Military Review

In the depths of the Indian Ocean

In the depths of the Indian OceanHistory The Battle of the Atlantic is well known. The hostilities, in which numerous and varied forces and means were involved, ended only with the surrender of Germany in May 1945. The inability of the German submarine forces to stop the flow of military cargo from America to England became a decisive factor for the successful operations of the Anglo-American forces on the European continent. The “Battle of the Pacific” during the years of the last world war, it can be considered, was not. Thousands of American commercial ships crossed the Pacific Ocean, providing an American military campaign and practically without any damage from the actions of Japanese submarines, which was a striking omission of the Mikado Naval Forces. American submarines, in turn, dealt a severe blow to the merchant the fleet the Japanese. Against this background, the Indian Ocean looks somewhat detached.

The article was prepared based on the materials of the foreign military press and the book The War of the Submariners. Indian Ocean - 1939 – 1945, ”by M. Wilson. Spellmount Ltd, UK, 2008. Since the last world war, many geographic names have changed - for example, Malaya became Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies turned into an independent Indonesia, and Ceylon - into Sri Lanka. The text contains geographical names that were adopted in the described period of time.


Despite the strategic importance of the third largest ocean of the planet for the anti-fascist coalition, the combat activities of the Axis countries (Germany – Italy – Japan) in this area were limited and relatively ineffective. The Italian submarines based in the ports of North Africa did not achieve anything at first, and when they returned to the area later, they already acted in the interests of Germany, since the bases of the German submarines in France were far away, and so that they could patrol in the Indian Ocean, the German submariners had to stay for months in the sea. True, the Japanese later allowed the Germans to use the port of Penang in Malaya as a forward base. In the expanses of the Indian Ocean, submarines of fleets of seven countries fought: Italy, Germany, Japan, Holland, the USA, France and England.

In the middle of 1939, the submarine forces of the British Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean and the Far East were represented by the 4 submarine flotilla, which was based in Hong Kong. The flotilla had 13 submarines of three different classes, two boats — a mine stop and a supply vessel. It was assumed that the flotilla would be the main deterrent force for any possible Japanese attack on Malaya from the sea, awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from the British Isles or from the Mediterranean Sea.

At the end of June, the British Empire’s Defense Committee 1939 found it necessary to strengthen the 4 flotilla, but this was impossible to do, as war with Germany became increasingly likely, and the number of submarines near England itself was clearly insufficient. In connection with the general deterioration of the 8 international situation, the submarines of the 4 Flotilla (including the 2 mine director), along with the 11.08.1939 wrecking ship from Hong Kong to Singapore (the rest of the 7 boats were being repaired both in Hong Kong and Singapore). With the beginning of the war in Europe, the flotilla patrol boats went into dual-purpose areas: the first was to sink any German ship that the British Admiralty declared to be a raider, and the second was to intercept all enemy merchant ships trying to enter friendly ports, first of all to Japan and THE USSR. The threat from raiders disguised as merchant ships was quite real. At the start of the war, there were about 40 German merchant ships in the area, many of which were considered suitable for conversion to raiders.

Singapore-based boats began patrolling in waters near the north of Sumatra and in the Malacca Strait. Boats remaining in Hong Kong patrolled the area from Formosa to the Philippines. At the end of October 1939, the 4 English submarines of the Oscar class from the 4 fleet were sent to the Navy of the East Indies to form the 8 submarine flotilla based on Colombo (Ceylon), later the supply vessel also joined them.

The German “pocket” battleship Graf Spee, which came out of Germany before the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, was somewhere in the South Atlantic by the autumn of 1939 and could try to break into the Indian Ocean. Therefore, one more patrol point was assigned to the boats of the 4 flotilla - the straits near Lombok Island (Lesser Sunda Islands). The first victim of the battleship Graf Spee was the English liner Clement displacement 5000 tons, it happened in late September. Later, Graf Spee sank several more ships in the South Atlantic and, having traveled a few hundred miles from the coast of South Africa, turned out to be in 10.11.1939 miles south of Madagascar by 200. His short entry into the Indian Ocean was a simple overture, designed to confuse the hunters of the German battleship.

