounted two massive 11 inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns which “could fire a 170-pound shot or 136-pound shell in any direction except straight ahead, where the pilot house sheathed in nine inches of armor was located.” Future ships remedied this defect. Ericcson’s ship was mocked around the navy and by naval designers, but he and it would prove them wrong. The Monitor’s most notable features, full steam propulsion, heavy armor and the revolving turret mounting heavy caliber guns would set the standard to which future battleships would be constructed.

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The Battle of Hampton Roads

Monitor had a brief service life, she fought the Virginia, took part in actions along the James River and sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina on December 31st 1861. The British Royal Navy designed an improved monitor with higher freeboard and finally an ocean going turret ship, the HMS Devastation.

Soon, the navies of the world began to build battleships and in 1906 the Royal Navy built the HMS Dreadnought which like Monitor revolutionized warship construction and naval warfare. Navies around the world began building ever larger, faster and more powerful Dreadnoughts culminating the designs of the late 1930s, the German Bismarck class, the American Iowa class, the British Vanguard, and the Japanese Yamato Class. It is the last ships, the Yamato and her sister Musashi that I want to discuss here, not that the others are not interesting or important, but because of the almost mythic status that these ships maintain in the annals of naval history, as well as their tragic end.

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Emperor Hirohito on Musashi in 1943

The Yamato and Musashi were the largest and most heavily armed battleships ever built. Shrouded in secrecy by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Government the ships were designed to offset projected American numerical superiority. Their names were symbolic of Japan’s history. Yamato was named after Yamato Province, the ancestral home of the Yamato People, the dominant native ethnic group in Japan. Musashi was named after Musashi Province in which lays Tokyo Prefecture.  A third ship of the class, Shinano, was named after Shinano Province in central Japan which was the home of the prestigious Taketa Shingen family during the Senguku period.

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The Conning Tower and Bridge of Musashi

The secrecy surrounding their design and construction was unprecedented. Those charged with their design and construction were thoroughly checked out by Japan’s secret police and sworn to an oath of secrecy. The oath sworn by builders of Musashi at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard were sworn to the oath shown below:

I am aware that all work involving the construction of the No. 2 Battleship is vital to national security. I will make utmost effort to maintain the secrecy of the project, and swear that I will leak no information relating to the said battleship, even to relatives and close friends. In the event I violate this oath,  I will submit to the punishment determined by the company and the Navy.  

Security measures around the shipyards where Yamato and Musashi were constructed were immense. At Nagasaki where there was a large foreign business and missionary population where the shipyard was visible from most of the city at hemp screen of 75,000 square meters was constructed to shield the ship from prying eyes and spies.

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Musashi under Construction

When actual preparations for construction were taken in 1937 secret police swept the areas of foreign, especially Chinese workers. Security was increased inside and outside the shipyard, all blueprints accounted for and placed under strict guard while all shipyard workers were photographed with any having knowledge of the plans or supervising the construction sworn to the secrecy oath.

When a top secret blueprint went missing in 1938 at Nagasaki an intense investigation that included the torture of numerous suspects and the jailing of a blueprinter who accidentally swept the document into the trash was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

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Armor and Protection of Yamato Class

Few pictures exist of the ships and Japanese Naval Officers destroyed many of the records of the ships design and construction just prior to the end of the Second World War. Throughout their existence they were a mystery to the American Navy. During the war the U.S. Navy estimated them to carry nine 16” guns and displace between 40,000-57,000 tons. Even the highly regarded Jane’s Fighting Ships listed them at just 45,000 tons.

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Yamato and Musashi together in 1943

Preliminary design work began in 1934 and progressed rapidly following Japan’s withdraw from the League of Nations and renunciation of the Washington and London Naval Treaties and withdraw from the 1936 naval talks in London. The early designs varied in the caliber of guns, size and armor, propulsion systems and endurance. Gun calibers ranged from 16” to 18.1” and a combined diesel-turbine system was considered but rejected in favor of traditional steam turbines.

