German WWII Submarine Designs

German submarine designs exerted a major influence, either directly or indirectly, on most of the world’s submarine development in the years between the two world wars-except in Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union. All the major navies of the victorious Allies-Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States-received examples of the latest German U-boats under the terms of the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. They intently examined and analyzed these German craft to determine the applicability and suitability of their features for incorporation into their own types and, in several instances, commissioned former German submarines into their own services to acquire operational experience in their use. Both Italian and French designers were very much influenced by studying and operating examples of the later Mittel-U and UB-III types prior to developing their first new postwar boats. The big U-cruisers had even more impact. The first French oceangoing submarines, the Requin class, benefited substantially from their designers’ study of U-cruisers. The big U. S. Navy fleet boats owed a great debt to the German boats (including even their diesel engines, in some cases), and German engineers were intimately involved in the development of the early Japanese kaidai and junsen types.

German design influence spread to lesser fleets too, largely through the activities of the Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw (IvS). The IvS was established in July 1922 at Den Haag in The Netherlands by a consortium of the Krupp and Vulcan shipbuilding yards to circumvent the Versailles Treaty’s prohibition on submarine design and construction. The engineering staff was led by Hans Techel, who had headed Krupp’s submarine design team since 1907, and the firm also received clandestine financial support from the German Navy, which was desirous of maintaining German submarine design expertise despite the treaty. IvS engineers produced submarine designs that were constructed for Turkey, Finland, the Soviet Union, Spain, and Sweden, and also served as prototypes for the German Navy’s Type IIA coastal, Type IA long-range, and Type VII oceangoing U-boats.

German submarines were developed clandestinely, inasmuch as the Versailles Treaty prohibited them in the German Navy. Design work, both at IvS and by the Blohm und Voss firm, continued for foreign navies with production undertaken in the customer’s yards under German supervision. These boats also served as prototypes for domestic production, which made it possible for the first new German submarine, the U-1, to be completed on 29 June 1935, only five weeks after the repudiation of the Versailles Treaty.

The overwhelming majority of the 1,150 U-boats commissioned between 1935 and 1945 belonged to two groups: the so-called 500- ton Type VII medium boats, and the 740-ton Type IX long-range submarines. The Type VIIC actually displaced between 760 and 1,000 tons on the surface, had a cruising range of 6,500 to 10,000 miles at 12 knots on the surface and 80 miles at 4 knots submerged. They had a battery of 5 torpedo tubes with 14 torpedoes, an 88mm deck gun, and ever-increasing numbers of light antiaircraft weapons. Almost 700 of these boats in all of their variants entered service during World War II. The Type XIC actually displaced 1,120 tons; it had a cruising range of 11,000 miles at 12 knots on the surface and 63 miles at 4 knots submerged. They had a battery of 6 torpedo tubes with 22 torpedoes, a 105mm deck gun, and ever-increasing numbers of light antiaircraft weapons. Almost 200 of this type and its variants were commissioned.

Germany also commissioned a number of other important types during World War II. Among the most important were the Type X minelayers and the Type XIV supply boats. Both types operated as resuppliers for the operational boats during the Battle of the Atlantic, providing fuel, provisions, medical supplies, reload torpedoes, and even medical care and replacement crew members. Consequently they became prime targets for Allied antisubmarine forces, and few survived. The other major vessels were the radical Type XXI and Type XXIII boats, designed for high submerged speed and extended underwater operation. Revolutionary streamlined hull shapes, greatly increased battery space, and the installation of snorkels allowed these boats to operate at submerged speeds that made them very difficult targets for Allied antisubmarine forces. Confused production priorities, however, and the general shortage of materials late in the war prevented more than a very few from putting to sea operationally.


The outbreak of World War II found the German submarine arm well trained but deficient in numbers. From the moment of its reestablishment, the submarine force had concentrated much of its effort on validating Kommodore Karl Dönitz’s concepts for an all-out assault on enemy trade using concentrated groups of submarines under central shore-based control to locate and destroy convoyed shipping, primarily through surfaced night attacks (wolf-pack tactics). Dönitz was promoted Konteradmiral in October 1939, but shortages of U-boats, Adolf Hitler’s initial insistence on Germany’s adherence to the Prize Regulations, and demands on the submarine force for its support of surface naval operations prevented him from exploiting the potential of the wolf-pack tactics for most of the first nine months of the conflict. On average only six boats were at sea at any one time during this period, forcing them to attack individually, although some attempts were made to mount combined attacks whenever possible.

As a result of its World War I experience after 1917, Britain was quick to begin the convoying of merchant vessels. There was some initial hesitation because of the feared detrimental effect that convoys could have on the efficient employment of shipping, but when the liner Athena was torpedoed and sunk without warning on 3 September 1939, Britain took this to indicate that Germany had commenced an unrestricted campaign of submarine warfare against merchant vessels. Regular east coast convoys between the Firth of Forth and the River Thames started on 6 September and outbound transatlantic convoys from Liverpool two days later.

The conquest of Norway and the collapse of France in June 1940 brought substantial changes to the U-boat war against trade. From French bases, German reconnaissance and long-range bomber aircraft operated far into the Atlantic, while the operational range of the U-boats sailing from Norway and French Biscay ports increased dramatically. Italy’s simultaneous entry into the war terminated all commercial traffic in the Mediterranean except for very heavily escorted operational convoys bringing supplies into Malta. It also substantially increased the number of submarines available for the Atlantic campaign against shipping, inasmuch as Italian submarines began operating from Biscay ports, effectively doubling the total Axis force at sea. This situation allowed Dönitz to introduce his wolf-pack tactic on a large scale into the Atlantic shipping campaign, just as the British faced an alarming shortage of oceanic convoy escorts because of the neutralization of the French Fleet and their decision to retain destroyers in home waters to guard against a German invasion. The results vindicated Dönitz’s belief in the effectiveness of wolf packs. In the first nine months of the war, German U-boats sank a little more than 1 million tons of shipping, whereas they and the Italians together destroyed more than 2.3 million tons between June 1940 and February 1941. However, the release of destroyers from their guard duties, the addition of new escorts, and the transfer of fifty obsolete destroyers from the U. S. Navy improved the situation. The dispersal point for westbound transatlantic convoys and the pickup point for escort groups meeting eastbound shipping gradually moved westward as the range of the escorts was increased. This pushed the main arena of Axis submarine operations more toward the mid-Atlantic zone, which reduced the time that boats could spend on station. In mid-1941 the United States imposed its socalled Neutrality Zone on the western Atlantic and began escorting British convoys in conjunction with Royal Canadian Navy escorts, operating from Argentia in Newfoundland. North Atlantic convoys now were escorted throughout by antisubmarine vessels. Nevertheless, these additions to the escort force had only a limited impact on losses, since German and Italian submarines succeeded in sinking a further 1.8 million tons in the following nine months prior to the U. S. entry into the war.

The German declaration of war on the United States on 10 December 1941 brought a major westward expansion of U-boat operations against shipping. A disastrous period followed, while the U. S. Navy struggled with the problems of finding the escorts and crews required to convoy the enormous volume of merchant traffic along the East Coast of the United States, and with the very concept of convoy itself. Axis submarines sank more than 3 million tons of Allied shipping between December 1941 and June 1942, well over 75 percent of it along the East Coast of the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, by mid-1942 an elaborate and comprehensive system of interlocking convoy routes and sailings was established for the East Coast of North America and the Caribbean.

As Dönitz became aware of the extension of convoy along the Atlantic East Coast, he shifted U-boat operations back to the mid-Atlantic. His all-out assault on the North Atlantic convoy systems inflicted heavy losses: between July 1942 and March 1943, Axis (almost entirely German) submarines destroyed more than 4.5 millions tons of Allied shipping, over 633,000 tons in March alone. Nevertheless, new Allied countermeasures became available at this crucial moment, and U-boat successes fell to 287,137 tons in April, 237,182 tons in May, and only 76,090 tons in June. Dönitz’s reaction was to deploy his U-boats in areas where Allied antisubmarine forces were weak, anticipating that this would compensate for the lack of success in the North Atlantic. Initially this plan to some extent met his expectations, since sinkings rose to 237,777 tons in July, but the success of the Allied assault on U-boats in transit to their patrol stations rendered the German accomplishment transitory; merchant ship sinkings dropped to 92,443 tons in August, never to surpass 100,000 tons per month at any subsequent time during the war.

The collapse of the U-boat offensive in mid-1943 resulted from the Allies’ concurrent deployment of a series of new countermeasures and technologies that reached maturity almost simultaneously: centrimetric radar aboard both ships and aircraft, efficient shipborne high-frequency direction finding, ahead-throwing weapons that permitted ships to fire antisubmarine bombs forward and thus retain sonar contact, very-long-range shore-based antisubmarine aircraft, escort carriers and escort support groups, and advances in decryption of German communications codes. The U-boat arm attempted to defeat these countermeasures by deploying its own new weaponry, the most important elements of which were radar warning receivers, heavy antiaircraft batteries, and acoustic torpedoes designed to hunt antisubmarines vessels. Not only did these fail to stem the tide of Allied success against the U-boats, but new convoy communications codes also defeated German cryptographers, rendering locating targets much more difficult. Then, in 1944, Allied military successes in France began to force German U-boats to make more extended passages to their patrol areas as their home ports moved farther from the Atlantic; German air bases also ceased to give aircraft quick access to British coastal waters.

During the final year of this conflict, U-boats equipped with snorkels entered service. The production of new, fast elektroboote (the radical new Type XXI submarines with high underwater speed) allowed the first examples to become operational, but their numbers were far too few to make any difference. Also, there were insufficient experienced crews available to exploit their potential and they had design and manufacturing faults. Such was the success of Allied antisubmarine measures during this period that full-scale convoying became unnecessary in some areas, and much of the focus of their escorts turned to hunting U-boats rather than directly protecting merchant shipping. The full measure of the defeat of the U-boats is indicated by the fact that more than two-thirds of the 650 German submarines lost during World War II were sunk in the last two years of the war.

Soviet Naval Infantry

The Soviet Naval Infantry fought during the Second World War, but was then transferred from the navy to the coastal-defence forces before being disbanded in the mid-1950s. On 14 July 1958, however, the president of Lebanon requested urgent aid from France, the UK and the USA to counter a threat by the USSR to deploy Soviet ‘volunteers’ to support pro-Nasser rebels. The US Sixth Fleet was able to land three Marine battalions the very next day, and the threat from the Soviet ‘volunteers’ immediately disappeared. The Marine battalions withdrew on 21 August after what had been a classic exhibition of the value of sea power and amphibious capability.

The Soviet leadership, never slow to learn from such experiences, responded by re-establishing the Naval Infantry, which rapidly became a corps d’élite. in 1961 the Naval Infantry was resurrected; the Soviet Army came to recognize the utility of specialized marine forces for conducting amphibious landings, and each of the fleets was allotted such a unit. Essential to this new policy was the development of amphibious warfare ships, notably the new tank-landing ships (LSTs) of the Alligator class.

The Naval Infantry was divided among the four fleets. From 1961 the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets were allotted a naval infantry regiment, while the Pacific Fleet deployed a brigade. US intelligence assessments from the 1980s indicate that these formations were larger by that time, with brigades deployed by three fleets, and a division with the Pacific fleet.

Each naval infantry regiment comprised three naval motor rifle battalions and a naval tank battalion. The motor rifle battalions each had about 33 BTR-60 amphibious armoured troop carriers, while the tank battalion had a mixed complement of 34 PT-76 amphibious tanks and ten T-55 or T-72 tanks. In battalions with the T-55 tank, three of the ten were often the TO-55 flamethrower type. A naval infantry brigade had two tank battalions and five battalions of naval motor rifle troops, making it nearly double the size of the 2,500-man regiments.

The naval infantry troops, like most Marine forces, were of a higher calibre than normal motor rifle troops of the Soviet Ground Forces. They were better trained than their Ground Forces counterparts, and an increasing percentage were parachute qualified and trained in helicopter-landing operations. There were apparently specialized teams in these regiments trained to employ atomic demolition munitions (ADMs). Soviet ADMs are believed to have been available in several types, weighing 32-36kg each, with an explosive force of 0.1-0.5 kilotons. They would have been used to attack major port or seaside facilities.