Already on November 15, the battleship announced its presence in the Indian Ocean, sinking the small tanker Africa shell 10 miles off the African coast. A few days later, the battleship began to emerge from the Indian Ocean, once again keeping a long distance from the southern tip of the African continent (in early December 1939, the battleship was sunk near Montevideo, Uruguay).

Nevertheless, the British continued to fear that the Graf Spee or any other large German ship could be used against their merchant shipping - as the German raiders of 1914 successfully did in the Indian Ocean. On many remote islands of the Indian Ocean there were a large number of sheltered anchorages, which could be used by the raider to rest and provide necessary services. The same islands could also be used by German supply vessels, which were to wait for the battleship there. Boats of a new flotilla were sent to some of these islands.

At the beginning of November, 1939 for the boats based in Colombo, two new patrols were assigned. The first one-month patrol was to be carried out in the Chagos archipelago and the Maldives, the second — in the Seychelles region — was to last two months. The boats of both patrols were tasked with exploring a large number of islands in search of signs of Germans being there. A short patrol performed the Otus submarine. She returned to Colombo 5 December, having traveled 3900 miles and found no signs of German activity. In December, the Odin submarine made a similar unsuccessful patrol. The “long” patrol of the Olympus submarine (commanded by H.V. King) is probably the most remarkable non-combat patrol performed by the British submarine during the war. On November 17, the boat headed for the Seychelles and, while still at the crossing in its patrol area, received a message about the German shell sinking of the tanker.

It was decided to redirect the Olympus to the Mozambique Channel. As stated above, Graf Spee quickly left the area to the Atlantic, so it is not surprising that the British boat spent days in fruitless searches. Olympus was then sent to Diego-Suaretz (Madagascar) to replenish fuel and food supplies, and on December 19, the British command received intelligence data that as a result of direction finding of the radio source, the presence of an enemy was found near Prince Edward Islands, which were in 1200 miles southeast of the coast of South Africa. The Olympus boat was the closest English warship to this area, and the distance from Diego-Suarets to the enemy’s intended location was about 2000 miles.

Nevertheless, the boat was ordered to intercept as soon as possible. In preparing the order, however, did not take into account that Olympus was contained and equipped for action in the tropics, and Prince Edward Islands were at latitude 47 degrees south of the equator, on the way to the "roaring forties." There were no warm clothes and maps on the boat, and the crews had to easily borrow from the French in Diego-Suarez. In addition, the navigation information was outdated.

It is still unclear how the intelligence determined that the enemy ship was located near the Prince Edward Islands. These islands are of volcanic origin and do not have convenient parking spaces for ships. And as the boat moved, the poor quality of the lubricating oil received from the French came to light, which often led to engine failures.

After leaving Diego-Suarets, the boat received an order to inspect the Crozet Islands, which were located east of the Prince Edward Islands. When approaching the islands of Crozet, one engine of the boat failed, and then the second. Only by the heroic efforts of a machine command, one engine was restored, and the boat moved back from the inhospitable shore, which could not provide shelter to anyone — neither its own ship, nor the enemy’s ship.

The boat again passed by the Prince Edward Islands and headed for Durban. On the way to her destination she was ordered to remain on the surface and act as a target in submarine search exercises conducted by the South African Air Force. As M. Wilson, a former submarine officer himself, writes in his book, “the exercises were very useful for pilots, but the Olympus team was offended by the fact that no one warned her that German planes were in service with German aircraft” .

