Imperial Russian: Navy Seaplane Carriers

A far cry from the capability offered by Cold War era and modern day aircraft carriers, during World War 1 the Imperial Russian Navy operated a number of Seaplane Carriers including the Orlitza (pictured) which served with the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet.

The Seaplane Carrier Imperator Alexander I

The Seaplane Carrier Imperator Nikola I

In the second decade of the 21st century, design studies were underway with the aim of building a nuclear powered aircraft carrier for the Russian Federation Navy to replace that services sole conventional powered Aircraft Carrying Heavy Cruiser, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Kuznetsov, which was, by that time, in her third decade of service, the four aircraft carrying cruisers of the Kiev Class and the two Moskva Class helicopter carriers having long since been retired. The design and building road to produce a Soviet and later Russian aircraft carrier force had been long and arduous, the Soviet Union facing trials and tribulations faced by no other aircraft carrier building nation. Among these were the wartime sieges, massive depletion of workforces due to the horrific death tolls on the eastern front and enemy occupation of land mass or cutting off of build and design centres. On top of this was the fact that wartime priorities for production resources inevitably went to the land and air forces locked in the largest clash of armies the world had ever seen as the Soviet Union struggled, first for survival and then to expel the Axis invaders from its soil before continuing on to take Berlin, the German capital, in 1945.

There are several points in history that could be defined as the commencement of air operations from ships at sea. However, it is an incontestable fact that the type of ship known as the aircraft carrier was born out of the labour pains of World War 1. There were, however, several landmark events leading up to the aircraft carrier as defined in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, in 1806 the Thames Class Frigate HMS Pallas (launched in 1804), deployed kites used to scatter anti-Napoleon leaflets over France during the Napoleonic Wars, this considered to be the first air operation launched from a ship at sea. The first offensive air operation from a ship is considered to have taken place in 1849 when the Austrian ship Vulcano launched Montgolfiere hot air balloons on a failed attempt to drop small size bombs on the city of Venice. The pioneers of these audacious early ship launched air operations could hardly have dreamt that by the early 20th century powered flight would become a reality, and that such machines would be operating from ships at sea.

In the years proceeding World War 1, a new classification of warship emerged in the shape of the Seaplane Carrier. The first true seaplane carrier is considered to have been the French vessel Foudre, which was converted from a torpedo boat tender to carry seaplanes, from 1911, housed in a covered hanger on the main deck.

In Britain, the Royal Navy converted the Protected Cruiser HMS Hermes to a Seaplane Tender for trials in 1913. Having been paid off at the end of 1913, Hermes was recommissioned as a Seaplane Tender in August 1914, the month World War 1 started, ,but was sunk  by a German Submarine a short time later.

There were a not insignificant number of merchant vessels and warships converted to serve as seaplane tenders/carriers in several navies during the war years of 1914-1918, including several such vessels that would serve with the Imperial Russian Navy in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea theatres. The first such vessel was the Seaplane Carrier Almaz, converted from the Cruiser of the same name (completed in 1903) in 1914.

The Almaz, in her incarnation as a Seaplane Carrier, was destined to serve in the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet, mainly out of the port of Novorossiysk on the Russian Black Sea coast. She carried an embarked force of Grigorovich M-5 Type seaplanes that were tasked with general reconnaissance and fire support spotting duties. In the turmoil, commencing in February 1917, leading to the October 1917 Revolution that would ultimately through various twists and turns lead to the state recognized as the Soviet Union (USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), the Almaz changed hands several times, at various times being in the charge of Ukraine, Germany and Britain before being turned over to the White Russian Fleet opposed to the Red Russian (future Soviet) forces. Following the acceptance of defeat and the internment of the White Russian Fleet in Algiers in French North Africa in 1920, the vessel was turned over to France in 1928 and ultimately scrapped in 1934.

No less than four more fully fledged Seaplane Carriers (other vessels are noted to have undergone some modifications work) followed the Almaz, including the Orlitza, which was converted from the merchant ship Imperatritza Aleksandra I in 1915, this vessel, post conversion, operating an embarked force of seaplanes for reconnaissance and spotting duties with the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet. Records are vague, but it appears that this vessel was returned to civil service as a merchant ship in 1923.

A Russian passenger liner (which entered civil service in 1913) was, under the name of Imperator Nikolai I, converted to a Seaplane Carrier from sometime in 1915, serving with the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The ship was renamed Aviator in May 1917. Having survived World War 1 and the revolutionary campaigns in post war Russia, the vessel, having been captured by German forces at Sevastopol in spring 1918 and handed over to Britain in November that year, was sold to the French Maritime Service in 1921 for Messageries Maritimes service as the Pierre Loti.

The Russian Merchant Liner Imperator Alexander I, (Aleksander I) which entered civil service in 1913, was commissioned into the Imperial Russian Navy in 1915 as a Seaplane Carrier. This vessel was renamed Respublikatec on 11 May 1917. In 1921 she was sold to the French Maritime Shipping company Messageries Maritimes, being operated as the merchant ship Lamartine before being renamed Khai Dinn in 1940.

The Romanian (Rumanian) State Maritime Service Liner Ruminia (completion date being around 1904) was taken over by Russia in 1916 and converted to a Seaplane Carrier, retaining the ships civil name. This vessel operated with an embarked force of between 4 and 6 Grigorovich M-9 Type flying boats tasked with the reconnaissance and spotting roles. The Ruminia was returned to Romania in late 1918, having been captured by German forces in spring 1918 and handed over to Britain in November that year.

During World War 1, which was, perhaps naively, described as the war to end all wars that failed to live up to its epithet, the British Royal Navy, then the World’s dominant maritime power, operated not only seaplane carriers, but also introduced a number of aircraft carriers, in that aircraft would take-off from the flying-off deck. While the Imperial Russian Navy had operated the above seaplane carriers during the war, no aircraft carriers were introduced to service, neither was there any serious plans for the introduction of such vessels. By contrast, Britain was making great strides in the evolution of aircraft carrier design, having introduced, HMS Ark Royal, considered to be the World’s first, albeit rudimentary, aircraft carrier in that the seaplane engines would be started on non-flying-off deck. This vessel, in reality a seaplane carrier converted from a merchant vessel in 1914, went on to serve in the Dardanelles campaign in 1915, and in other theatres through the 1918 Armistice.


The Brandenburg Class

The Navy’s bid for funds under the 1889/90 Programme was already being formulated at the time that Wilhelm II came to the throne. It was intended to include two capital ships, at the opposite end of previously-noted range of Construction Office options from the Siegfrieds. An initial preference for another central battery ship along the lines of Oldenburg foundered on the difficulty in accommodating a substantive anti-torpedo boat armament in such a vessel – the torpedo threat had become more pronounced as the decade progressed. As noted in the previous chapter, there had been a preference for 30.5cm guns for the ‘high end’ of the armoured spectrum, but there was concern at the practicability of manually loading such weapons. Since 26cm guns were felt now to be too light as compared with the 30.5cm guns planned for the Baltic Russian Imperator Aleksandr II and Imperator Nikolai I (laid down in 1885), a 28cm bore was selected, a calibre used extensively in coast defence, but not as yet deployed afloat.

The first concept to be worked-up employed four single mountings: since a requirement still existed for three guns capable of firing directly ahead, this may have been on the basis of a lozenge arrangement, as found in a number of battleships launched in France since 1886.1 Such an arrangement required significant tumblehome to provide nominal2 axial arcs for the wing turrets. The original displacement envisaged for the Construction Office ‘heavy battleship’ was 10,000t, but it was agreed that this could be raised to 11,400t, the maximum size that would allow the use of existing docking facilities, as well as capable of passing through key locks. This allowed an extra 300t for armament that could, if twin mountings were used, permit a six-gun main battery.

There were two options for arranging these. One was that adopted for the contemporary Russian Black Sea battleships of the Ekaterina II class – a pair of twin mountings placed abreast firing forward, with a single twin firing aft; the Siegfrieds had employed a similar layout for their single main guns. The other was to place all three mountings on the centre line – one on the forecastle, one on the quarterdeck and one amidships, an approach employed (using single guns) in the French Amiral Baudin class, just at that time completing. Although not delivering desired the maximum bow-fire, it was at length agreed to go with this arrangement, as allowing all guns to fire on the broadside. The resulting ships had for many years the heaviest broadsides in the German navy, and their number of heavy guns in revolving mountings was not equalled until HMS Dreadnought in 1906 – although the latter was based on wholly different tactical concepts.

