Hilfskreuzer 33 Breakout Part I

Hilfskreuzer 33 (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) – Pinquin

Käpitan-zur-See Ernst-Felix Krüder

The sinking of HMS Andania by the patrolling submarine U-A was assumed by the Admiralty to be a deliberate diversionary action to cover the breakout of another German auxiliary cruiser. Three of these, Atlantis, Widder and Thor, all converted merchantmen, had already escaped into the Atlantic. While the Admirals may have been wrong in the interpretation they put on U-A’s actions, they were right in assuming another raider was about to emerge.

As the Andania slipped beneath the waves off Iceland at dawn on 16 June 1940, a thousand miles to the south-east, in the Gulf of Danzig, the sun was well above the horizon and giving the promise of a fine, warm day to come. Swinging to an anchor in a quiet reach of the gulf close to the South Middle Bank, the German cargo liner Kandelfels was in the final stages of her metamorphosis from harmless merchantman to ship of war. Her company livery was last to go, the smart black hull and gleaming white upperworks disappearing under a coat of sombre wartime grey.

The 7766-ton Kandelfels, built at Bremen in 1936 for Deutsche Dampschiffarts Gesellschaft, better known as the Hansa Line, had arrived in Hamburg from India on 1 September 1939, just as German troops crossed the border into Poland, signalling the start of the second European bloodbath in the space of twenty-five years. As soon as the last sling of cargo from the East was winched up from the Kandelfels’ holds, she was requisitioned by the German Navy.

A modern, twin-screw ship with a service speed of 17 knots and a low silhouette, the Kandelfels was ideally suited for recruitment to the Kriegsmarine’s elite squadron of Hilfskreuzers (auxiliary cruisers) soon to be unleashed on Allied merchant shipping in the distant oceans beyond the reach of the U-boats. Unlike the highly vulnerable British AMCs, stop-gap ships used for patrol and convoy escort work, the role of the Hilfskreuzers – there would be nine in all – was predatory. Fast and heavily armed, they would emulate the buccaneers of old, hiding in the shadows out of reach of the enemy’s warships and aircraft, picking off victims wherever and whenever the opportunity arose.

Unfortunately, the German grand plan for the conquest of Europe was initially so successful that an adjustment of priorities was necessary. The Kriegsmarine’s ‘grey wolves’ went to the back of the queue. Conversion of the Kandelfels from merchant ship to auxiliary cruiser was originally scheduled to take three months, but, owing to more urgent demands on dockyard space and workers, it was 6 February 1940 before she emerged from the Bremen yard of Weser AG. as Hilfskreuzer 33. Outwardly, she was still a merchant ship, but behind counterweighted steel shutters, capable of being raised in two seconds, were six 5.9-inch guns. Concealed by false ventilators, watertanks or packing cases were one 75-mm, one twin 37-mm and four 20-mm guns. Similarly hidden were two twin 21-inch torpedo tubes, two 3-metre range finders, two 60-cm searchlights, and in her holds two spotter aircraft. A quick change of identity could be effected by telescoping the foremast, raising collapsible bulwarks to heighten the forecastle and raising or lowering collapsible sampson posts.

In theory HK 33 was a formidable warship, but in reality her 5.9s were 40-year-old guns taken from the obsolete pre-dreadnought battleship Schlesien, her smaller guns of similar vintage. Her scout planes, too, were obsolescent; single-engined, open-cockpit Heinkel HE 59 floatplanes, known to be notoriously unstable on the water. To ensure her future success, she was in need of a dedicated and experienced crew, men willing to take the calculated risk without too much thought for their own self-preservation. In this respect, at least, she was well blessed.

In command of HK 33 was 43-year-old Käpitan-zur-See Ernst-Felix Krüder, a slim, taciturn man, who had risen to command from the ranks – rare achievement in anyone’s navy at the time. Krüder, with twenty-five years service in the German Imperial Navy, was an expert in mine warfare and had seen action at Jutland and in the Black Sea in the First World War. Between the wars he had served in the Inspectorate of Officers’ Training and Education, where he had gained a great deal of experience in handling men. With a clear, analytical mind and the ability to improvise, Ernst-Felix Krüder was an excellent choice to take an auxiliary cruiser with a crew of 345 into the unknown. Many of that crew were naval reservists from the merchant ships; Krüder’s first lieutenant, Leutnant Erich Warning, had been Staff Captain of the North German Lloyd liner Bremen, while his navigator, Leutnant Wilhelm Michaelson, was lately in command of the 14,700-ton liner Steuben. Expertise in the way of the sea and ships Krüder’s men had in abundance, but whether they had the aggression and determination to make war remained to be seen.

It was the custom for commanders of German auxiliary cruisers to name their own ships, and when HK 33 was commissioned on 6 February 1940, in a brief ceremony on board Krüder christened her Pinguin (Penguin). It was a choice which puzzled his crew, but then, unlike their captain, they were not yet fully aware of their ship’s ultimate destiny.

Over the seven weeks that followed, the Pinguin carried out trials on the River Weser, testing her engines, exercising her guns and initiating her as yet untried crew into the strange world of a ship that was half merchantman and half warship. Any faults found in the ship and her equipment were rectified and, having taken on ammunition, coal and provisions, the Pinguin passed through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic. There, in sheltered waters away from prying eyes, Krüder drilled his gun and torpedo crews relentlessly, until they reached the peak he judged would give them a fighting chance against the best guns of the Royal Navy. At the same time mine-laying exercises were carried out and boats’ crews were sent away at every possible opportunity, so as to perfect the launching, handling and retrieval of their craft. These men would play a vital role in the Pinguin’s coming adventure.

The raider, her skills honed to perfection, returned to Kiel on 26 May for a few persistent faults in her gear to be corrected and to top up her oil, water and stores. She also took on board five live pigs, which would be fattened up on scraps from the galley during the voyage. As many crew members as possible were given shore leave, their last on German soil for many months, perhaps years, to come. She sailed on 10 June and again headed east into the Baltic, arriving in the Gulf of Danzig on the following day. She was given a berth in the naval base of Gotenhaven – as the Polish port of Gdynia had been renamed by Hitler – and worked under the cover of darkness taking on mines and torpedoes. On 17 June, anonymous in her new grey livery, the Pinguin left the Gulf of Danzig with 380 mines and 25 torpedoes in her holds. She was on her way to war.

In the early summer of 1940, although Britain stood alone and under threat of invasion, she had not lost control of the North Sea. Cruisers and destroyers of the Home Fleet constantly patrolled these waters, while the RAF kept watch overhead and submarines cruised below the surface. The primary object of these forces was to keep a lookout for an enemy invasion fleet, but any German ships venturing out into the North Sea, particularly lone merchantmen, did so at extreme peril. They could expect no help from their own navy; Germany’s capital ships remained firmly tied up in port, and her light naval forces had taken such a severe mauling at the hands of the Royal Navy in the Norwegian campaign that they could offer little protection.

The Pinguin, with all her potential to wreak havoc on the high seas, was a special case, and on the morning of the 18th she rendezvoused off Gedser, southern point of the Danish island of Lolland, with the minesweeper Sperrbrecker IV and the torpedo boats Jaguar and Falke. The latter were powerful, well-armed ships of over 900 tons. The Wolf-class Jaguar carried three 5-inch and four 37-mm guns, and the Falke, a Möwe-class boat, mounted three 4.1-inch and four 37-mm. Both carried six 21-inch torpedo tubes and had a top speed of 34 knots.

The small convoy passed through the Great Belt, the main channel between the Danish islands, in tight formation, entering the Kattegat at around 2100. At midnight, off the island of Anholt, Sperrbrecker IV left, and the Pinguin continued north at 15 knots with Jaguar and Falke keeping close company. British submarines were reported to be very active in this area and there could be no relaxing of vigilance.

The sun had already risen again when, at 0400 on the 19th, the three ships rounded the northern tip of Jutland and moved into the Skagerrak. It was a perfect early summer’s day, with a clear blue sky and a fresh easterly breeze kicking up white horses on the water. The air was clean and salt-laden, and, after the long months of preparation, the unrelenting pressures of the rigorous training programme, the crew of the raider faced the open sea eagerly, masters of their own destiny at last.

Air cover in the form of a Dornier 18 flying boat and two fighters materialized at the seaward end of the Skagerrak and remained overhead until darkness closed in again. At midnight Pinguin’s escort was reinforced by two M-class minesweepers, who brought with them a Norwegian pilot. The enlarged convoy then entered the deep-water channel behind the maze of islands that fringe the Atlantic coast of Norway. Protected by the islands, Pinguin was safe from Allied warships, but the channels, although deep, were narrow and tortuous, requiring careful navigation.

The port of Bergen was abeam to starboard at 0800 on the 20th and here Jaguar and Falke parted company, their escort duties over. The Pinguin and the two M-boats continued north, entering Sörgulen Fjord, some 50 miles north of Bergen, at 1630 that afternoon. The raider went deep into the fjord to an anchorage, while her escort remained on guard off the entrance.

Hidden from the prying eyes of enemy aircraft by the densely-wooded, steep-sided slopes of the fjord, the Pinguin took on the disguise it was hoped would see her clear of the coast and into the Atlantic. Over the next thirty-six hours, with the help of shore labour, the raider was transformed into the Russian cargo ship Petschura, port of registry Odessa, her hull black with the Soviet hammer and sickle prominent on her sides. When the work was finished, the disguise was convincing, but, should suspicions be aroused, German intelligence had established there was a real Petschura, conveniently laid up in Murmansk and unlikely to put to sea for some time.