The Soviet Naval Infantry force was quite small. It was intended for use on a tactical level as a raiding force, and on an operational level as the spearhead of an amphibious-landing force. Once a beachhead had been seized, further troop landings would be provided by Ground Forces units. For this reason, the Soviet Naval Infantry numbered only about 18,000 troops – compared to the US Marine Corps, which was more than ten times its size. Likewise, the Soviet Fleet’s amphibious warfare ships were inferior in number and sophistication to those of the US Navy. The Soviet Naval Infantry also differed considerably from the US Marines in its approach to amphibious warfare. While the US Marines relied on specially designed armoured, amphibious tracked vehicles (amtracs) for landing operations, the Naval Infantry used the normal Ground Forces BTR-60, which had only marginal performance in the open water. This policy was due in no small measure to the difference in the experiences of the two forces. The US Marines had a tradition of preparing for hotly contested beach assaults, such as those of World War II in the Pacific. In contrast, Soviet wartime experience was mainly against targets without formidable beach defences. Current areas where the Naval Infantry might be used, such as the Danish or Norwegian coasts, were not heavily fortified.

Yet the Soviet Naval Infantry was ahead of the US Marines in the adaption of hovercraft for beach-landing operations. The Soviet fleet deployed over 60 hovercraft in classes, most notably 35 of the AIST class, which was capable of carrying four PT-76 tanks, two T-72 tanks or 220 troops; a fourth class of hovercraft, the Uterok, began entering service in the 1980s. Hovercraft have obvious attractions over armoured amphibious vehicles: against lightly defended beaches, they can quickly land an assault force, and return rapidly alongside the ships of the assault fleet to load up for renewed missions to the beachhead.

Judging by the Soviet Navy’s shipbuilding programmes of the 1980s, the Naval Infantry remained central to Soviet strategic thinking. The construction of further Ivan Rogov-class landing ships, for example, made the Naval Infantry more suitable for employment outside traditional Soviet waters. The Naval Infantry was no longer confined to LSTs alone: the Ivan Rogov class had habitable berths on board, thus permitting long voyages to more distant destinations.

The force expanded, peaking in size and effectiveness around 1988, when it was some 18,000 strong. It fielded:

• one division (7,000 men) of three infantry regiments, one tank regiment and one artillery regiment;

• three independent brigades (3,000 men), each of three infantry battalions, one tank battalion, one artillery battalion and one rocket-launcher battalion;

• four spetsnaz (special forces) brigades, each of three underwater battalions and one parachute battalion.

The Naval Infantry was transported by a growing number of amphibious-warfare ships. Largest were two Ivan Rogov-class dock landing ships, displacing 13,100 tonnes, which carried one Naval Infantry battalion and forty tracked or larger numbers of wheeled vehicles, plus helicopters and surface-effect ships. Fourteen Alligator LSTs were similar in many respects to the British Sir Galahad-class logistics landing ships (LSLs); with a large cargo capacity and bow and stern doors, these were intended for follow-up operations rather than the assault wave. Principal assault vessels were the thirty-seven Ropucha LSTs, which were built in Poland. Smallest were forty-five Polnocny-class small tank landing ships (LCTs), also built in Poland, which displaced some 1,000 tonnes and had a payload of six battle tanks.

The Naval Infantry seized on the surface-effect ship (SES) as an effective way of transporting marines ashore, and developed a number of types including the Pomornik, which could carry three battle tanks, and the Aist, which carried two. Under development at the end of the Cold War was the Orlan-class wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vessel, designed to transport up to 150 troops at speeds of up to 300 knots. Both the SES and the WIG vessels were very fast compared with normal amphibious shipping, and were designed for short ‘hooks’ in support of a ground advance, or for lightning attacks on crucial targets in the Baltic and Black seas, both types of operation having precedents in the Soviet experience in the Second World War. These craft were another example of the flexibility of thought in the Soviet forces, which produced some novel solutions to the problems facing them.

The Soviet Naval Infantry (marines) numbered some 12,000 during this period, organized into regiments (one each stationed with the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets.) These forces were tailored for amphibious assault, but were largely directed to support the activities of the fleets to which they were assigned. However, as the Soviet-Syrian exercise in 1981 showed, they did have the capability to operate in a power projection role, as did the presence of Soviet amphibious forces in the Indian Ocean during this time. A total of 83 amphibious ships supported these forces. Supply could have been provided by the Soviet merchant marine, numbering some 1,723 ships by mid-1982.

In displaying American geopolitical will vis a` vis the USSR, the US Navy increasingly revealed the weaknesses of its Soviet counterpart. The Soviet Navy was never able to match the wide-ranging exercises of the Americans during the 1980s, as its Okean maneuvers in 1970 and 1975 had done. This is not to say that the Soviet Navy was idle. A major amphibious exercise was undertaken in July 1981 by Soviet and Syrian forces in the Eastern Mediterranean involving over 1,000 Soviet Naval Infantry. In September of that year, the Soviet Navy deployed 60 ships and landed more than 6,000 Naval Infantry and Army troops as part of Zapad ’81, a major combined-arms exercise conducted in the Baltic near the Polish border. The size of the exercise (the Soviets officially declared that some 100,000 personnel took part) and its political significance (it occurred three months before martial law was imposed in Poland as a result of the challenge of the Solidarity movement) meant that the Navy could still be seen as important to Soviet foreign policy. Nonetheless, when it is considered that the US Navy was able to participate in a plethora of combined-arms exercises that achieved such impressive results, Soviet activities are put into proper perspective.

Russian Federation

The Marine Infantry (MI) is an Arm of the Coastal Troops of the Navy, designed and specially trained for combat operations in amphibious landings, as well as for defending naval bases, important parts of the coast and coastal facilities.

The marines in amphibious operations can operate on its own for capturing stationing sites of the enemy’s navy, ports, islands, non-integrated parts of the enemy’s coast. In the cases, when the landing basis is represented with the Land Force’s units, the marines land within advanced units to seize seashore points and parts and to support landing on them of the main landing forces.

The MI’s armaments: waterborne combat equipment, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems and automatic small arms.

The Marine Infantry’s formations and subunits are landed on the beach from amphibious ships and boats, as well as from shipborne and shore-based helicopters with fire support of ships and aircraft. In some cases, the marines can surmount water spaces under their own power aboard amphibian vehicles (in most cases, armoured personnel carriers).

The Russian Naval Infantry have been gradually phasing out PT-76 amphibious tanks, and started to receive a number of T-80s. A full-strength Naval Infantry Brigade may have up to 70-80 Tanks. The APCs used by the Naval Infantry are either wheeled BTR-80s (in Assault Landing Battalions) or tracked MT-LBs (in Marine Battalions). While Naval Infantry units were supposed to receive BMP-3 IFVs, BMMP (bojevaya mashina morskoj pekhoti) fitted with the turret of the BMP-2, few have been delivered, and it is far from certain such re-arming will take place. BMP-3s may equip one company per Marine battalion.

According to Defense Ministry statement published by RIA Novosti (November 27, 2009), “All units of Russia’s naval infantry will be fully equipped with advanced weaponry by 2015.” Included in this upgrade would be T-90 tanks, BMP-3 IFVs, 2S31 120mm mortar/artillery tracks, wheeled BTR-82A armored personnel carriers, air defense equipment and small arms. All Naval Infantry units were equipped with Ratnik infantry combat gear and all Northern Fleet naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of November 2016. Naval Infantry and Navy units also receive new-technology binoculars. The Naval Infantry have started to receive a modernized version of Strelets reconnaissance, control and communications system and completed receiving D-10 parachutes. All Pacific Fleet and Caspian Flotilla naval infantry units were equipped with BTR-82A APCs as of May 2018.

In late February 2014, at least one Black Sea Fleet assigned unit (at company level) was apparently using Tigr armoured cars near Sevastopol during the 2014 Crimean crisis. During the crisis in March 2014 imagery emerged of some Naval Infantry personnel carrying what appeared to be the OTs-14-1A-04 7.62×39mm assault rifle with an under-barrel GP-30 40mm grenade launcher; a bullpup design normally associated with the Russian Airborne Troops, as well as Combat Engineering and Spetsnaz units.

Japanese Rebels and Rebel Raiders

Naval Battle of the Strait of Shimonoseki, 20th July 1863

USS Wyoming, a screw sloop that won the first Naval battle between the United States and Japan at the Battle of Shimonoseki in 1863, pictured sometime after the US Civil War.

By the end of 1861 U.S. naval forces had been withdrawn from all distant stations to participate in the nation’s internal conflict. The Saginaw was one of three vessels remaining abroad—the others were cruising off Africa and Brazil—and even she was ordered to San Francisco in mid-1862. After nine months of rebuilding at the Mare Island Navy Yard, the side-wheeler joined the Pacific Squadron, with which she spent the remainder of her career.

But the Far East was not destined to be devoid of American naval forces for long. Receiving news of a Confederate privateer off the China coast, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles directed the Mare Island commandant to hasten repairs to the Pacific Squadron’s screw-sloop Wyoming, fit her for thirty months’ service, and send her directly to Manila. She arrived in the Philippines in August 1862, and Commander David S. McDougal commenced an investigation which ultimately indicated that the commerce raider was a figment of someone’s imagination. A few months later, however, Welles ordered the Wyoming to intercept the celebrated CSS Alabama at Sunda Strait.

While these orders were en route, the Wyoming touched at several Chinese ports for the dual purpose of showing the flag and seeking information pertaining to Confederate activities. Standing into Swatow in March 1863 with a pilot on board, she had the misfortune to strike a pinnacle rock while steaming at 8 knots. Water poured into the vessel more rapidly than pumps and the bilge injection could eject it, so McDougal ran her aground. After discharging stores and ammunition into a chartered schooner, the Wyoming’s men plugged the leaks sufficiently for her to reach Amoy, where she was docked for permanent repairs. A month after her mishap, the screw-sloop was ready for sea, and McDougal prepared to comply with Welles’s Sunda Strait order. But before she could sail, dispatches from Japan and news that the Alabama was actually in the West Indies caused the commander to set a course for Yokohama instead.

Isolated instances of violence against foreigners in Japan had been reported almost since the beginning of foreign intercourse with the island empire, but only gradually did Westerners become aware that these were manifestations of a more serious danger. The emperor himself and a number of the most powerful daimyo, including the princes of Choshu and Satsuma, were strongly opposed to the abandonment of seclusion and saw in the new policy an opportunity to oust the government of the Tokugawa shogun.

In the autumn of 1862, a retainer of the daimyo of Satsuma killed an Englishman whom he thought had insulted his prince near Yokohama. The British government made this and earlier incidents the occasion for demanding a sizable indemnity from the Japanese government and a smaller sum from Satsuma, over whom the shogun was said to have little control. The French minister at Edo assured British Rear Admiral Augustus Kuper that his government would support Whitehall’s demand, and the senior Netherlands naval officer offered his cooperation. This matter, which had not been settled when the Wyoming arrived, did not involve the United States, but on 25 May the American legation at Edo was burned and a short time afterward Minister Robert H. Pruyn and the consul at Kanagawa were advised to withdraw to Yokohama because the Japanese government could no longer guarantee their safety.

The situation assumed a more serious aspect a month later, when the shogun suddenly denounced the promise of his minister that the indemnity would be paid to Britain. Thereupon, the British chargé d’affaires turned matters over to Admiral Kuper to be settled by force. Since the latter thought his warships too few to protect the foreign settlement at Yokohama and to collect the indemnity at the same time, he declined to take any action until the foreign residents had had an opportunity to leave Japan. Within a few days, the Japanese paid the indemnity, but the payment was coupled with an order that all foreigners depart, so the outlook remained ominous.

Nonetheless, the Wyoming was preparing to return to the United States in obedience to orders from the Navy Department when letters from Shanghai informed Commander McDougal that the American steamer Pembroke, plying between Yokohama and the Chinese port, had been fired on by armed vessels in the vicinity of the Strait of Shimonoseki, western exit from the Inland Sea. The Wyoming’s destination was changed at once.

Arriving off the town of Shimonoseki on the morning of 16 July 1863, McDougal identified a bark and a brig, of European origin but flying the banners of Japan and Choshu, as the Pembroke’s assailants. An armed steamer displaying identical flags was anchored nearby. Taking advantage of a favorable tide, the Wyoming hoisted her colors and stood in with her men at battle stations. As she neared the town, six batteries at various points along the shore took her under fire. The vessels were McDougal’s primary targets, and shells from the Wyoming’s two 11-inch Dahlgren guns seem to have been very effective against them as she closed the range. The steamer weighed anchor, but a gush of smoke and steam following two shellbursts indicated serious damage to her boilers. She drifted ashore, and the brig, also hard hit, was seen to be settling. The bark too was reported to have suffered severe injury, but the batteries were another matter, keeping up a steady fire to which the Wyoming could make little effective reply because of their number and elevation. McDougal’s conning of his vessel was made the more difficult by strong currents and the lack of hydrographic knowledge, his pilots being “completely paralyzed and apprehensive of getting on shore.” After touching bottom once, the screw-sloop broke off the action. During seventy minutes under fire, she had received eleven shots in her hull while others had damaged her smokestack and rigging. Four of her men had been killed instantly and seven wounded, one fatally. Commander McDougal made no estimate of the Japanese loss, but he was sure that his attack had eliminated the danger from Choshu’s warships; the batteries, on the other hand, could be dealt with only by a sizable landing force.