The expansion of the planned class from two to four ships was decreed by the Emperor in August 1888, funding being granted at length by the Reichstag (which was happy to fund the lead-ship, but wished to delay the other until she was complete) as the one major output from Mont’s short tenure. All of what became known as the Brandenburg class were laid down during the first half of 1890, the last vessel (D = Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm) taking a slip previously earmarked for Q = Frithjof of the Siegfried class. Originally, all six main guns were to have been 28cm/35s, housed in hooded barbettes, but while the ships were on the stocks a new 28cm/40 weapon became available. These could not be fitted in the midships mounting without a major change in superstructure layout, but the forward and aft mountings received the newer guns. While this led to a mismatch of ballistic characteristics within the battery, the short ranges then envisaged for battles meant that the differences in performance was not felt to be a significant issue. It was only when ranges grew that uniform performance across the whole armament became important, and was a reason for the move away from mixed calibres during the first decade of the twentieth century. The mountings were supplied with ammunition via a hoist at the rear of the barbette, from which shells were transferred to a rail-system to behind the guns. Here, a crane lifted a projectile up to the breech, into which it was hand-loaded. Although laborious, it gave the mountings an all-round loading capability.

The secondary battery was originally intended to be sixteen 8.7cm/35 guns, but as ships were being begun they were superseded by the new 8.8cm/35. However, when in 1891 the 10.5cm/35 became available, eight of these replaced the eight lighter guns that had been destined for mounting on the main deck. A six-tube torpedo outfit was installed, all above water and marginally trainable.

Armour for the first pair was ordered from the Dillingen company, but that for the second two it was procured from Krupp, who were in the process of experimenting with a new nickel-steel plate. Thus, while the first two ships completed with compound armour throughout, the later vessels received significant parts of their protection in the new armour.

Brandenburg’s trials were marred on 16 February 1894, when owing to a valve fault on the starboard engine, a main steam pipe burst, killing forty-four people (twenty-five naval personnel, eighteen shipyard employees and a member of the trials commission) and wounding seven. On the other hand, Wörth became fleet flagship (with the Emperor also aboard on occasion) for the 1894 manoeuvres, which included two extra divisions of capital ships – a real one (the IV.) comprising three Siegfrieds, and a nominal one (the III.), with four corvettes ‘playing’ capital ships for exercise purposes. The 1894 exercises were the last ones in which the old ironclads served as capital ships, although König Wilhelm would return during 1896 and 1897 as a cruiser.

The Reconstruction of the Brandenburg Class

The Brandenburgs had been little altered since their completion, apart from the heightening of their funnels during 1894/95. Now, they were also extensively refitted between 1901 and 1905 (with funds voted under the 1902 to 1905 programmes), although not to the extent seen in the Siegfrieds and Odins. One proposal, to replace the midships turret with a battery of four 15cm guns (much as had been done in 1896–8 in the similarly-arranged French Amiral Baudins that had helped inspire them), was rejected for reasons of cost, and the main battery was merely equipped with new ammunition and telescopic sights. On the other hand, the boilers were re-tubed and an aft conning tower and a further pair of 10.5cm guns on the main deck installed. The trainable torpedo tubes were all removed except that at the stern, with a pair of new submerged tubes installed instead, a torpedo-room being worked-in forward of the fore magazines. In addition, the searchlights were moved from their platforms low down on the masts to the spotting-tops. This reflected a wide programme of rearranging searchlights within the fleet during the first decade of the twentieth century.

The intention had been that the last Königs would replace the remaining Braunschweigs (Lothringen, Preußen and Hessen) in the High Seas Fleet, but with the coming of war, all were retained in the II. Sqn. The I. Sqn continued to accommodate the Nassaus and Helgolands, with the most modern battleships concentrated in the III. Sqn. With mobilisation, three further squadrons of battleships were provided from reserve, the Wittelsbachs, together with Braunschweig and Elsaß, becoming the IV. Sqn, and the Kaiser Friedrich IIIs the V. Sqn along with the two remaining Brandenburgs, while the Siegfried and Odin classes formed the VI. Sqn. Of the older large cruisers, the Victoria Louises became the V. SG, the remainder being grouped into the IV. SG (redesignated III. SG on 28 August 1914), except for Fürst Bismarck, which did not finish her reconstruction until mobilisation was complete – and by which time some of the older ships brought forward were already being paid off. Thus, as soon as she had completed her post-refit trials, Fürst Bismarck was used briefly as mobile target for torpedo trials, and then reduced to a stationary training ship.

Brandenburg and Wörth were being employed as harbour defence floating batteries at the now-occupied Baltic port of Libau (1915), moored just behind its northern and western breakwaters, and thus retained the potential for action longer than their younger squadron-mates.

Brandenburg arrived back at Libau, but now under tow and no longer a fighting ship. She had been disarmed at Danzig during December 1915, to provide spare guns for her Turkish sister Turgut Reis, before being refitted as an accommodation and distilling ship for submarines. The former battleship remained at Libau until February 1918, when she was towed back to Danzig with the intention of converting her to a target ship, to replace Oldenburg (i) – work that was never completed.

Barracuda class SSNs

Suffren, the first of six Barracuda-class nuclear-powered attack submarines being built for the French Navy, has kicked off her sea trials with her first dive at sea. These trials were originally due to begin in early 2020

Led by the French Armaments Directorate (DGA), these sea trials, which will last several months, will confirm the robustness and efficiency of the submarine before her hand-over to the French Navy.

At dockside as at sea, the test campaign will follow the specific health prevention and precautionary measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SSNs are real instruments of power, enduring and discreet. Their missions are varied, and range from support to the deterrent force, protection of the carrier strike group, intelligence gathering, and anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare. Suffren-type SSNs will add a land-attack cruise missile capability and will be optimized for the deployment of special forces.

With the Suffren, France is starting to renew its fleet of SSNs, which entered service in the 1980s, and will thus have modern submarines among the most efficient in the world.

With this first outing at sea, the Barracuda program crosses a major milestone after the launch of Suffren, on July 12, 2019, by the President of the Republic.

Over the past eight months, the program’s industrial and state teams have successfully conducted all of the Suffren’s dockside tests aimed at verifying the proper functioning of its various systems and equipment. Three prerequisites have been validated: the combat system has reached the end of its tests on land and is ready for the continuation of assessments at sea; the nuclear reactor was started at the end of 2019 after loading its fuel and, finally, in January 2020 the submarine was floated to validate the first waterproofness tests.

Started in the English Channel, these sea trials will later take the Suffren to the Atlantic and finally to the Mediterranean. Under the supervision of engineers and technicians from the DGA, the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), Naval Group and TechnicAtome, they will be carried out by submariners of the French Navy who will gradually check all of the boat’s technical and operational capabilities.

They are due to last several months until her delivery scheduled for later this year. During the entire phase of sea trials, the boat remains the property of Naval Group. She is placed under the responsibility of the French Navy for operational command and as a delegated nuclear operator. As the contracting authority for the Barracuda program, the DGA is responsible for testing up to the acceptance of the boat and her delivery to the French Navy.

The DGA worked with the CEA, the French Navy and industrial prime contractors to allow the program to continue under specific health conditions. Since March 16, the business continuity plan for the Cherbourg site and the Barracuda program takes into account all measures to ensure the health and safety of personnel.

Barracuda class (also called Suffren class after the lead ship of the class) is a class of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs; French: Sous-marins nucléaires d’attaque, SNA) being developed for the French Navy.

Launched in 1998 by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), the Barracuda program renews the Navy’s SSN component currently composed of six Rubis class SSNs commissioned from the early 1980s. The associated development contract was notified in December 2006.

Naval Group is the overall prime contractor of the submarine program and TechnicAtome is the prime contractor for the nuclear reactor. The French Defence Procurement Agency ( Direction générale de l’armement, DGA) is in charge of the overall program, with the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, CEA) for the nuclear reactor.

Barracuda SSNs will use technologies from the French Navy’s currently operational Triomphant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), including pump-jet propulsion.

The submarines will have a length of 99 meters, a diameter of 8.8 meters, a surfaced displacement of 4,700 tonnes and an underwater displacement of 5,300 tonnes.

The boats will be powered by a 50MW K15 pressurized water reactor derived from the reactors on board the Triomphant-class SSBNs and Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier. They will have two propulsion turbines, two turbo generators and two electric motors driving a single ducted propeller (pump-jet). The SSNs will have a maximum speed of about 25 knots and a maximum diving depth of more than 350 m.

The Barracuda-class submarines will be armed with torpedo-tube-launched cruise missile, MdCN (Missile de Croisière Naval, Naval Cruise Missile). MdCN is the sea-launched variant of the SCALP EG low-observable air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) developed by MBDA Missile Systems. The missile has an operational range of over 1,000 km (620 mi) and can be fired against strategic land targets.

The submarines will be also armed with F21 Artemis heavyweight torpedoes, Exocet SM39 Block2 anti-ship missiles and FG29 mines.