The Pinguin left Sörgulen Fjord at 0100 on 22 June. She was now under the control of the Operations Division of the Seekriegsleitung (SKL), the German Naval Staff in Berlin. Her orders were to break out into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait and from there to proceed south to a position off Cape Verde, where she would rendezvous with and refuel and provision Hans Cohausz’s U-A. Fresh from his success in sinking the Andania, Cohausz had already moved south to cover the approaches to Freetown, now being used as an assembly point for Allied convoys.

Having serviced U-A, Krüder’s orders were to round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean, and there begin his campaign against Allied merchant shipping. It was anticipated that his harvest would be a rich one, for, in the absence of U-boats, the British considered the Indian Ocean to be a safe area and most merchantmen were sailing unescorted. Additionally, Krüder hoped to create further mayhem by mining the approaches to ports on the south and east coasts of Australia, and, later, the west coasts of India and Ceylon. And, as if this programme was not ambitious enough, at the end of the year the Pinguin was to sail south into the chill waters of Antarctica to attack the British and Norwegian whaling fleets. It was with this most southerly operation in mind that Krüder had named his ship.

The night was very black when the Pinguin weighed anchor and was escorted out of Sörgulen Fjord by her minesweepers. Under a heavily overcast sky with rain squalls sweeping in from the sea, the darkened raider made her way carefully down the fjord following the dimmed blue stern lights of the M-boats. Within the hour she was face to face with her first enemy of the war, the open sea. Clearing the mouth of the fjord at about 0200, she found herself heading into the teeth of a strong SW’ly wind, which rapidly increased to a full gale. Rain squalls severely restricted the visibility and, in a rising sea and swell, the ship took on an awkward corkscrewing movement. For many of her crew, having spent too long ashore or in sheltered waters, the curse of seasickness was an unwelcome visitor.

As for the ship herself, although she rolled and pitched heavily, the weather held no real dangers. The same could not be said for her escorts. M-17 and M-18 were both under 700 tons and narrow in the beam, and, while they may have been at home in the comparatively quiet waters of the Baltic, out here in the open Atlantic their seaworthiness was tested to the extreme. Plunging from crest to trough, rolling violently and shipping green water overall, the minesweepers took a severe pounding as they struggled to keep up with the bigger ship. Some 16 miles out of Sörgulen, after consultation with Krüder, they turned back and ran for shelter.

There is little complete darkness in these high latitudes in summer and by 0230 the sun was again climbing to the horizon, bringing a grey half-light to the overcast and revealing row upon row of white-topped waves marching in from the south-west. Pinguin, steering due west, had the wind and sea on the port bow, a distinct advantage, but Krüder, anxious to clear the coast before full daylight, was pushing his ship hard. With her twin 900 horsepower diesels thrusting her through the water at full revolutions, she had worked up to 15 knots, but was pounding heavily as she met the oncoming waves. Krüder feared he might soon be forced to slow down to avoid damage to his forward guns.

The decision was made for him when, just before 0300, a sharp-eyed lookout on the bridge spotted a periscope breaking the surface half a mile on Pinguin’s port bow. It was followed seconds later by the submarine’s conning tower. This looked like an accidental surfacing, for almost immediately both conning tower and periscope disappeared again in a welter of foam. Krüder sent his men to their action stations.

Prior to sailing from Sörgulen Fjord, Krüder had been assured by SKL that all German U-boats in the area had been warned to keep well clear of the Pinguin’s track. In which case, this could only be a British boat lying in wait for German blockade runners. Mindful that the Pinguin was currently disguised as the Russian Petschura, Krüder hauled around to the north, hoping to give the impression he was heading for the North Cape and Russian waters. Ignoring the weather, he rang for emergency full speed and the Pinguin, now beam-on to the seas, surged forward, rolling heavily.

Almost immediately the submarine came to the surface again and gave chase, black smoke pouring from her exhausts. She was about 2 miles astern of the Pinguin, wallowing in the heavy seas, which broke clean over her, so that from time to time she almost disappeared from view. An Aldis lamp winked from her conning tower. ‘What ship?’ Pinguin’s yeoman read from the impatient flashes. Krüder, acting out his role as a non-English speaking Russian merchant captain, ignored the signal. A few minutes later the lamp flashed again. ‘Heave to, or we open fire!’

Krüder chose to ignore the order. He had the submarine dead astern, thereby presenting the smallest possible target. Moreover, the enemy’s movements in the sea were so violent as to make her a very poor platform from which to take aim. Pinguin pressed on at full speed and the submarine began to drop astern.

The German captain’s assessment of the situation proved correct when, a few minutes later, three underwater explosions were heard. No torpedo tracks had been seen, but it was certain that the enemy sub had fired a salvo, three torpedoes either hitting the bottom or missing the Pinguin and exploding at the end of their run. And that was that. The submarine held on doggedly for another hour, but she could not match the Pinguin’s speed. She fell further and further astern until she gave up and turned away.

Assuming that the British submarine would have reported sighting a suspect enemy ship, Krüder held a north-easterly course throughout the day, running parallel to the Norwegian coast at a distance of about 70 miles. At 0843 a Heinkel 115 float plane passed low overhead, the same aircraft, or another of the same type, appearing at 2100. Pinguin was being watched over from the air, otherwise she had the sea to herself.


Hilfskreuzer 33 Breakout Part II

Krüder now had a choice of two routes in his attempt to break out into the North Atlantic. He could either take the shortest way out, passing between the Faeroes and Iceland or continue north to round Jan Mayen Island, and thence south-west through the Denmark Strait. The latter route would add something like 700 miles to the passage, but Krüder, unaware that the Faeroes Channel was temporarily unguarded following the sinking of the Andania by U-A, opted for the longer northerly route. He was also not aware that, as a direct result of the loss of the AMC, the Admiralty had ordered the cruisers Newcastle and Sussex to reinforce patrols in the Denmark Strait.

At 2300, when on the latitude of Trondheim, Krüder altered course to 320° to head for Jan Mayen. It was Midsummer’s Night, with no real darkness, and, perversely, the foul weather that had provided invaluable cover for the Pinguin since sailing now took a turn for the better. The wind dropped to a mere fresh breeze, the sea went down and the rain cleared away. The heavy overcast remained, but visibility improved dramatically. Then, early on the 23rd, the wind veered to the north-east and the sun broke through.

With no darkness to hide his ship Krüder felt dangerously exposed to his potential enemies, but he had little choice. The only course of action open to him was to make all possible speed for Jan Mayen and take cover in the fog banks normally found shrouding the island at this time of the year. Once hidden in the fog, he could then bide his time, waiting for suitable murky weather to cloak his breakout through the Denmark Strait.

Krüder was to be disappointed, for the weather beyond the Arctic Circle is as unpredictable as in any other part of the globe. As the day progressed and the Pinguin pushed north-westwards, although the wind was light and the sea a flat calm, the hoped-for fog did not materialize. The air was in fact crystal clear, so clear that at 0400 on the 24th, when it was fully light, the tip of the 7,500-ft Beerenberg, Jan Mayen’s volcanic peak, was visible at a distance of almost 100 miles.

Although Jan Mayen was said to be uninhabited, except for a Norwegian weather station, Krüder was reluctant to close the land, but he had no other alternative. Pinguin rounded the northern side of Jan Mayen at noon with all her guns’ crews stood-to and the ship in a state immediate readiness. The weather remained stubbornly fine and clear, but if the raider was seen from the shore she provoked no reaction. Once clear of the island, Krüder set course due west, running for the ice edge off the east coast of Greenland, where the warm summer air flowing over the frozen sea was guaranteed to bring dense fog.

To the great relief of all on board, not least her commander, the Pinguin ran into falling visibility when she was within 100 miles of the Greenland coast. By 1925 she was in thick fog and feeling her way towards the ice edge at slow speed. The ice was sighted just after 2100 and Krüder altered to run south-westwards, parallel to the coast and keeping just to seaward of the ice. Visibility in the fog had improved to around 500 yards, just sufficient for careful navigation, but it was a nerve-wracking business. There were icebergs about and, although the ship was down to a crawl, the danger of collision with one of these drifting monsters was very real, but this was a risk Krüder was prepared to take in the interests of a quick breakout into the Atlantic. For the moment he was grateful for the sanctuary of the fog.

Pinguin’s luck ran out on the morning of the 25th after she had steamed only 75 miles to the south-west. The fog suddenly thinned, then lifted altogether, giving way to the unseasonal clear weather experienced earlier. Krüder was now sorely tempted to make a dash for the Denmark Strait at full speed, but, with British cruisers in the offing, this could be suicidal. The weather forecasts he was receiving from SKL, based on reports sent in by German weather ships which lurked in these waters disguised as trawlers, indicated that conditions were likely to worsen over the next few days as a warm front moved up from the south. Krüder reversed course and steamed back into the fog to await the promised deterioration in the weather. Once hidden in this silent world of swirling mist, he informed SKL of his decision, using a special shorthand code devised for auxiliary cruisers. A ten-second burst of morse was sufficient to pass his message, a signal so brief that it had faded before any of the network of British W/T direction finding stations constantly monitoring the airwaves could home in on it.

The waiting was long and tedious, with the Pinguin, her engines idling, patrolling up and down off the ice edge, her crew largely unoccupied but unable to relax, for the hidden dangers in this fog-shrouded wilderness were many. It was a morale-sapping situation that Krüder had hoped not to meet this early in the voyage. He was very much relieved when, on the morning of the 28th, the barometer began to fall steeply and the wind picked up, sweeping away the fog. In its place came low, overhanging clouds laden with heavy rain. The warm front had arrived.