The final design was for a class of five ships. Each would displace 64,000 tons standard displacement and 72,000 tons at full load. They were 862 feet long with a beam of 127 feet.  They were so large that the docks they were built needed to be expanded and special extra-large launch platforms had to be built.  At Nagasaki the dock at to be expanded by cutting into the hill adjacent to it.

They were armed with nine 18.1 inch guns in triple turrets which could fire a projectile weighing over a ton. The secondary armament consisted of 12 6.1 inch guns mounted in triple turrets formerly mounted on the Mogami Class cruisers when those ships were equipped with 8” guns. Anti-aircraft defense included twelve 5” guns and twenty-four 25mm anti-aircraft guns. During the war two of the 6.1 inch turrets were removed and replaced with twelve more 5” guns and the 25mm battery was raised to 162 guns. Fire control systems were designed in such a way that the ships could engage multiple surface targets at the same time.

The ships were protected by a massive armored belt ranging from 16 inches to 8 inches with 26 inch armor on the face plates of the main gun turrets. The armor was advanced with excellent sloping but had a flaw where the upper and lower belts connected just below the waterline which exposed them to damage from torpedoes.

Photographed just prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Ships are, from left to right Musashi, Yamato, a cruiser and Nagato.

Yamato and Musashi viewed beside Battleship Nagato (foreground) just before the Battle of Leyte Gulf

They were powered by 12 Kampon boilers which powered 4 steam turbines and four three bladed propellers. These developed 150,000 shp and could drive the ship at a top speed of 27 knots.

Construction of Yamato began on November 4th 1937 at Kure Naval Shipyard. Musashi on March 28th 1938. Traditionally such events were large public ceremonies but these were limited to just a few Naval Staff and Shipyard executives.  Yamato was launched on August 8th 1940 and commissioned on December 16th 1941, just 9 days after Pearl Harbor. Musashi was launched on November 8th 1940 and commissioned on August 5th 1942 just two days before the U.S. Marines invaded Guadalcanal and two months after the disaster at the Battle of Midway.

Yamato served as Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship at Midway where she saw no action. The next two years she was and Musashi alternated as fleet flagship and conducted operations with Battleship Division One in operations between Mainland Japan and the major Japanese base at Truk. On December 25th 1943 while escorting a convoy she was torpedoed by the submarine USS Skate and suffered heavy damage which flooded a magazine.  On March 29th while underway Musashi was struck near the bow by a torpedo from the USS Tunny.

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Musashi under attack at the Battle of Sibuyan Sea

Both ships participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and were part of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Central Force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Musashi was sunk by U.S. Navy Carrier aircraft from the Third Fleet on October 24th 1944 during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Hit by 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes she sank with the loss of nearly 1100 of her crew of almost 2400 men. The survivors were rescued by destroyers and disembarked at Corregidor. Some were sent by troop transport to Japan but one of the ships was torpedoed and sunk leaving her survivors adrift for 19 hours before rescue. Those who reached Japan were isolated from the population while about half of the survivors remained in the Philippines where 117 of 146 of those assigned to the defense of Manila were killed in action.

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Yamato or Musashi under air Attack

Yamato saw action in the surface engagement on October 25th against the Escort Carriers and Destroyers of Taffy-3 during the Battle off Samar. Her guns helped sink the Escort Carrier USS Gambier Bay but was forced away from the action by torpedo attacks from the valiant destroyers of Taffy-3.

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Yamato under Attack April 7th 1945

By April 1944 Japan’s Navy was decimated and U.S. Naval Forces were raiding Mainland Japan. When the United States landed on Okinawa the Japanese Navy and air force launched wave after wave of Kamikaze attacks on the ships in the waters around the island. Yamato, along with Light Cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers were designated the Surface Special Attack Force and loaded with a full load of ammunition but only enough fuel for a one way trip got underway on April 6th. The mission was for Yamato to reach Okinawa, beach herself and serve as an “unsinkable” gun battery until she was destroyed. The force was spotted by U.S. Navy flying boats hours after their departure and on April 7th over 400 aircraft launched from Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3. The first wave began its attack at 1230 and by 1400 the ship was mortally wounded. Stuck by at least 8 torpedoes and 11 bombs she was dead in the water and began to capsize at 1405. At 1420 she turned turtle and at 1423 exploded when her forward blew up sending up a mushroom cloud nearly 20,000 feet.  Under 300 of her crew of nearly 2400 were rescued.

