Snorkel?! Part I

Histories of the Battle of the Atlantic universally fail to appreciate the impact that the introduction of the snorkel had on the evolutionary shift in U-boat operations at the end of the war.

German U-boat histories of the Second World War are dominated by the period 1940–43 and written by, or about, veterans that never saw a single operational patrol in a snorkel-equipped U-boat. Out of the top twenty-five U-boat aces of the war, only one – Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock – commanded an operational snorkel-equipped U-boat. However, he did not take part in the inshore campaign during this cruise. Well-known U-boat commanders including Kretschmer, Lüth, Topp, Merten, Prien, Schepke, Witt and Lemp never experienced a patrol on a snorkel-equipped U-boat nor had any understanding of its potential.

Lothar-Günther Buchheim, author of the popular anti-war book Das Boot, never sailed on a snorkel-equipped U-boat. Yet he disparaged the device in his follow-on 1976 book Der U-Boot Krieg, even though he admitted ‘it was a life saver’. The U-boat force was given an ‘orthopedic contraption’, Buchheim stated colourfully, by leadership that called it an ‘epochmaking invention’. While Dönitz gave the snorkel device due credit in his post-war memoir, he also had no practical experience with the snorkel and spent only about twenty pages covering the period of the U-boat war from 1944–45. He longed only for the day his ‘wolves’ could return to the heyday of convoy warfare.

The problem in German U-boat veteran historiography is that no one grasped how the snorkel fundamentally altered the nature of submarine warfare. The potential resumption of anti-convoy operations remained paramount in the minds of Dönitz and his U-boat men because it recalled the heyday of success and brought meaning to the force’s sacrifices. However, there was never going to be a resumption of such operations because the challenge of submerged communications was never overcome during the war. Not even the introduction of the Type XXI ‘wonder weapon’ was going to change that fact. There was never a post-war survey by German naval historians of the impact of the snorkel within the U-boat fleet, leaving the broader understanding of the Battle of the Atlantic overwhelmingly distorted towards the earlier period of convoy battles.

Most British and American authors remain content to view the Battle of the Atlantic through the narrow optic of convoy warfare, and within that limited view argue that the U-boat as a weapon system was defeated in May 1943. Many opine that continued resistance by the U-boat force after May 1943 was folly, despite any wartime technical developments.

As an example, Ed Offley’s 2011 work, Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-Boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic, argues the well-worn thesis that the U-boat was defeated in May 1943 and forced to withdraw from the Atlantic. His view of the U-boat’s continued deployment during the following two years was that they served little purpose beyond ‘cannon fodder’. While he briefly discusses Dönitz’s actions to restore the U-boat force, he cites only the future development of the high-speed Electro-boats and Walter turbines, never once mentioning the snorkel. Offley, like many authors, is content to interpret the remaining years of the Battle of the Atlantic through the balance sheet of tonnage sunk versus U-boats destroyed.4 It is a victor’s perspective that offers little historical value.

Arguably, one of the most audacious attempts at solidifying the victor’s perspective of the Battle of the Atlantic came from former Second World War US Submarine veteran Clay Blair, who took a direct attack in his assessment of both the U-boat and its technology. He was determined to counter what he believed was a growing U-boat ‘mythos’ in the late 1980s and early ’90s, fuelled in popular literature by scores of U-boat veteran memoirs and movies such as Das Boot that found eager audiences in Great Britain and the United States. Blair published his two-volume history Hitler’s U-Boat War starting with Volume 1 in 1996 and continuing with Volume 2 in 1998. His scope was the U-boat itself and not just the convoy battles of the mid-Atlantic. In the foreword of his first volume he set a contrary tone regarding wartime technological advances in the U-boat force by dismissing any evolutionary value of the Type XXI offhandedly, despite the known benefits of its hull form and internal mechanics widely copied after the war by all major navies. He specifically dissected its snorkel apparatus into ‘imperfect’, ‘hazardous’ and ‘nightmarish’. In his second volume he addressed the introduction of the snorkel across the U-boat diesel force in counterfactual terms. He stated that the snorkel was ‘technically primitive’; only employed for one to four hours a day; a snorkelling U-boat was completely ‘deaf’ and could not use its radio receivers or hydrophones; a U-boat that snorkelled could not use its periscope; snorkels were prone to emit exhaust smoke; snorkels leaked carbon monoxide into the pressure hull; a snorkelling U-boat had no way to get rid of its waste; and arguably the most erroneous statement that ‘almost without exception, U-boat crews distrusted snorts and hated to use them’. All of Blair’s statements are gross exaggerations or counterfactual when compared against period primary documents. In Blair’s desire to diminish the evolutionary contribution to modern submarine development made by German wartime engineers, he asserted that the US Navy advanced into the nuclear-powered submarine age with such sophistication as to leave behind all ‘hopelessly archaic’ German technical innovations, like the snorkel. His amateurish historical assertions are contradicted by official US Navy technical assessments.

In the earliest published work on the last year of the Battle of the Atlantic, British naval historian V E Tarrant, writing in his 1994 book The Last Year of the Kriegsmarine, May 1944–May 1945, stated that the snorkel ‘was never welcomed by the majority of the U-boat crews’. His work on this critical, transformative period of the Battle of the Atlantic only focused on the building programmes related to the new Electro-boats and ignored the evolution of tactics and operations brought on by the snorkel. While American authors might be excused from understanding the snorkel’s impact, as snorkel-equipped U-boats only made an appearance off the US East Coast in the waning months of the war, the British, and to a lesser extent the Canadians, dealt with them for an entire year during the inshore campaign.

The point of view that the diesel U-boat was defeated in May 1943 as a weapon system and that the snorkel, unwelcome by U-boat crews, had little or no impact during the war is not corroborated by wartime or post-war primary documents. The diesel U-boat as a weapon system was not defeated in May 1943, only the surface-based Wolfpack tactics it employed against mid-Atlantic convoys. The U-boat survived, and even thrived with the introduction of the snorkel, as the Western Allies struggled to overcome the resurgent menace it had once thought defeated. While it is true that defeating the Wolfpack alleviated the single greatest threat to Great Britain’s survival and thus the Allied war effort, the introduction of the snorkel and shallow-water tactics diminished Ultra’s impact and continued to strain Allied resources. The idea of snorkel-equipped Type XXIs returning to the mid-Atlantic to reignite convoy warfare certainly was a threat that the Allies remained concerned about until the end of the war, but the reality was that BdU planned to send them individually to the coasts of North America and the United Kingdom to operate continually submerged close to Allied ports and within narrow channels and waterways. Surface-based Wolfpack tactics were gone forever.

Canadian maritime historian and former Wilfrid Laurier University professor Roger Sarty is one of the very few historians of the period who viewed the last twelve months of the Battle of the Atlantic through the filter of the snorkel’s impact. He wrote in his 1997 article ‘The Limits of Ultra: The Schnorchel U-boat Offensive Against North America, November 1944–January 1945’ that the:

Schnorchel caused profound difficulties for the Allied anti-submarine forces because of the change in U-boat tactics that the new equipment made possible. Submarines that neither signalled nor surfaced were safe from the radar-equipped aircraft that had long been the basis of the successful, economical defence of coastal waters … It soon became clear that protection of shipping against a single schnorchel boat well-situated in coastal waters required fully as many warships and even more aircraft than an active defence of a large convoy at mid-ocean against dozen of submarines.

Sarty was closer to historical reality than most authors writing of this period.

Wartime View

No Allied power endured the struggle against the German U-boat in the mid-Atlantic and along their coast more than Great Britain. In November 1944 Royal Navy Captain Clarence Howard-Johnson, who served as the Royal Navy’s Director of the Anti-U-boat Division, declared during the resurgent U-boat’s inshore campaign that:

The snorkel has had such far-reaching results that the whole character of the U-boat war has been altered in the enemy’s favour. Frequently he has managed to penetrate to and remain on our convoy routes in focal areas with impunity in spite of intensive air and surface patrols. With more experience in training and with the confidence engendered by his present immunity from air, and often from surface attack, he is likely, in the future, to do us more real harm than he has up to the present.

This was a sentiment echoed by Royal Navy Admiral Submarines Sir George Creasy, who directed British submarines to adopt the snorkel during the war on a limited trial basis in order to understand this innovation and how to counter the emerging threat. He soon recognised that there was no longer a future for the surface-bound submersible as the age of the true submarine was within technological sight.

The performance of the snorkel in the latter half of 1944 was so successful that the Ministry of Propaganda decided to capitalise on the technical innovation. The following radio broadcast aired on 22 March 1945 in conjunction with the release of Die Deutsche Wochenschau, which showed newsreel footage of the new snorkel-equipped U-boats. The snorkel was considered a ‘secret’ development for nearly a year and was now unveiled to the German public for the first time. It is a surprisingly accurate account of the Battle of the Atlantic:

The German public has learned about the new technical development of U-boat warfare for the first time from the report concerning the air mast of the U-boat, which appeared in the High Command communiqué. The facts now published were apparent already in the news of the past few weeks. When a number of U-boat commanders were decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross it was emphasised that they had won it in particularly difficult areas and on their first operational trip. Furthermore, on recommendation of Grand Admiral Dönitz, the Führer awarded the Knight’s Cross with Swords to Prof. Hellmuth Walter for his special merits in the technical development of the German U-boats. Lastly, the monthly declarations of Roosevelt and Churchill on the U-boat campaign as well as the speeches of Canadian and North American ministers of which we have given reports in our service, showed the enemy’s considerable anxiety about this steady increase of German U-boat successes …

It has been emphasised in the German reports that the latest successes were achieved not by an entirely new type of U-boat, but by boats of the type which have proved efficient during the period of 1941–1943, and which were fitted with the air mast to enable them to proceed continuously submerged …

Now also the U-boat crews, in spite of being severely strained physically by long months of submerged travelling, are effectively using their new technical equipment, above all in the most dangerous areas close to the enemy ports. In the shallow waters a U-boat, once discovered by the enemy, finds himself in a most difficult situation. But the men of the U-boats take upon themselves these dangers and losses because of the better chances of successes as at this stage every sinking of an enemy ship is particularly important. It is by no means intended to speak now prematurely of a ‘new large-scale U-boat offensive’. The reports on the air mast show, however, that important technical inventions have been made, with which we again overtake the enemy’s U-boat defence.