Running on one engine and making 9 knots, the Pinguin moved south again. The wind settled down in the east, rising to force 6 and building up an ugly beam sea that soon began to send freezing spray flying over the raider’s bridge. The skies came even lower, so that morning became night again, and it seemed that the Pinguin had drifted from one bad dream into another, this one far more malevolent. The sea was short and she rolled jerkily, adding to the misery of those on board. And then the ice came back. It began with isolated floes, which posed no danger to the ship, but soon growlers, and then full-sized bergs, came looming out of the murk. It was a nerve-jangling experience that lasted an agonising twenty-four hours. When the wind eased and visibility improved on the afternoon of the 29th Krüder was exhausted and greeted the clearance with immense relief, even though it did leave his ship exposed to detection by British ships, who might now be patrolling this area in strength.

Krüder need not have concerned himself, for the Royal Navy was elsewhere engaged. When France signed an armistice with the German invaders on 16 June, it immediately became clear that something must be done to avoid her substantial navy falling into enemy hands. The French ships, which included six battleships and two battlecruisers, were tied up in Oran, Dakar and Martinique, and were given the choice of surrendering to the Royal Navy or being sunk where they were. In order to provide the show of force necessary to back up this ultimatum, units of the Home Fleet were called in, leaving much of the North Atlantic, including the Denmark Strait, without adequate cover.

Pinguin emerged from the Denmark Strait on the morning of 1 July, having sighted nothing more threatening than a few isolated icebergs. She was now relatively safe, free to lose herself in the broad reaches of the North Atlantic. Her rendezvous with U-A off Dakar was planned for 18 July, which gave her time to spare. Krüder decided to put this to good use, steaming south along the meridian of 35° West at reduced speed, thereby conserving fuel, and at the same time being on the lookout for any unescorted Allied merchantmen taking the northern route between Canada and Britain. His luck was not good, for in five days he sighted only one ship, and this turned out to be the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania. Believing the Carmania to be faster and more heavily armed than the Pinguin, Krüder turned away and ran. There was no reaction from the other ship, which seemed not to have sighted the raider.

By midday on the 7th the Pinguin was approaching the USA–UK convoy route and it was necessary to proceed with extreme caution. Over the next two days clusters of masts and funnels were seen on the horizon from time to time and evasive action was taken. The weather was fine, with excellent visibility, and, in spite of the Pinguin’s low silhouette, there was always the risk that an inquisitive convoy escort might sight her and come racing over the horizon. The appearance of a Russian ship in these waters would certainly arouse suspicion and could easily result in a gun fight Pinguin might lose. Another disguise was needed, and on the 10th, in fine warm weather, all hands turned to with paint brushes and the Petschura’s bogus voyage ended as it had begun. By nightfall Pinguin had taken on the identity of the Greek cargo vessel Kassos.

As the Pinguin sailed on southwards to her rendezvous with the U-boat, 5000 miles away in the Indian Ocean an encounter took place which would have a profound effect on the war at sea.

On the morning of 11 July the 7506-ton British ship City of Bagdad, outward bound from the UK with a full cargo for Penang, was approaching Sumatra and nearing the end of her long voyage. At 0730 she sighted what appeared to be another British cargo vessel on her starboard beam. There was nothing unusual about this; she was near one of the crossroads of the Indian Ocean frequented by British merchantmen. Then, suddenly, the other ship went hard over and headed straight for the City of Bagdad. She passed close astern and then came round to run on a parallel course, keeping about 1½ miles off. A flag signal fluttered from her yards, but this was unreadable from the British ship, despite the close proximity. However, the suspicions of Captain Armstrong White, master of the City of Bagdad, were already aroused. He ordered his wireless operator to transmit the ‘QQQQ’ signal, indicating that they were being attacked by a disguised enemy merchant ship.

The ‘enemy merchant ship’ was in fact the Atlantis, ex-Goldenfels, sister-ship to the Pinguin, which had sailed from Germany in March under the command of Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge and had already caused considerable disruption to Allied shipping in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The Atlantis ran up her shutters and opened fire as soon as the first urgent notes of the City of Bagdad’s transmission were heard. The raider’s guns pounded the British ship with salvo after salvo of 6-inch shells, until she was stopped and on fire with three of her crew lying dead and two others injured. A boarding party from the Atlantis then sank her with explosive charges.

The City of Bagdad might have been just another victim for the Atlantis to add to her mounting score but for one important omission by the British ship’s crew. In the confusion of the attack they failed to dump overboard the vital BAMS (Broadcasting for Allied Merchant Ships) code books. These were seized by the boarding party and sent back to Germany via Japan at the first possible opportunity. Within weeks Berlin was reading all coded signals to and from Allied merchant ships. It was some months before the Admiralty became aware that their ciphers had been compromised.

On 12 July, at the request of SKL, the Pinguin broke radio silence to report her position. She was then 700 miles north-west of the Cape Verde Islands, having been continuously at sea for almost three months. SKL’s reply contained the latitude and longitude of the proposed meeting with U-A on the 18th.

The rendezvous position was reached at noon on the 17th. It was a lonely spot midway between Africa and the West Indies and well away from the shipping lanes. Krüder stopped his ship and waited, growing increasingly anxious as the hours dragged by, for, although the Pinguin was in an empty ocean, there was always the risk that a British warship might appear on the horizon. He heaved a sigh of relief when, at first light on the 18th, a long, low grey shape materialized out of the morning mist. U-A was on time.

Unfortunately, the U-boat brought with her an unwelcome change in the weather. A fresh NE’ly wind blew up, raising a choppy sea that made it impossible for the transfer of supplies to take place. Krüder decided to head south in search of calmer waters, on the way passing 70 tons of diesel oil to the submarine, so that she would have sufficient fuel to reach Biscay should it not be possible to store her.

On the 20th the two ships reached a position 720 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, where the sea was calm enough to bring U-A alongside the Pinguin. This was the first time ever that a U-boat had been stored at sea by a raider and the inevitable problems arose. It was soon discovered that the submarine’s hydroplanes prevented her from coming close alongside and most of one day was lost in rigging sheer legs to bridge the gap. The torpedoes, eleven in all, were ferried across using flotation bags. It was a slow operation, and it was not until the afternoon of the 25th that the transfer was completed.

The Pinguin then took U-A in tow and set course to the southeast to meet up with the track followed by Allied ships between South American ports and Freetown. Once on this line, U-A had orders to make for the approaches to Freetown and there lie in wait for ships entering and leaving the harbour. Freetown was the assembly point for UK convoys, so Cohausz anticipated he would find more than sufficient targets for his newly-acquired torpedoes.

The opportunity for action presented itself sooner than expected. At 2300 on the 25th the lights of a ship were sighted to port and on a converging course, and U-A at once cast off to investigate. Krüder, being only an interested spectator at this stage, held the Pinguin back in the dark to await developments.

After about an hour had passed, Cohausz returned to report failure. He had identified the ship as an Allied tanker, an easy enough target, but his first torpedo had been a ‘rogue’. It ran in circles before turning back to home in on the U-boat that fired it and Cohausz was forced to take violent evasive action to avoid being sunk by his own torpedo. By the time he regained control, the tanker had disappeared into the night, probably not even aware of its brush with disaster.

U-A was taken in tow again, but a heavy swell developed the next day and the towrope snapped. From then on the U-boat proceeded under her own power with the Pinguin keeping company. Cohausz took his leave at noon on the 28th when they were 850 miles to the west of Freetown. The raider, her supply and escort duties at an end, was now free to begin her own war.

RN Submarine Force WWII

Starting with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935), which provided a legal veneer to Germany’s naval rebuilding program. Given mounting evidence that potential enemies were rearming at sea at an alarming rate, the government of Great Britain agreed in 1936 to the utterly false hope of rule-bound submarine warfare as enshrined in the London Submarine Agreement. In private, many in the Royal Navy assumed that Germany would quickly move to unrestricted submarine warfare at the outset of a new war.

While this planning failure reflected the historically offensive stance of the Royal Navy, it was not uniquely British. Similar overemphasis on capital warships and failure to appreciate the strategic role of submarines was evident in interwar planning and shipbuilding by other major navies, not least the Kriegsmarine and Imperial Japanese Navy.

Like the Germans, the British began the war with a small number – 58 submarines, an inadequate number of boats. A resulting emergency building program to augment the fleet brought the wartime total to some 270 submarines. Max Horton, the successful submarine veteran of World War I, returned to service in January 1940 to command Britain’s submarines. Submarines from German-occupied countries also joined the British fleet after escaping from the Nazis; these included Polish, Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, Yugoslavian, and French boats including the famous Surcouf. While some of the French submarines joined the British, however, others remained at home and passed under Vichy control, and in this capacity were themselves sunk in combat by the British. The wartime British boats included some of the older prewar classes, including nine of the H-class, 18 of the O-, P-, and R-classes, and three of the L-class. However, the bulk of wartime British submarines were the workhorses of the fleet, the S-, T-, U-, and V-class boats. Design improvements in the later boats introduced welded construction, greater operating depths, increased endurance and range, and adding an additional tube aft so that the T-boats could fire three torpedoes from astern. Wartime building programs augmented the fleet; 50 S-class boats had been built or ordered by the end of the war, and 31 T-class boats, 46 U-class boats, and 21V-class boats were built between 1941 and 1945.