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The End: Yamato Explodes

What had begun with the tiny “cheese box on a raft” had culminated in two of the largest warships ever built, designed when naval experts planned for a war where the battleship would rule and aircraft carriers play a supporting role. Instead both never faced enemy battleships in combat and both were destroyed by the weapon that the battleship admirals had discounted. It is somewhat fitting that each was commissioned shortly after the triumphs of Japanese and American Naval air power at Pearl Harbor and Midway. However they have attained an almost mythic status in naval lore and are symbols to many Japanese of the sacrifice and futility of the war. Both of the cities where the ships were constructed were destroyed by Atomic bombs. They are tragic reminders of the cost of war in human lives, suffering, economic cost and destruction.

musashi wreck

Musashi’s wreck was discovered by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He posted the first picture of the ship taken in over seventy years, showing the Chrysanthemum seal on her bow to Twitter. As a devotee of these great ships I was amazed to see this.

In a sense their poetic names and the myth ascribed to them are a tragic requiem to the Japanese Empire and the cost of war. They and their brave sailors were sacrificed when the war was already for all intents and purposes lost. They, especially the Yamato were sacrificed for no military purpose save a convoluted sense of honor. Let us pray that it never happens again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sinking of the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue and the Advent of Submarine Warfare

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“There was a fountain of water, a burst of smoke, a flash of fire, and part of the cruiser rose in the air. Then I heard a roar and felt reverberations sent through the water by the detonation.”

Otto Weddigen describing the sinking of HMS Aboukir 

Ninety years ago this month an event took place that changed naval warfare and introduced the world to how deadly a single submarine could be. In September 1914 most naval experts held the submarine was not much of a threat. The submarines of the day were limited in range, diving depth, speed, armament and endurance.

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U-9

The U-9 was powered by kerosene engines on the surface which charged batteries which were used when the boats were submerged. Later submarines would be powered by diesel engines. U-9 was small, displacing only 543 tons on surface and 674 submerged. She was 188 feet long and just 19.7 feet in beam. The living conditions for her crew of 4 officers and 25 enlisted men were less than spartan. She was armed with four 17.7 inch torpedo tubes, two forward and two aft and carried six torpedoes, four in the tubes and two reloads for the forward torpedo tubes. The boat had been commissioned in April 1910 and on the outbreak of the First World War she was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen.

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Otto Weddigen 

On September 22nd 1914 with enormous battles raging on the Western Front and the High Seas Fleet in port the soon to be famous submarine was patrolling in the North Sea. The U-9 was about 18 miles off the Dutch Coast near the Hook of Holland when she encountered three ships of the Royal Navy’s 7th Cruiser Squadron, or Cruiser Force C. The squadron was composed of three obsolete Cressy Class Armored Cruisers, the HMS Cressy, HMS, Aboukir and HMS Hogue displacing 12,000 tons and mounting two 9.2” and 12 6” guns each.

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HMS Aboukir at Malta before the War, HMS Cressy (below)

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HMS Hogue shortly after being commissioned

The three ships were manned primarily by recently called up reservists and were derisively known throughout the fleet as the “Live Bait Squadron.” On that September morning they would be just that. The squadron was reduced in number as the squadron flagship was not present and the HMS Euryalus had to drop out due to lack of coal and weather damage to her wireless. The weather was bad, so the admiral in command was had to remain with the ship, unable to transfer. As such he delegated command to the captain of the Aboukir. The same bad weather also kept the destroyers that would of accompanied the patrol in port.

 

The ships were steaming in a line ahead formation when Weddigen on the U-9 spotted them about 0600 on the morning of September 22nd. They were not zig-zagging to lessen the chance of submarine attack and thought they had posted lookouts had no idea that U-9 was stalking them.