Compare the above propaganda broadcast to the actual Top Secret intelligence assessment by OP-20-G released just one month later on 20 April 1945 that stated plainly: ‘The last 46 days has seen a marked increase of U-boat pressure against allied shipping, despite the desperate situation in the Homeland and in the Baltic …’ This intelligence assessment issued just weeks before the end of the war in Europe is a clear testament to the fact that the U-boat was not a defeated weapon system. It had survived the ‘Black May’ of 1943 and remained a tactical, if not strategic, concern for the Allies.

Enigma ciphers were ordered changed as concern grew in BdU of their possible compromise. While some Enigma ciphers required days to break, significantly diminishing their value, others still had to be broken. Kurier – the new flash transmission system that could not be read by Allied cryptologists – was being increasingly employed.

Operational U-boat deployments increased to the highest level in more than a year. Allied ship sinkings were up and there was continued concern about the potential deployment of the Type XXIs. The largest concentration of U-boats in nearly three years arrived off the North American coast despite the knowledge of their movement through Ultra and the deployment of the single greatest anti-submarine screen employed by the US Navy in its history. What hampered the U-boat’s success continued to be the ability, though reduced, of Allied cryptologists to ascertain U-boat deployments and re-route convoys.

The final situation update of the U-boat force was written by OP-20-G’s Navy Reserve Lieutenant W V Quine on 2 May, just days before the end of the war. He noted that there were 192 U-boats in the Atlantic and Arctic, with 118 at sea and seventy-four in port. This was an increase of seven over the previous week. He assessed that:

As yet there is no sign of any serious break-up in the German naval organisation in the Baltic. The situation is still quite confused because of the continual transferring of [U-boats] out of the enemy’s reach in the rush to get [U-boats] finished for frontline operations. Orders, however, seem to be carried out effectively and the loss of [U-boats] appears to be relatively small.

Quine’s final assessment contained one of the last Ultra intercepts of the war that noted the singular importance of the snorkel. On 24 April a wireless message was intercepted that read ‘complete repairs, including installation of snorkel, in Rostock on 6 Type XXIII and in Wismar on 3 Type XXIII was assured’. With the Soviet Army surrounding Berlin, the US Army on the Elbe River and the British advancing on the main U-boat production facilities in north-west Germany, the U-boat force remained potent and organised. The installation of the snorkel remained one of the highest priorities for BdU, even in the last days of the war.

What a snorkel-equipped U-boat demonstrated during the war, too often lost on period historians, was that a submarine that didn’t surface and didn’t transmit by radio was almost impossible to track, find and destroy. It was a situation that foreshadowed the future of ‘Total Undersea Warfare’ in the atomic and nuclear age.


Technologies – The Schnorchel

Snorkel?! Part II

The German snorkel device revolutionised undersea warfare. The once surface-bound submersible was turned into a ‘true’ submarine capable of remaining submerged almost indefinitely. This late-war innovation frustrated Allied intelligence and anti-submarine search technology, well into the age of nuclear power. After World War II the snorkel was introduced by all navies around the world, most notably in the ever-expanding Soviet submarine force. In this photograph, Engineer Emil Hymowitz, Chief of the US Navy’s Search Radar Unit, pilots a captured German snorkel mounted on a sub-simulator around the Chesapeake Bay, in 1956. The German snorkel was used to test out new radar search systems designed to locate a snorkeling submarine during the Cold War.

The Legacy

In the post-war period the United States, Great Britain and Soviet Union exploited the significant lead in technology enjoyed by wartime Germany. Not all technology was exploited universally, as it depended greatly on the country’s strategic priority. Among the most sought-after technology was German designs for rockets, avionics and U-boats. It is a known fact that the final drive against north-west Germany by General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group was designed to prevent the Soviet Union from reaching Denmark and German ports in that area. The objective was to halt the Soviet advance at Wismar on the Baltic coast, which had the benefit of limiting their access to advanced German U-boat technology, specifically the Walter turbine.

Among the Western Allies it was the United Kingdom that took the lead in the exploitation of U-boats. Under the terms of Operation Eclipse, British forces occupied northern Germany to include all the U-boat production facilities and ports. They quickly gained access to engineers, captains and crewmen. Most of all surrendering U-boats fell into the hands of the Royal Navy, who initiated an immediate post-war testing programme. Among the main technological innovations studied and exploited was the snorkel. Their results were passed on to the United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships, who also evaluated the wartime German innovation with great interest.

The US Navy’s post-war assessment of the snorkel was clear. It had to be adopted, even though the Navy’s two-cycle diesel engines could not be retrofitted with the device outright, and that improvements had to be made based on German wartime experiences:

Engine must be designed for snorkelling upfront. Do not implement exhaust drive superchargers. Extensible mast as designed was technically not viable. Folding mast was better. Designs should be made to prevent periscope vibration at high snorkelling speeds. Power-operated head valve for the induction system was required. Design should minimise resistance in the raised and housed position of the snorkel mast. Apply anti-radar coverings to the snorkel head. Remove the maximum amount of moisture from the air intake. Automatic depth control was not necessary but useful to avoid crew strain during long underwater patrols.

It was the snorkel that was the prerequisite for the modern submarine, as former defence analyst and submarine historian Dr Norman Friedman wrote in his book US Submarines since 1945.

The first US submarine that tested the snorkel was the Irex (SS-482). Within eighteen months of the end of the war the US Navy had completed designs for the modern telescoping snorkel. The Irex was ordered to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for a retrofit in December 1946, followed by operational testing of the device. The Irex conducted snorkel testing from July 1947 until February 1948. After a successful evaluation, the Irex joined Submarine Squadron 8 at New London as the US Navy’s first operational snorkel submarine.

The US Navy did in fact adopt a telescoping snorkel despite its own recommendation to pursue a folding mast design. Initially the US Navy installed two separate masts, one for induction and one for exhaust. The induction mast led into a moisture separator and then into the main engine induction valve via a 22in pipe. Each diesel engine exhaust led directly into an uptake, exiting the submarine either through a car-type muffler or the snorkel exhaust trunk. Later, the US Navy reverted to the original German snorkel design and combined induction and exhaust pipes into a single mast when they began to retrofit their own submarine fleet through the ‘Greater Underwater Propulsion Program’, otherwise known as the ‘GUPPY’. The GUPPY was the first US submarine that operated with a snorkel.

The US Navy’s 1961 edition of its submarine technical training manual known as NAVPERS 16160-B The Submarine, issued to all crew members of the new GUPPY modified submarines, offered unusually high praise to their former German enemy nearly twenty years after the end of the war with the following commentary on the snorkel. The Introduction to Chapter 15’s ‘The Snorkel System’ reads:

The theory of the snorkel had been known for several years; but, it was not until 1943 that the German Navy converted such theory into practical operation … the German Navy perfected snorkel designs and incorporated the device in their submarines. This move increased the efficiency and success of German underseas craft immeasurably.’

Contrary to almost all post-war histories of the German U-boat force and the Battle of the Atlantic, the US Navy understood the snorkel’s impact during the war and its evolutionary role in submarine warfare. The US Navy ensured their own submariners knew this as well.

The snorkel began to transform US Navy submarine operations in the Cold War era. Intelligence gathering became a new, if not critical, component to its mission. In 1949 the snorkel-retrofitted Fleet Submarines Cochino (SS-345) and Tusk (SS-426) entered the Barents Sea. Cochino was also equipped with a version of the GHG Balkon passive sonar. Its goal was to conduct the first intelligence-gathering mission close to the coast of Russia; a task that could only be accomplished by a snorkel-equipped submarine. Unfortunately, Cochino experienced a snorkel defect like some of its German U-boat counterparts did during the war. In rough seas the submarine was unable to maintain trim while snorkelling and the snorkel valve failed to close when it was submerged. Water rushed in and a series of unfortunate events unfolded that resulted in a build-up of toxic gas and a battery explosion. While the crew was rescued after a fourteen-hour fight to save the sub, the Cochino was lost. It sunk on 26 August 1949, some five years after the first German snorkel-equipped U-boat entered the English Channel.

The snorkel remained a key component of post-war submarine design even into the nuclear age (despite the counterfactual claims of Blair). The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, also included a snorkel as a back-up to get the submarine home without surfacing in the case the nuclear reactor failed. In the modern submarine age surfacing meant the loss of the submarine’s most critical asset – invisibility. Once a submarine breached the surface it lost the element of surprise, but a snorkel provided the ability to remain submerged even in a crisis onboard the boat. The future of submarine warfare meant never operating on the surface. This was the embodiment of Walter’s Ortungskampf (battle of location concept) he championed during the war.