The growth of the British submarine fleet was partially offset by wartime losses. In all, 74 British submarines out of 206 that went to war were lost, along with 3,142 men. They fought in three major theaters; the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. The objective in the North Sea, especially off the Norwegian coast, was at first to try and blunt the German invasion of Norway, and then to interdict German shipping carrying iron ore and commodities to and from Norwegian ports. Submarines not deployed to attack ships and mine the coast patrolled Britain’s sea-lanes in the north to try and stop enemy ships and submarines from breaking out.

Not all submarines deployed in the war were large. The Germans and the Italians both developed “midget” submarines and small submersible attack craft during the war, among the more notable the German two-man 38ft 9in-long, 14.9-ton Seehund, which carried two 21in torpedoes, and the Italian Siluro a Lenta Corsa, better known by its nickname “Maiale” (pig), a two-man, 23ft-long human torpedo that ran on electric batteries, was steered and attached to an enemy ship, and detonated once the crew swam away. Following these German and Italian introductions of “midget” craft, Britain also developed small “midget” submarines – the Welman one-man submarine, the Chariot two-man torpedo-launcher, and the X-craft, a two-man, 51ft-long, 27 ton craft that carried two detachable explosive charges. The Chariots made an unsuccessful attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in October 1942, but in September 1943, two X-craft managed to damage Tirpitz badly in its supposedly impenetrable moorage in a Norwegian fjord.

The second theater was the Mediterranean, with an intense period of warfare between 1940 and 1943 when Italy entered the war and its naval forces controlled the central Mediterranean. The submarine war in the Mediterranean was a hard-fought campaign in difficult circumstances. Many areas were shallow, and the waters calm and relatively clear, leading to the detection and loss of a number of submarines. More than half of Britain’s wartime submarine losses, 45 boats in all, were in this theater. British submarines fought a particularly hard battle to interdict German and Italian ships resupplying the Afrika Korps in North Africa, and those based at Malta also had to contend, as did the island’s defenders, with a fierce series of assaults. In September 1941, the British sank 38 percent of the supplies headed to the Axis in Africa, and in the following month sank 63 percent of the tonnage. Every submarine that went to the Mediterranean to fight the Axis at that time was said to be “worth its weight in gold.”19 In all, the perseverance and bravery of the British submarine commanders and their crews resulted in the loss of over a million tons of shipping by the Axis – men, materiel, fuel, and ammunition – a feat that contributed to the ultimate Allied victory in North Africa. Britain awarded five Victoria Crosses to submariners – all of them for their role in the Mediterranean theater. One of the recipients, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, VC, DSO and Two Bars, had a particularly distinguished career while in command of HMS Upholder. He became the most successful British submarine commander of the war, sinking 120,000 tons over the course of 24 war patrols before Upholder and all hands were lost on her 25th war patrol in April 1942.

By war’s end, the British submarine force had performed an exceptional job, destroying 1,524,000 tons of enemy shipping – in all, 493 merchant ships and 169 warships were sunk by torpedoes and gunfire, and another 38 merchant ships were sunk by British submarine-laid mines. An amazing first in submarine warfare is also credited to a British submarine when the V-class submarine HMS Venturer, under the command of Lieutenant James “Jimmy” Launders, sank U-864 off the Norwegian coast on February 9, 1945. Tracking his enemy, Launders successfully plotted and fired a spread of four torpedoes to sink the U-boat; it was the first time in history one submarine had successfully attacked and killed another while submerged.

The vastness of the Pacific became the world’s largest submarine battlefield in World War II, as Japan and the United States faced each other in a deadly campaign that also involved America’s allies in the British Empire (the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) and free forces from occupied countries such as the Netherlands. British, Australian, and free Dutch submarines operating out of bases at Trincomalee (Ceylon; now Sri Lanka), and Fremantle, Australia, in small numbers, worked the Straits of Malacca and the seas off Indonesia to interdict Japanese shipping throughout the war. After a complete withdrawal of all British submarines from the region by July 1940, only three T-class boats made intermittent sorties in the region until 1943, when the turning tide of war allowed Britain to send five additional submarines. At the same time, the Germans sent U-boats into the Indian Ocean to support Japanese sorties there, before moving on further into the Pacific.

Between September 1943 and August 1945, British submarines performed admirably, sinking a number of Japanese warships. By the end of 1944, they had accounted for a light cruiser, three submarines, six smaller naval vessels, and 40,000 tons of merchant shipping – and more than a hundred smaller junks, sampans, and other craft. British submarines secured the Straits of Malacca by March 1945, closing the door to the Japanese, and also successfully executed a Chariot assault on Phuket, sinking a ship there. Pushing into the Pacific in the aftermath of the US recapture of the Philippines, British boats scored an impressive kill by sinking the cruiser Ashigara on June 8, 1945, and made a successful X-craft assault on Singapore harbor on July 31, 1945. XE-3, commanded by Lieutenant Ian Fraser and crewed by diver James Magennis, successfully penetrated the shallow harbor, set six limpet mines on the cruiser Takao in an extremely difficult operation that came close to ending in disaster for the X-craft and its crew, and retreated as their charges sank Takao. Fraser and Magennis earned the Victoria Cross for this incredible and hard-earned feat. Their bravery underscored the small but important British submarine contribution in this theater, achieved with the loss of three submarines. The major undersea conflict in the region, however, was between the United States and Japan.

British Submarine Development

British submarine development was influenced by the cruiser and fleet submarine concepts. The main thrust of early evolution between the wars centered on the overseas patrol type, which displaced 1,475 tons on the surface and had a range of 10,900 miles at 8 knots, a submerged endurance of 36 hours at 2 knots, and a diving depth of 500 feet. Armament included a battery of 8 torpedo tubes with 14 torpedoes and a 4-inch deck gun. A group of similar-sized minelaying submarines also was built, as was a small series of very fast large submarines for work with the fleet, but both of these developments proved very expensive and of limited operational usefulness.

In the early 1930s, a fresh start was made with the Swordfish-class, which was designed for offensive patrols in narrow waters. These boats displaced 640 tons standard. They had a cruising range of 3,800 miles at 9 knots on the surface and 36 hours at 3 knots submerged, and they could dive to 300 feet. Armament was 6 torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes and a 3-inch gun. A larger overseas patrol type, the Triton class, appeared in 1937. These displaced 1,090 tons standard; they had a cruising range of 4,500 miles at 11 knots on the surface and 55 hours at 3 knots submerged, and they could dive to 300 feet. Armament was 10 torpedo tubes with 16 torpedoes and a 4-inch gun. Britain concentrated its production of submarines during the war on these two types, producing a total of 62 of the S type and 53 of the T type.

Just before the war, the Royal Navy developed a small submarine for training not only crews and new commanding officers but also antisubmarine vessels. When war came, the design was quickly adapted for operational use, and the submarine proved particularly useful in confined waters such as the North Sea and Mediterranean. The U class displaced between 540 and 646 tons on the surface, with a range of 3,600 miles at 10 knots on the surface, a submerged endurance of 60 hours at 2 knots, and a diving depth of 200 feet. Armament included a battery of 6 torpedo tubes with 10 torpedoes and a 3-inch deck gun. A total of 71 boats were constructed of this class and its slightly improved successors of the V class. Although they were useful boats in the early part of the war, the later examples diverted resources from construction of more effective vessels. Britain also built some 36 midget submarines; with 4-man crews, these vessels attacked ships at anchor in harbor.

IJN Heavy Cruiser Takao

The Japanese had probably the best cruisers of the early Pacific War era. Their crews were superbly trained and the boats themselves superbly handled, and used very imaginatively as well.

The Takao class was a class of four heavy cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched between May 1930 and April 1931.

They were an evolution from the preceding Myoko class, with heavier torpedo armament and had an almost battleship-like, large bridge structure. Their bridges able to accommodate an Fleet staff.

Their main gun armament was ten 8-inch (203 mm) guns in twin mounts and they were also armed with sixteen 24 inch torpedoes (carrying more than the Myokos or Mogamis), making the Takaos the most heavily armed cruisers of the IJN. The only flaw was that they were considered top-heavy and thus prone to capsizing, while Turret #3 had a poor firing arc. These two problems were rectified in the follow-up Mogamis; nonetheless the Takaos were considered the best cruisers that the IJN ever built.

IJN Takao: Early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.

Takao was launched on 12 May 1930 at the Yokosuka Navy Yard and commissioned on 31 May 1932, and was the lead ship of her class.

At the start of World War II, Takao was commanded by Captain Asakura Bunji and assigned to Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake’s Cruiser Division 4 together with her sister ships Atago and Maya. In late December 1941, she provided gunfire support for the landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.

In early 1942, Takao operated in the Java Sea in operations culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea in early March. On 1 March, one of Takao’s floatplanes bombed the Dutch merchant ship Enggano. The next night, Takao and Atago overtook the old United States Navy destroyer Pillsbury and sank her with no survivors. Early on 4 March, Takao, Atago, Maya and two destroyers of Destroyer Division 4, Arashi and Nowaki attacked a convoy near Tjilatjap. The Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra defended the convoy for an hour and half, but was sunk with 34 survivors of her crew of 151. (Of these 34 survivors, only 13 were alive to be picked up a week later by the Dutch submarine K-XI and taken to Ceylon.) The Japanese cruisers then sank three ships from the convoy: the tanker Francol, the depot ship Anking, and a minesweeper. Two Dutch freighters were also captured.

In June 1942, Takao and Maya supported the invasion of the Aleutian Islands. On 3 June 1942, their reconnaissance floatplanes were attacked by United States Army Air Forces Curtiss P-40 fighters from Umnak and two were shot down; on 5 June, Takao shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress.