Weddigen on worked the boat into what he felt was a better firing position and launched his first torpedo at the center cruiser, the Aboukir at 0620 from a distance of just 550 yards. The torpedo struck her midships and broke her back. She began to sink and within 25 minutes capsize taking 527 of her crew of 760 down with her. Weddigen wrote in his post battle report:

“Her crew were brave, and even with death staring them in the face kept to their posts, ready to handle their useless guns….”

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Aboukir Sinking

Thinking that Aboukir had struck a mine the Captains of the Cressy and Hogue moved their ships close to rescue survivors. Weddigen had surfaced to observe the British and then fired two torpedoes into Hogue from a range of just 300 yards and then dived with Hogue opening fire as she did so. Hogue capsized and sank in 15 minutes.

The British now knew that a submarine was responsible for the attack and the last ship and after reloading his forward tubes attacked Cressy at 0720 firing two torpedoes from her stern tubes. Weddigen then surfaced to bring his bow tubes into action and fired another shot, as he dis so the British cruiser opened fire and attempted to ram. Cressy was struck by two torpedoes during the attack, the doomed ship capsized and then sank at 0755.

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Cressy Sinking 

In a little over an hour the U-9 had sunk three British cruisers. A total of 1459 British sailors died in the attacks and only 837 crew members from all three ships survived. Weddigen withdrew from the area as he knew that the British would be looking for the U-9. When the boat returned to port, Weddigen, and his crew were hailed as heroes. Weddigen was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and later the Pour le Merite which he received personally from Kaiser Wilhelm II. The U-9 was one of only two ships of the Imperial Navy awarded the Iron Cross. The other was the Light Cruiser Emden, nicknamed the “Swan of the East” which tied down a large number of British, French and Russian ships in the Pacific and Indian Ocean during her short but productive deployment as a commerce raider.

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The Return of the U-9 to Wilhelmshaven

The plucky U-9 would survive the war, sinking another cruiser, the HMS Hawke in 1915 and 13 other merchant ships or fishing boats. She was withdrawn from front line service in 1916 and assigned to training duties.

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The Crew of U-9

Weddigen was less fortunate, the aggressive young officer was killed on March 18th 1915 when his new command the U-29 was rammed and sunk by the HMS Dreadnought.

Future First Sea Lord Dudley Pound then serving on the Battleship HMS St. Vincent wrote:

“Much as one regrets the loss of life one cannot help thinking that it is a useful warning to us — we had almost begun to consider the German submarines as no good and our awakening which had to come sooner or later and it might have been accompanied by the loss of some of our Battle Fleet.”

Submarines would go on to be one of the most feared and effective weapons ever developed for naval warfare. German U-Boats nearly brought Britain to its knees in both World Wars and the submarines of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet decimated the Japanese merchant fleet and inflicted great losses on the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Second World War. After Pearl Harbor and the many defeats of early 1942 it was the submarine force that according to Admiral Chester Nimitz “held the lines against the enemy.”

Today the most deadly submarines ever built prowl underneath the surface of the world’s oceans. Nuclear powered and advanced diesel electric boats armed with torpedoes and cruise missiles, and giant nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines armed with long range nuclear ballistic missiles provide an invisible and nearly undetectable deterrent.

Unlike 1914 today all navies take the submarine threat seriously. Should any significant naval war be fought in the Persian Gulf or the Pacific submarines will certainly have an impact not only at sea but in strategic strikes on enemy installations and land based units. In 1914 no one would have thought that the success of the tiny U-9 would eventually lead to such a dominating weapon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Stuff of Dreams: The Montana Class, H-Class and Super-Yamato Class Battleships

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“It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that–by some criteria–a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied….” Iain M. Banks 

None ever sailed the high seas and only two even began construction but they are the stuff of dreams for those fascinated with the history of battleships and their development. I happen to be one of those who are fascinated about warships, especially the all gun battleships and cruisers of the first half of the 20th Century.