The Royal Navy adopted the snorkel during the end of the war, as they saw its potential to alter the course of the U-boat campaign. They needed to understand it, and how it functioned, both technically and tactically. Before the end of the war the Admiralty ordered that one U, S, T, and A Class submarine be equipped with a snorkel. Experiments continued by the Royal Navy well into the post-war period.

The Admiralty already had an eye towards the potential Soviet threat, and they were quick to exploit German naval technology and scientists. The Royal Navy had two main exploitation priorities regarding U-boats. Like the US Navy, they were the snorkel and Type XXI design. Unlike the US Navy, which already had an eye towards nuclear power, the Royal Navy’s third priority was Walter’s hydrogen peroxide closed propulsion system.

The Royal Navy’s secret intelligence unit, the 30 Assault Group, entered Kiel and immediately located Dr Walter at his home next to his factory and design offices. Along with Walter came some 50,000 pages of microfilm recordings in six boxes that he had buried in a secret location on the north coast. The original documents had been burned. These documents covered the entire technical development of German U-boats through the war. Along with the British came US Navy Captain Albert Mumma, originally of the Alsos Mission (looking for German nuclear, chemical and biological weapons research), and in the last days of the war part of the US Navy’s Technical Mission Europe. He was one of the seventy-five-man task force that captured Kiel.

Walter was interrogated extensively after the war. He informed his interrogators that he saw no future for a submarine that operated on the surface and that all design functions must be subordinated to that purpose. It was a vision he himself set on this course with the introduction of the snorkel, the Type XXI and the Walter Prototype. The Royal Navy adopted Walter’s design.

The Admiralty moved quickly to locate and raise the U-1407 hydrogen peroxide-equipped Type XVII to keep it from the Soviets. Testing was carried out in Kiel between August and September 1945 of the Walter turbine U-boats by Walter and his staff of engineers under the watchful eyes of the Royal and U.S Naval officers. After the successful trial in Kiel harbour the British offered Walter and a small group of his trusted engineers’ contracts to go and work for them in England. U-1406 was provided to the US Navy, but they did not operate that U-boat after quickly deciding to pursue nuclear propulsion instead of the Walter turbine. The U-1407 was refitted by Vickers under the guidance of Walter himself in 1947. In 1948, U-1407 was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite and went through extensive operational testing off the coast of Scotland.

The Royal Navy concluded that while the Meteorite was unstable on the surface, it was ‘outstanding’ underwater and that its high speed, which came at a high cost in fuel, was best employed in escape underwater as originally envisioned by Walter during the war. The Royal Navy went on to commission HMS Explorer and HMS Excalibur to conduct underwater speed trials based on the principles of the Type XXVI. These hydrogen peroxide submarines achieved the underwater speeds of 25 knots that Walter had theorised was possible during the war. The Royal Navy concluded on their own that the diesel submarine fleet had reached its limits of endurance and speed. Walter’s ideas had been vindicated by the very Royal Navy his designs had hoped to defeat. Admiral Creasy stated of Walter’s design that ‘we stand on the threshold of very considerable technical development …’

Despite the efforts of the British to keep the most advanced U-boat technology out of Soviet hands, they failed. The Red Army had seized two unfinished Type XXIs, U-3528 and U-3542, at Schichau on the Baltic coast, Walter’s central design office for the Type XVIIB and XXVI at Blankenburg, and the Bruchner-Kanis factory that produced the Walter turbines in Dresden and at Weinrieb in Chemnitz. It was assessed by the Western Allies that one turbine of 2,500 shaft horsepower and one of 7,500shp were acquired by the Soviets. Beyond the new U-boat designs, the Soviets captured plans for advanced German torpedoes, internal electronics, the GHG passive sonar array and German technical experts themselves. This was cause for alarm at the highest levels in the US Navy.

Under the code name Medusa, two Soviet research institutes, Andreev and Krylov, adopted the German U-boat research and begin to pursue it at an accelerated rate in 1947–48. The Soviets soon adopted the advanced German designs and specifically the snorkel apparatus in their ocean-going Whiskey and coastal Malyutka-class submarines. The Whiskey class had already been designed before the end of the war as an improvement to the existing ‘S’ class, but German U-boat technology was quickly retrofitted. The Whiskey class was produced in more numbers than any other submarine in history, surpassing even the German Type VIIC.

The Soviets went on to develop the S 99 (Project 617) in 1951, known in NATO circles as Whale, which was a near exact copy of the German U-boat Type XXVI. With the help of captured German engineers, the Leningrad-Shuvalovo shipyard developed the first 7,500hp hydrogen peroxide engine for the Soviet Navy. The first operational tests began in June 1952. It was later commissioned into the Soviet Navy in 1956 and achieved an underwater speed of 20 knots, making it the fastest submarine in the Soviet fleet at that time. An explosion on the high-pressure line ended its brief career and it was decommissioned as the Soviet Navy shifted from hydrogen peroxide to nuclear power. However, the hull form and underwater principles it derived from building Walter’s Type XXVI were all carried forward into the next generation of Soviet submarines.

The Soviet Navy took an immediate interest in adopting Alberich and furthering the concepts of acoustic camouflage. While the US and, specifically the Royal Navy, were keen to understand Alberich from the perspective of countering its capability, the technical problems of adhesive turned both western naval powers off from further pursuit. The Soviets applied their version of a rubberised coating to both their Whiskey and smaller Malyutka-class submarines. The coatings were initially applied to the exterior hull, however, the Soviets began to pursue the German innovation of applying it on internal surfaces, to include their double hull, in order to reduce the transmission of sound.

Starting with the first Soviet nuclear submarines of the Project 627/November Class, almost all Soviet combat submarines were coated with what modern naval architects call anechoic tiles. Shock absorbers were also installed to reduce engine vibrations. While acoustic dampening was not a priority, creating an atmosphere capable of supporting a crew for fifty days without surfacing was. It was an endurance objective that mirrored the submerged U-boat operations in the last year of the war achieved through the snorkel.

Soviet investment in submarine technology continued at an extraordinary rate through the 1980s. A 1988 Naval Proceedings article argued that, based on developmental trends, the Soviets would all but overtake the US in advanced designs by 2000. The fact that the Soviets had mastered the process of acoustic camouflage introduced by the Germans became evident in the recovery operations of the downed Kursk (K-141) in 2000.

On 12 August 2000 the Russian Navy’s Oscar-II class nuclear-powered cruise-missile submarine suffered a catastrophic explosion from a hydrogen peroxide-fuelled Type 65 practice torpedo. Hydrogen peroxide, it should be noted, was the key component of Walter’s closed-circuit turbine engines. Its cost and highly volatile nature when exposed to an accelerant such as oxygen were among the main reasons that both the US and Royal Navies abandoned it after 1950. The explosion collapsed the first three compartments of the submarine, sending it to the bottom in 108m of water in the Barents Sea.

British and Norwegian undersea salvage experts led the search team looking for the stricken Kursk. They were given its precise co-ordinates by the Russian Navy. At 4.26am on Sunday, 20 August an ROV was lowered down from the Seaway Eagle to 300ft, just 75ft off the seabed, and its active sonar turned on. As the ROV’s sonar began to sweep for the stricken Russian submarine the British operators could not find the Kursk. It wasn’t there. According to the ROV operator ‘the sonar received absolutely no signal. The Kursk had apparently vanished.’ Confusion reigned onboard the search vessel. Numerous search passes were made over the location of the Kursk until finally a faint ‘ping’ was returned. The seven-bladed massive twin bronze propellers, standing high off the seabed, were the only physical component of the submarine that gave away the Kursk’s location. According to the ROV operator, ‘confusion turned to amazement as the men realised that the acoustic tiles on the outer hull of the Kursk were so effective that they had been absorbing the ROV’s active sonar signals’.

The Soviet Navy enjoyed a thirty-year lead in the operational employment of Alberich, known today as ‘anechoic tiles’. The US and Royal Navies did not start applying such tiles until the 1980s. The first US submarine coated was the USS Batfish in 1980, but the US Navy did not systematically adopt the technology until 1988. Even today the US Navy faces ongoing struggles with adhesive properties, as evinced in the recent reports about the Virginia Class ‘mould-in-place’ urethane coating.

Walter’s concepts continued in the post-war Federal German Navy. The introduction of the German Type 212 class submarine in 2003 ushered in the most advanced non-nuclear submarine in operation today. This highly advanced design developed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) features both diesel propulsion and an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system using Siemens proton exchange membrane (PEM) compressed hydrogen fuel cells. The Type 212A can operate at high speed on diesel power or switch to the AIP system for silent slow cruising, staying submerged for up to three weeks without surfacing or using its snorkel. According to Doug Thomes, writing in the Canadian Naval Review:

The second of class U-32 set a record in April 2006 when it conducted an uninterrupted dived transit from the Baltic to Rota Spain, a distance of 1,500 nautical miles in two weeks. These vessels are very stealthy by virtue of their lack of a need to snorkel and are much more habitable than their predecessors: the accommodation improvements have enabled the abandonment of the German practice of hot bunking for the first time and there are now dining and working spaces separated from the sleeping quarters.

The Type 212A hull design and composite material make it one of their quietest and hardest to detect submarines in the world. The X-shape stern design allows it to operate in coastal water as shallow as 17m. A direct line can be drawn to the Type 212 and subsequent 214 and 216s from the effective wartime performance of the Type XXIIIs in shallow water.

It remains a testament to German wartime innovation and engineering that almost all modern submarines, whether diesel or nuclear powered, are equipped with a version of the snorkel, and some with anechoic tiles. All strive to remain unseen and undetected in Walter’s vision of ‘Total Undersea War’ ushered in after the introduction of the snorkel into the U-boat fleet at the end of 1943.