Barracudas will have a crew complement of 65. In support of special operations missions, they may also accommodate up to 12 commandos, while carrying their equipment in a dry deck shelter attached aft of the sail. The dry deck shelter will also allow the deployment of underwater vehicles.

The primary missions of the Barracuda-class vessels will include anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare (ASuW, ASW), land attack, intelligence gathering, crisis management and special operations missions.

The French Navy plans to have six SNA Barracuda in service by 2030 and the first four is scheduled to be delivered over the period of 2020-2025. Considering that the lifespan of Suffren type SSNs will be more than 35 years, these new submarines will serve the French Navy at least up to 2060, making it one of the major French weapon systems of this century.

Covert Shores

Nuclear Submarine Project – Arihant

INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The ship submersible ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarine was launched at the Indian Navy’s dockyard in Visakhapatnam, which is the headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has inaugurated the vessel into the Indian Navy, asserted that the indigenously built submarine would be used for self defence. The name Arihant derives from two words – Ari meaning enemy and Hanth meaning destroy.

Arihant, India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine, cost $2.9bn. It was jointly developed by the Indian Navy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at the naval dockyard in Visakhapatnam. Russian designers assisted in building the vessel.

Other companies involved in the development of the submarine are Tata Power, a division of Tata Group and Larsen & Toubro (L&T), a technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing company.

The project, earlier known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV), has been under development since 1998. Construction of five more nuclear-powered submarines is also being planned. According to a report in the Indian Express, the hulls of the second and third submarines have already been constructed.

Arihant will be commissioned into the Indian Navy after extensive sea trials for at least two years. Initially harbour acceptance trials (HATs) would be conducted followed by sea acceptance trials (SATs).

Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India. The Indian Navy has a fleet of 16 diesel-electric submarines leased from Russia and Germany. However, the disadvantage with diesel electric submarines is that they cannot stay under water for an extended period.

“INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine.”

Conventional diesel-electric submarines have to ascend to the surface each day to eject carbon dioxide produced by the generator. Nuclear-powered submarines, on the other hand, can stay under water for long durations without being detected. Arihant is expected to enhance the Indian Navy’s capability of delivering nuclear weapons from all terrains.

Arihant’s design is based on the Russian Akula-1 Class submarine. It weighs 6,000t. At a length of 110m and breadth of 11m, Arihant is the longest in the Indian Navy’s fleet of submarines and can accommodate a crew of 95. It can reach a speed of 12kt-15kt on surface and up to 24kt when submerged.

Arihant will be able to stay under water for long periods undetected due to the nuclear-powered 80MW pressurised water reactor (PWR). The PWR was developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre with assistance from a Russian design team.

The submarine’s exterior is uneven and the hull is placed on a mat covered with tiles. The tiles help in absorbing sound waves and provide stealth capability to the submarine. Compared to conventional submarines, the conning tower of Arihant is situated near the bow instead of the centre.

The central part of the submarine’s body consists of the outer hull and an inner pressurised hull. The starboard side consists of two rectangular vents that draw in water when the submarine submerges into sea.

The Indian Navy and the DRDO together designed the submarine. Once the design was finalised detailed engineering was implemented at L&T’s submarine design centre using 3D modelling and product data management software.

Tata Power designed the control systems for the submarine. Walchandnagar Industries, a company specialising in execution of heavy engineering projects, designed parts of the steam turbine.

Tests and delivery

The trials are being conducted at a concealed test area called ‘Site Bravo’. During harbour acceptance trials, the nuclear power plant and auxiliary systems of the submarine will be tested for stability.

“Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India.”

The most crucial part of the trials will be the firing of the reactor. Once the reactor is fired all systems on board are tested on the inherent power of the submarine.

Arihant will be taken for a series of high-speed runs during the sea acceptance trials and its various components will be tested at different depths, temperatures and pressure.

The final phase of the trials will include weapon trials. During these trials actual firing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) will take place from the platform.

The crew of Arihant will be trained on the 12,000t Akula-II submarine. The submarine will be taken on lease from Russia in 2010 for ten years. Apart from the Akula-II submarine, six Scorpene attack submarines will also be acquired by the Indian Navy between 2012 and 2017.

Arihant armament

Arihant will be capable of carrying all types of missiles and will have underwater ballistic missile launch capability. It will carry 12 K-15 SLBMs that can be launched even under ice caps.

Tested in 2008, the K-15 missiles are 10.4m long and have a diameter of 1m. The 6.3t missiles can carry a 5t nuclear warhead targeted 750km away. The K-15 missiles, however, will be replaced later by the 3,500km range K-X missiles.

Apart from the K-15s, the submarine will carry a range of anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles and torpedoes.

Submarine propulsion

A significant progress in the development of Arihant took place when the land-based pressurised water reactor became operational in 2004 at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam, Chennai. Following this, miniaturisation of the land-based PWR had to be carried out to enable it to fit into a confined space in the submarine. The reactor consists of 13 fuel assemblies each having 348 fuel pins.

Several companies supplied components of the reactor. High grade steel supplied by Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi was used to build the reactor vessel. The steam generator was provided by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL); and Audco India, Chennai built the pressure valves.

The PWR consists of a huge pressure hull, a tank containing water and a reactor. It also consists of a pressure vessel built from unique steel, a control room as well as an auxiliary control room.

The propulsion plant housing the reactor is 42m long and 8m in diameter. The complete propulsion plant along with the primary, secondary, electrical and propulsion systems occupy half of the submarine. To reduce the weight of the plant, light water and enriched uranium was used as opposed to non-enriched uranium used in land-based reactors.

Control and communication systems

Arihant is fitted with a combination of two sonar systems – Ushus and Panchendriya. Ushus is state-of-the-art sonar meant for Kilo Class submarines. Panchendriya is a unified submarine sonar and tactical control system, which includes all types of sonar (passive, surveillance, ranging, intercept and active). It also features an underwater communications system.

A new submarine promises to give the world’s most populous democratic nation a powerful second-strike nuclear capability. The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, will finally give the country nuclear weapons that could survive a surprise first strike and go on to deal a crushing retaliatory blow to the enemy. The new sub will complete India’s triad of air, land and sea nuclear forces.

India tested its first weapon, an eight-kiloton device nicknamed Smiling Buddha, in 1974. Although small in yield, the device was a remarkable technological achievement that thrust the young country into the exclusive, so-called “nuclear club” that had until then consisted of the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China.

India is believed to have 520 kilograms of plutonium—enough for, according to the Arms Control Association, “100 to 130 warheads.” New Delhi describes this a “credible minimum deterrent” against neighboring nuclear powers China and Pakistan. India has a firm No First Use policy with regard to nuclear weapons, vowing to never be the first to use them in any conflict and only use them to retaliate in kind.

Nuclear-armed submarines are an ideal basing solution for a country such as India. While less accurate than land-based missiles and less flexible than air-launched weapons, ballistic-missile submarines are the most difficult to destroy in a first strike. Hiding in the vastness of the oceans, a nuclear-armed submarine is nearly invulnerable. And, in the logic of nuclear deterrence strategy, an invulnerable nuclear arsenal makes for an invulnerable country.

The Arihant program goes back more than three decades, to the vaguely named Advanced Technology Vessel. Begun in 1974, ATV was broadly conceived as a project to research nuclear propulsion and, down the road, field a indigenously developed and constructed nuclear-powered submarine. The program was a collaboration between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indian Navy and the Indian government’s Defence Research Development Centre.

By 1995, ship-sized reactor trials were underway at the Bhabha Centre in Mumbai. According to Combat Ships of the World, the reactor had been under development since 1985, weighed 600 tons and was “entirely unsuccessful.” By 1989, Russian nuclear scientists and engineers joined the project, and yet the program still failed to yield a viable reactor. In 1998, the Indian government threw in the towel and purchased a reactor design outright from Russia, and by 2004, a working eighty-megawatt prototype reactor had been built, tested and achieved criticality.

Hull began construction in 1998 at Visakhapatnam, but could not be completed due to the lack of a working reactor. The hull itself is variously reported as based on the Russian Akula/Project 971–class nuclear attack submarine or the ex-Soviet Charlie II class. Combat Fleets of the World claims it is based on the Akula, and lengthened an additional thirty feet to accommodate a missile compartment. Other sources claim it is based on the Charlie II class, one of which was leased to India from 1988 to 1991 and served as INS Chakra. At either rate, the submarine is estimated to be 330 to 360 feet long, with submerged displacement of 6,500 tons. It is the smallest ballistic-missile submarine in the world, with the possible exception of the North Korean Gorae class.

Thanks to nuclear propulsion, Arihant can do twelve to fifteen knots on the surface and twenty-four knots underwater. Maximum diving depth is unknown, and probably a closely held secret, but the Akula class is known to dive to six hundred meters. The submarine is manned by a crew of ninety-five to one hundred.