Olympus arrived in Durban on December 29 and, after making the necessary repairs, returned to Colombo in January after patrolling more than 12 000 miles. In his report, the boat commander King reported: "The Prince Edward and Crozet Islands cannot be considered a shelter for raiders or supply vessels of the enemy due to the lack of suitable concealed anchorages and extremely harsh weather conditions." For this patrol, Commander King was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Despite the fact that Graf Spee was already sunk in early December 1939, patrols continued in anticipation of meeting with another German raider or supply ship. In the New Year, Otus went to the Seychelles and returned only 1 March 1940. A British submarine Odin performed patrols in the area of ​​Chagos. Two other boats, Olympus and Orpheus, covered the convoy of 12 ships that carried first Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the Middle East.

As in the other patrols, which were then performed by the boats of the 8 fleet, there was always the possibility of meeting the Germans at any moment. Nevertheless, the crews of the English boats considered their task as completely non-military, for most it was a series of cruises among the beautiful coral atolls that few people visited at that time.

In March 1940, events in Europe demanded the redeployment of British boats based in Colombo and Singapore to the Mediterranean, and by the end of August 1940 there were no English submarines left in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, none of the departed boats had a chance to take part in hostilities, or at least to find an enemy.


In June, 1940, Benito Mussolini announced the entry into the war against England. At that time, the Italians at their base in Massawa (Red Sea) had 8 submarines, 7 destroyers and a small number of ships of other classes. During the Second World War, Italy had the third largest fleet in Europe. She had more cruisers than in the aggregate of the Mediterranean fleets of England and France. And the presence of only a few of them in the Red Sea, along with submarines (Italy had more than 100 submarines) would certainly add solidity to the dreams of the Grand Duchess of Great Italy. Although the Italian East Africa was isolated from the rest of the Italian Empire, at the start of the fighting in Massawa there were rich stores of ammunition and fuel.

In early June 1940, British intelligence believed that the Italians in East Africa had enough fuel reserves for five months. Indeed, after the liberation of this territory from the Italians, vast reserves were discovered there, not to mention how much fuel was destroyed during the British raids aviation or burned by the Italians themselves during the retreat. Sources reported 20 thousand tons of fuel for submarines, which would be enough to carry out many patrols.

Since the beginning of the war, 4 submarines came out of Massawa to hunt for British and French ships: Ferraris, Luig iGalvani, Galileo Galilei and Maccale. Only Ferraris returned safe and sound from this hunt, and only because it was at sea for only three days. The boat was sent on patrol to the French port of Djibouti, but battery problems made it impossible to perform a combat mission.

The first boat that the Italians lost was Maccale (surface displacement of about 700 tons, 4 bow and 2 stern torpedo tubes, 100-mm gun on the deck and machine guns on the bridge). The boat sent to the patrol in the area of ​​Port Sudan faced problems almost immediately after leaving the base. A fever caused by many of the crew members is believed to be caused by a gas leak from the air conditioning system. Severe weather conditions also added to the suffering of the crew of the boat, which was tilted from side to side even at a depth of 60 feet.

Early in the morning of June 15, the boat on the surface to charge the batteries sat on the ground. No one was hurt, however, she dangerously tilted to the port side, sea water began to flow into the hull, and chlorine began to be released from the batteries. The boat commander ordered the ship to leave. By the evening of the same day, the crew with a small supply of food and water in a single boat moved to a nearby deserted and anhydrous island. When the last crew member left the boat, her nose turned up, the boat jumped off the reef and went under the water. June 22 another Italian boat - Gugliemotti took barely alive Maccale crew from the islet.


Galileo Galilei was tasked to patrol approaches to Aden. This boat was significantly larger than the Maccale (1000 tons surface load, underwater - 1259 tons, 8 torpedo tubes 530 mm and two 100-mm guns were in service, the range at 8 speed was 10 000 miles). 16 June 1940 of the year, 10 miles south of Aden, the boat stopped the Norwegian tanker James Stove, gave the crew 15 minutes to leave the ship, then torpedoed it.

The flames were spotted on the English trawler Moon stone, who hurried to the rescue and rescued the crew of the tanker in the boats. Two days later, the boat stopped the Yugoslavian steamboat Drava, firing two gun shots across the ship’s course. Since the ship belonged to a neutral state and did not transport cargo that could be used by the British for military purposes, it was released, but the sounds of gunfire were heard on the coast, and an old English fighter was sent to explore the area.