In August 1942, she was assigned to Operation Ka, the Japanese reinforcement during the Battle of Guadalcanal, and participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. A determined attempt to shell the US base at Henderson Field led to the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: early in the morning of 15 November 1942, the battleship Kirishima, supported by Takao and Atago, engaged the American battleships Washington and South Dakota. All three Japanese ships hit South Dakota multiple times with shells, knocking out her radar and fire controls. Takao and Atago fired Long Lance torpedoes at Washington but missed. However, Kirishima was quickly disabled by Washington and sank a few hours later. Atago was damaged. Takao escaped unharmed, but was forced to retreat to Truk.


Despite everything that Rear- Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s two heavy cruisers (Maya and Suzuya) threw at it during the following night, Henderson Field remained defiantly operational. Its aircraft proved that on the morning of 14 November by attacking the rest of Nishimura’s force (the light cruiser Tenryu and four destroyers) and the units of Gunichi Mikawa’s 8th Fleet (the two heavy cruisers Chokai and Kinugasa, the light cruiser Isuzu and two destroyers) which had been acting as a covering force for the previous evening’s bombardment. Along with carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, the Americans swiftly got their own back on the Japanese for the destruction of TG. 67.4. After waves of attacks, hits and near-misses, the heavy cruiser Kinugasa was sunk, while two others (Chokai and Maya) and the light cruiser Isuzu, along with one of Nishimura’s destroyers, were damaged to the extent that they could not go to Tanaka’s assistance as he brought his transports down `The Slot’ to their landing sites on Guadalcanal later that day. More punishment was meted out to the Japanese when carrier aircraft from the Enterprise, along with planes from both Henderson Field and Espiritu Santo, found these troop transports. Six were sunk and one was damaged in a series of savage attacks that killed 400 troops and left another 5,000 to be rescued and put ashore by their destroyer escorts. Tanaka stoically pressed on with only four transports left and got his troops ashore on the northwest of the island during the hours of darkness(14-15 November). It was just as well because more air attacks followed the next day and all the empty transports were hit and sunk.

As Tanaka was disembarking his troops, Kondo’s 2nd Fleet – comprising the battleship Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Atago and Takao, two escort cruisers and their eight destroyers – were trying to do what Abe and Nishimura’s forces were supposed to have done the previous two evenings and eliminate Henderson Field. Once again, the night time operation was thwarted. On this occasion the perpetrators were the two battleships South Dakota and Washington and four destroyers belonging to Rear-Admiral Willis Lee’s TF 64 which Vice-Admiral William `Bull’ Halsey, the recently appointed C-in-C South Pacific, had sent the previous day from their holding position south of Guadalcanal to go to Turner’s aid after the loss of Callaghan, Scott and their ships. Once again, the nightfighting skills of the Japanese wreaked havoc with the American ships when they confronted one another in Iron Bottom Sound off the northeast coast of Guadalcanal. Three of Lee’s destroyers were swiftly dispatched by a mixture of shells and torpedoes and the other one, Gwin, was damaged. His leading battleship (South Dakota) lost her radar and shortly thereafter the ability to avoid the concentrated fire of her heaviest opponents. Despite being battered, she was still able to defend herself as the destroyer Ayanami found out the hard way when she tried to torpedo her. While all of this was going on, Lee’s other battleship (Washington) remained unseen and unaffected. Captain G. B. Davis, expertly using his radar, brought her to within 8,000 metres of the Kirishima and sank her in a seven-minute bout of shelling. Kondo, on his flagship Atago, had no option but to abandon his mission and withdraw taking the rest of his fleet with him. Henderson Field’s extraordinary durability was set to continue.


In 1943, Takao supported the evacuation of Guadalcanal. Under the command of Inoguchi Toshihira, she operated in the central Pacific from her base at Truk. On 5 November 1943, she was refuelling at Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands when she came under attack by SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Saratoga (see Attack on Rabaul). Takao was hit by two bombs, killing 23 and damaging her steering; she was forced to return to Yokosuka in Japan for dry dock repairs.

On 22 October 1944, she joined Takeo Kurita’s “Centre Force” and sailed from Brunei Bay for the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On 23 October, as she was passing Palawan Island, the force came under attack from two US submarines. At 06:34, Takao was hit by two torpedoes from USS Darter, which shattered two shafts, broke her fantail and flooded three boiler rooms. She turned back to Brunei, escorted by the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo, the torpedo boat Hiyodori and the transport Mitsu Maru. This flotilla was tailed by Darter and Dace until just after midnight on 24 October, when Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal and Dace remained to rescue her crew.

Takao was so badly damaged that it was considered impossible to send her back to Japan any time soon for full repairs. So the stern was cut off and shored up, and she was moored as an anti-aircraft battery for the defence of Singapore. While berthed there, she was attacked (Operation Struggle) on 31 July 1945 by the British midget submarine HMS XE3, commanded by Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser and Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Magennis attached six limpet mines to Takao’s hull using a piece of rope (the hull was covered with thick layer of seaweed, and the magnets of the limpet mines would not hold them on the hull); when the mines exploded, they blew a hole 20 m by 10 m. Most of Takao’s guns were put out of action, the rangefinders were destroyed and a number of compartments flooded.

On 5 September 1945, the Straits of Johor naval base was surrendered by the Japanese to the British and the formal boarding of the still partially manned Takao took place on 21 September 1945. She was finally towed to the Straits of Malacca to be used as a target ship for HMS Newfoundland and sunk on October 19, 1946 (03°05′05″N 100°41′00″ECoordinates: 03°05′05″N 100°41′00″E).

Other Takao-class heavy cruisers

Continuing in her role as a fleet flagship, Chokai was assigned to the Eighth Fleet in August 1942. As the flagship of Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, she played a central role in the Japanese victory at Savo Island, although she also received the most damage of any Japanese ship present – American cruisers achieved several hits, killing 34 crewmen. Throughout the campaign, Chokai was a regular visitor to the waters around Guadalcanal, and on 14 October she and Kinugasa bombarded Henderson Field. On November 3, the other three ships of Sentai 4 departed Truk to reinforce the Eighth Fleet. Later, on November 13, Maya and Chokai left Shortland anchorage to conduct a night bombardment of Henderson Field alongside Suzuya. After hitting the airfield with 989 shells, the cruisers were attacked during their withdrawal by aircraft from the carrier Enterprise. Kinugasa was sunk, Chokai slightly damaged, and Maya more heavily damaged when a dive-bomber struck the ship’s mainmast and crashed into her port side, igniting fires. Maya’s torpedoes were jettisoned to avoid a disaster and she was sent back to Japan for repairs.

After her repairs, Maya was assigned to the Fifth Fleet and took part with Nachi in the March 1943 battle of Komandorski Islands, as already recounted. Later that year, Takao, Atago, Maya, and other heavy cruisers were forward-deployed to Rabaul with the aim of launching a massive cruiser attack on the American invasion forces at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. To forestall such an operation, the Americans hastily mounted a carrier air attack on the cruisers on November 5, while the Japanese vessels were still anchored in Rabaul Harbor. Takao was hit by a bomb near No. 2 turret, killing 23 men; she departed the same day with Atago for Truk. Atago suffered three near misses that caused flooding in the boiler and engine rooms. Maya was heavily damaged when a dive-bomber hit the aircraft deck above the No. 3 engine room and started a major fire in the engine room itself that killed 70. Maya returned to Japan in December 1943 and underwent major repairs and conversion.

The entire Takao class participated in the Philippine Sea operation. Maya was slightly damaged by near misses from carrier air attack. Leyte Gulf, however, was the death knell of the IJN’s finest class of cruisers. All four were assigned to the First Diversionary Attack Force. On October 23, the force was ambushed by two American submarines in the Palawan Passage. Darter sank Atago with four torpedoes and hit Takao with two others, setting her afire and stopping her dead in the water. Dace sank Maya with four torpedoes, killing 470 of 1,105 crewmen. Takao was able to get under way and arrived in Singapore on November 12. The cruiser was deemed irreparable and was moved to join Myoko in Seletar Harbor as a floating anti-aircraft battery.

Plans for modernizing the Takao class were complete by April 1938, but the approach of war meant that only two ships in the class were fully modernized: Takao at Yokosuka from May 1938 to August 1939 and Atago from April 1938 to October 1939. Chokai and Maya received only limited modernization before the war, including modifications to handle the Type 93 oxygen-propelled torpedo, heavier catapults, and the standard fit of 13mm and 25mm light anti-aircraft guns.

During the modernization, the anti-aircraft armament was increased, though the projected fit of the Type 89 5in twin guns did not begin until after the start of the war: Atago and Takao received theirs in May 1942; Chokai retained the single 4.7in guns until she was lost in 1944; Maya kept hers until reconstruction as an anti-aircraft cruiser began in November 1943. The light anti-aircraft armament was standardized and in the autumn of 1941 the two twin 13mm mounts were replaced with two 25mm mounts. The torpedo armament was augmented by the substitution of quad mounts for the existing double torpedo mounts.

The largest change was to the bridge structure, which was rebuilt to reduce topweight. When completed, the bridge was much smaller in appearance and was the primary feature for distinguishing Atago and Takao from their sisters Maya and Chokai. The bridge accommodated new fire-control equipment and featured the placement of an almost 20ft rangefinder in a separate tower immediately aft of the Type 94 fire-control director.