Arihant was officially launched in 2009. The onboard reactor reached criticality in 2013, and the ship began sea trials in late 2014. It was officially commissioned into service in August 2016. According to Naval Technology, the total price tag was $2.9 billion.

Arihant’s name literally translates to “Slayer of Enemies,” and the ship’s armament makes it the greatest concentration of firepower in Indian history. The submarine was built with four missile tubes mounted in a hump behind the conning tower. The four can carry twelve K-15 Sagarika (“Oceanic”) short-range ballistic missiles. K-15 has a maximum range of just 434 miles, making it capable of hitting just the southern half of Pakistan.

Alternately, the sub can carry four K-4 medium-range ballistic missiles with a 2,174-mile range, capable of hitting targets as far away as Beijing. Both the K-4 and the K-15 are nuclear capable, but the warhead yield is unknown. India has yet to master multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology, so whatever the yield of the warhead, K-4 and K-15 carry just one of them.

In order to be credible, a seagoing nuclear deterrent must have at least one submarine on patrol at all times. The second ship in class, Aridhaman, is under construction in Visakhapatnam, and India plans to have as many as four boomers by 2020—the same number as the United Kingdom and France. With the four nuclear-armed boats completed, India may finally achieve its goal of strategic invulnerability.

Covert Shores

The Revenge

HMS Swiftsure was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Sir Anthony Deane at Harwich, and launched in 1673. By 1685 she had been reduced to a 66-gun ship.

In 1692 she saw action at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue.

She was rebuilt by Snelgrove of Deptford in 1696 as a 66-gun third rate.[2] In 1707, she belonged to Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet. She saw action during the unsuccessful Battle of Toulon and was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly when Shovell and four of his ships (Association, Firebrand, Romney and Eagle) were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors. Swiftsure suffered little to no damage and finally managed to reach Portsmouth. She underwent a second rebuild at Woolwich Dockyard, relaunching on 20 November 1718 as a 70-gun third rate of the 1706 Establishment. She was renamed HMS Revenge at this time. On 25 February 1740 Revenge was ordered to be taken to pieces at Deptford, and to be rebuilt as a 70-gun third rate to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment. She was relaunched on 23 May 1742.

Revenge was sold out of the navy in 1787.

Deptford, where Revenge was built, was frequented by Samuel Pepys and the fourth Revenge was a result of the considerable surge in shipbuilding that took place in the first decade of the eighteenth century.

A Third Rate was a two-decker ship, and one of the most common ships in the Navy. The most famous of these was the 74-gun Third Rate. Not a great deal had changed since the days of Elizabeth I, though the fourth Revenge had a less racy design than her successor. The fourth Revenge was effectively a frigate, comparatively light on the water, though heavier, due to the greater weight of guns, and not as manoeuvrable as her more famous ancestor. The guns were comparatively unchanged, including the short-barrelled, medium-range culverin.

With the arrival of William of Orange in England in 1688, Pepys’s star began to wane, having collaborated with George Legge, Lord Dartmouth’s unsuccessful attempt to intercept William’s fleet. Pepys, whose work for the Navy had contributed to the creation of a national naval force that would one day dominate the oceans of the world, allowed himself to be mixed up in a disastrous muddle that resulted in a change in the monarchy.

William’s accession meant a radical change in foreign policy and whereas the third Revenge appeared to be the agent of a Catholic revival, the fourth Revenge was once again the servant of Protestantism ranged against the French. War was declared on France on 5 May 1689 and negotiations for co-operation with the Dutch fleet were wrapped up, turning the naval arrangements of the previous few years completely on their head.

The fourth Revenge sailed almost immediately into the cauldron that was the War of the Spanish Succession. Carlos II having died heirless, the succession went to Philippe of Anjou which in turn precipitated French military advances in the Spanish Netherlands and Italy.

With the death of William, the war against France proceeded under Queen Anne and the major historical emphasis switched to the exploits of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, who proceeded to unravel French ambitions with the help of Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Sir George Rooke had unsuccessfully attacked Cadiz in order to repeat Drake’s singeing of the King of Spain’s beard, but the attempt was badly organized and failed to achieve the intended result.

Sir George Rooke (1650–1709) was born near Canterbury and entered the Navy as a volunteer. He commanded a squadron at the siege of London in 1689 and became a Rear Admiral in 1690, when he participated at the Battle of Beachy Head. He made his mark at the Battle of La Hogue, when he contrived to burn six enemy ships and was rewarded for his action with a knighthood. He served in various posts in the Channel and in the Mediterranean until 1702, when he led the expedition against Cadiz, followed by the conspicuously successful raid on the Spanish and French fleet at Vigo. He was accompanied by Sir Cloudesley Shovell on the attack on Gibraltar on 21 July 1704, which received popular acclaim and which proved to be a milestone in British maritime history. On 13 August he commanded the fleet in an attack on the French off Malaga. The battle was inconclusive, with neither side losing a ship, and Rooke was subject to criticism for the poor preparation of the English fleet at the battle – the ships’ hulls had not been careened and the guns were short of ammunition after the extensive barrage at Gibraltar. On this negative note, he retired from the Navy in 1705 and died in 1709.

After the failure at Cadiz, Rooke’s face was saved when he got wind of some Spanish treasure ships in Vigo Bay. At a council of war held on the Royal Sovereign on 17 October 1702 it was decided to sail to Vigo and ‘insult them immediately with our whole line, in case these be enough’.

On arrival at Vigo on 18 October, Rooke sent in two boats to scout which reported back that there were about twenty-two Spanish galleons and eighteen French men-of-war. The ships had unloaded some of their treasure and were secured in an inlet above Vigo, near Redondella, protected by a boom made up, according to Captain Nathaniel Uring, thus:

They having unrigged their ships, laid their Masts and Yards abreast each other, and lashed them securely together which spread the whole breadth of the Channel, with their cables stretched out a length upon them and well fasten’d; and their Top and other chains were stapled down to the Mast, to prevent them being out by our Men. They moored it without Side and within, with several anchors and cables; it was 8 or 10 foot broad, which altogether made it so strong, that they thought it impossible to be forced.

The Allied fleet anchored near the boom and another council of war was held in which it was decided that it was too risky to attempt to enter the enemy’s lair in full strength, due to the lack of sea space, and it was decided instead to send in a detachment of fifteen English and ten Dutch ships along with fireships, backed up by frigates and bomb vessels, with the major ships watching for any opportunities at the back.

The population of Vigo, having been visited upon years before by the legendary Drake, were understandably alarmed, as a French historian recounts:

L’inquietude puis la panique gagnerent toute la region; le vieux racontaient de terrible histoires du temps de leurs grandsparents; c’etait l’attaque de la ville en 1589 par Francis Drake qui brula les maisons, profana les eglises et laissa le pays ruine pour trent ans, c’etait la mise a sac de Cangas en 1617 par les pirates barbariques qui ne laisserent pierre sur pierre, qui massaeraient enfants et viellards et mutilaient les prisonniers a grand coups de cimeterre, qui couperent les seins de femmes don plusieurs nonnes.

On Monday, 22 October, having landed troops in a bay ‘about a league above Vigo’ [Rooke], Vice Admiral Topsonn in the Torbay was ordered to make an attempt on the boom, which he succeeded in making. The Swiftsure accompanied the Berwick and the Essex under Rear Admiral Fairborne. Meanwhile the Marines attacked and took the forts, putting them out of action while the Allied ships passed beneath them.

What ensued was effectively a turkey shoot, with every French and Spanish ship being either burnt (16), sunk (8) or captured (12). On the Allied side, the Torbay came off worst, having been attacked by a fireship which then blew up.

Carlos di Risio has little doubt about the reasons for the crushing victory: the English gunners were better trained and could fire faster than either the French or Spaniards, and these two fleets were in any case a shadow of their former selves. Just over a hundred years later, at Trafalgar, the English would once again defeat a Franco-Spanish fleet, with once again a bold strategy and superior gunnery.

Following this victory, England made an alliance with Portugal and some Portuguese soldiers were present in the attack that took place on Gibraltar on 24 July 1704. Joined by Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Rooke held a council of war on 16 June in which the best possible targets were debated, the onus being on them to make good use of the considerable naval resources at their disposal, including the Swiftsure, a 70-gun ship built in 1673 which would be renamed Revenge in 1716. At a second meeting, on 17 June, Gibraltar was finally settled upon as the best option, though it is unlikely that the strategic impact of that decision for the next two centuries would have crossed the minds of those in attendance. It seemed to them to be a useful place to hold for the purposes of the war and it was also relatively lightly defended in comparison with ports such as Cadiz, on which Rooke had already burnt his fingers.