When the Wyoming returned to Yokohama, her men learned that she was not the only vessel bearing wounds inflicted by Shimonoseki’s guns. The Dutch screw-corvette Medusa, en route from Nagasaki to Yokohama, had steamed through the strait under fire from batteries and men-of-war a few days before the Wyoming’s punitive action, and even as that action was beginning, French Rear Admiral C. Jaurés departed Yokohama with two warships to avenge an attack on a dispatch boat flying the tricolor.

French soldiers were embarked in the flagship Sémiramis, for Jaurés intended to destroy the offending batteries. When he found that his vessel drew too much water to come within range, the admiral landed the troops under the fire of the smaller Tancréde’s guns to attack a fortification to the eastward of the strait itself. This was quickly carried and, together with its magazine, destroyed. After burning a nearby village, the force was reembarked. Jaurés’s operation was conducted smartly, but, as Admiral Kuper remarked, it had done little to assure free passage of the strait.

When the French vessels returned to Yokohama, the diplomatic representatives of the foreign powers met to discuss the Japanese situation. They quickly resolved that the naval forces of their respective nations should cooperate to protect foreign rights in the treaty ports and to reopen the strait. The senior foreign naval officers, meeting on board HMS Euryalus soon thereafter to consider the diplomats’ resolution, concluded that no belligerent action should be undertaken, or even planned, until they had been assured that the shogun’s government was unable or unwilling to control the daimyo in whose principalities the treaty ports and the strait were located. No reason for this decision was given; presumably the naval officers wished to avoid responsibility for extensive military involvement in Japan so long as there was any possible alternative. Commander McDougal also had to keep in mind that his primary mission was the pursuit of Confederate commerce raiders—should the Wyoming suffer serious damage or deplete her ammunition supply, no replacement was at hand.

On the next day, however, another U.S. man-of-war stood into Edo Bay. The sailing sloop of war Jamestown had reached Macao from the Atlantic coast by way of the Cape of Good Hope on 1 June. After filling her storerooms with provisions that the naval storekeeper at Macao had purchased for her in Hong Kong, she had touched at Woosung where Captain Cicero Price learned of the threatening state of affairs in Japan. Although the Jamestown’s dependence on the winds practically limited her to duty as a guardship in one or another of the treaty ports, she could contribute sailors and marines to a force which would be landed from other vessels in the event of hostilities. But the arrival of a single obsolete warship did not suffice to change the attitudes of the senior naval officers, and Captain Price concurred in their decision.

Recognizing that the desired international naval cooperation was unlikely to be realized in the near future, the British chargé d’affaires persuaded Admiral Kuper to take unilateral action against the daimyo of Satsuma to force payment of the indemnity. Seven steam-propelled British warships, led by the screw-frigate Euryalus, bombarded the fortifications at Kagoshima, Satsuma’s capital city, on 15 August. Heavy seas whipped by typhoon-force winds and frequent accidents that befell the squadron’s breech-loading Armstrong guns limited the effect of the bombardment, but buildings in Kagoshima were seen to be in flames before the warships sought a sheltered anchorage in which to repair their damage and bury their thirteen dead. The batteries and the daimyo’s palace were shelled again as the squadron steamed out of Kagoshima Bay, and none of its vessels were hit by the feeble return fire. Nonetheless, Satsuma could boast that the British had been driven off without collecting the indemnity.

While the bombardment of Kagoshima had no direct effect on the American situation in Japan, it did show clearly that even a more formidable fleet was unlikely to be successful against Japanese fortifications unless troops could be put ashore in strength to destroy the batteries after they had been silenced by naval gunfire. And troops were not available, for Kuper’s application to the major general commanding British forces in China had received a flat refusal. Thus, the Strait of Shimonoseki remained closed to foreign shipping.

The threat of Confederate commerce raiders in the Far East seemed likely to materialize in the autumn of 1863 when the CSS Alabama was reported to be at Cape Town, where she had armed and commissioned one of her prizes as a cruiser. McDougal took the Wyoming to Macao for coal and then stood south to patrol Sunda Strait. After cruising in its waters for a month, the commander received information apparently originating with the U.S. consul at Melbourne, to the effect that a supply of coal for the Alabama’s use had been landed on uninhabited Christmas Island, some 200 miles to the southward of Sunda Strait. The Wyoming set out to investigate immediately and found no evidence of any coal having been put ashore; indeed, McDougal reported that the waters around the island offered no anchorage where a vessel might be unloaded.

Perhaps the report had been designed to lure the Union warship away from Sunda Strait, for the Alabama was actually nearby. She had destroyed a prize off Sumatra’s south coast on 6 November and steamed through the strait on the tenth, the day on which the Wyoming departed for Christmas Island. Commander McDougal later calculated that the two warships must have passed about twenty-five miles from each other, but by the time the Confederate burned another prize early the next morning, her enemy was too far to the southward to sight the blaze.

The Wyoming returned from her wild-goose chase a week later, to learn that the Alabama had indeed entered the Java Sea, but McDougal could obtain no information as to her whereabouts after 11 November. Five days were spent searching the waters in the vicinity of Anjer, after which the commander set a course for Bangka Strait, bemoaning the state of his vessel’s boilers which could no longer steam at full pressure. The Wyoming was off Singapore at the end of November, and there had the unusual experience of being mistaken for her prey—a native boat brought out a packet of papers and a letter for Commander Raphael Semmes. This evidence that the Alabama was expected caused McDougal to await her off Singapore, but the raider was more than 500 miles to the northward and did not reach Malacca Strait until late December, by which time the Wyoming was well on her way to Manila, whence she went to Whampoa for boiler repairs.

The screw-sloop dropped down to Macao on the completion of her repairs, and the Jamestown joined her early in February 1864. Captain Price had received a report that the Alabama was bound for Whampoa or Amoy to be docked, so he had left Yokohama late in December, disregarding the protests of American merchants and mariners who were sure that the Confederate would steam into Edo Bay at any moment. The sailing warship had battled boisterous winds for nearly a month to reach Amoy, whence she escorted a merchantman to Hong Kong. Price and McDougal agreed that the Alabama was no longer likely to appear in the China Sea, especially since she was reported to have been spoken off India’s Coromandel coast early in January. Nonetheless, the Wyoming was preparing to return to Sunda Strait when, in mid-February, Captain Price ordered her to Foochow in response to the vice-consul’s plea that a warship touch there.

At Foochow, Commander McDougal found that churches belonging to English and American missionary establishments had been damaged by a Chinese mob a month earlier. The vice-consuls of both nations had demanded reparation; compensation required by the Briton was paid promptly—because he was supported by a gunboat, according to McDougal. This view was probably valid, for, upon the Wyoming’s arrival, the American claim was satisfied as well. At an interview with the governor, the two vice-consuls, accompanied by the commanding officers of the USS Wyoming and HMS Bustard, were assured that the guilty individuals would be punished and that foreign property would be protected in the future.

Her Foochow mission successfully concluded, the Wyoming returned to Macao to await the mails and then proceeded to Batavia. All information indicated that the Alabama was no longer in the Indian Ocean, so the Union warship made her way to Philadelphia in accordance with earlier orders. The information was correct; the Alabama was sunk off Cherburg, France, by the USS Kearsarge while the Wyoming was still on her homeward passage.

Meanwhile, the Jamestown remained in Chinese waters until June, when Minister Pruyn asked that she return to Yokohama, both to provide a naval escort when he resumed his residence in Edo and to participate in an effort to reopen the Strait of Shimonoseki. The former mission was completed without incident, but August brought reports of another outrage in the district of the daimyo of Choshu. The American steamer Monitor, her passage from Hakodate to Nagasaki prolonged by head winds, had been fired on when she sought fuel and water in a bay on Honshu’s northwest coast.

Preparations for a movement against Choshu, whose domain included the northern shore of the Strait of Shimonoseki, were well-advanced when news of the supposedly unprovoked firing on the Monitor reached Yokohama. An ultimatum to the daimyo had been answered unsatisfactorily, whereupon the treaty powers’ diplomatic representatives concluded that a military-naval expedition should be sent to the strait. Their recommendation to this effect was discussed by the senior naval officers, who agreed to the proposed operation with the proviso that they be relieved of all responsibility for defense of the foreign settlement at Yokohama while it was in progress.

The role of the Jamestown received serious consideration. Everyone recognized that her lack of motive power amounted to a complete disability so far as the proposed expedition was concerned, yet the ministers were insistent that American sailors participate. Admiral Kuper offered one of his steamers to tow the sailer to the scene, but, as she would be very difficult to control in the strong currents of the strait, he thought it better for her to remain in Edo Bay where her presence would help to ensure tranquility. Thereupon, Captain Price chartered the American merchant steamer Ta-Kiang at $9,500 per month, put seventy men and a Parrott rifled gun into her, and ordered her temporary commanding officer, Lieutenant Frederick Pearson, to operate under Admiral Kuper’s direction, towing boats inshore, evacuating wounded men, and otherwise rendering such service as he could without exposing the Ta-Kiang unduly.

The fleet which sailed from Yokohama late in August consisted of eight British warships, of which a screw-propelled ship of the line and two screw-frigates were the largest, three French vessels, including the screw-frigate Sémiramis, four Dutch screw-corvettes, and the Ta-Kiang, flying the U.S. ensign. A battalion of Royal Marines and a detachment of sappers were embarked in the larger British vessels. Another of Admiral Kuper’s screw-sloops was escorting colliers laden with coal for the fleet from Shanghai to the Inland Sea, while a gun vessel would join from Nagasaki, bringing an interpreter and a pilot.

This array of eighteen vessels was thought to be large enough to open the strait with ease, thus proving to the emperor, the shogun, the daimyo, and other Japanese the folly of any attempt to cut off trade or to eject all foreigners. The ministers, according to Britain’s Sir Rutherford Alcock, believed that a decisive blow against Choshu, reputedly the strongest of the daimyo, would encourage his more moderate fellows to adhere to a peaceful course. Indeed, they hoped that it might result in a settlement of the rivalry between the shogun and his opponents. Lest the shogun be tempted to move against the foreign settlement at Yokohama, the Jamestown and five small British men-of-war remained at anchor in Edo Bay, while a number of troops were stationed ashore.

Approaching their objective on 4 September, the ships of the combined fleet were formed into three columns according to nationality, with the Ta-Kiang steaming humbly at the rear of the French line. That afternoon they anchored within sight of the Choshu batteries, which Admirals Kuper and Jaurés reconnoitered in person and then agreed that the attack should be launched on the first favorable tide.

HMS Euryalus made the signal for the engagement to begin on the afternoon of 5 September. The vessels weighed anchor and formed into advanced and light squadrons, the first of which steamed into a bay within easy range of the batteries while the lighter ships took up positions from which they could direct a flanking fire against the same works. The two flagships and the cumbersome ship of the line lay farther out. There was no sign of Japanese activity as the warships maneuvered into position, but when the Euryalus’s bow guns fired the first rounds, eight batteries responded smartly. The action then became general, with even the Ta-Kiang’s Parrott rifle contributing eighteen rounds to the bombardment. Some three hours later the batteries had been silenced, but the admirals agreed that it was too late in the day to put a landing force ashore.

The Japanese opened the engagement on the morrow, scoring several hits on two vessels of the advanced squadron before fire from the fleet silenced the batteries once more. Soon thereafter, eight of the smaller ships, of which the Ta-Kiang was one, towed boats carrying about 1,000 men from the British, French, and Dutch warships toward the beach. The landings were made without accident, but HMS Perseus, providing covering fire, was swept ashore by a strong eddy. The landing force encountered little opposition as it overran the batteries in succession, after which their guns were dismounted and spiked and their magazines blown up. This work of destruction completed, Admiral Kuper ordered the force to reembark. The French and Dutch contingents were already in their boats when a group of Japanese soldiers burst out of a valley to the rear of a battery to attack a party of British seamen who had not yet been marched to the beach. The marine battalion quickly arrived on the scene to help repulse the attackers, who were pursued to a stockade which they defended for a time before being dislodged and dispersed. Thereafter, the stockade was burned and the British force reembarked.

