Evolution of the concept: from fire ships to unmanned kamikaze boats

Evolution of the concept: from fire ships to unmanned kamikaze boats
Painting by Ya.F. Hackert "Burning of the Turkish fleet in Chesma Bay" (1771). A mushroom-shaped flash and a cloud in the center - the explosion of Lieutenant Ilyin's fire-ship

In recent months, there has been increased interest abroad in unmanned kamikaze boats. Disposable vessels carrying a warhead of significant mass are intended to be used as a new weapon against surface and coastal targets. Formally, we are talking about a new class of marine equipment, but in fact this is a development of a very old concept of a fire-ship vessel. Such means appeared many centuries ago, but later went out of use for objective reasons.

Distant history

The idea of ​​a special vessel without a crew, capable of approaching enemy ships and setting fire to or blowing them up, is quite simple and was first implemented in the distant past. Subsequently, fireships were regularly used in various naval theaters of war, although with varying degrees of success. As shipbuilding and other technologies developed, the design of kamikaze ships was improved, and the means of protection against them were improved.

At least one of the first cases of using fire ships took place during the Battle of Red Rock on the river. Yangtze in China (208-209 AD). The fleet of Sun Quan, the future ruler of the kingdom of Wu, used against the enemy a large number of boats and vessels loaded with various flammable materials and equipped with hooks. Such fireships successfully reached enemy ships, grappled with them and set them on fire. The fleet of the commander Cao Cao was defeated.

Kamikaze boat "Shinyo" made in Japan. Photo by US Department of Defense

In European navies, fireships began to appear and become widespread in the middle of the last millennium, and they soon showed their capabilities. Thus, it was the ships that were deliberately set on fire that helped the British fleet defeat the Spanish Armada in the Battle of Gravelines (August 8, 1588). It is noteworthy that the fire itself caused minimal damage to the enemy, but due to the threat of the wooden ships catching fire, the Spaniards did not maintain formation and gave the initiative to the British .

Under Peter the Great, fireships also appeared in the developing Russian fleet. They took part in the defense of sea borders and were also used in a number of battles. The feat of Lieutenant D.S. is widely known. Ilyin and his crew in the Battle of Chesma. Their fireship, one of four involved, managed to break through to the Turkish ships and set them on fire - deciding the outcome of the battle. It is curious that most of the Russian fire ships were never used for their intended purpose. They were used in other roles, and were simply dismantled when the resource was exhausted.

Fire ships of this kind appeared in the era of sailing fleets and wooden shipbuilding. In the middle of the XNUMXth century. Metal structures began to become widespread, and the effectiveness of incendiary-equipped ships dropped sharply. The complete transition of warships to metal led to the disappearance of “classic” fire ships.

The destroyer HMS Campbeltown at the dock gates in Saint-Nazaire. Soon there will be an explosion. Photo of the Bundesarchiv

Traditional look

A fire ship from the time of wooden shipbuilding was an old or damaged ship or a ship unfit for full service. On deck and/or in holds, incl. with the alteration of the structure, flammable materials and liquids were placed - straw, fascines, turpentine, etc. The simplest explosive devices based on gunpowder could be used. For more efficient ignition, so-called fire starters were laid along the ship’s hull. sausages - long bags of highly flammable material. Ignition devices were installed at the stern; there was also a boat for evacuating the crew. Various hooks, anchors, docks, etc. could be attached to the hull, rigging and spar.

Fire ships could be used both for sabotage in the dark, with minimal probability of detection, and in the midst of battle. It was considered optimal to use it in various narrows and bays that limit enemy maneuver.

The minimum crew had to put the ship on a combat course, fix the sails and rudder, go down into the boat and set fire to the combat load. After this, the ship independently moved towards the target and, with the correct work of the crew and proper luck, ended up in an enemy ship. The hooks helped to grip it for better flame transfer and greater damage from explosions.

New era

Metal ships were practically invulnerable to classic-looking fireships. They began to abandon the latter and look for other ways to hit surface targets. At the same time, the term “fireship” did not disappear - this is how ships that were sunk to limit maneuver or block an enemy fleet began to be called.