The plane pursued a boat until a bomber flew from Aden, which was only 26 miles away, dropped three bombs that had fallen far from the target, so the boat made a dive safely. Then the English destroyer Kandahar and the sloop Shoreham joined the hunt for the Italian submarine, but darkness fell. Then Galileo Galilei surfaced and tried to use the radio to send a message to Massawa. The destroyer immediately spotted the exit of the boat to communicate, and the sloop twice tried to attack the boat with depth charges, however contact with the boat was lost again.

At night, the boat resurfaced to conduct a conversation. With the help of an asdik (sonar) at a distance of 5000 yards, the Moon stone trawler was discovered and attacked with a depth bomb. Then the trawler made two more attacks, forcing the boat to float. Galileo Galilei fired guns at the trawler. The trawler fired back an 4-inch gun. The calculation of the English instrument was more successful, and he twice fell into the cabin of the boat. The crew of Galileo Galile “climbed onto the deck and, after lowering the flag, began to wave pieces of white matter. An incredible thing happened: a small trawler Moon stone captured an enemy submarine. The entire crew of the trawler was awarded, and the Italian submarine after the repair was introduced into the combat strength of the British Royal Navy as a target.

Submarine Luigi Galvani was on patrol in an important area on the way to the Gulf of Oman and early in the morning of 23 on June 1940 of the year, torpedoed the sloop Pathan of the Indian Navy. Realizing the information received from the captured Galileo Galilei submarine about the location of another Italian boat on the approaches to the Persian Gulf, the British sent the Sloop Falmouth and the destroyer Kimberley to the Gulf of Oman region. After arriving in the designated area, approximately on 11 on the evening of June 23, a sloop at a distance of 2,5 for a mile noticed a dark object, which was identified as a low-speed submarine on the surface, possibly charging batteries. Falmouth approached the boat by about 600 yards and requested its belonging; Having received no feedback, the sloop opened fire on the boat from the nose cannon and hit the back of the cabin. The boat began an urgent dive and quickly walked past the sloop's nose, which turned around to ram it, and rammed it with a sliding blow, pushing it into the depths. Then the sloop dropped three depth charges, which threw the boat to the surface. As soon as the crew began to climb out onto the deck of the boat, waving white rags, the boat began to lose stability and leave astern. The destroyer Kimberley managed to save only three officers and 27 sailors from the crew of Luigi Galvani.


The Torricelli submarine, which replaced the faulty Ferraris, arrived in the designated patrol area (Djibouti) on the evening of June 19 1940. The weather conditions were terrible - temperature 45 degrees Celsius with 100-percent humidity. Almost immediately the boat received an order to go to a new patrol area, now to the shores of Somalia. The boat arrived in the new 21 area of ​​June and was almost immediately detected by three British destroyers who fired at it and attacked depth charges.

Perhaps the British were alerted by the radio exchange between the boat and the base in Massawa, and perhaps the British (as in the case of Luigi Galvani) used the information obtained on the previously captured Galileo Galilei. Early in the morning 23 of June Torricell passed the Perim Strait, where it was discovered by the sloop Shoreham, whose crew had high spirits in connection with the participation of the sloop in the capture of Galileo Galilei. And in order not to risk, the boat made a dive. About an hour later, the boat found that the sloop was leaving. And, since the leakage of oil from the damaged tank could give the location of Torricelli, the boat commander decided to surface and go at full speed to a safe place.

A few short minutes, the commander of the boat, Salvatore Pelosi, could still hope that his idea was a success, but then he saw that the sloop was turning and following the course on the boat. The sloop Indus immediately joined the Shoreham sloop, and three destroyers - Kandahar, Khartoum and Kingston. Unable to re-submerge the boat could either surrender or lead the battle on the surface. Pelosi chose the latter option.