The next day, 7 September, was devoted to the embarkation of the captured guns, the senior officers having agreed that their removal would be the best guarantee of Choshu’s good behavior, and to measures to refloat the stranded Perseus. By midnight, she had been lightened sufficiently to be towed off by a consort at high water. On the eighth, Admirals Kuper and Jaurés boarded the gun vessel Coquette, which led four screw-sloops in to attack the two batteries which had not been destroyed. No return fire was noted, so a landing party removed the guns and leveled the works.

The combined fleet’s operation was completed by sundown, 10 September. Sixty-two pieces of ordnance had been embarked, ten batteries and their equipment destroyed, and Vice Admiral Sir Augustus Kuper wrote his superiors: “. . . I have satisfied myself, by personal examination of the entire Straits, that no batteries remain in existence in the territory of Prince Choshiu, and thus the passage of the Straits may be considered clear of all obstructions.”

It had been a smartly conducted operation. The leadership of Admirals Kuper and Jaurés seems to have been judicious and decisive, while the officers and men under their joint command worked together with little evidence of friction or misunderstanding. Nor was the American contribution entirely negligible—the Ta-Kiang enjoyed the distinction of being “mentioned in dispatches” for her services as gunboat, towboat, and hospital ship—the twenty-three wounded men, with a surgeon and attendants to care for them, were embarked in her for transportation to Yokohama.

Lieutenant Pearson and his men who served in the Ta-Kiang must have been envied by their fellows, for they were the only members of the Jamestown’s company to experience the excitement of active service while in Japanese waters. After they returned to the sloop of war, her vigil off Yokohama continued its uneventful pattern through the remainder of 1864 and into 1865.

As the Jamestown rode at anchor in Edo Bay, other U.S. warships were en route to the Far East. Three screw-sloops, the Iroquois, Wachusett, and Wyoming, had orders to seek the Confederate raider Shenandoah in East Indian waters during the spring of 1865. Only the Iroquois actually arrived before the war’s end; she spent two months cruising in the vicinity of Sunda Strait before returning home. The Wachusett was so unfortunate as to lose a topmast and then to run aground in West Indian waters, while the Wyoming did not steam into the Indian Ocean until August, by which time the elusive raider, disguised as the British merchantman she had been originally, was well on her way toward Cape Horn from her Bering Sea hunting ground.

The Jamestown’s sojourn in Japan came to an end when Minister Pruyn was finally able to dispense with her support early in April. Captain Price took his command to Macao, where he found orders to sail across the Pacific to Mare Island. The sloop of war stood out of Macao Roads on 17 June 1865, and her departure marked the disappearance of the sailing warship from the East India Station. To be sure, sailing storeships would continue to serve the U.S. Navy in the Far East for almost a decade longer, but they assumed warship duties only in cases of pressing emergency. Thus, as the Jamestown’s seamen loosed her sails and hove up the anchor, as Captain Cicero Price directed his navigator to set a course across the South China Sea to the Bashi Channel, an era was coming to an end. Undoubtedly it would have ended earlier but for the American Civil War; the commanding officer of the Vandalia, on her never-completed passage to the East India Station early in 1861, had reported from the Cape Verde Islands a conversation with foreign naval officers which indicated that his sailing man-of-war would be the only one in the Far East.

Showdown at Shimonoseki Strait

Battle of the Straits of Shimonoséki

1942: Japanese Options

Hitler’s blitz swept through Poland, the low countries, and France from September 1939 to June 1940, but it paled in comparison to the military feat accomplished by the Japanese in an even shorter period of time. Adolph’s European conquest geographically would not even cover the Japanese home islands, yet Japan extended its power and control 4,000 miles east toward Hawaii, 4,000 miles south toward Australia, and 4,000 miles west into the Indian Ocean. Admiral Nagumo’s fleet alone had swept almost 50,000 miles across the high seas from Japan to Hawaii and back, to New Britain, to Truk, to Java, to the Celebes, toward Australia, toward Ceylon and back to Japan. The triumphant Japanese had lost but 23 war-fighting vessels, none larger than a destroyer. Though 300,000 tons of Japanese merchant shipping went to the bottom, what they captured in Allied harbors more than exceeded their losses.

On the surface, it all seemed to come easily for the Japanese. In a mere five months, every objective of the imperial grand scheme had been achieved. Across 10,000 miles of ocean from Hawaii to Australia to India, the Combined Fleet reigned supreme. The Allies had been routed out of the Southwest Pacific with the exception of New Guinea. No one on the imperial staff doubted Port Moresby on New Guinea’s south coast would soon capitulate, just as the other Allied bastions had. Once Japan moved east into the Bismark Archipelago and finished securing the Solomon Islands, Australia would be dealt with next.

Japanese military doctrine stressed offense. Their fighting ships, aircraft, submarines, and ground forces were designed for and functioned well when on the attack. Little consideration was given to defense. When attacked, the Japanese soldier, sailor, airman, flag officer, or even emperor had difficulty reacting properly. Poorly considered attempts at swift vengeance were the typical response: the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid a prime example. The imperial staff planning focused on continuing the offensive, since reverting to a hold-and-consolidate posture might indicate temerity and yield the initiative to the Allies.

The Battle of Coral Sea by Robert Taylor

As the lights were going out in the Philippines in late April and early May, American listening posts picked up message traffic indicating a Japanese invasion force was proceeding around the northern side of New Guinea, intent on seizing Port Moresby. This outpost was the last remaining Allied base of any size north of Australia. An Allied loss here would put Japan’s air power well within reach of the southern continent’s northern extremities and provide jumping off points should invasion of Eastern Australia be in the offing.

Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii and General MacArthur in Australia recognized the extreme threat to Australia that this Japanese gambit represented. To ambush the invasion, Nimitz ordered into action both the Lexington under Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch and Yorktown under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, the overall commander of the task forces that included escorting cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and tankers.

En route to the battle for Port Moresby, the 4th Japanese fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye included two carriers, Zuikaku and Shokaku, along with one light carrier, Shoho, four heavy cruisers, submarine-hunting destroyers, and 14 troop/supply transports. The Japanese task force swung east for a stop on May 3 at Tulagi. The Japanese were lucky; the Australians had abandoned their outpost on this small island three days prior. Without opposition, a garrison made up of troops, seaplanes, destroyers, minesweepers, and support equipment disembarked and occupied the small island and its harbor located just north of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Then the main force continued on toward Port Moresby.

Upon learning of the Tulagi landings while at sea, Fletcher launched an air strike on May 4, from 100 miles south. Three waves of planes struck the island’s new tenants. One Japanese destroyer had to be beached, and five seaplanes were sunk, as were four barges and three minesweepers. But Fletcher had given himself away. He withdrew his force south, then swung west, hoping to surprise the Port Moresby-bound transports, which his intelligence estimated were about to appear rounding the eastern tip of New Guinea on the sixth.

But Admiral Inouye instructed his invasion transports to remain at sea while he detached his striking force to take up hot pursuit of the maneuvering American carriers. On the night of May 6, the two fleets passed 60 miles abeam each other going in opposite directions. A Japanese scout plane, flying well to the south of the two American carriers, spotted the U.S. oiler Neosho and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims, before 8 a.m. on the 7th, yet the Japanese crew reported these ships as a “carrier and cruiser.”

Later that morning, a U.S. scout plane alerted Fletcher that two Japanese carriers and four heavy cruisers were headed his way from the northwest. It, too, was mistaken. The carriers were now southeast. Based on these botched reports, both sides felt pressed to act. Thus began what would come to be known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese launched two strikes in the direction of their sighting. Both found the ships, but the first strike employed level bombing from altitude. All bombs missed. This was not the case for the second attempt by dive bombers. Shortly after noon, the Sims went to the bottom and the Neosho was reduced to a drifting wreck that was scuttled four days later.

Fletcher’s strike involved 93 aircraft. They found the wrong ships just before noon. Lieutenant Commander Weldon L. Hamilton in an SBD Dauntless dive bomber spotted the light carrier Shoho and decided that, light or not, it was a carrier and needed to be sent to the bottom. All 93 aircraft took part in one continuous, chaotic, attack lasting 26 minutes.

At the Combat Information Centers aboard both American carriers, little of the garbled radio transmissions made much sense. Suddenly, Lieutenant Commander Robert E. Dixon, Lexington’s second SBD flight leader, transmitted clearly and loudly, “Scratch one flattop! Dixon to Carrier, scratch one flattop!” The tension on the carriers exploded as men cheered in jubilation.

It was, in retrospect, a hollow rejoicing. That same day, May 7, some 2,700 miles to the northwest, General Wainwright formally surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese.

On May 8, Japanese and American scout planes out over the Coral Sea located each other’s main fleets east of New Guinea. Every available aircraft was launched by both sides. Yorktown was hit by one delay-action bomb that penetrated four decks and exploded, killing 64 sailors. The Lexington was hit by at least two torpedoes and two bombs but kept up steam even though on fire. She began to list, but the crew counter-flooded compartments with oil ballast to stabilize her while they fought the fires.

Lexington’s airborne planes along with those from the Yorktown spotted the carrier Shokaku turning into the wind to launch aircraft. The attack was on. American torpedo bombers launched at too great a distance and missed, but the dive bombers had better luck. One bomb struck near the bow and one aft. A third later smashed into her deck. The now heavily damaged Shokaku limped away, her decks of steel and planks mangled and burning.

The American planes headed home, with Lexington’s aircraft recovering aboard in spite of her heavy damage. Just after one in the afternoon, a smoldering fire aboard the Lexington, caused by a motor generator left running, spread to high-octane fuel, touching off a succession of explosions. Seven hours later she went to the bottom. Fletcher then reversed course for Hawaii with his remaining carrier and supporting ships.

Though the Japanese suffered less damage and loss, the invasion of Port Moresby was turned away, since Inouye withdrew his fleet to Japan for repairs. The engagement was the first carrier versus carrier engagement and the first between naval forces that never came within sight of each other. This was the second time a Japanese invasion had been turned back, the first being the initial Wake Island attack in early December 1941.


The battle of the Coral Sea was the third naval probe by the American fleet, and Admiral Yamamoto’s concern regarding maintaining the initiative now peaked. Though the first two U.S. forays involved the Gilbert and Marshal Islands in February and the Marcus Islands in March, the Coral Sea operation was a deep Pacific probe. Early on, Yamamoto became fully aware that air power was making the difference in virtually every operation the Japanese were conducting, and that the proper application of that arm would determine the outcome of the war. In that light, he felt the aircraft carrier, not the battleship, determined fleet strength, and as such the Allied carriers needed to be dealt with promptly while the Japanese Navy had numerical superiority. Early in Yamamoto’s career, the Russian fleet had been surprised at Port Arthur, then drawn into battle at Tsushima Strait where they were soundly defeated. What works, works, was Yamamoto’s creed, and he intended to repeat the performance. A strike at Midway, two small islands (Sand and Eastern) located 1,150 miles northwest of Hawaii, would be the setting, an operation that was sure to draw the American carriers into battle. Only this time, instead of being an ordinary seaman fighting the battle, he would be the commander who devised and orchestrated Japan’s most decisive victory.

In preparation, an odd exercise had been tested. Called Operation K, two H8K1 Emily flying boats took off from Wotje Island in the Marshalls on March 4. They set down at French Frigate Shoals, a reef 487 miles northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Refueled by submarines, they then launched on a night reconnaissance and bombing mission over Pearl Harbor, Oahu. U.S. Army radars detected the Japanese planes while they were some 200 miles from Oahu. Fighters were launched to intercept, but were unable to obtain visual contact in the dark. The two Emily seaplanes arrived over Oahu just after two in the morning, but the island was shrouded in clouds. Both planes released their bombs above what they thought was Ford Island and subsequently reported success. One stick of bombs actually struck harmlessly on Mount Tantalus above Waikiki. The other string splashed into the sea at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. In view of the reported results, Yamamoto incorporated a similar mission into his maturing Midway Plan, which had been forwarded to the imperial staff in April.