External damage to the destroyer USS Cole, 2000. Photo of the US Department of Defense

However, at the end of the interwar period, kamikaze ships were remembered again. For example, in 1940, exploding MT boats entered service with the 10th MAS Flotilla of the Italian Navy. Wooden boat with a displacement of approx. 1 ton had a gasoline engine and carried 300 kg of explosive with contact and hydrostatic fuses. Under the control of a saboteur-driver, such a boat was supposed to arrive at the target area and set out on a combat course. The driver then sent the boat to the designated object and threw himself overboard. The 10th Flotilla carried out several attacks using MT boats, but saw limited success.

Several MT boats later went to Israel. In 1948, with their help, they successfully attacked an Egyptian patrol ship and a minesweeper. On this story Italian boats ended.

At the end of World War II, the Japanese Navy began using similar Shinyo boats. This vessel had a different design and carried 270 kg of explosives. In addition, there was no provision for evacuation of the driver, and he was driving the boat until the moment of explosion. Several thousand of these boats were built, and dozens were used in battle. At the same time, less than a dozen ships, vessels and submarines were sunk or damaged.

Fire ships, and larger ones, were used by the British Navy. In the fall, he carried out Operation Lucid, a series of attacks on French ports used by the German Navy. Decommissioned tankers filled with a special flammable liquid were used as kamikaze ships. However, due to technical and other reasons, it was not possible to carry out a full-fledged attack.

Ukrainian unmanned boat, used in the fall of 2022. Photo Telegram / "Rybar"

Operation Chariot, carried out on March 28, 1942, was more successful. In this case, the fireship was the destroyer HMS Campbeltown, equipped with tons of explosives. The target of the attack was the dry dock of the shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, capable of receiving the battleship Tirpitz. The ship, abandoned by its crew, successfully rammed the dock gate. A few hours later, as planned, it exploded and damaged the plant’s structures, as well as destroyed enemy personnel.

Fire ships of some kind have been used in recent decades. For example, in October 2000, in the port of Aden (Yemen), the American destroyer USS Cole was attacked by a light boat with a crew of two suicide bombers and a charge of about 250-300 kg of TNT. As a result of the explosion, a large hole was formed, units of the power plant were damaged, premises were flooded, etc. Almost 60 people were killed or injured.

Modern solutions

A characteristic feature of the fireships of the past was the need for a person to be present on board in order to advance to the target area and enter the combat course. This imposed known limitations and also reduced the achievable accuracy. The firebrand could not maneuver, and the target had the opportunity to evade. In addition, throughout such an attack, the fireship was a priority target for enemy fire, which, among other things, threatened its crew.

Modern technologies make it possible to get rid of all such problems and create the most effective fire ship. First of all, these are remote control systems. They allow you to control the boat as a whole and its mechanisms until the very moment of hitting the target - without risks for the crew/operator working at a safe distance. In addition, the ship can carry a modern warhead, adapted to solve specific problems.

New Ukrainian kamikaze boat. Still from CNN report

Unmanned kamikaze boats are now being developed and used by several foreign countries to increase the strike potential of their fleets. At the same time, some of them use this technique as a replacement for traditional shock systems that are not available for one reason or another.

The potential of unmanned fireboats is now being demonstrated by Ukrainian armed forces. The Kiev regime received several types of such equipment from the UK and is trying to use it against Russian ships and infrastructure. Previously, a successful strike was carried out on the Kerch Bridge, but this practice could not be continued. The Russian Navy has organized an effective system for protecting ships, bases and other objects from surface fire ships. The destruction of such equipment at a safe distance from its targets is now regularly reported.

Processes of evolution

The concept of a fireship appeared and was first successfully implemented many centuries ago. Subsequently, it developed in accordance with the current situation and the needs of the fleets. Fireships became most widespread in the era of the sailing wooden fleet, and then metal shipbuilding practically made them obsolete. However, in the XNUMXth century. opportunities were found for the return of such boats and vessels, albeit limited.