It was an unequal battle. The boat had only one 100-mm cannon against 12 X-guns of caliber 4,7 on British destroyers and guns on sloops. Nevertheless, Shoreham first opened fire and from the second shot hit the Pelosi boat, which left the battlefield. The British shooting did not go well. Only half an hour later their shell hit the boat, wounding Pelosi and knocking out the steering. Pelosi ordered the crew to leave the boat. The injured Pelosi, who needed medical care, was probably proud of the fact that her flag continued to fly on the boat going down.

The entire crew of the boat was picked up by English destroyers and taken to Aden, and Salvatore Pelosi was later awarded the gold medal "For Military Valor" for this fight.


But a series of failures for the Italians did not end there. A small Perla 26 submarine, released on patrol in the Berbera-Djibouti region, was attacked by artillery fire and depth bombs from the destroyer Kingston, but did not receive serious damage. Two days later, Perla came under artillery fire from the English cruiser Leander and the bombing from an amphibious aircraft. The British had already decided that the boat was lost to participate in the fighting for several months, if not forever, and were amazed when a captive Italian pilot told them later that the boat was lifted to the surface and towed to Massawa for repair.

As M. Wilson notes, “this was the unsuccessful start of the war for the Italian submariners - in just 16 days the 4 boats were sunk or captured, and the fifth was damaged and needed serious repair.”

In the last 8 months (until February 1941 of the year), the remaining three boats completed the 21 march on patrol, and all failed. Torpedoes were used twice - in August from a submarine Ferraris on an English escort to Egypt (all torpedoes missed targets), and in September, when the Gugliemotti submarine sank the Greek Atlas tanker lagging behind the convoy.

The failure of the Italians is obvious, given the number of English convoys that safely crossed the Red Sea from north to south and from south to north. In August, the 4 convoy passed in each direction, in September, 5 and 7 in October.

By the beginning of 1941, the command of the Italian Navy in East Africa made it clear that British troops would soon be able to capture all of Eritrea with the ports of Assab and Massawa, so it should urgently decide on the fate of the remaining ships and submarines. Destroyers and other smaller ships, which had a small radius of action, had no chance to reach any friendly port, so the crews were ordered to go ashore. As for submarines, the three big boats were to go to Japan and be interned, and Perla was ordered to go to Bushehr (Iran) and lower the flag there. Later, Bushehr was replaced by Diego-Suaretz, where, as expected, the administration of the Vichy government of France, supportive of the Axis countries, would provide friendly shelter.

In the meantime, the command of the Italian Navy in Rome came into contact with the command of the German Navy and received Admiral Karl Doenitz’s consent to the use of the German submarine of a German supply vessel located in the southern Atlantic. German help would allow the Italian boats to reach Bordeaux (France), where they could fight in the Atlantic under German command or return to Italy. It was a very optimistic plan, given the poor technical condition of the Italian submarines and the long distance (almost 13 000 miles) that needed to be overcome. Nevertheless, three large Italian boats (Archimede, Ferraris and Gulielmotti) reached Bordeaux in 65 days, and Perla in 81 days.

The arrival of boats in Bordeaux summed up the campaign of the Italian Navy in East Africa, in which there was no significant success. The fact that boats returned to their bases in the metropolis should be recognized as outstanding. But few of the Italian submariners could then imagine that before the end of the war they would return to the Indian Ocean.