On 21 July, the Anglo-Dutch fleet arrived in Gibraltar Bay and 1,800 English and Dutch marines landed under the command of the Prince of Hesse, cutting the town off from the mainland. They received a barrage of cannon fire the next day, after the governor refused to surrender, but the marines took the fortifications and the governor of the town eventually surrendered on the 24th.

Leaving the Prince of Hesse in charge, the fleet then withdrew and some days later, on 9 August, spotted a French fleet and gave chase. By the 14th, the French had formed for action off Málaga and consisted of fifty-two ships and twenty-four galleys. The Anglo-Dutch fleet was fifty-two ships. The ensuing action was sporadic, with the enemy disinclined to stand and fight, eventually disappearing into the mist.

The Swiftsure was part of a division commanded by Sir Cloudesley Shovell, which also included the Barfleur, Eagle, Orford, Assurance, Warspite, Nottingham, Tilbury and Lenox. The English lost 691 men, the Dutch 400 killed and wounded and the French 3,048 men, along with one rear admiral, five captains, six lieutenants and five ensigns. The French, however, contrived to portray the battle as a victory – an early example of propaganda.

The Swiftsure remained under her original name for another decade, during which the Duke of Marlborough and Eugene fought a series of victorious campaigns over the French, prefaced by the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, with Ramillies and Oudenarde following in 1706 and 1708 respectively. When the war eventually drew to a close, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713, which set the seal on Rooke’s capture of Gibraltar in perpetuity. This great lump of igneous rock was henceforth to be a lynchpin of British naval strategy in the Mediterranean and a stone in the shoe for Spain. Flying the Union Jack, it was emblematic of the rise in fortune of the British colonial empire and the relative decline of Spain and France.

In 1704, Revenge was involved in the vital duty of protecting trade in the Channel, particularly the Soundings, that area of sea roughly south of the Lizard in England and north of Forne Head in Britanny. Revenge was under the command of Commodore the Honourable William Kerr (1622–1722) who had the unenviable task of protecting British trade coming in from the Americas or Portugal from the depredations of French squadrons based at Brest and Dunkirk.

The Brest squadron was led by a privateer called Duguay-Trouin whose skill in hunting down straggling traders had been applauded and officially recognized by the French Government. His opposite number at Dunkirk was Saint-Pol-Hecourt.

Réné Duguay-Truin (1673–1736) led a career that was radically different to the one his family had intended for him. Having trained in a Jesuit College for Holy Orders, after which he entered the University of Caen, he decided to answer instead the call of the sea and became a corsair. Various successful actions led to his appointment as captain of a frigate in 1692, when he was eighteen, and later a larger ship.

Taking a leaf out of the book of the successful English Elizabethan privateers, the French Government decided to equip French corsairs with navy ships, thus granting a semi-official status to the swashbuckling escapades of the privateers and taking advantage of their natural talent and bravado for the benefit of the nation. One of the tactics practised by Duguay-Trouin and other corsairs was to fly the enemy flag before launching a surprise attack on an often unsuspecting enemy. At one point the British managed to capture Duguay-Trouin but their efforts to charge him with ungentlemanly deceit fell flat when he managed to escape from imprisonment.

His continued success led to an official invitation to join the French Navy, which he was delighted to accept, and by the age of twenty-four he had been appointed to the rank of captain. Realizing that his new formal status was constricting his debonair talent, it was decided on the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession that Duguay-Trouin should leave the Navy and return to privateering.

After his exploits in the Channel in 1704, often against the Revenge, he was honoured by the French Crown and, in 1704, when HMS Revenge was no longer cruising in that station, he captured twelve British merchantmen off the Lizard.

To begin with, the French had to contend with a larger British force under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who had been appointed to deal with a bustle of activity round the French ports of Rochefort, Brest and Port Louis. If the French fleet were to set sail for the straits, then Shovell had orders to detach part of his force, up to twenty-two ships, to reinforce Admiral Rooke.

Shovell’s plan was to take his squadron from a rendezvous at Plymouth to the location of the cruisers on the Soundings, to ascertain at that point whether the French fleet, under the command of the Comte de Toulouse, had left Brest. If there was no sign of Toulouse, Shovell would gather the combined fleet, which included merchantmen bound for the West Indies, and bring them into the Soundings. If there were still no sign of the French, he would take his ships to a point 140–150 leagues west or west-south-west of the Scilly Isles. Again, if there were no sign of enemy, the ships for the West Indies would be allowed to set off, while store ships would be despatched to replenish Sir George Rooke’s fleet at Lisbon.

On 15 May, Shovell’s fleet was positioned between the Lizard and Forne Head, with Revenge in the squadron commanded by Rear Admiral of the Red George Byng. Having come to the conclusion that Toulouse was probably at sea, the fleet then moved into the Soundings.

By 28 May, when there was still no sign of the French fleet, Shovell detached the major part of the fleet and set sail for Lisbon. This left the Westward end of the Channel under the command of Sir Stafford Fairborne, based at Portsmouth. At least two thirds of the Channel fleet, consisting of thirty-five English ships of the line and eleven Dutch, were based in the North Sea, leaving Fairborne and Kerr with the difficult task of defending a considerable area with limited resources. It was all the more difficult, in this game, to be on the defensive rather than on the offensive.

The French, for their part, could call on two large ships and two or three smaller ones under the command of Duguay-Trouin, and three large ships and three or four smaller ones under Saint-Pol.

The English cruisers in the Soundings focused on the safe passage of the merchant ships returning across the Atlantic, from Portugal and the West Indies.

In early July, Duguay-Trouin sailed from Brest with two large ships, Le Jason (54 guns), L’Auguste (54) and the corvette La Mouche. He was later joined by La Valeur (28) and some St Malo privateers.

When Kerr spotted the French on 15 July, he was cruising alone in the Revenge some 50 miles west of Scilly. Revenge first of all engaged Le Jason, over which the Revenge, with its 70 guns, should have had the advantage. After a battle of nearly two hours, Kerr noticed L’Auguste and three other ships approaching, and decided to break off the action and return to Plymouth. Fortunately for Kerr, although heavier than the French ships, the Revenge proved to be faster and managed to get away without further incident.

Having had the opportunity to lick his wounds, Kerr came out of Portsmouth on 20 July accompanied by the Falmouth (54), Captain Thomas Kenny. Three days later he captured the corvette La Mouche and the following day chased and fired at La Valeur.

After this display of bravado, when Kerr sighted Duguay-Trouin 150 miles west of the Lizard on 27 July, he once again appears to have become more circumspect. According to Kerr, the French detachment appeared to consist of ‘six tall ships’ and his reason for declining the opportunity of a fight was that he felt it would distract him from his primary duty, which was to protect the Virginia fleet and incoming trade.

This raises an interesting point with regard to the tactics of the cruising squadrons. Should they, considering their small numbers, have engaged the enemy more closely, whatever the cost, or should they have continued to maintain themselves as a deterrent force, only taking their opportunities when the odds were obviously in their favour? After his somewhat inconclusive wrangle with Le Jason on 15 July, Kerr was clearly of the opinion that it was best not to throw caution to the winds. His case was not helped by the fact that the French force turned out to consist of only two armed ships, Le Jason and L’Auguste, as well as some prizes.

The French, for their part, were also probably aware of the limitations of their force and did not appear to want to commit to a battle either, so the two sides tracked each other warily over the next two days until the French broke away on the 29th. The wisdom of Kerr’s tactic may be seen by the fact that he was able to sail to the west to meet a fleet arriving from Virginia.

At eight o’clock on 2 August, Kerr sighted some ships about whose identity he was unsure. In squally weather, he set a cautious course to the north until one of the ships hoisted English colours. The ship turned out to be the Salisbury, but Kerr was not fooled. The Salisbury, now renamed Le Salisbury, had been captured and was now part of the Dunkirk squadron.

Two more ‘tall ships’ now appeared to windward,3 which turned out to be the Moderate and the Gloucester. By this time the enemy were upon the Falmouth and, despite Kerr’s efforts to come to her aid in the Revenge, she was soon taken by a boarding party from a fifty-gun ship. Revenge engaged Le Salisbury and Le Jersey. According to the French account, it was L’Amphitrite that attacked the Falmouth, aided by L’Heroine. Captain Kenny of the Falmouth was mortally wounded.

Despite being supported by Kerr on the Revenge, the Moderate and the Gloucester did not make an appearance at this engagement, Captains Lumley and Meads having had several discussions on 4 August as to what to make of the ships they had sighted, sometimes disguised by fog. On 5 August, the Moderate and Gloucester engaged L’Auguste and Le Jason respectively, the battle continuing until midday, when the French broke away. Both the English ships then headed for Portsmouth where they joined the Revenge and the Mouche.