One of the amazing aspects of the Battleships after the launching of the HMS Dreadnought in 1906 how they impacted every major power and were in some part a reason that England went to war with Germany in 1914. The great naval arms races, especially that of the race to build the most powerful battleships were expensive and after the First World War, nations exhausted by war and bankrupted by the costs attempted, for a bit longer than a decade to dictate limits on their construction and size. However in the mid-1930s with the threat of war again in the air nations once again began to build bigger, faster and more powerful Battleships.

Most of the ships described here were already on the drawing board by the late 1930s, even as the Super-Dreadnaught Battleships of the Bismarck, Yamato and Iowa classes were under construction. But that was before the vulnerability of battleships to carrier based aircraft brought about a revolution in naval warfare as Fast Carrier Task Forces supplanted the traditional battle line of battleships.

Had they been built they would have been some of the largest and most heavily armed ships ever seen. The guns to be mounted ranged from 16” guns on the Montana’s and the initial German H-39 class, to 20” guns aboard the Super Yamato’s and the H-44. the latter would have been the largest artillery ever mounted aboard ship.

When war came work and planning was suspended on the ships. The simple reason was that their construction would have consumed vast amounts of raw materials, labor and industry which was needed for other types of vessels. The Germans chose the path of U-Boats, the Japanese and Americans Aircraft carriers and their escorts.

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Montana Class

The Montana class would have been comprised of 5 ships, each armed with 12 16” guns displacing over 72,000 tons at full load. They would have had a speed of 28 knots as designers chose firepower and protection over speed. Thus they would have been 5 knots slower than the preceding Iowa’s which were designed to keep up with the fast carriers. The class was suspended in May of 1942 and cancelled after the battle of Midway.

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A-150 or Super Yamato Class Battleship 

The Super Yamato’s or the A-150 class as their design was known would have been comprised of 2 vessels each armed with 6 20.1” guns displacing over 70,000 tons with a speed of 30 knots. Initially the designers called for 8-9 20.1” guns but tests indicated that the ships would then displace over 90,000 tons making them too large and costly.

However as grandiose as the plans of the Americans and Japanese were the German proposals grew from ships somewhat larger than the Bismarck and Tirpitz to ships that would have dwarfed any warship ever built, including the US Navy Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers.

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H Class Battleship

The H-39 class, the direct successor to the Bismarck Class came closest to fruition of any of these ships. They were designed to carry 8 16” guns, displace over 55,000 tons and steam at 30 knots powered by diesel engines. 2 of the 6 planned ships were actually laid down and several of the main guns were completed and used as coastal defense artillery along the Atlantic Wall.

Atlantikwall, Batterie "Lindemann"

However Hitler ordered his Naval Staff to design even larger and more powerful battleships. The H-41 class would have have displaced 68,000 tons and mounted 8 17” guns, the H-42 class over 96,000 tons full load and mount 8 19” guns, the H-43 118,000 tons full load  and 8 19” guns while the H-44 would have displaced over 139,000 tons full load and mount 8 20” guns. One innovative feature of the last three designs would have been the use of a combined diesel/steam turbine power plan which would have given the ships good speed as well as tremendous range.

However since none of the ships from any of the nations was ever built one can only speculate how they might have performed operationally or how they might have fared had they ever met in battle.

They would have been an amazing sight to behold, massive power and beauty, but the kind of deadly beauty that one wishes never had to be employed.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Harbingers of the Future: The German Type XXI Electroboote U-Boats

Throughout history there have been ships that have changed the course of Naval strategy and made previous types of ships obsolete overnight, the USS Monitor, the HMS Dreadnought and USS Nautilus are three, but add to the list the German Type XXI U-Boats which forever changed the way that submarines were built around the world.

The Type XXI was designed in 1943 in order to regain the initiative and thereby reassert German naval power in the Atlantic in order to turn the tide against the Allies.  By 1943 the Allies had turned the tide against the Germans as the Type VII and Type IX U-Boats took heavy losses against naval units and convoys which now had air support at every stage of their trek across the North Atlantic. These boats had to surface for prolonged periods in order to recharge their batteries and had limited range, speed and endurance when submerged. The advent of the Escort Carrier, long range patrol bombers and hunter killer groups of Destroyers and the new Destroyer Escorts took a great toll on the U-Boat Force.