The generals and admirals in Tokyo had other ideas. Being debated were three options: thrusts toward either Australia, India, or Hawaii. The “Australia first” group considered the continent a grave threat, an eventual springboard for an Allied counteroffensive. As such, Australia needed to be under Japanese control or its sea lanes closed to U.S. shipping. But the Army generals vigorously opposed the idea of invading Australia. The China problem had given them no illusions regarding the task being suggested. The Army staff concluded it could not assemble the 10 or more divisions needed for such an operation. Navy staff officers bristled, suspecting the Army was holding back its divisions, counting on the success of Hitler’s upcoming Caucasus offensive in the spring to allow Japan to initiate a ground offensive against the Russians in the vulnerable Soviet Far East. The Army was also opposed to extending control westward into the Indian Ocean. A proposed amphibious assault on Ceylon would again pull divisions from China and make things there vulnerable to a Soviet counter.

The Hawaii option envisioned occupation of Midway, Johnston and Palmyra Islands from which air power could be brought to bear on Hawaii to support amphibious landings there. Once Hawaii was under Japanese control, the U.S. would effectively be shut out of the Central and Western Pacific. But surprise would no longer be available, and the amount of airspace over the Hawaiian Islands was considered too extensive for medium bombers and long-range fighters to adequately cover.

While the fractured staff worked toward a solution that all could agree upon, plans had gone forward to at least isolate Australia by extending control east beyond New Guinea into the Solomon Islands, plus the New Caledonia, Fiji Islands, and Samoa area.

Yamamoto’s scheme at Midway, though complex, seemed more manageable than the other three options the staff was deliberating. More importantly, the Army had no objections, their contribution to the effort being minimal.

Yamamoto wanted to draw out the American carriers via a feint at the Aleutians immediately prior to the assault on Midway. The plan would require the largest Japanese naval commitment to date. Within the Combined Fleet, the only outspoken opposition against the plan came from Vice Admiral Inouye and his 4th Fleet staff. Inouye had presided over the debacle on the first attempt to invade Wake Island. It was one of his destroyers that was among the largest Japanese war ships lost during the first four months of the war. Yamamoto, not altogether thrilled with the 4th Fleet performance to date, ignored Inouye’s rebuff. But the admiralty staff in Tokyo also had misgivings about the value of Midway, and in particular the heavy logistic requirement needed to supply both it and the Aleutian Islands once occupied. After successfully invading Midway, long-range bombers from Hawaii could attack the island, while Japanese land-based medium bombers on Midway would be limited in their ability to respond in kind. Due to its size, Midway offered little hope for dispersal and concealment of aircraft, fuel, and munitions, while the Hawaiian Islands had ample locations to disperse everything. Continuous day and night air patrols would be required around Midway to minimize losses from these expected forays.

The admiralty staff eventually leaned toward the isolation of Australia. They believed that severing the sea lanes would be the best way to draw out the American carriers. In doing so, the decisive battle would occur much farther from Hawaii such that logistics issues for both sides would be equalized.

Yamamoto threw aside these objections, claiming the most direct way to isolate Australia was to “destroy the enemy’s carrier forces, without which the supply line could not in any case be maintained.” Japan’s superiority over the U.S. Pacific Fleet in carriers alone at that time was nearly three to one, with Japan possessing seven large and four light carriers against America’s four large carriers. The admiral also pointed out that even if the four U.S. carriers could not be drawn to battle, “we shall still realize an important gain by advancing our defensive perimeter to Midway and the Western Aleutians without obstruction.”

In the months following the opening of the Pacific War, Yamamoto’s efforts in protecting of Tokyo and the Imperial Palace became close to an obsession. He had established the picket boat line, yet the U.S. Navy incursion at Marcus Islands in March made him nervous. But all the arguments against Yamamoto’s Midway plan paled when the unthinkable did happen.

Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo on April 18 ended the wrangling. The admiralty staff threw in the towel and signed off on the Yamamoto venture. Key to its success was timing. Yamamoto wanted the mission launched in early June when the moon was full. Complex maneuvers would be conducted at night, and the fleet’s lack of radar once again was having a direct impact in strategic decisions. A delay until July’s full moon was considered unacceptable by Yamamoto.

A mission rehearsal, or rather a table-top war game, was scheduled by Yamamoto on the Yamato during the first week in May. The exercise went smoothly. It did so because chief of staff Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki canceled or revised the adverse rulings of the game’s umpires at every negative outcome. In one reported instance of what would become supreme irony, the Japanese officer acting as the American player rolled his dice the first time and sank four of Yamamoto’s carriers. The Japanese side complained that it was not possible for this to happen and had him re-roll. This attempt resulted in one carrier sunk and two damaged.

That same week, the New Guinea part of the headquarters plan to isolate Australia hit a snag as a consequence of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Once again Vice Admiral Inouye had failed to deliver on time. The Japanese staff, now with increased urgency, sought a means to prevent the U.S. fleet from establishing a secure sea lane to and from Australia. How to go about it was what had them stymied. Yamamoto with his Midway plan offered a solution.

Two fleet commanders who would find themselves in leading roles at Midway, Vice Admirals Kondo (Second Fleet) and Nagumo (First Air Fleet), were engaged in battle operations during the planning cycle. By the time they learned of the proposed operation, it was no longer being argued, but had been locked in. Thus the Japanese Combined Fleet began assembling for the largest naval operation in history.

The plan called for over 200 ships and submarines including 8 carriers bearing over 700 planes, 11 battleships, 22 cruisers, 65 destroyers, 21 submarines, plus 80 transports and auxiliary support ships, all arranged in 16 different fleets. The required fuel alone exceeded that needed for a full year of peacetime operations.


At naval headquarters on Oahu, Admiral Nimitz had an element that most wartime commanders could only dream about. Designated Station Hypo, it was the admiral’s code-breaking team led by Commander Joe Rochefort. The commander was regarded by some as brilliant but eccentric, often wearing a red smoking jacket and carpet slippers at work. He assembled a group of similarly minded code breakers whose work would ultimately change the outcome of the war. By the first week in May, Station Hypo had already discovered that Yamamoto had a grand scheme in the works. What they did not yet know was the where and when. The Japanese began referring to the next battle as occurring at point AF. But where was AF? Rochefort thought it was Midway, but had to prove it. He got the nod from Admiral Nimitz to send a message to Midway via secure underwater cable asking them to transmit in the clear that their fresh-water distilling plant was out of service. The hope was that the Japanese would intercept the transmission and comment on it. They did. On May 20, code breaker Tommy Dyer working in Station Hypo decoded a message sent to Tokyo from the Japanese listening station now on Wake Island. The message alerted Yamamoto regarding a water emergency at point AF. Bingo!

Nimitz now had enough deciphered message traffic from Japan to convince him that the next push by the Japanese was toward Midway and the Aleutians. This was no gambit aimed at an Australian outpost on a backwater island thousands of miles away. This was aimed at American soil, and there would be no thought of anything but a maximum response.

Nimitz had already visited Midway on May 2, ordering an increase in the garrison force and aircraft needed to defend the island. Nineteen Marine Corps SBD-2 Dauntless dive bombers, seven F4F Wildcat fighters, 30 PBY flying boats, plus 18 B-17 and four B-26 bombers were added to the air power on station, bringing the total to 119 aircraft. The admiral also stationed 20 submarines in three patrol arcs around the island at 100, 150, and 200 miles out. All were in place as the Nagumo force closed the distance to Midway.

Nimitz did not ignore Alaska. The command arrangement there was a merger of U.S. Army, Navy, and Canadian forces, with the U.S. Navy as the senior service.

Gheria 1756

On 12 February 1756, a British naval squadron under RearAdmiral Charles Watson demanded the surrender of Gheria, a stronghold on the west coast of India of the Angrias, a Maratha family whose fleet was a factor in local politics and had been used for privateering attacks on European merchantmen. When the Indians opened fire, Watson `began such a fire upon them, as I believe they never before saw, and soon silenced their batteries, and the fire from their grabs [ships]’. The five-hour bombardment also led to the destruction of Tulaji Angria’s fleet, which was set ablaze with shells. The next day, the British warships closed in to bombard the fort at pistol-shot distance in order to make a breach in the wall for storming and this breach swiftly led to its surrender. Watson noted that `the hulls, masts and rigging of the [British] ships are so little damaged, that if there was a necessity we should be able to proceed to sea in twenty-four hours’. Attacks in 1718 and 1720 had failed. In 1756, Watson co-operated with Robert Clive and with Maratha troops.

The storming of Gheriah would have a faintly ritualistic air. Such were the overwhelming forces at the Company’s disposal on this occasion that the outcome can never have been in doubt. It was a set piece in which the attackers agonized more over the division of the spoils than over tactical niceties. With ample time for reconnaissance, Commodore William James in command of the Bombay Marine, had volunteered to make a survey; and after another typically bold foray right into the pirates’ nest he had reported favourably on the prospects. In fact he was ‘exceedingly surprised’ to find Gheriah nothing like as formidable as it had been painted. ‘I can assure you it is not to be called high nor, in my opinion, strong’ – an opinion amply substantiated by drawings of the place made after its capture. It was big and, like Colaba, impressively sited on the end of a promontory. But there was nothing to prevent warships getting within point-blank range nor to prevent troops from landing nearby and setting up their batteries on a hill that commanded the whole position.

This last consideration was of interest in that, besides the Royal squadron with its two admirals and its six warships mounting some 300 guns, and besides the Company’s ten somewhat smaller vessels, and not to mention the Maratha contingents both naval and military, the action was to be graced with the presence of three companies of the King’s artillery, 700 men in all, plus a like number of Indian sepoys, all under the command of the then Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive.

Clive’s presence at Gheriah was incidental and, in the event, not particularly decisive. He and his troops had arrived in Bombay en route to some unfinished business with the French in the Deccan. That expedition was cancelled at the last minute as a result of the Anglo-French peace. And so Clive had indented for a slice of the action – and of the spoils – at Gheriah. What these spoils might amount to was uncertain but surely considerable. It was known that the contents of most of Tulaji’s prizes, including the treasure-rich Derby, had been taken to Gheriah. It was there that he kept his family and his prisoners – mostly English and Dutch; and where a pirate kept such valued possessions, there too would be his treasure.

Before setting out from Bombay, Admiral Watson summoned a meeting of the English commanders to thrash out the question of prize money. A scale was agreed on by which Watson himself would receive a twelfth of the proceeds, his rear-admiral half that, Clive and the captains of the Royal ships rather less, and James and the captains of the Company’s ships less still. It would appear that James and his commanders accepted the subordinate role that this arrangement implied. But Clive did not, demanding for himself parity with the rear-admiral. To resolve the argument Watson offered to make good the difference out of his own share. As he would put it to Clive in Bengal at the next division of the spoils, ‘money is what I despise, and accumulating riches is what I did not come here for’. But Clive, we are told, then refused to accept the Admiral’s money. ‘Thus did these two gallant officers endeavour to outvie each other in mutual proofs of disinterestedness and generosity’, wrote Ives in a footnote that was doubtless designed to deflect some of the criticism which would dog Clive’s every triumph.

Obviously if these arrangements were to be honoured, it was a matter of some consequence that the English and not their Maratha allies should actually take Gheriah. By mid-February 1756, when the armada finally arrived on station, they knew that Tulaji was already negotiating with the Maratha commander; they trusted their ally no more than the enemy, and clearly time was running out. When a first formal demand for the surrender of the fort was answered with procrastinating tactics, Watson realized that to be certain of their reward they would have to earn it. He ignored the possibility of a peaceful handover and gave the order for the fleet to move in.

The English entered the harbour in two columns, five great battleships plus the Company’s Protector forming an inner ring round the fort while the nine assorted ‘grabs’, sloops and ketches went round the outside to reach the enemy fleet as it lay penned upriver. Naturally the first shot is said to have come from the fort. It was repaid with compound interest as one after another the broadsides were brought to bear. Just over two hours later the entire ‘Angrian’ fleet was ablaze and the guns of the fort silenced. Briefly they ‘briskened their fire’ once again; then they fell silent for good.

That night Clive took his men ashore to set up their batteries while the bomb ketches continued to pour their shells into the fort. In the morning the bombardment was taken up both from the land and from the line of battleships. There was no answering fire, the object now being simply to effect a breach or cause such slaughter as would persuade the garrison to surrender. This they did in the course of the afternoon; by six o’clock the English colours were fluttering atop the smoking ruins. Nineteen men of the attacking force had been killed or wounded; of the carnage amongst the defenders there is no record.

Next day the victorious English got down to the serious business – plunder. According to Ives, who was Admiral Watson’s personal surgeon, they ‘found 250 pieces of cannon, six mortars, an immense quantity of stores and ammunition, one hundred thousand pounds sterling in silver rupees and about thirty thousand more in valuable effects’. It was less than expected but sufficient for several small fortunes, Watson’s share being about £10,000 and Clive’s about £5,000.