The other primary change was the alteration of the aircraft-handling facilities and the area of the hangar. To do this, the mainmast was moved 82ft aft. Two heavier catapults were also fitted and moved forward. As on the Myoko class, larger bulges were fitted to increase anti-torpedo protection and stability.

During the war, modifications were made to the ships’ radar and light anti-aircraft fit. In July-August 1943, Atago and Takao received the foremast-mounted No. 21 radar and two triple 25mm guns, making their total light anti-aircraft fit six twin and two triple mounts. Maya and Chokai received the No. 21 radar and two twin 25mm mounts between August and September, making their total anti-aircraft fit eight twin mounts.

In November 1943-January 1944, Atago and Takao were fitted with No. 22 radars and eight 25mm single guns. Chokai could not return to Japan during this period, but was given ten single 25mm guns at Truk. After receiving severe damage in November 1943, Maya returned to Yokosuka in December 1943 for repair and conversion into an anti-aircraft cruiser. Her No. 3 8in gun turret was removed, as were all her twin 25mm mounts, the single 4.7in mounts, and her old twin torpedo tubes. In their place were fitted six twin Type 89 guns with two Type 94 directors, plus 13 triple and nine single Type 96 guns. In addition, 36 13mm machine-guns on moveable mounts and four quadruple torpedo mounts with no reserve torpedoes were fitted. A No. 22 radar was added, and the No. 21 radar received a larger antenna.

Another round of modernization began after the battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. All four units received a No. 13 radar and Chokai finally received a No. 22 set. In June 1944, Atago and Takao received four triple and 22 single 25mm guns. Maya received another 18 single guns, while Chokai received 12 more single mounts. Plans were made to convert her as Maya, but since she did not return to Japan until June 1944, these was never carried out.

IJN Cruiser Armour

Kako – Belt 79.88m X 4.12m of 76mm NVNC plate at 9 degree slope, AD 35-32mm, 51mm sides and 35mm roofs on magazines, total wt 1200t, 12% of trial displacement
Aoba – as Kako.

Myoko – belt 123.15m X 3.5m of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degree slope. AD as Kako, total wt 2032.5t, 16.1% of trial displacement.

Takao – belt 119.8m X 3.5m (Amidships) of 102mm NVNC plate at 12 degrees, but thickness and height varied at the ends (38-127mm thick). AD as Kako, total wt 2368t 16.8% of trial displacement.

Mogami – belt over machinery tapered from 100mm to 25mm over magazines tapered from 140mm to 30mm (total length and height not given) at 20 degree slope. AD 35mm flat, 60mm sloped. total wt in 1935 was 2029t 15.6% of trial displacement.

Tone – belt over machinery 77.8m X 6.95m tapering from 100 to 18mm, belt over magazines 44.82m X ? high, tapering 145 to 55mm all at 20 degree slope
AD 31mm flat 60mm slope, total 2053t 14.6% of trial displacement.

Ibuki – similar to Mogami.

Note, none of the above protection schemes were modified during the various reconstructions only minor plating added.


A further 100-gun ship was ordered in 1794 to Sir William Rule’s design, and Caledonia was laid down on the first day of 1805 on the slipway recently vacated by the Hibernia. Earlier it had been decided to make her carry 120 guns, and the Surveyor amended his design to this effect. This draught shows the ship as completed, and is notable for the first appearance of the built-up or ‘round’ bow in a First Rate; even the traditional flat stern is more upright, and she has solid barricades along the upperworks. She was altered in the late 1820s, when she was widened, given a circular stern, and acquired a more uniform ordnance of 32-pounder guns on all three decks. Initially 63cwt guns were supplied for the lower deck, but this weight made her lower gunports too close to the waterline, and in 1831 the Admiralty instructed them to be replaced by ones of 55cwt. At the same time her galley was moved up to the upper deck, and her sick berth moved up to the middle deck.

In November 1794 a new First Rate was ordered for the Royal Navy. Although it was at first intended that she should be a 100-gun ship, Rule’s design was eventually altered to make her a 120-gun ship, the largest warship yet built for the British, measuring over 2600 tons. Later alterations saw nearly a foot added to her planned breadth, raising her size to over 2700 tons. With the urgent need for smaller battlefleet ships, which could be built quicker, she was not laid down until 1805, and was finally launched in June 1808. The Caledonia, as she was named, was an immediate success, widely regarded as the finest First Rate so far built. Most subsequent First Rates followed her design, and its essentials were to be maintained for almost the whole of the remaining sailing era.

Having looked at the way in which the basic concept of the First Rate (and its ordnance) was expanded over the last decade of the eighteenth century, we now need to retrace our steps a little to the start of that decade, and look at other events during that period, particularly the consequences of the fresh war which broke out in 1793. In early 1790 there were five First Rates, each of 100 guns, including the Queen Charlotte, lying finished on the stocks but not yet launched. Each had a complement of 850, which was reduced to 837 from 16 April 1794; eight carronades were added to the Establishment from 19 November 1794 – two 32-pounders (on the forecastle) and six 24-pounders (on the roundhouse). Under construction was a larger three-decker of 112 guns (still with 837 men), while even larger First Rates of 120 guns (and 865 men) were to be built by 1815. The remaining 42-pounders on some vessels’ gundecks began to be replaced by 32-pounders from 1790, although the process continued beyond the turn of the century.

The nominal strength of the Royal Navy was increased by three First Rates captured from the enemy during this time: the Commerce de Marseille, a French 120-gun ship brought away from Toulon in 1793; and two Spanish 112-gun ships captured off Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797, the Salvador del Mundo and the San Josef (retaining their names). Only the last proved of any real value as a fighting unit, but the Salvador del Mundo was commissioned for a short period of sea service.

On the other side of the balance sheet, the Royal Navy suffered its most grievous loss of the French Revolutionary War on 17 March 1800 when the Queen Charlotte, Lord Keith’s flagship in the Mediterranean, caught fire by accident and eventually blew up off Leghorn. The fire started aft around 6am and burnt for several hours before it became obvious that she was unsaveable. Major efforts by her consorts to save men as they abandoned ship were hampered by the fear of explosion, and some 690 were lost, including her commander, Captain Andrew Todd (Admiral Keith was ashore at the time).

A replacement to the same Hunt design (and repeating the same name) was ordered by Earl Saint Vincent’s incoming Board in July 1801, although the keel for the new ship was not laid down until October 1805 since priority was being given to ships which could be brought into service quickly. She differed little from her predecessor, except to mount a more extensive carronade establishment – fourteen 32-pounder carronades disposed two to the forecastle and twelve on the quarterdeck (reducing the long 12-pounder guns to a single pair of chase guns in each location), and six 18-pounder carronades on the roundhouse deck.

Although not launched until May 1810, the second Queen Charlotte was to have a long career. Following the Napoleonic War, she was re-rated as a 108-gun ship from February 1817. Eventually she was renamed Excellent (on 31 December 1859) as a gunnery training hulk, and was not sold to be broken up until January 1892.

Union and USN Monitors

The distinction for participating in the first ironclad-to-ironclad clash must go to the Ericsson turret armorclad USS Monitor, the world’s first mastless ironclad. At the Battle of Hampton Roads (8 March 1862), Monitor faced off Confederate ironclad battery CSS Virginia in one of the very few naval battles fought before a large audience, lining the Virginia shore.

It is popularly supposed that Hampton Roads demonstrated that the day of the wooden warship had ended. It did no such thing; the armored Kinburn batteries had already taken the world’s attention almost six years before, the French La Gloire had been in service for the previous two years, and the magnificent seagoing British ironclad HMS Warrior for six months; and the world’s naval powers at the time had some 20 ironclads on the stocks. It would have been a peculiarly dense naval officer or designer who did not realize by March 1862 that ironclads would dominate the world’s fleets in the very near future. The main question would be what forms those ironclad warships would take.

The historic Battle of Hampton Roads did touch off a veritable monitor mania in the Union: Of the 84 ironclads constructed in the North throughout the Civil War, no less than 64 were of the monitor or turreted types. The first class of Union monitors were the 10 Catskills: Catskill, Camanche, Lehigh, Montauk, Nahant, Nantucket, Patapsco, Passaic, Sangamon, and Weehawken. (Camanche was shipped in knocked-down form to San Francisco. But the transporting vessel sank at the pier. Camanche was later salvaged, but the war was already over. Camanche thus has the distinction of being sunk before completion.) These ironclads, the first large armored warships to have more than two units built from the same plans, were awkwardly armed with one 11-inch and one 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore. The Passaics were followed by the nine larger Canonicus class: Canonicus, Catawba (not completed in time for Union service), Mahopac, Manayunk, Manhattan, Oneonta, Saugus, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe, distinguishable by their armament of two matching 15-inch smoothbores and the removal of the dangerous upper-deck overhang.

The eminent engineer James Eads designed four Milwaukee-class whaleback (sloping upper deck) double-turreted monitors: Chickasaw, Kickapoo, Milwaukee, and Winnebago. (Ericsson, on the other hand, loathed multiple-turret monitors, sarcastically comparing the arrangement to “two suns in the sky.”) Eads’s unique ironclads mounted two turrets, one of the Ericsson type (much to Ericsson’s disgust), the other of Eads’s own patented design: The guns’ recoil would actually drop the turret floor below the waterline for safe reloading; hydraulic power would then raise the floor back to the turret, wherein the guns could be run out by steam power. Eads’s two paddlewheel wooden-hull monitors, Osage and Neosho, designed for work on western rivers, were also unique. Although built to Eads’s designs, the two paddlewheel monitors mounted Ericsson turrets. All of the above monitors saw action in the U. S. Civil War. Completed too late for action were Marietta and Sandusky, iron-hulled river monitors constructed in Pittsburgh by the same firm that had built the U. S. Navy’s first iron ship, the paddle sloop USS Michigan.