River Class frigate

Designed as ocean-going escorts with a range of 12970 km (8,060 miles), the ‘Rivers’ were at first fitted with almost totally superfluous minesweeping gear. Once this was eliminated from the design, oil storage rose from 440 tons to 646 tons, with a consequent improvement in endurance.

As in the case of the United States, the British also pursued the construction of escort destroyers for ASW and AA defense roles. These duties were deemed extremely important by British naval officials in the event of a war with Germany and had been foreseen by October 1938. Great Britain was the pioneer of the escort destroyer type through the production between 1939 and 1940 of the 23 Hunt-class escort destroyers. A Hunt-class ship measured 280 feet by 29 feet by 12 feet, 6 inches and displaced 1,000 tons. The vessel was armed with four 4-inch guns in single mounts and four 2- pounder pom-pom weapons. Most lacked any torpedo battery. This was the result of the fact that the ship was designed specifically for the protection of convoys against submarines. The Hunt-class units carried an impressive ASW armament that totaled between 50 and 110 depth charges. The turbine engines of one of these ships produced 28 knots. By the end of the war, the British launched three more batches of escort destroyers that were improved Hunt-class ships. In total, the Royal Navy operated 86 vessels of the Hunt-class design.

Supplementing these vessels were the frigates of the Royal Navy. Great Britain pioneered the design of frigates with the River class, first launched in 1942. A River-class vessel measured 301 feet, 4 inches by 36 feet, 8 inches by 11 feet, 10 inches and displaced between 1,310 tons and 1,460 tons. Its armament consisted of only two 4-inch guns, but it possessed a large ASW battery. This consisted of a Hedgehog and 126 depth charges mounted primarily in racks. The large amount of antisubmarine ordnance is evidence of the fact that the frigate of the Royal Navy, like that of the United States, was intended solely for use against submarines while escorting merchantmen. Great Britain built several classes following that of the original River type. By the end of the war, the Royal Navy operated 349 escort destroyers and frigates.

With the limitations of the ‘Flowers’ readily apparent, the Admiralty rapidly produced a design for a larger ‘twin-screw corvette’ which became known as the ‘River’ class. (The term ‘frigate’ was not officially reintroduced until 1942). Overall they were about 28.30m(93 ft) longer than the later ‘Flowers’ and this made a very great difference in seakeeping, bunker capacity, installed power and armament, Between 1942 and 1944 some 57 were launched in the UK, 70 in Canada and 11 in Australia.

The hull had the raised forecastle extended well aft, with a low quarterdeck for the depth-charge gear and the minesweeping equipment with which too many useful escorts were cluttered at that time. They were the first ships to be fitted as standard with the Hedgehog anti-submarine spigot mortar which, with new sonar gear, made for a more rapid and accurate attack. The Hedgehog was originally sited well forward and was thus extremely exposed, but later units had the weapon split into two 12-bomb throwers which were sited one deck higher, winged out abaft the forward 101.6-mm (4-in) gun. Longer endurance demanded a larger depth charge capacity, and up to 200 could be carried, compared with a maximum of 70 on the ‘Flowers’.

Though not developed from a mercantile hull form the ‘Rivers’ were built to mercantile standards, which speeded construction. They featured a flat transom, which not only obviated much of the complex curvature of traditionally-shaped sterns but also actually improved the hull hydrodynamics. It is noteworthy that over half the ‘Rivers’ were Canadian-built (with more ships coming from Australia) and it is probably all too easily overlooked how magnificent a contribution the Canadian yards and the Royal Canadian Navy made to victory in the Atlantic. Most Canadian-built units had a twin 101.6-mm mounting forward and a single 12-pdr aft. They also had their full outfit of 14 20-mm weapons, which British-built ships rarely achieved. The machinery was simply that of the ‘Flowers’ doubled, though drawing steam from more efficient water-tube boilers. Four ships only were built with steam turbines, which were not generally adopted as a result of shortages of components. The ‘Rivers’ were highly successful, but most of the survivors (seven were sunk in the war) had been scrapped by the mid-1950s. Further ‘Rivers’, to a slightly modified design, were built by the Americans as the ‘PF’ type; of these 21 served in the Royal Navy as the ‘Colony’ class.

River Class Frigates

Adur* (K269), Rother (K224), Spey (K246), Swale (K217), Tay (K232), Exe (K92), Waveney (K248), Test (K239), Wear (K230), Jed (K235), Lagan (K259), Kale (K241), Ness (K219), Itchen (K227), Moyola (K260), Teviot (K222), Nith (K215), Cuckmere (K299), Trent (K243), Tweed (K250), Mourne (K261), Bann (K256), Dart (K21), Derg (K257), Ribble (K525), Ettrick (K254), Strule (originally Glenarm) (K258), Ballinderry (K255), Chelmer (K221), Deveron (K265), Nene (K270), Plym (K271), Towey (K294), Helford (K252), Fal (K266), Tavy (K272), Usk (K295) (ii), Aire (K262), Tees (K293), Helmsdale (K253), Windrush (K370), Meon (K269), Braid (K263), Cam (K264), Wye (K371), Dovey (K523), Torridge (K292), Odzani (K356), Avon (K97), Taff (K637), Nadder (K392), Lochy (K365), Monnow (K441), Teme (K458), Awe (K526), Halladale (K471), Annan (K404).

*Transferred immediately to the United States Navy and did not enter service.

River class frigates were first mooted in late 1940 when it was realised that something larger would be better suited for the Atlantic convoys – and a higher speed of 22 knots was also considered desirable. The River class were built to merchant ship practice, and like the Flower class used triple expansion steam engines, although with two rather than the single engine of the Flowers. Minesweeping gear was usually fitted.

General characteristics RN group I
Displacement:1,370 long tons (1,390 t; 1,530 short tons) 1,830 long tons (1,860 t; 2,050 short tons) (deep load)
Length:283 ft (86.3 m) p/p 301.25 ft (91.8 m)o/a
Beam:36 ft 6 in (11.1 m)
Draught:9 ft (2.7 m); 13 ft (4.0 m) (deep load)
Propulsion:2 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 2 shafts, reciprocating vertical triple expansion, 5,500 ihp (4,100 kW) (except Cam, Chelmer, Ettrick, Halladale, Helmsdale, and Tweed; Parsons single reduction steam turbines, 6,500 shp (4,800 kW)
Speed:20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) 20.5 knots (38.0 km/h; 23.6 mph) (turbine ships)
Range:7,200 nautical miles (13,300 km; 8,300 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) with;440 long tons (450 t; 490 short tons) oil fuel
Armament:2 × QF 4 in (102 mm) /40 Mk.XIX guns, single mounts CP Mk.XXIII Up to 10 × QF 20 mm Oerlikon A/A on twin mounts Mk.V and single mounts Mk.III 1 × Hedgehog 24 spigot A/S projector 8 x depth charge throwers, 2 x rails, Up to 150 depth charges
General characteristics (RN group II)
Range:646 long tons (656 t; 724 short tons) oil fuel; 7,500 nautical miles (13,890 km) at 15 knots (27.8 km/h)
Notes:Other data per RN group I
General characteristics (RCN group)
Displacement:1,445 long tons (1,468 t; 1,618 short tons) 2,110 long tons (2,140 t; 2,360 short tons) (deep load)
Range:646 long tons (656 t; 724 short tons) oil fuel; 7,500 nautical miles (13,890 km) at 15 knots (27.8 km/h)
Armament:2 × QF 4-inch (101.6 mm) XVI guns on twin mount HA/LA Mk.XIX 1 × QF 12-pdr 12 cwt (3-inch (76.20 mm)) Mk. V gun on mounting HA/LA Mk.IX (not all ships) 8 × 20 mm QF Oerlikon A/A on twin mounts Mk.V 1 × Hedgehog 24 spigot A/S projector Up to 150 depth charges
Notes:Other data per RN group I
General characteristics (RAN group I)
Displacement:1,420 long tons (1,440 t; 1,590 short tons) 2,020 long tons (2,050 t; 2,260 short tons) (deep load)
Range:500 long tons (510 t; 560 short tons) oil fuel; 5,180 nautical miles (9,593 km) at 12 knots (22.2 km/h)
Armament:2 × QF 4-inch (101.6 mm) Mk.XVI guns, single mounts HA/LA Mk.XX 8 × QF 20 mm Oerlikon, single mounts Mk.III, later; 3 × QF 40 mm Bofors, single mounts Mk.VII 4 × QF 20 mm Oerlikon, twin mounts Mk.V 1 × Hedgehog 24 spigot A/S projector Up to 50 depth charges
Notes:Other data per RN group I
General characteristics (RAN group II)
Displacement:1,545 long tons (1,570 t; 1,730 short tons) 2,185 long tons (2,220 t; 2,447 short tons)
Armament:4 × QF 4-inch (101.6 mm) Mk.XVI guns, twin mounts HA/LA Mk.XIX 3 × QF 40 mm Bofors, single mounts Mk.VII 4 × QF 20 mm Oerlikon, twin mounts Mk.V 1 × Hedgehog 24 spigot A/S projector Up to 50 depth charges
Notes:Other data per RAN group I

The Sad Eagle: Oryol

Oryol: Eagle in Russian. Assigned to Second Pacific Squadron in 1904. Surrendered at Tsushima. Refitted by Japan. Commissioned in Japanese Navy as Iwami in 1907. Rated as a coastal defense ship in 1912. Served in Pacific during World War I and Russian Revolution, participating in siege of Tsingtao and Japanese Russian Intervention. Training ship in 1921. Stricken 1922. Sunk as a target or scrapped in 1924.