A painted scroll depicting different types of ships of the Marathan Navy including some captured English ships.

The Pirates of Malabar

The ransoming of the Colaba prisoners was part of a wider non-aggression pact signed between Kanhoji and the Company in 1713. Under its terms the Marathas agreed not to molest ships belonging to the Company and not to interfere with any shipping in Bombay harbour. In return the Company undertook to see that only ships ‘what belong to subjects of the English nation’ should fly the Company’s colours. Peace of a sort was restored. But it was this latter definition of English shipping which would provide a new bone of contention. Just as in Bengal the Company’s servants persistently abused the privileges of the 1717 farman by granting custom-free passes (dastak) to anyone, English or Indian, who would pay for them, so in Bombay they abused the agreement with Kanhoji by interpreting the term ‘English shipping’ as denoting not ownership of the vessel but ownership of its cargo. Thus any vessel, whether owned by the Company, a private English trader or an Indian trader, was deemed a Company ship if it carried a consignment belonging to the English or any of those living under their protection.

Needless to say, this was not how Kanhoji understood the matter. In 1716 recriminations flew between the ‘pirate’ and Bombay over the capture of four Indian vessels which supposedly carried English-owned cargoes. In 1717 the richly laden Success belonging to the Company’s Indian broker at Surat was taken and another ship, belonging to the Company itself, was relieved of part of its cargo. Again Kanhoji seemed willing to discuss reparations; but Bombay under Charles Boone, its new and vigorous Governor, was not. Boone had made the suppression of ‘piracy’ his personal crusade; £50,000 a year was being spent on building up the Bombay Marine; the Company’s own fleet of ‘grabs’ and ‘gallivats’ was coming off the stocks at Surat and elsewhere; and Bombay itself was being readied for war with the construction of the first city wall. Repeated requests for troops were sent to Madras and Calcutta, and from England as many as 500 recruits arrived in Bombay in a single year.

‘Let the bottom [i.e. the vessel] be whose it will’, wrote Boone to Kanhoji in protest at the latest prize-taking, ‘the money lent on it is worth more than the ship and the goods are English, you well know.’ But Kanhoji could not accept this logic. Today the English governor might be chartering only a single ship ‘but tomorrow Your Excellency will say that you have a mind to freight fifty or a hundred ships of Surat merchants. If so, what occasion have they to take the pass (dastak) that they formerly took of me?’ And whence, then, was the Maratha admiral to derive his revenue? But the Bombay Council was unmoved and in 1718 Boone resolved to hit back hard. When one of Kanhoji’s ‘gallivats’ was taken while peacefully going about its business in Bombay harbour, it was the end of the truce. ‘From this day forward’, wrote the Maratha, ‘what God gives, I shall take.’ It was no idle threat.

First, though, it was Boone who took the offensive with a raid on the Maratha fleet as it was being laid up for the monsoon in a sheltered inlet behind Gheriah (Vijayadrug), the most impressive of Kanhoji’s strongholds. So formidable were the rocky cliffs of Gheriah that an English historian would liken the place to Gibraltar. Not to be outdone, an Indian historian (writing in the first heady days of India’s independence) describes Boone’s surprise attack as ‘Pearl Harbor two centuries before its time’. There was, though, one difference. In spite of a motley armada and some 4000 troops, Boone’s raid was a total failure.

Downing, whose claim to have taken part has since been discredited, reports that the considerable firepower of the Company’s ships made little impression on the fort, whose rocks were too slippery for a landing and whose walls were too high for the scaling ladders. ‘We soon found that the place was impregnable.’ A simple boom across the river prevented the Company’s fireships, including one hopefully named the Terrible Bomb, from reaching the Maratha navy; and when a landing party was sent to deal with this obstacle it first blundered into a swamp and was then raked by fire from the fort. The only mystery was why the Marathas did not take greater advantage of the situation. Downing’s explanation, though scarcely consoling, probably contained much truth. ‘I question’. he wrote, ‘whether there were a hundred men in the castle during the siege.’ After four days the ‘siege’ was lifted and the Company’s armada returned to Bombay.

Undismayed, Boone used the closed season of the 1718 monsoon to plan a second assault, this time on Khanderi, an island only ten miles down the coast from Bombay itself. Again the fleet was packed with more than enough troops to carry the place, again a landing was effected, and again through sheer incompetence aborted. When Kanhoji himself appeared on the scene at the head of his fleet and threatened Bombay, the Company’s ships quickly scuttled back to the protection of the big guns of Bombay castle.

‘This ill-success was a great trouble to the President [Boone]’ noted Downing. In 1719 no new attack was mounted and there was even talk of peace. But as Kanhoji’s confidence had grown, so had Boone’s bulldog spirit. ‘He now did all in his power to suppress this notorious pyrate’, building in addition to more ships ‘a great and mighty floating machine’. Called The Phram, this contraption seems to have been half raft, half castle, ‘pretty flat’ with a draft of only six feet, and a single mast and topsail. But what impressed Downing was the thickness of its sides ‘made by the nicest composition cannon-proof’ and its twelve monstrous guns each of which fired a forty-eight pound cannon-ball. (Twenty-four pounders were the largest guns then favoured by the Bombay Marine.) ‘It must of course prove of great service to us against any of those castles which we could approach near enough to cannonade.’

With just such a demonstration in mind, Boone launched a second assault on Gheriah in 1721. As in 1718 the landing parties effected nothing. But great were the expectations of The Phram. It was manoeuvred into position, the massive gun carriages were wheeled to the ports, the charges laid and the fuses lit: With an almighty splash the great shells fell into the sea rather less than a stone’s throw from the vessel. Someone had miscalculated the angle of fire; either the carriages were too high or the ports too low. The Phram was withdrawn for modification.

By the time it was ready for further trials, word had got round the fleet that those armour-plated sides were not much use either; once again insufficient allowance had been made for the elevation of the ‘Indian Gibraltar’. If The Phram discharged its guns from a distance, its murderous missiles were more of a danger to the waiting landing parties than to the fort, but if it moved into a more effective range the guns of the fort could lob their own shells onto its flat and crowded decks. Both expedients were tried and, amidst heavy casualties, both failed. It was thought that two of Kanhoji’s ‘grabs’ had caught fire as a result of a separate bombardment and with this very doubtful claim to ‘victory’ the English fleet withdrew.

Meanwhile more merchant shipping was falling into Maratha hands. The trade of beleaguered Bombay was suffering and in a bid to end piracy once and for all the Company’s directors in London applied for the assistance of the Royal Navy. With great ceremony a squadron was duly dispatched to the Indian Ocean in 1721, ostensibly to root out those Anglo-American buccaneers still operating out of Madagascar but additionally, and perhaps primarily, to take on Kanhoji Angrey. By now it was painfully obvious that the Company’s ‘sentinels’ made indifferent storm-troopers even when primed with copious liquor and fired by the promise of cash bonuses. Similarly their counting-house masters made dismal admirals. It was time for the professionals to try their hand.

Commodore Matthews in charge of the Royal squadron reached Bombay in 1722 to a welcome soon noted for its acrimony. In a rerun of the quarrels between the Old Company and Ambassador William Norris – the last occasion on which Royal ships had visited India – Matthews claimed precedence by virtue of his commission and was soon planning a series of voyages designed to ensure for himself a handsome share of the Company’s profits. He seemed bent on discrediting the Company and, worse still, he completely repudiated the Company’s contention that any ship carrying an English consignment was entitled to fly English colours, thus in effect supporting Kanhoji’s case. Governor Boone, however, was resolved on one last, all-out offensive. His term of office was drawing to a close; he had just engineered an offensive alliance against the Maratha admiral with the Portuguese; and he desperately needed Matthews’s cooperation. Swallowing his pride, he deferred to the Commodore and set about planning the downfall of Colaba.

Unlike previous attacks, that on Colaba was waged from the land, an odd choice given the importance attached to the presence of Matthews’s squadron. With a combined strength of 6,500 plus an artillery train, the Anglo-Portuguese forces surrounded Kanhoji’s stronghold while the English fleet prevented any relief reaching it from the sea. In spite of the unexpected appearance of a Maratha detachment of horse and foot, the arrangements were more than adequate for the task in hand.

But once again the affair was woefully mismanaged. Without waiting to set up their batteries, and leaving the Portuguese to deal with the Maratha detachment, the English charged the fortress. The gates held, the English ladders were too short, and casualties were heavy. Meanwhile the Portuguese had been routed by the Marathas who now threatened to cut off the English attackers. A chaotic retreat ensued. Had the Marathas followed up their advantage it would have been the worst ever defeat for English arms in India. Matthews’s squadron had contributed nothing except 200 marines lent to the land forces; compared to the conduct of the Company’s reluctant sentinels, their bravery had been conspicuous.

Immediately after this fourth failure Boone sailed for home while Matthews took his squadron on a trading venture to Surat and Bengal. Ever open to anything that might discredit the Company, in Calcutta the Commodore was approached by a distraught but still pretty widow who was being detained in India pending payment of £9000 from her late husband’s estate. Matthews listened to her long and heart-rending story with interest; and convinced that no one who heard it could fail to condemn the Company’s ingratitude, he promptly took the young lady under his wing and into his cabin. She was, of course, none other than Mrs Katherine Gyfford, previously Harvey and Chown, née Cooke, lately of Karwar, Colaba, and Anjengo. Together the Commodore and the widow sailed back to Bombay, where old acquaintances were duly scandalized by Mrs Gyfford’s new liaison, and then to England. Years of litigation over the tangled affairs of Anjengo followed, their outcome unknown. But evidently Mrs Gyfford returned to India for she died in Madras in 1745.

The Frigate II

On 28 March1814, British frigates HMS Cherub (at left) and Phoebe (at right) captured the U.S. Frigate Essex (center) off Valparaiso, Chile

An example of the usefulness of frigates in the reconnaissance role is the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, the decisive naval battle of the Napoleonic period, between the British (under Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson) and a combined fleet of French and Spanish ships (commanded by Vice Admiral Pierre Charles Villeneuve of France). The core of each fleet was the ships-of-the-line; Nelson had 27 such vessels, Villeneuve 33. Although the Battle of Trafalgar centered on these vessels, the role of frigates was pivotal. At 6:00 A. M. on 19 October 1805, Villeneuve made preparations to sortie from the port of Cadiz, Spain. Sailing within visual range of the harbor were British frigates. One of these, Sirius, signaled that the enemy had topsails hoisted and later communicated that the enemy ships were coming out of port. These messages were conveyed from Sirius to other frigates and larger ships that formed a chain from Cadiz to Nelson’s fleet that lay over the horizon. These messages forewarned Nelson of Villeneuve’s movements and thus provided time to deploy vessels based on his plan of attack, which ultimately led to a smashing victory that ensured British naval dominance for much of the nineteenth century. Nelson, whose fleet was numerically inferior, would have been hard-pressed to secure this triumph had it not been for timely intelligence provided by the frigates outside Cadiz.

Frigates were also useful as raiders in time of war. Frigates were routinely employed by most navies to prey on enemy merchant shipping and thus subject it to economic hardship that might damage its war effort materially or sap its population’s will to fight. An example is the cruise of the U. S. frigate Essex during the War of 1812 against Great Britain. Under the command of Captain David Porter, Essex raided British shipping in the South Atlantic and off the Pacific Coast of South America. From 12 December 1812 to 13 July 1813, Porter captured 15 vessels of varying types that were primarily part of the British Pacific whaling fleet. He used his superior speed to overhaul his prey and then force surrender through superior firepower. The economic distress that resulted from Porter’s actions forced the British to hunt him down and capture his ship on 28 March 1814.

A corollary to commerce raiding was the imposition of blockades. During the Age of Fighting Sail, some naval powers deployed a cordon of warships around the coastline of an enemy power in an attempt to prevent the entrance or exit of merchantmen carrying supplies. Great Britain was the principal user of this tactic and first employed a systematic blockade in the 1756-1763 Seven Years’ War. Certainly by the outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the blockade was the key strategy of the British Royal Navy. During this period, the British attempted to deny France and its allies the use of the sea through a blockade of the entire coastline of those parts of Europe under the control of French revolutionary forces and later Napoleon. The objectives of the operation were to attempt to starve France’s war effort, and thereby produce hardship for the people under French rule, as well as prevent the warships of France and its allies from leaving port to prey on British shipping. At the opening of the conflict in 1793, the British employed frigates in an open blockade strategy. While Britain’s ships-of-the-line remained in port in a state of readiness, a squadron of frigates sailed within visual range of French ports. Frigates on blockade duty, like raiders, would overhaul any merchantman encountered to ascertain the destination and nature of the cargo. If the cargo was contraband-meaning any goods that could be used for military purposes by the French-both ship and cargo could be seized. In the case of enemy warships leaving port, frigates were ordered to dispatch the information to the battle fleet, which would sortie and attempt to destroy the enemy at sea. This latter duty was later altered by the adoption of a close blockade strategy whereby Britain’s ships-of-the-line sailed at a distance farther out from French ports than the frigates; the objectives remained the same.