U-3008 in U.S. Navy Service

In order to meet the challenge the Germans opted for new technology based on the high speed hydrogen powered Walter turbines for underwater operations.  Since these turbines which could produce a high underwater speed had a short endurance the designers modified the design to use conventional diesels but equip the boats with batteries that had three times the capacity of previous boats. The boats were a radical change from all previous submarine designs which were basically surface ships with the ability to operate underwater for limited periods of time. The Type XXIs were really the first true submarines. They could operate at underwater speeds that were faster than many of their opponents, had a streamlined design which facilitated higher submerged speed of 18 knots and silent running making them very difficult to track.  They could remain underwater for 11 days while only needing 5 hours to recharge their batteries when using the schnorkel device.

The Wilhelm Bauer the former U-2540 in 1960

The Type XXI had a full streamlined hull and conning tower and even equipment which were externally mounted such as the radio antennae, hydrophones, DF Ring and forward planes were fully retractable. They had no deck guns and their twin 20mm flak guns mounted in a streamlined housing on the conning tower. The German designers eliminated the traditional open bridge in favor of three small openings for the watch officer and 2 lookouts. They had a superior silent running ability and at 15 knots were quieter than the US Navy Balao Class doing 8 knots.  They had a 1 inch thick steel aluminum alloy pressure hull with a designed crush depth of 280 meters (919 feet), a greater designed crush depth than any previous submarine.

They incorporated other innovations which would be incorporated into the post-war submarines of the victorious Allied powers. Among these innovations were semi-automatic hydraulic torpedo reload system which allowed three 6 torpedo salvos to be fired in less than 20 minutes where prior U-Boats had manual reloads and took over 10 minutes to reload a single torpedo. To make the fullest use of this capability the German equipped the boats with an advanced passive and active sonar system called the called Gruppenhorchgerät and Unterwasser-Ortungsgerät NIBELUNG mounted in the bow. The improved passive system enabled the boats to close to where they could emit short active sonar bursts to fix the target location. They could fire from a depth of 160 feet. The torpedoes themselves were an advanced design called the LUT or Lageunabhängiger Torpedo. The LUT was a guided torpedo that could be fired from the U-Boat regardless of the target’s bearing as it was programmed to steer an interception course programmed by the torpedo computer.

Submarines influenced by the Type XXI

USS Gudgeon a Tang Class submarine

Polish Submarine ORP Orzel a WHISKEY Type Submarine

USS Nautilus on trials

The Type XXI boats were unique in production as they had no prototype and went directly in production. They were assembled from prefabricated sections built from factories around Germany and transported to the major shipbuilding yards. This was efficient but caused problems that slowed final assembly as many of the factories had no experience building U-Boats and quality suffered because the exacting specifications required by the Kriegsmarine.  Likewise Allied air strikes on German factories and rail networks hampered production. Yet even in spite of these difficulties 119 Boats were completed although only four were rated as combat ready and only two were fully operational at war’s end. Of these only one embarked on a war patrol.  Most were destroyed in air attacks while in port or scuttled by the Germans to prevent their capture.  Eight Type XXIs were taken over by Allied navies at the end of the war where they were used to evaluate technology for use in future submarines. The U.S. Navy Tang Class boats were heavily influenced by the Type XXI as were the GUPPY upgrades to Balao and Tench class boats.  The first nuclear submarines of the U.S. Navy, the Nautilus, Seawolf and the Skate Classes all incorporated design features of the Type XXIs. The Soviet Union developed its 613 and 614 project submarines which became the type known by NATO as the WHISKEY class from the Type XXIs that they received following Germany’s surrender. In 1957 the Federal Republic of Germany raised the scuttled U-2540 and commissioned her as the research submarine Wilhelm Bauer. That boat was operated by both the Bundesmarine and civilian crews until her decommissioning in 1982. She is now a museum ship open to the public in Bremerhaven.

The Type XXIs were the first true submarines and influenced every submarine constructed since. Though introduced too late in the war to make a difference they were truly a wonder-weapon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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