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  1. andrewkor
    andrewkor 4 December 2016 16: 05
    I read once "Battle for the Atlantic" -2 volumes, there was a map with the designations of the sunken German submarines in the Atlantic and the Indian. I was very surprised to see the badges near Cape Town and in the Persian Gulf. Since then I started to respect the "pirates of the Fuhrer" !!
  2. Dekabrist
    Dekabrist 4 December 2016 16: 48
    The fighting operations of German submarines covered, with few exceptions, the entire Atlantic and the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean directly adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean basin. The main combat operations of submarines began on the approaches to the British Isles and spread throughout the Atlantic Ocean from the European shores to the shores of America and Africa. Submarines operated in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. When conducting operations against northern convoys, German submarines entered the Arctic, the Barents and Kara Sea. Unsafe for merchant shipping were the southern Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and even approaches to ports on the northern and western coasts of Australia.
    The squadron of German submarines operating in the Pacific and Indian Oceans during World War II was called the Monsoon group. Organizationally was part of the 33-th submarine flotilla.
    The proposal to deploy German submarines in Malaya and the East Indies for joint operations in the Indian Ocean was first submitted by Japan in December 1942. In 1943, Germany agreed to send several submarines to the Far East, where they were supposed to operate from Japanese-occupied ports against vulnerable, unprotected ships in nearby regions.

    U-178 was the first submarine to be sent to the Indian Ocean. According to the original plan, after leaving Bordeaux, she was supposed to operate off the coast of South Africa, but later received an order to go to Penang, where she arrived on 27 on August 1943 of the year. Due to the insufficient number of submarines, the first batch of cars was withdrawn from the group that operated near the Cape of Good Hope.

    Penang, located on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, has become the main German submarine base. The second base was in Kobe, Japan, and a number of small repair bases were located in Singapore, Jakarta, and Surabaya. Submarines operating from these bases soon became known as the "Monsoon Group." The group was commanded by Captain Wilhelm Dommes.

    In August, 1943 Japan began to conduct military operations in the Arabian Sea, after which it was decided not to attack one submarine on another in order to avoid attacks by Japanese Japanese boats operating in the area. The Indian Ocean is the only place where Japan and Germany fought together.
  3. Rurikovich
    Rurikovich 4 December 2016 16: 52
    The Italians are still those warriors wassat laughing You read Braghadin about actions in the Mediterranean Sea - it seems so that it was stronger than sailors and was not in the world lol But the reality turns out to be different, more real and is such that the brave Italians exhausted the entire limit of heroism and victories back in the days of the Roman Empire (according to officialdom) lol So for the most part, in comparison with general conclusions, the single successes of Italians at sea are unconvincing. yes Yes, there were single successful successes, but against the backdrop of the entire fleet it is more like 10% against everyone - there are exceptions to each rule smile
    1. Ulan
      Ulan 4 December 2016 20: 55
      And the Italians ’fleet was really not small, there was something to fight, with reasonable command and bold, trained crews.
      1. Rurikovich
        Rurikovich 4 December 2016 22: 00
        Quote: Ulan
        And the Italians ’fleet was really not small, there was something to fight, with reasonable command and bold, trained crews.

        That and that yes That's just the warriors of them were useless. You read Braghadin, because they are all almost supermen, but always something hindered, then the English radars, about lack of fuel, sometimes did not sleep, then the British did not fight as they should, then they attack unexpectedly, then there are more of them, then diarrhea, scrofula wassat
  4. 89067359490
    89067359490 4 December 2016 21: 36

    Rendezvous of the German U 180 and Japanese I-29 on April 26–27, 1943 in the Strait of Mozambique. The Germans handed over to the Japanese Indian "freedom fighters", drawings of a IXC / 40 type boat, a sample of the HHL 3 hand-held cumulative magnetic mine, and other weapons, diplomatic post. In turn, the Japanese handed a Type 180 torpedo to U 89, two Type 2 torpedoes, two tons of gold bullion for the Japanese embassy, ​​drawings of the Akagi aircraft carrier and Type A ultra-small submarine. Also, two Japanese submarine specialists went on board U 180 shipbuilding. Cargo had to be transported in rubber boats along a line stretched between the submarines. The boats at this time, according to the Japanese commander, were "the dream of a dive bomber." However, everything ended happily, and the boats headed for their bases.
  5. nivander
    nivander 5 December 2016 08: 44
    after the surrender of Germany, 2 or 3 "nines" raised Japanese flags and continued the war
    BRONEVIK 6 December 2016 09: 10
    Thanks to the author! Great and informative article