Although this tactic did produce economic hardships for France, it did not force it to surrender. Nevertheless, the blockade had outstanding results, as it led Napoleon in late 1807 to establish his Continental System as a reprisal to the British action. This system was an embargo of British goods entering Europe. The Continental System created economic hardship for Europeans under the control of Napoleon and ultimately led to the rebellion of Russia in 1810. Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia to force compliance led to a crushing defeat for the French emperor. The blockade role would become a primary duty for cruisers well into the modern age, with dramatic economic results.

Frigates were also deployed to protect commerce. A prime example of the importance of this task is evident in the events that led to the establishment of the United States Navy in 1794. In the late eighteenth century, Barbary corsairs from North Africa frequently attacked U. S. merchantmen; French ships also preyed on them for violating trade restrictions while France was at war with Great Britain and continental powers. On 27 March 1794, the U. S. Congress responded by passing an act that called for the construction of four 44-gun frigates and two that mounted 36 guns. These vessels proved their worth during the 1798-1800 Quasi-War with France, an undeclared war that resulted from the French practice of preying on neutral shipping during the French Revolution. While French commerce raiders had succeeded in seizing more than 300 U. S. merchantmen in the Caribbean Sea in the summer of 1797, their fortune declined drastically upon the outbreak of conflict. U. S. overseas trade increased until the end of the war in 1801 as these frigates, combined with a collection of lightly armed vessels, escorted merchant convoys in the West Indies and engaged French raiders. Ten significant naval battles took place, the most notable being 9 February 1799, with the capture of the 40-gun French frigate L’Insurgente by the 38-gun frigate U. S. S. Constellation. By the end of the conflict, U. S. naval forces had captured more than 80 French vessels of varying types. Frigates in this capacity used high speed and moderate armament to hunt down raiders.

The lives of sailors in battle while employed in these roles bordered on the horrific. Solid shot damaged a ship and killed and badly wounded crew members. The wooden sides and fittings of a ship, when hit by solid shot, would splinter, thus creating a hail of additional projectiles. A direct hit on a human being by such shot was almost always fatal.

An example from the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar is the mortal wounding of the Spanish Commodore Cosme Damian Churruca, whose right leg was nearly severed when a cannonball swept him off his feet as he directed action. Other examples are equally as horrid. In the same engagement, a British sailor manning a gun was struck in the head by a cannonball, which decapitated him. Along with this form of destruction was added the effect of grapeshot. This antipersonnel weapon was composed of several iron balls that were smaller than solid shot; oftentimes it swept a ship’s main deck of personnel, some being almost obliterated by the multiple shot. Sailors also faced chain shot, two balls connected by a chain designed to slice through masts. If fired too low, chain shot could slice several men in half rather than the masts that they were intended to destroy. In the case that it did slice through a mast, the crew had to contend with huge pieces of wood plummeting to the main deck that could crush them.

Adding to these threats was the possibility of fire, as shot could be heated before being fired. The potential effect on a wooden warship was devastating. Not only could the crew be incinerated; the ship’s magazine-the area where the powder and shot were stored-could blow up and obliterate everything aboard. All told, the decks of a frigate in the Age of Fighting Sail might literally have blood running on the decks as a result of combat. The experience is best summed up by Samuel Leech, a seaman who was on board the British frigate Macedonian when it engaged the U. S. frigate United States in the War of 1812:

The whole scene grew indescribably confused and horrible; it was like some awfully tremendous thunderstorm, whose deafening roar is attended by incessant streaks of lightening, carrying death in every flash and strewing the ground with the victims of its wrath: only, in our case, the scene was rendered more horrible than that, by the presence of torrents of blood which dyed our decks.

Even if they survived, many still had to face the possibility of being permanently crippled or eventually dying from wounds suffered in the line of duty. Wounded personnel were taken to the ship’s orlop deck, being below the waterline and the lowest in a vessel’s hull. Surgeons labored in the relatively dark, dank surroundings of this area to save as many lives as possible. Procedures included extract ing splinters, setting broken bones, and amputation. In many cases, the impact of an object would so mangle the limbs of a sailor that amputation was the only way to provide any chance for survival. Aside from such horrors, seamen had to contend with the fact that medical science had not progressed far enough to effectively fight infection; many died as a result of common infections.

Sailors, of course, also suffered if their ship sank. Sinkings were rare, as the buoyancy of wood permitted a large amount of flooding before a warship was in danger of foundering. When sinking did occur, many never made it off the vessel, trapped below decks. Others died in the water through exposure to the elements.

The 1793-1815 period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars as well as other conflicts like the 1798-1800 Quasi War and the War of 1812, are testimony to the grisly nature of naval combat during the Age of Fighting Sail. They also exhibit the importance of the frigate to naval warfare. The high use of frigates is evident from the numbers lost in this period. Great Britain, which emerged as the great naval power after the Napoleonic Wars, suffered the loss of 16 frigates while its enemies suffered the loss of 172 frigates. France alone lost 154 frigates, and 22 Spanish frigates were either captured or destroyed. The Netherlands lost 16 frigates from all causes, and Denmark’s navy counted nine frigates as destroyed at sea or captured. The United States Navy lost three vessels, all captured in battle.

Naval Mine Warfare, WWII


EMB Mine being laid from an S-Boote. Photograph from Suddentscher Verlag.


EMC Contact Mines aboard a Leberecht Maas class destroyer in Autumn 1940. Note the trolley rails.

Hidden, unseen, and inflicting their damage below the waterline, mines were one of the most feared naval weapons of World War II. Worldwide, mines sank 534 ships, accounting for some 1.4 million tons. Only torpedoes sank more ships than mines. The same had held true in World War I, and yet most of the great naval powers entered World War II poorly prepared to deal with mines. Only Germany and the Soviet Union included strong mine countermeasures forces in their fleets, no doubt because of their mutually bad experiences with each others’ mines in World War I. They also had the largest mine inventories at war’s start.

More significantly, Germany exploited British magnetic mine technology from World War I to produce a magnetic mine of its own. It was a technical surprise that cost the British dearly in the war’s early months, but fortunately the Germans had few in stock and their production had a low priority. Moreover, the German Navy commander, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, wasted the opportunity by using them in small numbers instead of concentrating them for a decisive effect.

The British implemented countermeasures by mid-1940 and began to develop advanced mines of their own. Thus began a technological war between the Western Allies’ mine and mine-countermeasure experts and their German counterparts. It was a war the Allies eventually won, but not without difficulty or pitfalls.

Although seemingly unglamorous and unexciting, mine warfare was a critical element of naval operations in World War II. By 1943, for example, mine-countermeasure forces constituted nearly 60 percent of the German Navy, while their Allied counterparts had grown to more than 1,100 ships and boats from a force of only two dozen at war’s start.

German minefields were the deciding factor in Russo-German naval operations in the Baltic Sea, and a major hazard to Allied shipping. Axis minefields affected Allied planning for every amphibious operation in the war except Operation TORCH in Northwest Africa. The Western Allies, on the other hand, used mine warfare to choke German Baltic coastal and river commerce during the war’s final years, while Soviet minefields severely inhibited Axis naval operations in Soviet coastal waters. In each instance, the country employing mines found them to be a cost-effective weapon, particularly in circumstances and areas where the opposition had naval supremacy.

Mines can be used either offensively or defensively, with the latter being the most common. Laying defensive minefields around key ports and coastal areas was one of the first naval actions undertaken by nations entering the war. This activity also highlights where a country either felt most vulnerable or most expected an enemy attack. These minefields served to restrict maritime movements within the mined areas to “transit lanes”—areas within the minefields, or between them, in which no mines were present.

Since mines, particularly moored mines, often drift with the tide and current and are indiscriminate in what they destroy, transit lanes had to be maintained by constant clearing. Hiding the locations of the transit lanes from the enemy was a major concern as well, since he might use the lane to penetrate the minefield or lay mines within it.

Mines are classified by how they are detonated (contact or influence) or deployed (moored, bottom, or free-floating). Contact mines explode when the target makes contact with the mine. Influence mines detonate as a result of the target’s influence on the local environment—either due to the noise it makes (acoustic mines), its effect on local water pressure (pressure mines), or magnetic attraction (magnetic mines). Moored mines are secured by cable to a casing that lies on the bottom. As the name implies, bottom mines rest on the bottom, while free-floating mines float just below the surface. There are three types of free-floating mines: drifting mines drift in the surface current; creeping mines drift at a fixed depth in the subsurface current; and oscillating mines drift at varying depths within the subsurface current.

Each type of mine has its own strengths and weaknesses. All bottom mines, for example, are influence mines and must be laid in waters less than 100 fathoms deep. Otherwise, the targets may not pass close enough to detonate the mines, or they may be too far away for the blast to be effective.

Influence mines were the most difficult to detect and counter. They also drifted less than the other types of mines, and therefore were easier to “reseed” (that is, lay additional mines in the field) and sustain. Moored mines could be either contact or influence and could be laid almost without depth restrictions. They were the easiest to detect and remove, however, and had a tendency to drift with wind and current over time. This made moored minefields more difficult to maintain.

All free-floating mines of World War II were contact mines. Almost totally random weapons, they were rarely laid in fields but generally were employed near enemy harbors or staging areas, where current and tides would preclude their becoming a threat to friendly forces. They are the most difficult mines to defeat and they are such a random hazard that international law requires free-floating mines to sink within eight hours of being laid.

The mine’s primary effectiveness is in its psychological impact. Mines can be laid by any platform (ship, plane, or submarine), encountered anywhere, and they are virtually undetectable. Thus, prudent mariners avoid known or suspected minefields. More significantly, mines require more effort to clear than they do to deploy. The best minefields include a mixture of moored and bottom, contact and influence mines, but such fields are exceptionally difficult and dangerous to lay. Whatever that difficulty, however, it is little compared to what is required to clear such a minefield.

Minesweeping was the only available method of clearing mines in World War II. So-called because the original mine-clearing equipment employed a steel cable towed behind the sweeping ship to “sweep” away the mines’ mooring cables so they would float to the surface for destruction, minesweeping was a tedious and dangerous task. The ships that carried the gear were called minesweepers.

The only available mine-countermeasures equipment at war’s start was the Oropesa sweep from World War I. Essentially a “wire sweep” that trailed behind the minesweeper, the Oropesa sweep cut cables out to about eighty meters from the sweeper. Each sweeper could conduct two sweeps, one to a side, per sweep run. The lead ship in a sweep formation had to literally “lead” the unit through the minefield. The position was normally rotated since losses among lead ships exceeded 10 percent. The trail ships also faced danger because they had to avoid, as well as destroy, the mines the lead ships released. Unfortunately, the Oropesa gear could only be used against moored mines. The introduction of German bottom magnetic mines in 1939 came as a total surprise and ultimately led to the development of influence sweep gear and degaussing equipment.

The introduction of influence sweep gear in mid-1940 marked the beginning of the technology race in the mine war. The British LL magnetic sweep used alternating electric current, pulsed through a cable towed behind the minesweeper, to detonate magnetic mines at a safe distance by simulating the passage of a ship. The Germans and the British also modified aircraft, the Ju-52 and Wellington bomber respectively, to conduct influence sweeping. Carrying huge electric coils in rings attached to their fuselage and wings, these aircraft cleared suspected minefields by flying over them at altitudes of less than forty meters. Such aircraft swept large areas of influence mines but proved vulnerable to enemy fighter aircraft.

One other countermeasure to magnetic mines that all sides used after 1940 was the elimination of ships’ magnetic signatures. Since all metal ships acquire the magnetic signature of the area in which they are built, they need a major deperming or signature removal effort to reduce their magnetic vulnerability. Maintaining that magnetically neutral signature requires the installation of electric cables along the ship’s hull. Passing electric current through those cables “degaussed” the ship (that is, prevented its developing a local magnetic signature). Degaussing equipment is a major design feature of all warships to this day.