Right now we are witnessing the next stage in the evolution of fireships. As before, it is implemented using the latest advances - and current technologies allow for a noticeable increase in efficiency. However, systems to counter such threats also do not stand still. And the evolution of weapons and defenses continues.
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  1. -3
    17 September 2023 06: 25
    The West returned to the concept of a fire ship only because of one thing - if something exploded, it’s not us. This is not a reason for a nuclear war - it’s the Ukrainians. Nord Streams are not us either - they’re “cyborgs” Ukrainians. As soon as there is a direct confrontation with NATO Russia , fire ships will disappear. By the way, the Norwegian press claims that in the “hornet’s nest” on the Kola Peninsula, where our submarine fleet and the special-purpose nuclear submarine “GUGI” are based, booms against naval drones appeared simultaneously with Sevastopol. The command of the Russian Navy correctly assessed the threat - “if something happened to you, it’s not us.” And yesterday’s passage of bulk carriers to Chernomorsk gives reason to think about the defense of all our naval bases. A suicide team has been recruited. Such a team with a steamboat can end up anywhere of the world's oceans and not with empty holds. Pandora's box is open, if it's not us. And the experience of the Northern Military District is being studied all over the world. The Armed Forces of Ukraine laughed at our "barbecues" now they put them on their armored vehicles. Sudan - they started using quadcopters in full, they are chasing each other following a friend around the city for vanity jeeps, looking for them among civilian vehicles... And I wouldn’t be surprised that someone is already riveting a naval drone against the navies of Israel, Greece, Turkey, Iran, China, Taiwan and of course the USA (Colombians for example)." If something happened to you, it’s not us - prove it.” My opinion is that the following areas for the use of naval drones are bottlenecks in maritime traffic, straits and canals. “Prove that it is us.” And this will continue until a direct military clash, followed by the third world war. The laws of free navigation are under threat and maritime trade traffic too, especially LNG tankers - you can’t prove anything there at all, but what it was.
    1. -1
      17 September 2023 07: 34
      I forgot to mention the Baltic Sea, yesterday information came from Finland at the level of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. Finland is very concerned about the vulnerability of maritime traffic in the Baltic, it is necessary to pay attention to traffic through Sweden and Norway, railway and road transport. Why would they decide to pay attention to traffic, and not the defense of the territory? Will they make a reason for their concern by snatching something from us - “Ukrainians again”?am
  2. 0
    17 September 2023 06: 48
    The evolution of weapons and defenses continues.
    So this is a pattern - the emergence of new weapons is responded to by the appearance of means of counteraction and destruction. And because Science and technological progress do not stand still, the main thing is that the second keeps pace with the first.
  3. -1
    17 September 2023 06: 50
    The next logical step is to attach a light anti-ship missile to an unmanned boat. Then it will be possible to attack ships without coming under fire from machine guns and autocannons.
  4. +3
    17 September 2023 07: 37
    Fire ships...kamikazes...."Bullshit war! The main thing is maneuvers!" Anti-ship missiles are being developed in China... air-submarine! A significant part of the path to the target is covered, like all normal anti-ship missiles, by air! At a certain distance to the target (at the point “favorite” by the air defense personnel of ships to destroy anti-ship missiles...) the anti-ship missile dives under the water and then moves like a rocket torpedo! But it’s possible “the other way around”! (At first it moves underwater like a torpedo... and then it takes off and hits the target like a “classic” anti-ship missile!)
    1. +1
      17 September 2023 10: 54
      But it’s possible “the other way around”! (At first it moves underwater like a torpedo... and then it takes off and hits the target like a “classic” anti-ship missile!)

      “This product is called RPK-6 - the Vodopad anti-submarine missile system. This is a rocket. On solid fuel. It is fired either from a 533 mm torpedo tube or from a device located on the ship,”
      When launched, the “Waterfall” falls into the water, goes there like a torpedo, then turns on the solid fuel engines and soars up like a rocket, arriving at the target through the air. Development of the 60s.
      1. 0
        17 September 2023 18: 43
        Quote: Coward
        “This product is called RPK-6 - the Vodopad anti-submarine missile system.