Ericsson designed five supposedly oceangoing Union monitors: the iron-construction Dictator and Puritan, and the timber-built Agamenticus, Miantonomah, Monadnock, and Tonawanda.

The one-of-a-kind Union monitors were Roanoke, a cut-down wooden sloop; and Onondaga, also of timber-hull construction. Ozark, a wooden-hull light river monitor, had a higher freeboard than any Union monitor and also mounted a unique underwater gun of very questionable utility. None of the seagoing or the one-of-akind monitors saw combat.

Keokuk was an unlucky semimonitor (its two guns were mounted in two fixed armored towers and fired through three gun ports-a revolving turret would seem to have been an altogether simpler arrangement). The fatal flaw was in the armor, a respectable 5.75 inches, but it was alternated with wood. Participating in the U. S. Navy’s first attack on Charleston, South Carolina, Keokuk was riddled with some 90 Confederate shots and sank the next morning.

Aside from riverine/coastal ironclads, the Federals built only two broadside wooden ironclads, New Ironsides and Dunderberg (later Rochambeau, a super-New Ironsides, almost twice the former ironclad’s displacement), both with no particular design innovation. But New Ironsides could claim to be the most fired-upon ironclad during naval operations off Charleston, perhaps the most fired-upon warship of the nineteenth century, as well as the ironclad that, in turn, fired more rounds at the enemy than any other armored warship of the time. The broadside federal ironclad was formidably armed with fourteen 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 150-pound Parrott rifles, as well as a ram bow. Its standard 4.5-inch armor plate was far superior to the laminated plate of contemporary monitors. Whereas the monitors off Charleston suffered serious damage from Confederate batteries (and semimonitor Keokuk was sunk), New Ironsides could more or less brush off enemy projectiles and was put out of action only temporarily when attacked by a Confederate spar torpedo boat. During its unmatched 16-month tour of duty off Charleston, it proved a strong deterrent to any Confederate ironclad tempted to break the Union’s wooden blockading fleet off that port city, becoming the “guardian of the blockade.” Still, naval historians have tended to ignore New Ironsides and its wartime contributions because of the conservative design.

In light of their technological inferiority to British turret ironclads, it is difficult to understand why the Union’s Ericsson-turret monitors were also built by other countries: Brazil, Norway, Russia, and Sweden either built their own Ericsson-style monitors or had them built in other countries. (The Swedes, naturally enough, named their initial monitor John Ericsson.) The Russians constructed no less than ten Bronenosetz-class coast-defense monitors, and the Norwegians four similar Skorpionens. The Royal Navy ordered a class of four dwarf coastal ironclads that could be termed monitors, but they carried, of course, Coles turrets on breastworks well above the height at which they would have been mounted on Ericsson monitors, and they had superstructures. Furthermore, unlike the monitors, these coastal ironclads were in fact the diminutive template of the mastless turreted capital ship of the future.

The Union monitors, although an intriguing design, were in truth merely coastal and river warships; although several ventured onto the high seas, they only did so sealed up and unable to use their guns. Their extremely low freeboard (a long-armed man could have dipped his hand in the water from the deck) and tiny reserve of buoyancy made them liable to swamping, beginning with Monitor itself, which foundered off the North Carolina coast in December 1862. Monitor Tecumseh went down in less than two minutes after striking a mine at the Battle of Mobile Bay, the first instantaneous destruction of a warship, an all-too-common event in the twentieth century’s naval battles. Tecumseh was also the first ironclad to be sunk in battle, if one discounts two federal riverine armorclads sunk earlier at the Battle of Plumb Point Bend in May of 1862.

In fact, although the monitors might have been impervious to any Confederate gunnery, Southern mines destroyed the only three such warships sunk by the enemy: Patapsco, Tecumseh, and Milwaukee.(Monitor Weehawken foundered on a relatively calm sea in Charleston Harbor.)

The monitors also suffered from an extremely slow rate of fire; Monitor itself could get off only one shot about every seven minutes. Each shot required that the monitor’s turret revolve to where its floor ammunition hatch matched that of the hull; when firing, the two hatches were out of alignment to protect the magazine. And if an enemy shot hit where the turret met the upper deck, the turret could jam, something that apparently never happened to the many turrets built with Coles’s system.

In 1865, the U. S. Board of Ordnance obtusely argued that warships intended for sea service would be best with no armor at all. Yet at that very moment the Royal Navy had deployed five seagoing ironclads, including the magnificent pioneering Warrior and Black Prince, both warships with truly oceanic range, not to mention Defence, Resistance, and the timber-hull Royal Oak, Prince Consort, and Hector. The French, of course, years before had commissioned the seagoing La Gloire as well as Magenta and Solferino, the latter two the only ironclads ever to mount their main battery on double gun decks. (Magenta also has the melancholy distinction of being the first of the capital ships to be destroyed by mysterious explosion, a fate followed by about a score of such warships in the succeeding decades.)

In view of their design faults, plus their inferior and extremely slow firing guns and laminated armor, the monitors were a dead end in naval architecture from the start. The fact that Washington would consider the British sale of just two Coles turret rams to the Confederacy as grounds for war is a strong indication that the administration of President Abraham Lincoln realized the superiority of British-built turret ships to Union monitors.

Post-Civil War USN

The United States was in basically the same geostrategic position as was Great Britain. The British Isles had no land borders to defend and could thus pour most of its defense funding into its navy. The United States had only two very weak military powers along its two land borders and could thus embark on a great naval construction program, centered on battleships, and relegate its army over the years to something about the size of Romania’s.

Yet of all the naval powers, the United States held on most tenaciously to the coast-defense idea. The armored warships of the new navy, in fact, commenced with the construction of no less than ten big-gun coast-defense monitors. The first five of these were virtually Civil War-era near-derelicts supposedly repaired but actually newly constructed in order to circumvent congressional refusal to allot monies for any new warships. (The fiscal situation was so dire that several Civil War monitors were given to shipbuilders as partial payment for the new monitors.) The remaining five new monitors were actually constructed openly as new warships, as Congress voted funds for the new navy. These bizarre warships were armed with 10- inch and 12-inch guns and were heavily armored. They would participate in the bombardment of Puerto Rico and in blockade duty during the Spanish-American War, fairly well fulfilling their coastal purpose. Within a few years, they were universally denounced in the service as practically useless; their one virtue in later years was that their very low freeboard made them excellent submarine tenders. (One unimpressed contemporary U. S. naval officer described monitor Monterey as “a double-acting, high-uffen-buffen, doubleturreted, back-acting submarine war junk. . . .,” drawing “fourteen feet of mud forward and 16 feet 6 inches of slime aft, and had three feet of discolored water over the main deck in fair weather” (Padfield, 129). The French and the Russians also built coastal minibattleships, in limited numbers, but no new monitors. The Royal Navy and the Italian Navy also built monitors, but these warships were primarily ad hoc expedients to mount heavy guns from uncompleted battleships.

Fighting with Hedgehogs

USS England off San Francisco, 9 February 1944.

Hedgehog thrower on HMS Westcott, November 1945.

Secretary Margaret Jackson was able to provide Colin Gubbins, Special Operations Executive, with remarkably accurate briefs on the success or failure of the sabotage missions that were by now taking place on a nightly basis. Wireless transmissions were received by the various country sections, where they were collated and forwarded to her. She, in turn, handed them to Gubbins when he arrived for work at Baker Street.

The situation at the first was rather different. It was a source of continual frustration to Stuart Macrae not to have any idea as to how and when their weapons had been used. In part, this was because they were too busy to enquire. As summer yielded to autumn that year, 1943, they found themselves working on ‘all manner of remarkable projects’. There were ‘bombs which jumped about on the ground, bombs which leaped in and out of the sea and rockets which fired bridges over roads’ – the latter being the latest invention from the drawing board of Cecil Clarke. Yet news of operations hardly ever reached the sheds and workshops at the far end of the lower lawn.

Macrae tried to keep tabs on successful limpet attacks, but even this proved difficult. Unlike Gubbins, he was not in regular contact with the army high command. As for Jefferis himself, he didn’t seem to care. Macrae increasingly found himself in the role of ‘a theatrical producer who had found an unwilling star’ – Jefferis – ‘and forced him to fame’. He felt rather guilty, for ‘whereas I had succeeded in making myself happy, it was obvious that I had done the opposite for Millis’. Jefferis wanted nothing more than to be left with his mathematics, his coloured chalks and the occasional tumbler of whisky.

His most complex invention, the anti-U-boat Hedgehog mortar, had started life when the two of them were still working in the War Office back in the early days of war. It had originally been intended as a sabotage weapon to be used in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain, but had slowly been transformed into an instrument of such complexity that it had required more than two years of fine tuning. The principal difficulty had been to calculate the recoil accurately, essential to the stability of any ship. One newly recruited engineer who found himself travelling in the company of Jefferis said that he ‘spent most of one train journey between Bath and London sketching furiously on empty cigarette packets’. As the train pulled into Paddington, Jefferis gave the hint of a smile: the mathematics finally made sense. And by the time the sea trials took place, the Hedgehog was near perfect. The mortars dived downwards in their streamlined casings and then homed in on their underwater foe.