Oryol (Russian: Орёл, “Eagle”; also Orel, Orël) was a Borodino-class battleship built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. The ship was completed after the start of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904 and was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron sent to the Far East six months later to break the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur. The Japanese captured the port while the squadron was in transit and their destination was changed to Vladivostok. Oryol was badly damaged during the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905 and surrendered to the Japanese, who put her into service under the name of Iwami.

Reconstructed by the Japanese in 1905–1907, Iwami was reclassified by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a coastal defense ship in 1912. She participated in the Battle of Tsingtao at the beginning of World War I and supported the Japanese troops that landed in Siberia in 1918 during the Russian Civil War. Iwami was used as a training ship beginning in September 1921. The ship was disarmed in 1922 to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sunk as a target ship two years later.


Construction began on Oryol (Eagle) on 7 November 1899 at the Baltic Works in Saint Petersburg. The ship was laid down on 1 June 1900 and launched on 19 July 1902, in the presence of the Emperor.[6] While fitting out in Kronstadt in May 1904 in preparation for the installation of her armor, some temporary sheathing was removed that allowed water to enter and sank the ship five days later. The water was pumped out and the ship refloated without incident. She was completed in October 1904 at the cost of 13,404,000 rubles.

On 15 October 1904, Oryol set sail for Port Arthur from Libau along with the other vessels of the Second Pacific Squadron, under the overall command of Vice Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky.[10] Rozhestvensky led his squadron down the Atlantic coast of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and reached the island of Nosy Be off the north-west coast of Madagascar on 9 January 1905 where they remained for two months while Rozhestvensky finalized his coaling arrangements. The squadron sailed for Camranh Bay, French Indochina, on 16 March and reached it almost a month later to await the obsolete ships of the 3rd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov. The latter ships reached Camranh Bay on 9 May and the combined force sailed for Vladivostok on 14 May. With all of the additional coal and other supplies loaded for the lengthy voyage, the ship was 1,785 long tons (1,814 t) overweight; most of which was stored high in the ship and reduced her stability. The most important aspect of this, however, was that the additional weight completely submerged the ship’s main armor belt.

Tsushima Strait

Rozhestvensky decided to take the most direct route to Vladivostok using the Tsushima Strait and was intercepted by the Japanese battlefleet under the command of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on 27 May 1905. At the beginning of the battle, Oryol was the last ship in line of the 1st Division, which consisted of all four Borodino-class battleships under Rozhestvensky’s direct command. The ship fired the first shots of the Battle of Tsushima when the ship’s captain, Nikolay Yung, ordered her to open fire at a Japanese cruiser that was shadowing the Russian formation at a range of 9,000 meters (9,800 yd). Rozhestvensky had not given any pre-battle instructions to the fleet covering this situation, but he ordered Yung to cease fire after 30 rounds had been fired without effect.

Oryol was not heavily engaged during the early part of the battle, but she was set on fire by Japanese shells during this time. About an hour after the battle began, the Japanese cruiser Chihaya fired two torpedoes at a ship that may have been Oryol, although both torpedoes missed. The Russian formation had become disordered during the early part of the battle and Oryol was second in line after her sister Borodino by 16:00. The Japanese battleships generally concentrated their fire on Borodino during this time and sank her around 19:30. Oryol was hit a number of times as well, but was not seriously damaged.

Oryol took the lead after Borodino was sunk; she was joined by Nebogatov’s Second Division after Tōgō ordered the Japanese battleships to disengage in the gathering darkness. Nebogatov assumed command of the remains of the fleet and they continued towards Vladivostok. The ships were discovered by the Japanese early the following morning and attacked by Tōgō’s battleships around 10:00. The faster Japanese ships stayed beyond the range at which Nebogatov’s ships could effectively reply and he decided to surrender his ships at 10:30 as he could neither return fire nor close the range. The ship was formally stricken from the Navy List on 13 September 1905.

During the battle, Oryol was probably hit by five 12-inch, two 10-inch (254 mm), nine 8-inch (203 mm), thirty-nine 6-inch shells, and 21 smaller rounds or fragments. Although the ship had many large holes in the unarmored portions of her side, she was only moderately damaged as all of the four (one 12-inch and three 6-inch) shells that hit her side armor failed to penetrate. The left gun of her forward 12-inch turret had been struck by an 8-inch shell that broke off its muzzle and another 8-inch shell struck the roof of the rear 12-inch turret and forced it down, which limited the maximum elevation of the left gun. Two 6-inch gun turrets had been jammed by hits from 8-inch shells and one of them had been burnt out by an ammunition fire. Another turret had been damaged by a 12-inch shell that struck its supporting tube. Splinters from two 6-inch shells entered the conning tower and wounded Yung badly enough that he later died of his wounds. Casualties totaled 43 crewmen killed and approximately 80 wounded.

Borodino class

In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.

The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.

The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.

Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.


Although Morosini held overall command of Venetian forces, it would be Königsmarck who led most of the successful land campaigns.


Although Swedish, Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck was born in Minden, Northern Germany, where his mother had been accompanying his father on military campaigns. Following these campaigns, the family resided in Stade, where Königsmarck was privately educated before attending the University of Jena. He later undertook the Grand Tour, visiting many places in Europe.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Königsmarck became a military man and rose to the rank of Field Marshall, commanding Swedish forces at the Battle of Stralsund in 1678 during the Scanian War. He became the Governor of Swedish Pomerania in 1679. Königsmarck would later join Francesco Morosini during the Morean War, commanding Venetian land forces until his death from the plague in 1688.

In 1685, Konigsmarck took service with the Republic of Venice. Alongside the Doge of Venice, Francesco Morosini, he led the Venetian conquest of the Morea in the early years of the Morean War 1684- 1699 between Venice and the Ottoman Empire as commander of the Venetian land forces. He served in this role when Venetian artillery fire in 1687 accidentally destroyed major parts of the Parthenon, which the Ottoman Turks used for ammunition storage.

Swedish field commander General Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck wrote later: “How it dismayed His Excellency to destroy the beautiful temple which had existed three thousand years!”. By contrast Morosini, described it in his report to the Venetian government as a “fortunate shot”.

Mixed fleets of galleys and sailing ships dominated operation during the Morean War (1684- 99). Both sides found mixed forces of galleys and sailing warships were essential to support land operations. The stowage capacity of sailing ships made long-distance cruises more sustainable, such as the periodic Venetian blockades of the Dardenelles and speculative coastal raiding.

The first real Ottoman three-decker was a 108 gun ship commissioned in 1697 and participated in the last naval battles of the First Morean War (1684-99).

In 1684, the Venetian battleships effectively defended the lines of communication between Morea and the Holy League ports, but could not catch the Turkish galley forces which supported and reinforced the garrisons. Likewise, the Turks found that their galleys could not successfully attack Christian sailing warships. In 1690, 26 Turkish galleys failed to capture three Venetian warships which had been isolated during a lull in the winds.

Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck [German]

The Constellation Class Frigates

Artist rendering of the final Constellation-class design

Jan 14, 2021

U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy just issued an update on its Constellation-class frigate program.

The guided missile frigates will enter the fleet starting in 2026.

The multi-mission ships will also eventually displace the failed Littoral Combat Ship program.

The U.S. Navy has issued a briefing on a new fleet of frigates set to enter service in the mid-2020s. The Constellation-class frigates, based on an Italian design, give the Navy the opportunity to bulk up with relatively inexpensive ships and shake off decades of bad shipbuilding choices.

The Constellation-class frigates are named after one of the first six warships to join the Navy. The second ship in the class, Congress, is named after another one of the original six. (One of the ships, USS Constitution, is still afloat and technically still part of the Navy.)

The Constellation ships are multi-mission ships that are capable of anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare (anti-ship and land attack), and anti-air warfare (anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and now anti-drone) missions.

Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri based the design on the Italian FREMM-class frigates and heavily modified it to use American sensors and weapons. The frigates will be built at Marinette Marine Corporation in Wisconsin, which means they will initially be freshwater ships that must travel through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway to enter the Atlantic Ocean.

Constellation and her sister ships will be 496 feet long, displace 7,200 tons in the water fully loaded, and sail with a 200-person crew. The eyes and ears of the ship will consist of the AN/SPY-6 radar system for detecting aerial threats and the AN/SQQ-89(V)16 sonar system for spotting subsurface threats. Both are capable of not only defending the ship, but a larger, multi-ship task force as a whole, such as a carrier strike group or amphibious expeditionary strike group.

The new ships will be heavily armed for their size, packing both guns and missiles. The ships will be armed with an Mk. 110 57-millimeter rapid fire deck gun that can engage ships, aircraft, drones, and even incoming missiles. The frigates will also include an Mk. 49 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) point defense missile system for downing aerial threats at short range. A hangar and flight deck will service a MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and uncrewed aerial vehicles.

Each Constellation-class frigate will carry 16 Naval Strike Missiles—twice as many dedicated anti-ship missiles as any other surface ship.

The most powerful part of the Constellation’s armament, however, is the ship’s 32 Mk. 41 vertical launch system silos.

Each silo can carry one vertical launch anti-submarine rocket, one SM-2 or SM-6 surface-to-air missile, or one Tomahawk land attack cruise missile. The silos can even conceivably carry the Navy’s larger Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or four smaller Evolved Sea Sparrow short-range air defense missiles.

The Navy can mix and match missiles to fit a ship’s mission. For example, a ship operating as part of a supply convoy could load up on anti-submarine rockets, while a frigate supporting an amphibious landing could optimize its missile load to defend lightly armed transports and bombard enemy defenses with Tomahawk missiles.