The Germans got the mine warfare lead again later in 1940 when they introduced acoustic mines. However, Raeder employed them before they were available in large numbers. The British recovered one in August 1940, and one month later put a mechanical acoustic sweep into service that could defeat the German acoustic mine. Unfortunately, sound dampening the equipment on British ships proved too expensive to implement during the war, although they did do it in minesweeping units. The Germans countered by producing a combined acoustic/magnetic mine, but the British soon developed minesweeping tactics to counter it as well.

The Allies were not idle in mine development, Great Britain developed magnetic mines in World War I and employed them again beginning in April 1940. The Germans countered by developing their own magnetic influence sweeps. They also built a specific class of magnetic sweep ships, called Sperrbrecher. Equipped with huge electric coils in their bows to project a strong magnetic field ahead of them, these specially reinforced ships had shock-mounted equipment and other damage reducing features to survive mine detonations. The Germans used these units to lead coastal convoys through suspected and likely enemy minefields. They became increasingly important in the war’s final two years, as the Western Allies, in particular, laid more and larger minefields.

The Germans began to employ mines with arming delay mechanisms in late 1941. The mines could also be set to arm from six hours to twelve days after they were laid. Hence, a field thought safe after multiple sweeps could suddenly become active. The Germans also introduced refinements in their acoustic mine sensors, lowering the frequencies monitored and targeting specific ship equipment, making it more difficult for Allied sweep gear to simulate. They also began to employ multiple polarity magnetic mines and finally, ship counters to complicate sweep efforts—that is, the mines required a variety of magnetic phenomena to detonate and allowed a preset number of ships to pass by safely before they would detonate. Thus, an area was not truly clear until the entire field had been swept to the maximum “number” that an enemy mine could be set. Moreover, the sweep gear had to simulate a wider variety of magnetic signatures to detonate the mine.

Both the Germans and Western Allies had combined acoustic/magnetic mines with ship counters and variable arming delays in service by late 1943, when the Germans introduced their latest technical innovation, the bottom pressure or “oyster” mine. These mines were detonated by the pressure wave a ship generated as it moved through the water. No minesweeper could simulate that wave since each pressure wave was unique to the size and speed of a ship.

Determined not to repeat Raeder’s mistakes from earlier in the war, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz waited until the Allied Normandy landings to employ oyster mines. By then, however, he lacked the means to lay the mines in the invasion area. Only a handful could be deployed. Had they been laid in the invasion fleet’s assembly areas, they would have had a devastating effect. As it was, after some nasty surprises, the Allies easily avoided the few areas where these mines were laid. A few were recovered and the technology incorporated into Allied mines used against the Germans in the war’s closing months.

Although the Germans developed the most technologically advanced mines of the European theater, they did not employ mines to their maximum effect. Missing several opportunities to exploit their advantages both early and late in the war, the German mine warfare effort was further weakened because it supported only naval operations. Allied mine warfare operations were more opportunistic and better integrated into their overall war effort. Thus, they employed mines effectively to cut German commerce on the Danube and other river systems critical to the German economy as part of the overall Allied strategy of attacking Germany’s infrastructure.

Allied mining was also geared to support the Allied ground campaign in Italy by interdicting German coastal convoys supporting German ground forces. A similar German mining effort directed at the Soviet river and coastal navigation system would have paid huge dividends for the German war effort on that most critical front. As it was, naval mine warfare represents yet another area in which the Germans wasted their initial lead and regained it too late to affect the war.

Additional Reading

Bekker, Cajus, Hitler’s Naval War (1974).

Campbell, John, Naval Weapons of World War II (1985).

Hartmann, Gregory K., Weapons That Wait (1979).

Hough, Richard, The Longest Battle (1986).

Japanese Submarines WWII Missed Opportunities?!

The submarines of the Japanese Navy consisted of some of the most capable in the world at the beginning of World War II. All the submarines built from the outset for operations in the war significantly outranged the submarines of the Allies navies. The range advantage provided the ability to operate at extreme distance from home port or maintain a long on-station time in a given area. Subsequently, the Japanese were able to apply their influence further and longer than other submarine forces. Along with the superior operational reach of the submarines, excellent torpedoes were provided that had a long range and powerful warheads.

The Japanese technological advantage did not wane during the course of the war. It diverged to three different branches: large, small, and fast. The Japanese used their skill to build the largest submarines in the world (Sen Toku Type) as well as some of the most capable small submarines (kaiten and other midgets). Most impressive of all of their designs, however, is the Sen Taka Sho Type medium attack submarine that had an acceptable cruising range coupled with outstanding underwater speed. Had more of these submarines reached operational status earlier, the American forces would have had a unique foe on their hands.

Even with the technological advantages of their designs, the Japanese submarines did suffer from a lack of resources that placed limits on the number of submarines that could be built and on the timeliness of the build process. Also, the Japanese did have a significant delay in developing and installing radar on their submarines. While it was a deficiency, it would not have had significant influence if the focus on operational security had been stronger.

The training of Japanese submarine crews was without equal. The submarines spent long periods of time out at sea constantly practicing elements of the plan for a decisive battle. The intense training periods had such a level of realism that three submarines were lost in prewar training accidents. The training was not without fault however. The overarching focus on the submarine role in the “decisive battle” limited the growth of submarine force capabilities. The overall training gave minimal consideration to key aspects of submarine operations: surveillance, commerce raiding, and sea control (area denial).

Based on the mystique of the German Submarine Force and the results of the American Submarine Force, it would be easy to jump to the idea that had the Japanese Submarine Force strictly applied a strategy of commerce raiding it would have had a greater impact on the war in the Pacific. This argument is too simplistic and discounts the enemy that each respective country was targeting. Japan and Britain, as targets of America and Germany respectively, were island countries dependent on long lines of communication for necessary resources and forces to fight the war. These lines were vulnerable to the focus of intense submarine efforts. Both America (in the Pacific) and Germany were also faced with the lack of a strong surface fleet to conduct offensive operations. The Germans were held in port by a combination of factors, and the American Pacific Fleet was attempting to rebuild after Pearl Harbor. As such, commerce raiding against fragile lines of communication was their only recourse.

The Japanese faced a far different situation at the outset of the war. They had built a large fleet focused on a single strategy. They had a single opponent to be concerned with and that same opponent did not have the immediate ability to attack their nation. The Pacific Ocean provided a strategic safety buffer from American forces. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor reduced the effective combat power of the American Fleet and put them immediately in a defensive posture. The American Navy was not altogether prepared to face the Japanese and an early focus on commerce raiding would have not been able to have an influence similar to that which the American submarines achieved. The Japanese, for all of their superiority in submarine technology, would not have been able to influence the American East Coast. While forces could be moved to act against the West Coast, the force size was too small to carry out effective operations to limit commerce or other operations on the East Coast. Further, there was no method to influence the natural resources available in America proper.

While the focus on a single decisive battle that was unattainable was short-sighted, the understanding that the Japanese Navy needed to focus on American military strength was not improper. The submarine force, as well as the rest of the Navy, was constructed for naval engagement not commerce raiding. The true failure of the force was not to focus its efforts on the opportunities that presented themselves. Pearl Harbor, Midway and Guadalcanal all presented themselves as opportunities for potentially decisive actions. In all three actions, the number of American aircraft carriers available in the Pacific was limited and the ability of the American Navy to conduct continued combat operations was at risk. The Japanese submarine force, based on direction from the Navy Staff, scattered its units to various other theaters away from the major battles, mainly the Aleutians and Indian Ocean.

Had the Japanese submarine force maintained the full cordon around Pearl Harbor after the 7 December attack, they could have effectively maintained ten or more submarines on station continuously when based out of Kwajalein. The size of the Japanese submarine force (capitalizing on significant operational range of the large designs) could have significantly slowed the resupply and rebuilding of Pearl Harbor and denied the American Navy its last key strategic outpost in the Pacific forcing them to extend their lines of communication and operation for any effort against the Japanese a few thousand more miles all the way back to the American West Coast. American operations from the West Coast would have been more vulnerable to the Japanese fleet.

An effective blockade of Pearl Harbor had the potential to expose it to an amphibious invasion which would have further challenged the American ability to recover from the initial attacks and generate offensive initiative.

Had the Japanese submarine force applied the principles of mass and unity of effort to their employment of forces at Midway and Guadalcanal, the operational submarine units in the areas of these battles would have been tripled posing a far greater risk to the American forces. The larger number of units at Midway would have increased the opportunity of early detection of American forces, specifically the aircraft carriers, potentially allowing the Japanese carriers to focus their effort against the American task forces prior to attacking Midway proper. This employment would have more closely met the training that the submarine force underwent during the interwar period potentially raising effectiveness as well.

The Japanese submarine force continued to deny the principle of mass in operations during the American invasion of Guadalcanal. Submarines were still deployed to various marginally important areas rather than the area of Guadalcanal. The small number of submarines assigned to the Guadalcanal area was further diverted from the potential decisive battle by being tasked to conduct supply operations instead of attempting to thwart the invasion and buildup. The respect shown by the American forces for the submarine threat could have been taken advantage of by a larger effort focused on them. Instead, the opportunity to stall the American advance in the South Pacific was given little direct attention while effort was applied to meaningless supply operations and Aleutian and Indian Ocean excursions.

Even as the opportunity for the handful of critical battles passed and the Japanese were placed firmly on the defensive, proper employment of the submarines could have still brought considerable results. The Japanese submarine force consistently showed the ability to complete complicated approaches and attack challenging targets. The sinking of Yorktown at Midway and Wasp at Guadalcanal are proof that the prewar training and exercise experience developed a skilled force that could find success in operations against a determined opponent. Had the Japanese focused their effort against the American offensive, the submarine force had the ability to influence operations. Unfortunate choices to hinder the submarines’ tactical freedom limited their influence as the Americans advanced through the Central and Western Pacific.

The final, and most perplexing, failure of the Japanese submarine force was its inability to learn and adapt to the conduct of the war. From Pearl Harbor through the operations in the Marianas in 1944, Japanese submarines were employed in rigid scouting lines and consistently failed to intercept and report on American fleet movements. Not until the force had suffered the loss of even more submarines in the Marianas did the staff shift their employment to patrol areas where the boats would be able to more freely search for targets. That late in the war, the shift was meaningless. Because the force was so decimated, there were not sufficient boats available to mount a solid defense of the Philippines. The employment of scouting lines failed in every instance that it had been used. The lines were not maintained intact around Pearl Harbor to maintain the cordon.

They were late to take station and then moved without an overriding plan or effect at Midway. They were haphazardly strung around the Solomons, Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas and shifted without operational thought. Only late in the war were submarines released to freely stalk for prey. At this point the force size was too small to have any influence. Submarines were regularly removed from offensive or defensive operations to support grandiose airborne reconnaissance or nuisance strike missions. Submarines were committed en masse to both K Operations as well as reconnaissance and strike flights over Ulithi. The bombings had little effect. The support of reconnaissance missions, by acting as refueling platforms or navigational aids, discounted the ability of the submarines to do the jobs themselves. The submarine force had provided the first photographic intelligence of the results of Pearl Harbor as well as prescient intelligence of preparations at Midway, but the opportunity for later use of submarines as the primary operator in this key role was ignored.

The Japanese submarine force was undoubtedly a technologically superior force at the outset of the war. They were highly trained and well organized to support a distinct form of battle. The training and experience gained in interwar exercises provided a force that was ready to directly face the American Navy. The planning and execution of the war strategy failed to capitalize on the specific skill set of the submarines that were available. Had the submarines been employed as anything more than an adjunct force supporting other efforts, they could have exerted a strong influence and produced costly losses for the American Navy opening the Pacific to further Japanese operations.

The Japanese submarine force was uniquely prepared for operations against enemy combatants and did not need to resort to commerce raiding to have an influence. In fact the early successes of the Japanese Navy made commerce raiding unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Japanese did not capitalize on early successes by maintaining their forces forward and massed for further strikes against American forces. Once the paradigm of the Pacific War changed to a protracted conflict with American forces operating on extended lines of communication, the Japanese failed to adjust their employment strategy and shift to concerted commerce raiding efforts. The failure to learn from the experiences of the German and American submarines as the face of war changed left the Japanese unprepared to have any influence as the war came to an end.
Properly employed, the Japanese submarine force could have been the key to a very different war. Instead, their misemployment only aided in allowing the quick rebuilding of American forces due to their industrial dominance. As such, the actions of Japanese submarines only became footnotes to most major naval battles in the Pacific Ocean.