This all took time and it was not until the spring of 1943 that the first Hedgehogs were being installed on Royal Navy vessels. When Commander Reginald Whinney took command of the HMS Wanderer , he was told to expect the arrival of a highly secret piece of equipment. ‘At more or less the last minute, the bits and pieces for an ahead-throwing anti-submarine mortar codenamed “hedgehog” arrived.’

As Whinney watched it being unpacked on the Devonport quayside, he was struck by its bizarre shape. ‘How does this thing work, sir?’ he asked, ‘and when are we supposed to use it?’ He was met with a shrug. ‘You’ll get full instructions.’

Whinney glanced over the Hedgehog’s twenty-four mortars and was ‘mildly suspicious’ of this contraption that had been delivered in an unmarked van coming from an anonymous country house in Buckinghamshire. He was not alone in his scepticism. Many Royal Navy captains were ‘used to weapons which fired with a resounding bang’, as one put it, and were ‘not readily impressed with the performance of a contact bomb which exploded only on striking an unseen target’. They preferred to stick with the tried and tested depth charge when attacking U-boats, even though it had a hit rate of less than one in ten. Jefferis’s technology was too smart to be believed.

The Americans proved quicker at embracing the Hedgehog, equipping large numbers of their ships in the final months of 1943. Among them was the USS England, which went into service in the Pacific shortly afterwards. She was soon to find herself caught in the opening shots of Operation A-Go, the Japanese quest for the total destruction of the American Pacific fleet in the spring of 1944. It was an operation driven by Admiral Soemu Toyoda, who knew that submarines would play a central role in the battle ahead. Indeed he said that ‘the success or failure of Operation A-Go depends on the submarines’. What he didn’t know is that he would be pitting his fleet against Jefferis’s mathematical genius.

Admiral Toyoda issued his pre-battle orders to Rear-Admiral Naburo Owada on 3 May 1944. Owada was commander of the Japanese submarine force, Squadron Seven, and he was instructed to launch ‘a surprise attack against enemy task forces and invasion forces’.

The Americans were quick to intercept the Japanese wireless transmissions: one of the first intercepts revealed that a lone Japanese sub, I-16, was heading towards the Solomon Islands. The I-16 was an enticing prize, one of the largest submarines ever built in Japan. She was almost 350 feet long and heavily armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. She was so big that she could carry a small supplementary sub in her deckhouse. Moreover, she was commanded by the brilliantly gifted Yoshitaka Takeuchi.

American intelligence discovered not only the sub’s destination, but also her intended route and speed. This was immediately forwarded to the USS England, which set out in hot pursuit.

The England ’s executive officer, John Williamson, was one of the new breed of navy men: savvy, clean-shaven and passionate about the latest gadgets. With his large ears and goofy smile, he looked like a typical college geek. But he was a geek who was hungry for victory. And in Jefferis’s Hedgehog, he smelled triumph. Long before his vessel set sail from San Francisco, he had instigated a series of test firings in the harbour. ‘If it hit,’ he noted, ‘the concentrated power of its thirty-five pounds of TNT was enough to blow a two- or three-foot hole in a submarine’s three-quarter-inch rolled-steel hull.’ Unlike the depth charge, the Hedgehog only detonated on making contact with the submarine. ‘You knew you had scored a hit, and a devastating one.’

Now, as Williamson went in search of the Japanese sub, he felt ‘a heady mixture of excitement, eagerness and trepidation appropriate to new boys on the block’. One slip on his part and the England herself would come under attack from Commander Takeuchi’s torpedoes.

At exactly 1.25p.m. on 18 May, the England ’s soundman, Roger Bernhardt, gave a shout from the bridge. ‘Echoes sharp and clear, sir!’ The echo detection equipment revealed that the submarine was just 1,400 yards away. The chase was now on and the vessel began to shudder as the engines were cranked to full throttle.

Williamson was impressed by Takeuchi’s reactions, for he proved a skilled quarry. ‘At four hundred yards, the target turned hard left and kicked his screws.’ Takeuchi was making his escape, using a procedure known as ‘kicking the rudder’. This threw up disturbances in the water, distorting the sonar echoes and making the sub’s position impossible to pinpoint with accuracy. But Williamson had made it his business to locate subs, even in turbulent water. He studied the Doppler machine intently as he tried to calculate the exact depth of Commander Takeuchi’s sub. At precisely 2.33 p.m., he got a fix. A split-second later, he fired his weapon and the Hedgehogs roared away from the ship and upwards into the clear blue sky, forming themselves into a perfect ellipse and then entering the sea in symmetry, just as Millis Jefferis had intended.

‘No one said a word. All eyes were fixed on the water’s surface, everyone imagining the huge steel fish below.’ Everyone knew that unlike the old depth charge, the Hedgehog would only explode if it hit the sub.

Silence. Tension. And then – ‘V-r-r-oom ! We heard it again and again, in rapid-fire succession, four to six hits coming so fast on top of one another as to seem almost simultaneous.’ Williamson had just one word in his mind: ‘Bull’s-eye!’

Deep below the surface, Commander Takeuchi had been engaged in a desperate struggle to evade the England when his submarine was hit by six shattering explosions. Jefferis had spent months calculating the mathematical equation that would ensure his Hedgehog would strike with deadly precision. Now, that mathematics reaped dividends. As the I-16’s steel hull was punctured by multiple spigots, the rigid hull instantly and violently crumpled in on itself like a tin can crushed by a giant fist. Commander Takeuchi and his crew were engulfed in a catastrophic decompression that sucked in a high-velocity avalanche of water, along with twisted shrapnel from the crippled outer shell. Death was mercifully quick. There was no hope of escape.

There was jubilation aboard the England at the sound of the underwater explosions. The crew ‘broke out in cheers, everyone jumping and slapping one another on the back like a team that had just won a tournament game’. The cheering continued for fully two minutes, ‘and was just beginning to die down when all of a sudden we heard a giant wham !’ The sea erupted into angry wavelets and the England ‘shuddered violently and started rocking and reeling’.

Williamson’s first thought was that they had been torpedoed. He feared that Commander Takeuchi had somehow detonated his on-board torpedoes as a final, desperate act of revenge. In fact, it was the violent implosion of the submarine that caused the shockwaves. The men on the England were nevertheless terrified. The fantail of the ship ‘lifted as much as a foot, plopped heavily back in the water, while men throughout the ship were knocked off their feet and deck plates sheared loose in the engine room’. Williamson concluded that the aftershock marked the ‘cataclysmic certainty that we had heard the last of the Japanese submarine’. It left the men ‘sobered and subdued’. The Hedgehogs had made their job of killing very easy.

The submarine had been sunk at more than 500 feet below the surface and almost twenty minutes were to pass before the first wreckage began to appear. Williamson was staring intently at the sea when he saw some shredded cork insulation pop to the surface. It was followed by deck planking and the remnants of a filing cabinet. Next to float up was a prayer mat decorated with Japanese characters, a lone chopstick and a large rubber container holding a seventy-five-pound bag of rice.

There was increasing excitement on deck as more evidence of their ‘kill’ started floating to the surface. Everyone was awaiting the inevitable appearance of human remains. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, but they never arrived. John Williamson peered into the water and was quick to see why. ‘Soon a dozen or so well-fed-looking sharks were milling around the vicinity.’ Commander Takeuchi and his crew had fallen prey to two different enemies, one above water and one below.

A small oil slick soon appeared on the surface, evidence that the Hedgehogs had ruptured the sub’s fuel tanks. ‘The slick grew steadily in size until profuse amounts of oil were bubbling to the surface, along with more debris.’

All the detritus needed to be collected, for the US Navy would only confirm a ‘kill’ if there was evidence. One of the England ’s whaleboats was lowered and a few of the crew began collecting relics of the sub. Williamson was concerned for the men’s safety, for ‘there were a dozen or more huge sharks swimming excitedly through the floating debris, looking for blood and shredded limbs.’

Over the course of the next twelve days, Williamson achieved a record unbeaten in the history of naval warfare. He and his men sank a further five submarines, all destroyed by Hedgehogs. Each time, the effect was the same: a deep-water vroom, an oil slick on the surface and dozens of marauding sharks. One young mariner aboard the England confessed to being upset at the ease with which their Hedgehogs were destroying the subs. Williamson had a ready answer. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘war is killing. The more of the enemy we can kill, and the more of his ships we can sink the sooner it will be over.’ He added that ‘we are in a war that we must win, for to lose it would be far worse.’ It was a sentiment that could have come straight from the mouth of Millis Jefferis.

At the naval headquarters in Japan, Admiral Soemu Toyoda was still unaware of the catastrophe that had befallen Squadron Seven. He was eagerly anticipating the onset of Operation A-Go, aware that his submarines had a unique role to play. At 9 a.m. on 15 June he gave the order for battle, using exactly the same words as Admiral Togo had used to address his fleet on the eve of the famous Battle of Tsushima, thirty-eight years earlier. ‘The fate of the empire rests on this one battle. Every man is expected to do his utmost.’

As part of the general deployment, he sent an urgent directive to Admiral Owada: ‘Submarine Squadron Seven is to be immediately stationed east of Saipan, to intercept and destroy American carriers and transports, at any cost.’ Admiral Owada’s reply was succinct. Squadron Seven, he said, ‘has no submarines’. Jefferis’s Hedgehogs had claimed the lot.

Stuart Macrae was delighted when he was brought the news: indeed, it would remain with him for years. ‘The hedgehog was an out and out winner,’ he wrote. ‘It went into service rather late in the day, but was credited with thirty-seven confirmed submarine killings.’ What had begun as a sabotage mortar for use against the Nazis in Kent had been transformed by Jefferis into a devastating weapon of destruction.