The Constellation-class frigates are the Navy’s chance to bulk up its ship fleet in a relatively inexpensive way. The Navy wants to get from its current fleet of 297 ships to 355 or even 400 ships, but the extreme cost of today’s warships (and an aging ship fleet) are making it a “three steps forward, two steps back” process. Buying cheap, capable ships like Constellation is one way to get to the magic 355 number.

The new frigate class is also the Navy’s chance to show it can actually make smart choices when it comes to warships.

The last two decades were littered with poor shipbuilding decisions. The Zumwalt-class destroyers were too expensive and eventually shrunk from 32 ships to just three. The Littoral Combat Ships, frigate-sized vessels designed to operate in coastal regions, suffer from technical issues, and the swappable “mission modules” designed to arm and equip them are largely unavailable after more than a decade of research and development. And the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s first new carrier design in 40 years, suffers from cost overruns and poor readiness as a result of being loaded with unproven technology.

The Navy will initially build 20 Constellation ships. If the design is successful, the service will almost certainly order more—perhaps as many as 50 or more frigates in all.


Real-Time Intelligence: What, How, Where, When?

Who knows what in sufficient time to make effective use of the news – that is as good a definition of ‘real-time’ intelligence, the gold standard of modern information practice, as is possible – was not often a military consideration in the classical world or even the age of Wellington. Alexander, Caesar, Wellington all operated within the peculiar constraint, to the modern way of thinking, of very slow communication speed over any distance not to be covered by a running man or a galloping horse. The best harkaras were credited with a speed of a hundred miles in twenty-four hours, but sceptics thought fifty more realistic. The modern marathon, whose runners achieve twenty-six miles in about three hours, gives a better indication of the nature of real-time intelligence before the coming of electricity. The armies, and navies, of the pre-electricity age operated within an intelligence horizon of considerably less than a hundred miles. Hence the enormous importance attached by the commanders of the past to strategic intelligence: the character of the enemy, the size and capability of his force, its dispositions, the nature of the terrain in his operational area and, more generally, the human and natural resources on which his military organisation depended. It was from guesses based on such factors that generals of the pre-modern world made their plans. ‘Real-time’ intelligence – where the enemy was yesterday, in which direction his columns were headed, where he might realistically be expected today – was arcane information, rarely to be collected on a real battlefield. As late as 1914, ten divisions of French cavalry, beating the Franco-German-Belgian border for nearly a fortnight, altogether failed to detect the advance of several million German troops. French reconnaissance forces failed again in the same area in 1940. Strategic intelligence is a desirable commodity. It rarely, however, brings advantage in actual time and space. For that, something else is necessary. What exactly is it? How is it possible to assure that the key questions, what, how, where and when, are answered to our advantage, not the enemy’s?

The acquisition of real-time intelligence requires, first of all, that the commander should have access to means of communication that considerably outstrip in speed that of the enemy’s movement over the ground, or water. Until the nineteenth century, the margin of superiority was very small. The marching speed of an army, reckoned at three miles per hour, was exceeded by that of a scout’s horse perhaps six times; but a scout had to make an outward as well as return journey, so the margin was halved. In the interval between scouts making contact with the enemy and returning, moreover, the enemy might advance, reducing the margin still further. Little wonder that surprise was so difficult to achieve in ancient campaigns. When it was, as spectacularly by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in 1071, the reason was often treachery or a total failure to reconnoitre, or both. At Manzikert the Byzantine army’s cavalry screen deserted, leaving the commander blind.

Manzikert was an ‘encounter’ battle, with both armies advancing simultaneously. More typical was the situation in which an advancing army ran into the outposts of an army standing on the defence. They automatically raised the alarm and, not having to go out and back, as in encounter operations, but back only, could give early warning. Wellington, for example, during the Waterloo campaign was, though strategically surprised, not so tactically. The French ran into his outposts, allowed him to fight a delaying battle at Quatre Bras on 16 June and to retire on to a previously reconnoitred main position at Waterloo two days later.

Surprise was equally as difficult to achieve at sea as it was on land until recent times. Indeed, the traditional problem in naval warfare was for opposing fleets to find each other at all. Hence the tendency for naval battles to occur in narrow waters, or ‘the shipping lanes’, often in areas where battles had occurred before. In theory, with the invention of the telegraphic flag code at the beginning of the nineteenth century, an admiral, by disposing his ships at the maximum limit of intervisibility – intervals of twelve miles – could, if his chain were long enough, create an early-warning screen which would cover several hundred miles of ocean. In practice admirals never had enough ships; and anyhow they preferred to keep those they had concentrated, for the danger of being brought to battle dispersed outweighed that of being surprised. An admiral surprised with his ships within range of recall could form line of battle; an admiral with his ships scattered on reconnaissance beyond quick recall had no such hope. Not until the invention of wireless telegraphy at the beginning of the twentieth century, and its adoption by war fleets, could admirals truly begin to command the far seas. Even then, old habits died hard. Sailors like to see.

Sight is, of course, the principal and most immediate medium of real-time intelligence. It was so in the pre-telegraphic age and it has become so again in the age of electronic visual display. In the intervening period, which embraces the invention of the electric telegraph in the middle of the nineteenth century and its supersession by radio at the beginning of the twentieth, hearing acquired a superior status. It still enjoys something like parity. Radio in all its forms is an essential tool of military communication. Strategically it has become less important than the written message electronically communicated, by fax or e-mail. Tactically, it predominates, by immediacy and urgency. In the heat of engagement, voice-to-voice communication between commander and the front line, and in the opposite direction, is what makes battles work, a reality not altered since Caesar took personal, front-line control of the Tenth Legion against the Nervii on the River Sambre in 57 BC. ‘Calling to the centurions by name, and shouting encouragement to the rest’, Caesar transformed the tempo of the battle, shifting the psychological advantage to the Roman side and assuring the defeat of the Gauls.

The golden age of heard communication – the dot-dash of Morse telegraphy, the human voice of radio transmission – was comparatively short. It lasted in the military arena from about 1850 until the end of the twentieth century. It was a period punctuated by grave and frustrating blanks, particularly during the First World War, when the intensity of bombardment on the fixed fronts of west and east broke cable communication as soon as mobile operations began and the signal services had not yet succeeded in acquiring compact radios independent of cumbersome power supplies. Intelligence in real time became an impossibility. Commanders lost voice, indeed any other contact, with their forward troops over the shortest distances and battles degenerated into directionless turmoil.

Not so at sea. Because of the ready availability of powerful electric current in turbine-propelled warships, radio communication within fleets and between their component units had become standard by 1914. There were difficulties; lack of directionality in contemporary transmitting sets made for interference, so intense in fleet actions that admirals continued to depend upon flag hoists to control their squadrons. Nevertheless, it had become clear by 1918 that the future of naval communications lay with radio.

Not, however, with radio telegraphy (R/T), as voice broadcasts were denoted to differentiate them from wireless telegraphy (W/T) in Morse code. R/T is insecure; the enemy overhearing it is as well informed as the intended recipient. Protection is possible, through very high-frequency (VHF) directional transmission, as in the Talk Between Ships (TBS) system used by anti-submarine escorts to great effect during the Battle of the Atlantic; but it is intrinsically short-range, as a secure means of speech. The only safe way of sending messages over long distances by radio wave is through encryption, effectively a return to W/T. Paradoxically, therefore, the flexibility and immediacy allowed by voice radio was denied, both strategically and, except in limited circumstances, tactically, by its insecurity. While the control of naval warfare became, as the twentieth century drew on, increasingly electronic, through the rise of such derivatives of radio as radar, sonar and high-frequency direction-finding (HF/DF), high-level, long-range communication remained stuck at the level of wireless telegraphy, because of the need to encrypt or encode, the resulting message being sent by Morse.

That imposed delay, which was why, though the same imperatives should have applied to army and air force communications, soldiers and airmen, caught up in the dynamics of close-range combat when time was too short to encrypt or encode, broadcast freely by voice radio. Tactical codes were developed – the British army’s Slidex, for example – but even Slidex took time. In the cockpit of a single-seat fighter, any form of encryption was impossible. All armies and air forces therefore set up tactical overhearing services, called ‘Y’ by the British, which listened in to the tactical voice radio transmissions of their opponents. Y frequently supplied battlefield intelligence of high value. During the Battle of Britain, for example, the British intercept stations were able to anticipate the warning of air raids supplied by the Home Chain radar stations by overhearing the chatter of Luftwaffe aircrew forming up before take-off on their French airfields.

Y was nevertheless of limited and local military value. Important radio communications were, from the First World War onwards, always encrypted or encoded and only a combatant equipped to render secret writing into plain text could hope to do battle on equal terms with the enemy. The competence of the major powers varied, between themselves and also over time. In the forty-five-year struggle between the Germans and the British during the twentieth century, for example, the Germans unknowingly lost the security of their naval codes early during the First World War and did not regain it. The British, partly by capture and partly by intellectual effort, were able to reconstruct their enemy’s book codes in 1914 and thereafter to read high-level German communications at will. In the aftermath of the war, hubris – a repetitive influence on secret communication – led the British to believe their own book codes impenetrable, while the Germans during the 1930s both broke the British book codes, an intrinsically insecure means of secret writing, and adopted a machine cipher system, Enigma, which would resist the attack of its enemies’ cryptanalysts – Polish, French and British – until well into the course of the Second World War. The Polish success in breaking Enigma before 1939 was negated before the outbreak of war by German variation of their machine encryption.