        And yet..."Waterfall" is a different product from a Chinese design! “Dig around” on the Internet - make sure!
    2. +1
      17 September 2023 13: 39
      Wow, the Chinese came up with a rocket torpedo! Straight PLRK "Answer"!
    3. 0
      4 January 2024 18: 14
      Air-launched missiles of the APR series. The APR-3 "Eagle" is currently in service with the Navy. The missile has a jet engine and an acoustic seeker. Designed to destroy both underwater and surface targets.
  5. 0
    17 September 2023 07: 37
    We need a counter-bander, a very fast and heavily armed ship that would constantly receive information from high-altitude drones with afar on board. And then the fire ships will become history completely.
  6. -4
    17 September 2023 10: 19
    An unmanned fireboat. Wonderful. Why don’t our Navy and military-industrial complex think about an unmanned... ekranoplane-firewall?
    The advantages are classic for an ekranoplan:
    1. High speed;
    2. Large load capacity - large mass of explosives;
    3. Less noticeable.
    Of course, I'm not talking about such giants as Lun, maybe make something smaller?
    And, of course, in an unmanned version. It may turn out something like a flying torpedo with external target designation).
    1. 0
      17 September 2023 11: 16
      Quote: Abrosimov Sergey Olegovich
      . Why don’t our Navy and military-industrial complex think about an unmanned... ekranoplane-firewall?

      Radically higher price, much higher visibility than boats that use APU.
    2. +2
      17 September 2023 11: 41
      Quote: Abrosimov Sergey Olegovich
      Why don’t our Navy and military-industrial complex think about an unmanned... ekranoplane-firewall?

      No. Speed ​​is low. A missile is better, and best of all is a relatively low-speed but silent torpedo, traveling at great depths and emerging under the target.
      1. 0
        17 September 2023 13: 43
        Slow-moving while sneaking slowly, it may miss the target if it turns around and swims in the other direction
    3. 0
      18 September 2023 16: 27
      Quote: Abrosimov Sergey Olegovich
      1. High speed;

      Only if you compare it with a ship. But here’s the problem: air defense will work on the ekranoplan. And for her this is a low-speed, low-maneuverability target. There is no comparison with a typical target for air defense of a ship group such as a supersonic missile carrier or MFI.
      Quote: Abrosimov Sergey Olegovich
      3. Less noticeable.

      This tale about the lower visibility of ekranoplanes could only be told to Soviet “ship” admirals, who did not know aviation and did not know how to use it. So it turned out that for the USSR Navy the ekranoplan was inconspicuous.
      For the fleet of a potential enemy, the ekranoplan was a flying RTO. That is, a target with the dimensions and EPR of an MRK, traveling at a speed where the SDC already works perfectly, and even without air defense. Let me remind you that these guys built air defense based on the Tu-22M3 and much less noticeable supersonic DD anti-ship missiles.
      Quote: Abrosimov Sergey Olegovich
      It may turn out something like a flying torpedo with external target designation).

      This is called RCC. smile
      And yes, the main question is where to shoot them? The over-the-horizon control center was a problem even during the Soviet Union, but now it is practically in a coma.
  7. -1
    17 September 2023 11: 42
    At one time, many torpedo boats were built in countries and the USSR, including remote-controlled ones. Their use and tactics were worked out in theory and practice. And these days it was discussed in detail on the Internet. (met)

    Similar tactics, similar goals,
    IMHO, these rednecks in the articles are more interesting.
    By the way, torpedoes are perhaps more dangerous. Underwater, for many km, high-speed... Their combination with boats can be effective.
    1. 0
      18 September 2023 16: 32
      Quote: Max1995
      At one time, many torpedo boats were built in countries and the USSR, including remote-controlled ones. Their use and tactics were worked out in theory and practice.

      In practice, the wave control boats on the same Baltic Fleet stood in reserve for a couple of weeks after June 22.06.41, XNUMX, and then the control equipment was dismantled and the boats were transferred back to “manned” TKA. Because the fleet was never able to solve the problem of target detection and guidance of the VU TKA: the enemy suddenly had an air defense component that was shot down by fleet reconnaissance aircraft and through which flying control stations simply could not pass to approach targets within the effective control range of the VU TKA.
  8. +1
    17 September 2023 16: 02
    The author forgot about torpedoes: a fire-ship to all fire-ships.
    1. 0
      18 September 2023 16: 34
      Quote: bk0010
      The author forgot about torpedoes: a fire-ship to all fire-ships.

      Yeah... especially the latest Germans with their 140 km range.
      1. +1
        2 January 2024 15: 26
        Obviously, there will be further development towards unmanned semi-submersible boats, perhaps with a snorkel, perhaps with a horizontal missile launcher, that is, the boat reached the area, then took on water in the bow or stern, assumed a vertical position like a swimmer and launched the rocket with a mortar launch, after which sank himself