The French had turned the tables on the English and had beaten them at their own game. Faced with the challenge of patrolling a wide area of sea, the English had broken their ships up into small detachments, and indeed Revenge was sometimes on her own. This did not give them sufficient firepower when it came to engaging with the enemy and driving them off, and it also resulted in some rather tentative behaviour by the English commanders. If Captains Kerr and Kenny had been able to work together with Meads and Lumley, they could have formed a much more potent force that would have been likely to see the French off with somewhat less risk to themselves.

Although to some extent slamming the door after the horse had bolted, the Admiralty did order Fairborne to gather reinforcements from Portsmouth, Chatham and the North Sea. Kerr, whose original orders were to wait for the reinforcements at Plymouth, was later despatched to escort ninety incoming merchantmen from Oporto and Vianna in Portugal. The traders put in at Plymouth on the 11th and sailed again on the 13th for the Thames, accompanied by the Revenge, Medway, Exeter and Mary. The Medway captured two French privateer frigates off the Lizard.

Having fulfilled their duties to the Portuguese traders and escorted their prize home, the English squadron did not see action again until 4 September, when Kerr in the Revenge sighted seven sail, probably under Saint-Pol, and gave chase. As there was a gale blowing from the west, the Medway sprung her mainmast while the Mary’s fore-yard was carried away. Having lost his quarry, Kerr returned to Plymouth on 6 September.

When Kerr sailed again on 21 September, it was with Fairborne in the Exeter, along with the Rochester and Deptford. Fairborne sent a disgruntled note to the Secretary of State informing them that his ships were foul. The fleet was forced to put into Torbay due to a gale.

On 28 September, the squadron was at sea again under Fairborne and on 30 September they met a convoy of ships returning from the East Indies, which were escorted up the Channel by 7 October. Fairborne had eight major warships cruising off the Lizard and he spread six of them, including the Revenge, in a long line southwards between 11 and 22 October. Fairborne eventually returned to Plymouth on 28 October and went on leave.

The efforts to protect the valuable trade returning from England, and the important part played in this by the Revenge, showed how the times had changed. In this game, it was the daring French privateers, Duguay Trouin and Saint-Pol, who took on the parts once played to such effect by Francis Drake, Raleigh and Frobisher. It was the French who had the initiative, lying in wait for the rich pickings of heavily laden transports shepherded by scanty escorts, and were able to choose their moment to run in and take their prey by surprise while the English Channel cruisers might be miles away, patrolling in the wrong spot, by guesstimate or intuition.

In February 1942, the British home fleet and coastal defences, with all the benefits of radar and aircraft reconnaissance, were to be caught napping by the German Kriegsmarine, which slipped the pocket battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst up the Channel to their ports at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, the level of difficulty required in the eighteenth century to intercept raiders without such aids, who even when in sight were difficult to identify or who might be flying the wrong colours.

When the enemy was intercepted and correctly identified, there then arose the issue of whether the defending cruisers had the strength to engage them effectively, and all too often this proved to be seriously in doubt. The English tactics and organization proved to be at fault, for even when there were enough ships in the area to see the enemy off, complications in the chain of command and poor communications meant that the forces remained separated and weakened, as evinced by the fiasco on 2 August 1704.

In the context of this book, however, the conclusion is more heartening: Revenge was almost invariably on the scene, acting as a deterrent if not actually engaging the enemy. Like her first forebear, Revenge defended the English coast against all comers, not as part of a large fleet, but alone or in the company of two or three other ships. If the tactics were at fault, then at least there was some measure of success: most of the incoming trade reached home safely and the French were thwarted in their attempt to challenge the emerging maritime power of England.

As if to emphasize the point, on 21 September, Fairborne’s squadron had passed Sir George Rooke’s Grand Fleet which was returning from the successful action against Gibraltar. While Revenge had been defending home waters against the odds, a foundation stone had been laid for the extension of English naval power and maritime trade into the Mediterranean and beyond.

French Fifth Rate frigate ‘La Renommée’ (1744)

Discusses an armed frigate bearing 8-pdr guns. It is a unique ship because “La Renomm?e” was one of the first modern frigates to be built in 1744 according to Blaise Ollivier’s concepts. Aimed at experienced model builders who will be able to construct a model of rare quality, especially thanks to the beauty of this elegant frigate whose fine bottom and distinguished decoration do honor to French naval architecture. Text in French.

There were two ships called “Renommee” built in France, one in the 17 Century and this one in the 18 Century. Launched in 1744 at either Byrone or Brest, La Renommee was a one-off 40-gun ship designed by Antoine Groignard with 30 12-pounders and 10 8-pounder guns. She was captured by the British Navy (HMS Dover) 27 September, 1747 and converted into a 30-gun fifth-rate frigate as the HMS Renown and served until she was broken up in 1771. However, this type of frigate (French rating Coirvette) is very important in the evolution of ships of the British Navy because it inspired the development of a series of fifth-rate frigates equipped with only thirty guns of large caliber, all placed on the second deck. Few frigates of the mid-1700s displayed the sleek lines and advanced features of la Renommée (pronounced: reh-noh-may’), which was built in 1744 and carried eight pounders.

Sirène class (30-gun design of 1744 by Jacques-Luc Coulomb, with 26 x 8-pounder and 4 x 4-pounder guns).

Sirène, (launched 24 September 1744 at Brest) – captured by British Navy 1760, but not added to RN.Renommée, (launched 19 December 1744 at Brest) – captured by British Navy 27 September 1747, becoming HMS Renown.

Her unique nautical architecture influenced the future of ship design in England as well as in France. La Renommée sailed both sides of the Atlantic under the French and British ensigns for almost 27 years.


Operation Source: Midget Submarine Attack on the Tirpitz, 22 September 1943 Part I


On 27 March 1942, British commandos attacked and destroyed the Normandie dry dock at the French port of Saint-Nazaire. This action was undertaken to prevent the German battleship Tirpitz from sailing from her anchorage in Norway into the Atlantic and then seeking refuge at Saint-Nazaire. The Normandie dry dock was the only facility in the Atlantic capable of repairing the fifty-three-thousand-ton vessel, and the Germans would not risk exposing the Tirpitz to action without being assured of adequate repair facilities. Nonetheless, the Tirpitz, the sister ship of the Bismarck, still threatened the North Sea and required constant attention by both British and American forces to keep her in check.

After the raid on Saint-Nazaire, several plans were formulated to sink the Tirpitz in Norway, but by early 1943 Winston Churchill was getting impatient and wrote to his chief of staff, General Ismay, “Have you given up all plans for doing anything to Tirpitz while she is in Trondhjem? We heard a lot of talk about it five months ago, which all petered out. At least four or five plans were under consideration. It seems very discreditable that the Italians should show themselves so much better at attacking ships in harbour than we do … It is a terrible thing to think that this prize should be waiting and no one be able to think of a way of winning it.”

Unbeknownst to Churchill, the British admiralty had been working for two years on developing a midget submarine capable of penetrating the Norwegian fjords and winning the prize. In early May 1941 volunteers were recruited “for special and hazardous duty.” These men, including Lt. Don Cameron, who would later participate in Operation Source, were instrumental in the development and construction of the first operational X-craft. Originally conceived by Cromwell Varley of Varley Marine, Ltd., the X-craft midget submarine was constructed by three different shipbuilders who independently built the bow, center, and tail sections. Twenty other contractors were responsible for the internal workings of the craft. This distribution of effort resulted in a submarine whose “design was a little unsound in many respects.”

The first submarine available for trial was the X-3, built under extreme secrecy and launched on 19 March 1942. Upon completion of X-3’s trials, the midget submarine was sent by rail to the submariners’ new base at Port Bannatyne, Scotland, subsequently renamed HMS (His Majesty’s Station) Varbel. In the meantime, additional volunteers were recruited and began to be screened for suitability. They were sent to the submarine base HMS Dolphin at Gosport, England, where they underwent six weeks of screening that included physical training, six one-hour dives in a nearby lake, and “theoretical” courses on the X-3 submarine. Most of the men were unaware of the nature of the operation.

In mid-January 1943 six more midget submarines designated X-5 through X-10 were delivered. The 12th Submarine Flotilla was formed under Capt. W. E. Banks to coordinate with RAdm. C. B. Barry (whose title was Rear Admiral, Submarines) on the “ ‘training and material of special weapons’; and to his flotilla X-5-X-10 were attached, with Bonaventure [Acting Capt. P. Q. Roberts, R.N.] as their depot ship.”

The X-5 series was larger and better designed than the prototype X-3. It was fifty-one feet long and weighed thirty-five tons fully loaded. It had an external hull diameter of eight and one-half feet except directly under the periscope, where it extended an additional few inches. The internal space was significantly shorter and more cramped with a diameter of five feet, nine inches. The only place a man could stand up was underneath the periscope.