There are other means of acquiring intelligence in real time besides seeing and hearing, notably through the indirect sight provided by photographic intelligence and, today, satellite surveillance; human intelligence – humint, or spying – can, in certain circumstances, also convey critically urgent information. Both, however, are prone to delay and defect. Images, however acquired, need interpretation; they are often ambiguous and can cause experts to disagree. Thus, for example, photographic evidence brought back to Britain from the German pilotless weapons development station at Peenemünde during 1943 did show both the V-2 rocket and the V-1 flying bomb. The weapons went unrecognised for some time, however, in the first case because the interpretation officers did not recognise the rocket in its upright, launching position, in the second because the image of the V-1 was so small – less than two millimetres across – that it was missed. Yet the pilotless weapon photographic evidence was comparatively clear and was supported by other intelligence which told the interpreters what it was that they should be seeking to identify. They knew they were looking for ‘rockets’ and miniature aircraft; even so they failed to recognise the evidence before their own eyes. How much more difficult is image interpretation when the interpreters do not know exactly what the evidence will resemble when they see it: the hideouts of al-Qaeda terrorists, the bunkers of illegal Iraqi weapon development centres. The intelligence of imagery is frustratingly rich – many needles but in a vast haystack.

Human intelligence may suffer from different limitations, including, first, practical difficulty in communicating with base at effective speed and, second, inability to convince base of the importance of the information sent. The world of human intelligence is so wrapped about with myth that any clear judgement about its usefulness is difficult to establish. It does seem, however, that, for example, the Israeli foreign intelligence service was running an ‘agent in place’ at a high level in Egypt before that country’s attack on Israel in 1973. Because the Egyptian government dithered over the decision to attack, the agent sent a succession of self-cancelling reports, with the result that, when the attack came, the Israeli army had gone off high alert. True or not, the story leaves unresolved the question of how the agent was able to communicate in real time. The case of Richard Sorge was entirely different; he was both highly placed and well equipped to communicate, by clandestine radio. His difficulty – of which he was unaware – was to secure a hearing. Sorge, a committed Communist and long-term Comintern agent, had established himself before the Second World War in Tokyo as the respected correspondent of a German newspaper. As a German native and citizen, thought to be entirely patriotic, he became intimate with the staff of the German embassy, passed on information about Japanese affairs the diplomats found useful and eventually began to assist the ambassador in drafting his reports to Berlin. As a result, he was able to send the assurance to Moscow, during the terrible summer of 1941, that Japan did not intend to assist its German ally by attacking the Soviet Union through Siberia. He had earlier sent convincing warning of Germany’s intention to invade and had even identified the correct date, 22 June. Stalin had received other warnings, including one from Churchill, but chose to ignore them, as he ignored that of Sorge. The idea of war was too uncomfortable; Stalin preferred to believe that he could buy Germany off, by fulfilling delivery of strategic materials, including oil. As to the assurance that Japan would not invade Siberia, the evidence is that Stalin had moved a large portion of the Soviet garrison out of Siberia before the attack of 22 June and that Sorge’s warning, even if heeded, was not the critical strategic intelligence it seemed to be.

Other celebrated human intelligence organisations of the Second World War, the ‘Red Orchestra’ in Germany and the ‘Lucy Ring’ in Switzerland, also lack credibility as media of real-time intelligence, though for different reasons. Sorge is almost unique among identified operators in the world of humint by reason of his undoubted access to information of high quality and his ability to forward it speedily to base. The Red Orchestra, a coterie of left-inclined Germans of superior social standing, was a dilettante organisation, led by a Luftwaffe officer with a double-barrelled name, who seem to have been animated by the excitement of misbehaviour. They transmitted little of importance to Moscow, betrayed themselves by lack of elementary security precautions and were rapidly rolled up the Gestapo. The information supplied by the Lucy Ring – in reality an individual called Rudolf Roessler – to Moscow from Switzerland during the war seems largely to have been derived from his study of the German press. The rest was fed to him by the Swiss, who maintained contacts with the German Abwehr. The Swiss feared that a German victory would lead to the incorporation of their country into a greater Reich; the Abwehr was adept at playing a double, if impenetrable game. Roessler may have belonged to that colourful gang of fantasists who enriched themselves, at the expense of the secret service budgets of many countries, throughout the Second World War. In any case, he lacked a radio link to Moscow.

The ability to communicate, quickly and securely, is at the heart of real-time intelligence practice. It is rarely enjoyed by the agent, that man of mystery who figures so centrally in the fictional literature of espionage. Real agents are at their most vulnerable when they attempt – by dead letter box, microdot insertions in seemingly innocent correspondence, meetings with couriers, most of all by radio transmitter – to reach their spymasters. The biographies of real agents are ultimately almost always a story of betrayal by communication failure. A high proportion of the Special Operation Executive (SOE) agents in France during the Second World War were discovered by German radio counter-intelligence; the same was true of those operating in Belgium while, as has become well known, at one stage all agents dropped into Holland were collected on site by German manipulators of the SOE radio network. Even when counter-intelligence is deplorably lax, as in the notorious ‘Missing Diplomats’ case, the certainty of Donald Maclean’s guilt was finally established, even if retrospectively, by his habit of leaving Washington to meet his Soviet controller in New York twice a week.

It is the intrinsic difficulty of communication, even, indeed above all, for the agent with ‘access’, which limits his – or occasionally her – usefulness in real time. By contrast, the enemy’s own encrypted communications, if they can quickly be broken, will, of their nature, provide intelligence of high quality in real time.

The history of ‘how, what, where, when’ in military intelligence is therefore largely one of signal intelligence. Not exclusively; human intelligence has played its part and so, latterly, has photographic and surveillance intelligence. In principle, however, it is the unsuspected overhearings of the enemy’s own signals which have revealed his intentions and capabilities to his opponent and so allowed counter-measures to be taken in time.

It has become part of the conventional wisdom that intelligence is the necessary key to success in military operations. A wise opinion would be that intelligence, while generally necessary, is not a sufficient means to victory. Decision in war is always the result of a fight and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge. Let those who disagree show otherwise.

Now remember, now that we know that KAOS is in possession of the stolen plans, what we have to find out is how they intend to smuggle them out of the country and when.

Maxwell Smart:
Yes. Well, what you’re saying, Chief is that now that we know how, all we have to do is find out who, when and where.

No, forget about where. When we find out how, we’ll know where.

Maxwell Smart:
Well, how will how tell us where?

If it’s going by boat, it’s probably going to Richelieu’s salon in Beirut, which is a safe port. If it’s going by plane, it’ll probably go to his salon in Damascus. You understand?

Maxwell Smart:
Yes, I understand Chief, but I don’t think I quite agree with you. You see all you’ve told me is that we know how but we don’t know who, when or where. So that tells us that we don’t know anything.

[blinks] What?

Maxwell Smart:
Well, we know who, and that doesn’t tell us when, so why should how tell us where?

Max, you’re driving me crazy.

Maxwell Smart:

Don’t say that word!

Maxwell Smart:

The British Mediterranean Fleet 1940-41

A Legend in her lifetime.” The beautiful H.M.S Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship of the Royal Navy, in Tanz’ 1942

With Italy in the war, France knocked out, and a question mark hanging over the French fleet, whose main units had steamed to French North Africa, the British position in the Mediterranean was critical, particularly so because its central base, Malta, was inadequately defended against air attack from Sicilian air bases only a hundred miles to the north, and its eastern base, Alexandria, was threatened by Italian forces in Libya. However the decision was taken to hold the Mediterranean, the French heavy ships were destroyed or neutralized by gunfire, air attack and (in one case) negotiation, and during the following months the British Mediterranean Fleet gave a remarkable demonstration of one of the favourite recurring themes of the historical school, the supreme importance of moral factors and training over purely material factors; its commander-in-chief, A. B. Cunningham, was an ‘offensive’ admiral in the most triumphant British tradition, the ships had been superbly trained between the wars.

The first engagement occurred off the toe of Italy in July 1940 soon after the actions against the French heavy ships. Cunningham was flying his flag in the modernized ‘Queen Elizabeth’ class battleship, Warspite, with one other unmodernized ship of the same class, another unmodernized and even slower veteran of the First War, Royal Sovereign, and the small aircraft carrier, Eagle. He was covering two convoys. An Italian squadron headed by two battleships was meanwhile covering an Italian convoy to North Africa. As Cunningham recalled afterwards, the action which resulted ‘followed almost exactly the lines of the battles we used to fight out on the table at the Tactical School at Portsmouth’. The Italian heavy ships were first sighted by long range reconnaissance aircraft from the Eagle, their position, course and speed were reported back, a strike force of torpedo bombers went in to attack—in the event unsuccessfully—and the British cruisers, spreading on a line of bearing ahead of the battle fleet, pressed in and were engaged by the enemy cruisers as they made visual contact. Shortly afterwards the Warspite came into action at 26,000 yards range against the Italian flagship, Guilio Cesare, a First War ship which had been modernized in the thirties with ten 12.6-inch guns on high-angle mountings which permitted long range fire. Her fire and that of her similar consort was excellent and the Warspite was soon straddled; however, the Warspite’s salvoes, flashing out in rapid ranging ladders, were also straddling in short time and seven minutes after the main action opened she scored first: Cunningham saw ‘the great orange-coloured flash of a heavy explosion at the base of the enemy flagship’s funnels. It was followed by an upheaval of smoke and I knew that she had been heavily hit at the prodigious range of 13 miles.’ The Italian Admiral then broke off the engagement under cover of smoke. Cunningham followed, but his squadron speed was too slow and as he approached the Italian coast and came under heavy bombing attack from the Italian Air Force, he gave up the chase.

Here let me settle once and for all the question of the efficiency of the Italian bombing and general air work over the sea . . . To us at the time it appeared that they had some squadrons specially trained for anti-ship work. Their reconnaissance was highly efficient and seldom failed to find and report our ships at sea. The bombers invariably arrived within an hour or two. They carried out high level attacks from about 12,000 feet pressed home in formation in the face of the heavy AA fire of the fleet, and for this type of attack their accuracy was very great. We were fortunate to escape being hit . . .

This first action in the Italian war had important consequences; the single hit by the Warspite reinforced the moral ascendancy that the British fleet already had over the Italian fleet, who never thereafter stood to receive the fire of British battleships. From Cunningham’s point of view, it demonstrated the need for at least one other modernized ship which could fire at the range at which the Warspite had been straddled, and the need for a larger carrier than the Eagle to provide fighter cover over the fleet. He asked for both, and the following month received the modernized ‘Queen Elizabeth’ class battleship, Valiant, the new fleet carrier, Illustrious, which had an armoured flight deck and capacity for 70 aircraft, also two anti-aircraft cruisers fitted with radio direction finding (radar) apparatus. These essential tools for detecting and meeting any air threat over the fleet shifted the balance against the Italians, and Cunningham established a remarkable surface command over the Mediterranean; however, this did not make it possible to push merchant convoys through the narrow sea without loss from air or submarine attack, and the shipping route through the Mediterranean was closed to British merchant ships apart from those needed to supply the fleet base at Malta. Practically all British supplies for the land campaign against Italian North Africa had to go the long way round the Cape—as did shipping serving India, Australasia and the East. As for Italian shipping supplies for their North African army, these naturally had to come through the Mediterranean; the quantity that arrived safely was, throughout the campaign, inversely proportional to the British ability to operate naval and air forces from Malta, itself largely dependant on British control of the air over Malta. It is clear from this that air power had completely upset the literal interpretation of Mahan battlefleet theory; surface command based on battleships was no longer adequate for real command at sea.

Towards the end of the year there was a more dramatic demonstration of this: the main strength of the Italian fleet, including four modernized First War battleships and two new 15-inch gun, 30-knot battleships of the ‘Littorio’ class which should have tipped the balance of surface power decisively against the British fleet, was lying in the fortified harbour of Taranto when Cunningham launched an aircraft torpedo strike against them from the carrier, Illustrious. Although a number of other aircraft were involved in the operation, first in reconnaissance, then in flare-dropping and diversionary bombing attacks, the number of torpedo planes was only 20; these took off from the carrier in the evening of 11 November 1940 in two waves, flew 170 miles to Taranto and pressing in under balloon defence in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire scored a total of six hits, four on the new Littorio (later re-named Italia) and one on each of the modernized older battleships Duilio and Cavour, sinking all three at their moorings for the loss of only two planes. It was, as Cunningham remarked, an unprecedented example of economy of force; he wrote afterwards:

November 11th-12th, 1940 should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy had its most devastating weapon. In a total flying time of about six and a half hours—carrier to carrier—twenty aircraft had inflicted more damage upon the Italian fleet than was inflicted upon the German High Seas Fleet in the daylight action at the Battle of Jutland.

The lesson was not lost on the Japanese, nor for that matter on the Germans. Since their earlier comparative failures at bombing ship targets they had trained several dive bombing squadrons up to extraordinary standards of precision against ships and at the end of 1940 these were sent to the Mediterranean to relieve their Italian allies by attacking Cunningham’s fleet. It is significant that in their first major assault against the fleet at sea they concentrated on the carrier, Illustrious, almost to the exclusion of the battleships.

At times she was completely hidden in a forest of great bomb splashes. One was too interested in this new form of dive-bombing attack really to be frightened, and there was no doubt that we were watching complete experts. Formed roughly in a large circle over the fleet they peeled off one by one when reaching the attacking position . . . The attacks were pressed home to point blank range and as they pulled out of their dives some of them were seen to fly along the flight deck of the Illustrious below the level of her funnel.

The carrier suffered six hits and several near misses in short time, and was put out of action, only her armoured deck saving her from complete destruction; however, she managed to limp into Malta after dark, and later she escaped to Alexandria from where she was sent to America to be repaired fully. Her sister ship, Formidable, was ordered to the Mediterranean, but in the meantime Cunningham had lost command over the central basin, and Malta came under attack and siege from the air which virtually neutralized it as a fleet base.

The major surface action in the Mediterranean occurred three months later at the end of March 1941. Aircraft reconnaissance revealed that an Italian fleet headed by their new ‘Littorio’ class battleship, Vittorio Veneto, and several powerful 8-inch gun cruisers was steaming into the eastern part of the Mediterranean to attack British convoys, and Cunningham set out to intercept with a powerful force of three ‘Queen Elizabeths’, the Warspite (flag), Barham and Valiant, followed in the line by the Formidable. As in the earlier action off the toe of Italy the engagement followed the pattern anticipated in pre-war tactical instruction, at least in the early stages: first the Formidable’s reconnaissance aircraft reported the enemy forces, then the British cruiser squadron ahead of the battle fleet made contact with the enemy cruiser and battleship divisions, and then Cunningham sent in a carrier strike force to relieve the cruisers, also to slow the Vittorio Veneto so that his battleships could bring her to action. In the event the torpedo planes failed to obtain any hits, but the Italian forces made off westward for home. It is interesting that before the British cruisers were relieved, the Vittorio Veneto had been straddling them at the remarkable distance of 16 miles, and they had to retreat under cover of smoke and snake the line to avoid very close shooting; this was approximately twice the range at which Beatty’s advanced cruiser division had twisted from the fire of the High Seas Fleet at Jutland.

The action then settled into a chase, with the Italians some 60 miles ahead and Cunningham sending off air strike forces to try and slow them; five torpedo planes attacked the Italian battleship scoring one hit—20 per cent success—and six attacked a cruiser division in the evening also scoring one hit—16 per cent. These hits slowed the battleship and stopped the heavy cruiser, Pola, whereupon the Italian commander-in-chief, believing the British fleet to be further behind than it actually was, ordered two other heavy cruisers, together with a division of destroyers, to stand by the crippled cruiser. Cunningham was unaware of this. His information was that the battleship he was chasing was 45 miles ahead, making 15 knots, and that the latest air strike had scored four torpedo hits, although whether any of those were on the battleship was not clear. As darkness fell he had to decide whether to continue the chase and put his valuable ships within reach of enemy dive bombers the following morning, besides exposing them to torpedo attacks from the retreating destroyers during the night, or whether discretion was the better part, as some of his staff advised. He mulled the problem over with his dinner.

My morale was reasonably high when I returned to the bridge, and I ordered the destroyer striking force off to find and attack the enemy. We settled down to a steady pursuit . . .

Soon afterwards his advanced cruisers’ radar picked up an unknown ship—actually the cruiser Pola—stopped to port of their course and about five miles ahead; Cunningham altered to close her and an hour later the radar-fitted Valiant picked up the echo of the ship under eight miles, still to port. Cunningham swung all his heavy ships towards her together, still at full speed, and all his main armament guns turned on to the reported bearing. Then before the stopped ship could be made out visually the Chief-of-Staff, sweeping the starboard bow with his binoculars, reported two large cruisers and a smaller ship crossing ahead of the new course from starboard to port; Cunningham, using short-wave wireless, turned the battleships together to starboard, thus back into line ahead again.

I shall never forget the next few minutes. In the dead silence, a silence that could almost be felt, one heard only the voices of the control personnel putting the guns on to the new target. One heard the orders repeated in the director tower behind and above the bridge. Looking forward one saw the turrets swing and steady when the 15-inch guns pointed at the enemy cruisers. Never in the whole of my life have I experienced a more thrilling moment than when I heard a calm voice from the director tower—’Director layer sees the target’; sure sign that the guns were ready and that his finger was on the trigger. The enemy was at a range of no more than 3,800 yards—point blank . . .

Then came the ‘ting-ting-ting’ of the fire gongs, great orange flashes, shudder and heel of the ship and at the same time the searchlights opened to illumine the cruiser target as a ‘silvery blue shape in the darkness’. Six 15-inch shells could be seen flying towards her through the beams of light and the next instant five of them struck with devastating effect. The other two battleships astern meanwhile opened on the other heavy cruiser, and in a short time the unfortunate Italian vessels, caught entirely unprepared, ‘were nothing but glowing torches and on fire from stem to stern’. After the battleships had wheeled away at speed the destroyers were ordered in to finish off the wrecks, and did so, adding the third cruiser and two destroyers in company to the bag. So ended the Battle off Cape Matapan, for the Vittorio Veneto succeeded in making her way home the following day while Cunningham was forced to break off the chase as he came within range of enemy land-based bombers. Although the battleship had eluded him the result of the action was a tonic for the British; the enemy had lost three powerful cruisers and two destroyers, against one aircraft.

The whole engagement is also an interesting demonstration of how the new technology, aircraft, radar and effective wireless, had given to the battlefleet all the sensory attributes it lacked at the time of Jutland—just at the point when the same technology used against the battlefleet was about to destroy the concept altogether. Thus the fleeing enemy had been spotted, reported and slowed by aircraft, then in darkness found by radar and held until within visual range. The action also revealed the effectiveness of British night-fighting training between the wars; the Italians had scarcely advanced beyond the British position at the time of Jutland, and they lacked radar.