The craft was divided into four compartments. The forward space was the battery compartment that provided power for all electrical equipment in the X-craft, including the pumps, lights, and main motor. The second compartment was the wet/dry chamber and head (bathroom). This space was used to lock out the diver who would be tasked with cutting antisubmarine or antitorpedo nets. The third compartment was the control room. Inside this small space the crew piloted the X-craft by a simple system of wheels and levers that controlled the helm, hydroplanes, and main ballast tanks. The control room had two periscopes used by the conning officer; a short wide-angle periscope for night operations while surfaced, and a slender, telescopic attack periscope for while submerged daytime operations. The control room also served as the galley where the crew could heat up tin cans or boil a pot of water for tea or coffee. The aft compartment contained the main motor used for submerged propulsion and a London bus engine that normally propelled the X-craft on the surface but could be used for submerged operations at periscope depth.

Submerged, the craft cruised at two knots with a top speed of five and one-half knots. On the surface it could make six and a half knots depending on the sea state. Being a diesel submarine, the X-craft submerged only when absolutely necessary and spent most of the night surfaced to recharge batteries. When surfaced the captain would normally trim the craft so that it barely protruded above the water. This reduced the visual signature and radar cross section and allowed the captain to lie along the outer casing of the submarine and conn the craft from the surface. This technique, however, was seldom used for a variety of reasons.

The X-craft was capable of conducting dives to over three hundred feet, but most of the submerged cruising was around sixty feet. The midget submarine was equipped with two viewing ports that allowed the captain to observe the diver, who would normally stand on the X-craft while cutting through antitorpedo nets. These ports had steel shutters that could be closed during deep dives or depth charge attacks.

The X-craft was specifically designed to attack the Tirpitz at her berth in Norway, so it had no torpedoes, rockets, or surface guns. These weapons would be useless in a confined area like the fjord. The X-craft did come equipped with two side charges (referred to as side cargos), one on each side, each composed of two tons of amatol high explosive. The charges were contoured to the outer hull and made neutrally buoyant.

Thomas Gallagher explained in The X-Craft Raid that “when a side charge was released [by turning what looked like an ordinary steering wheel inside the X-craft], a copper strip between the hull and the charge peeled off, unsealing the buoyancy chamber and allowing enough water to enter to make the charge negatively buoyant.” The charge, now negatively buoyant, would sink to the bottom of the fjord below the Tirpitz. A timer was installed to allow the X-craft crew to dial in the desired delay and extract before the explosive detonated.

Admiral Godfrey Place, commander of X-7, was not completely satisfied with this configuration. “We at the time really thought … if we made the charge positively buoyant to go upwards it would stick to it [the Tirpitz] without any problem … we would really have preferred to have the charges floating upward, but the explosive experts claimed that it was better to send it [the side charge] down to the seabed to make the sort of tamping effect to create a vast explosion over a longer area. Our outlook was a little doubtful. We’d rather have blown a darn great hole in the thing.”

The biggest drawback of the midget submarine was its limited endurance. The published specifications indicated that the range was fifteen hundred miles at four knots, but in reality the range was limited by human duration. Although a crew of four was able to exist inside the craft for extended periods, they were not able to actually operate the controls for much farther than three hundred miles while submerged. The conditions were just too physically taxing. This forced the Royal Navy to tow the X-craft (with passage crews inside that merely maintained the depth) for the first twelve hundred miles from Scotland to the release point off the Norwegian coast. This towing effort presented several problems during the actual mission, but it was still felt to have been an effective way of getting the X-craft from Scotland to Norway.

During the course of the next several months, plans were prepared for attacking German shipping in three separate operational areas of Norway. This would allow for any change in German berthing plans. On 11 September 1943, six conventional submarines would tow the six X-craft from Loch Cairnbawn, Scotland, to a position 75 miles west of the Shetland Islands and then follow routes 20 miles apart until they were approximately 150 miles from Altenfjord. At this point the submarines would navigate to their assigned release points off Soroysund (Soroy Sound) and prepare to detach the X-craft. A change from passage to operational crew was authorized for any time past 17 September when the weather and tactical conditions allowed. The entrance to Soroysund was extensively mined by the Germans. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy planned the following:

“The X craft were to be slipped in positions 2 to 5 miles from the mined area after dusk on D Day [20 September], when they would cross the mined area on the surface and proceed via Stjernsund to Alten Fiord, bottoming during daylight hours on 21st September. All were to arrive off the entrance to Kaa Fiord at dawn 22nd September and then entering the Fleet anchorage, attack the targets for which they had been detailed. These would be allocated by signal during the passage, in the light of the most recent intelligence.”

The conventional submarines were to return to their patrol sectors and await the return of the X-craft. If no rendezvous were effected, the submarines were to proceed to one of the bays on the north coast of Soroy and attempt a link-up on the nights of 27–28 and 28–29 September. As a tertiary plan the X-craft crews were authorized to proceed to the Kola Bay in Russia, and a British minesweeper would be looking out for them between 25 September and 3 October.


The Tirpitz was commissioned in December 1940, but not actually completed until February 1941. She was the largest battleship of her time with an overall length of 822 feet and a beam of 118 feet. Fully loaded, the Tirpitz displaced fifty-three thousand tons with a draft of thirty-six feet. The ship was powered by twelve boilers in six separate compartments. These boilers produced 163,000 shaft horsepower, allowing the battleship to reach speeds in excess of thirty knots. Topside the Tirpitz was equipped with eight 15-inch guns and twelve 5.9-inch guns for surface action. For air defense she had sixteen 4.1-inch, sixteen 37mm, and eighty 20mm antiaircraft guns. Additionally, the Tirpitz carried four Arado reconnaissance and light-bomber aircraft.

Although the topside armament was impressive, it did not unduly concern the X-craft crews. What did matter to the planners of Operation Source was the Tirpitz’s hull, which was encased in twelve-inch steel at some locations. This steel band protected the battleship in strategic areas including her control room amidships, boilers and turbine rooms, gunnery control rooms, electrical controls, and magazines. This steel protection coupled with the interior steel bulkheads made the Tirpitz invulnerable to torpedo attack, and 5.9-inch steel decks protected her vital areas from high-altitude bombing. However, thirty-six feet below the waterline, the Tirpitz keel remained a soft underbelly. It was this weakness that the British hoped to exploit.

The Tirpitz and her battle group, which included the twenty-six-thousand-ton Scharnhorst and several destroyers, were berthed in Kaafjord, Norway, which was located well above the seventieth parallel and over twelve hundred miles from Scotland. Surrounded by steep, virtually treeless mountains, the fjord was fed by waters from the Gulf Stream, which kept it ice-free year around. For most of the year the ground was covered with snow, and the sun remained high on the horizon. When the snow did melt, it sent mountainous slabs of ice crashing into the water, creating a brackish environment of fresh and salt water.

Using the terrain as a natural fortress, the Germans placed radar stations and antiaircraft batteries on the mountaintops and flew fighter aircraft to protect the fleet from British bombers. In the fjords, the three islands of Stjernoy, Altafjord, and Altenfjord funneled intruders into a channel where antisubmarine nets were placed and picketboats patrolled the waters. As extra protection in the unlikely event that a submarine negotiated the channel or a dive-bomber attempted a suicide run in the Kaafjord Valley, an antitorpedo net surrounded the high-value targets preventing any possible damage. The net, which completely surrounded the Tirpitz, was constructed of woven steel grommets and was capable of stopping a torpedo moving at fifty knots. Based on aerial photos and reports from Norwegian resistance, British intelligence believed that the net only extended sixty feet down from the surface. It was not apparent that the Germans had actually constructed three nets, one that extended from the surface to 40 feet beneath the surface and two more that reached to the seabed 120 feet below. To augment all these precautions, the Germans added smoke screen equipment to conceal the battle group and patrolled the surrounding roads and villages to prevent Norwegian resistance from conducting reconnaissance or sabotage operations.

Intelligence on the target area was difficult to obtain. Kaafjord was well outside the combat radius of British-based aircraft. Consequently, the Royal Air Force (RAF) arranged to have the Soviets construct an airfield outside Murmansk. From here Mosquito reconnaissance planes, flown by the RAF, could photograph the fjord and develop the film immediately upon return to Russia. The processed film was returned to England via Catalina long-range aircraft. Norwegian resistance based at Kaafjord collected detailed intelligence on the daily habits of the officers and crew. They were able to determine picketboat patrol routes, identify net defenses, watch general-quarters drills, and most importantly ascertain the maintenance schedules of the guns and sonar equipment. The two main Norwegian agents were Torstein Raaby and Alfred Henningsen. After the war Raaby joined Thor Heyerdahl and the crew of Kon Tiki on their famous voyage across the Pacific, and Henningsen later became a member of the Norwegian parliament. Together these men compiled an accurate description of the target area and secretly transmitted the information back to England.


There were several men who distinguished themselves throughout Operation Source, but the two officers who received most of the credit for the mission’s success were Lts. Don Cameron and Godfrey Place. Both men received the Victoria Cross for the actions against the Tirpitz.

Cameron, after serving a year with the merchant navy, joined the Royal Navy Reserve on 22 August 1939. He spent another year in general service and then on 19 August 1940 received orders to HMS Dolphin, the submarine school in Gosport, England. Upon completion of submarine training, he reported to HMS Sturgeon at Blyth, spending the next nine months conducting operations in the North Sea. In May 1941, a call for volunteers sent Cameron back to HMS Dolphin where he joined in the development of the first X-craft, eventually commanding X-6 during the attack on the Tirpitz.

Throughout Operation Source Cameron kept a personal diary that provides a chronological account of the training and actual mission. Cameron was exceedingly dedicated to the cause for which the X-craft were built and employed, and he worried that during the course of the mission he might somehow fail that cause. He wrote, “I have that just-before-the-battle-mother feeling. Wonder how they [the crew)] will bear up under fire for the first time, and how I will behave though not under fire for the first time … I can’t help thinking what the feelings of my next of kin will be if I make a hash of the thing.”

His close friend Comdr. Richard Compton-Hall later said, “Like all of us, he was afraid of the unknown and especially of possible failure, of letting people down, rather than of being afraid of the enemy.”

Cameron and his crew, Lt. W. S. Meeke and Chief E. R. A. Richardson, were caught during the operation and imprisoned in a German POW camp for the remainder of the war. Cameron was repatriated in May 1945 and was subsequently assigned to HMS Surf as additional lieutenant. Following duty on the Surf, Cameron was assigned to several other submarines before he received command of the HMS Tiptoe in May 1947. Three years later he returned to HMS Dolphin and in 1951 took command of another submarine, the HMS Trump. In 1955 Cameron returned to HMS Dolphin for the final time and was assigned as Commander, Submarines. Although Cameron served many tours after the war with the submarine service, he never fully recovered from his wartime internment. His health, which had been poor prior to Operation Source, deteriorated in the POW camps. He died unexpectedly in 1962.

Godfrey Place was graduated from the Royal Navy’s college at Dartmouth and commissioned in September 1938. He received posting to submarines after serving on the cruiser HMS Newcastle. His initial submarine training began at HMS Elfin and upon completion in 1941, he was assigned as the spare officer at Saint Angleo. Later in 1941, Place received orders to the Polish submarine Sokol out of Malta. Upon his departure from Sokol, Place was awarded the Polish Cross of Valor for combat service. After several short tours, Place joined the crew of the HMS Unbeaten in February 1942. While on combat patrol in the eastern Mediterranean, Place brought Unbeaten to periscope depth only to find a German submarine directly off his bow. He later recalled, “I called the Captain and we went to diving stations. I think it was something like 45 seconds from first sighting to firing the torpedo, under continuous wheel [constantly maneuvering] and in fact we got two hits.” German airplanes escorting the submarine converged on Unbeaten and began to pursue her. The submarine lay on the bottom for twenty-four hours before she escaped. Place was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

In August 1942, he joined the 12th Submarine Flotilla and began training with the X-craft. One year later, as commander of X-7, he attacked and disabled the Tirpitz. Like Cameron, Place was captured during the action and was interned until May 1945. While in the POW camp, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Upon his return to England, Place left submarines and went on to become a pilot in the fleet air arm of the Royal Navy. He had a distinguished military career, being promoted to rear admiral on 7 January 1968. He retired in 1970 and was made a Companion of the Bath (C.B.).

Sen Taka Sho Type Medium Attack Submarine

The design for this class was developed using data from the experimental No. 71 to create a torpedo attack type with high underwater speed. It featured a streamlined hull, retractable deck fittings and weapons (including a snorkel), spring-loaded cover plates for limber holes, powerful electric motors, and a new high-capacity battery that enabled it to maintain full speed for up to 55 minutes followed by a cruise at 3 knots for up to 12 hours. The design was optimized for mass production with extensive use of prefabrication and an all-welded hull.

The design for this class was developed using data from the experimental No. 71 to create a torpedo attack type with high underwater speed. It featured a streamlined hull, retractable deck fittings and weapons (including a snorkel), spring-loaded cover plates for limber holes, powerful electric motors, and a new high-capacity battery that enabled it to maintain full speed for up to 55 minutes followed by a cruise at 3 knots for up to 12 hours. The design was optimized for mass production with extensive use of prefabrication and an all-welded hull.

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).

The Sen Taka I-201-class submarine took its name from an abbreviation of the Japanese words for “submarine” and “fast”, and it certainly lived up to that christening. It was the only World War II submarine that was easily a match for the German U-boat XXI and was superior to it in the three key areas of power, speed and weaponry.

The hull was fully welded and very carefully streamlined; no gun or other deck obstruction was allowed which might impair the under- water performance. Even the 25-mm (I-in) mount retracted into a streamlined housing in the conning tower. The whole design concentrated on underwater performance, and new electric motors were installed giving the vessels an underwater speed of 19 knots.

The maximum submerged depth achieved by the submarines was 110m (360 ft), the greatest depth achieved by a Japanese submarine. In many respects the vessels resembled the German Type XXI and when completed they were the first operational GUPPY type submarine in the world. Specially designed lightweight MAN diesels were used for surface propulsion, to keep displacement low. Only small bunkerage was pro- vided, and the surfaced radius of action was only 5800 nautical miles with an endurance of 25 days.

The Sen Taka stood out among the Japanese boats, which had something of a reputation for slow manoeuvrability and diving. The two 2,051 kW/2,750hp engines and streamlined welded hulls provided around 17 knots on the surface, but even more impressive was the coupling with heavy-duty battery cells supplying an impressive 3,728kW/5,000hp electric motor capable of achieving 19 knots – double the speed achieved by contemporary American designs. They were equipped with a snorkel, which allowed for underwater diesel operation while recharging batteries.

Eight boats were laid down, but only three were completed before the end of the war, and the commissioning came too late to see any operational activity. Construction employed full mass-pro- duction techniques, with the submarines assembled in section in factories, the completed sections being welded together on the slip. The whole operation from start to finish took on average only ten months. A total of 23 units were ordered from the Kure navy yard under the 1943 Programme, construction commencing in March 1944. A further 76 units were projected under the 1944 Programme, but the progress of the war and the decision to concentrate construction on suicide units led to the cancellation of I-209-122­ in 1945, and the l]nits in the 1944 Programme were never ordered at all. I-201 entered service on February 2, 1945, followed on February 12 by I-202 and on May 29 by I-203. I-204-208 were laid down but never completed and all the boats were surrendered at the end of the war.

The incoming Americans made sure they kept the Sen Taka secrets to themselves.

Two submarines, I-201 and I-203, were seized and inspected by the US Navy at the end of the hostilities. They were part of a group of four captured submarines, including the giant I-400 and I-401, which were sailed to Hawaii by US Navy technicians for further inspection.

On 26 March 1946, the US Navy decided to scuttle these captured Japanese submarines to prevent the technology from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. On 5 April 1946, I-202 was scuttled in Japanese waters. On 21 May 1946, I-203 was torpedoed and sunk by submarine USS Caiman off the Hawaiian Islands. On 23 May 1946, I-201 was torpedoed and sunk by USS Queenfish.

Ha201 Sen-Taka-Sho fast attack submarine

General characteristics
Displacement:1,290 t (1,270 long tons; 1,420 short tons) surfaced 1,503 t (1,479 long tons; 1,657 short tons) submerged
Length:79 m (259 ft) overall 59.2 m (194 ft) pressure hull
Beam:5.8 m (19 ft) pressure hull 9.2 m (30 ft) max. across stern fins
Height:7 m (23 ft) (keel to main deck)
Propulsion:Diesel-electric 2 × MAN Mk.1 diesel (Ma-Shiki 1 Gō diesel), build by Kawasaki and Mitsubishi. 2,750 hp (2,050 kW) 4 × electric motors, 5,000 hp (3,700 kW) at 600 rpm 2 shafts
Speed:15.75 knots (29.17 km/h) surfaced 19 knots (35 km/h) submerged
Range:15,000 nmi (28,000 km) at 6 knots (11 km/h) 7,800 nmi (14,400 km) at 11 knots (20 km/h) 5,800 nmi (10,700 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h) Submerged: 135 nmi (250 km) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
Test depth:110 m (360 ft)
Complement:31 (plan) approx. 50 (actual)
Armament:4 × 533 mm (21 in) bow torpedo tubes 10 × Type 95 torpedoes 2 × Type 96 25 mm AA guns