Military Review

Oh, those submarines! Submarines against surface ships

Oh, those submarines! Submarines against surface shipsPerhaps the most unique acquisitions of the 20th century in terms of naval armaments were submarines (submarines). Not having time to appear, they gave rise to a lot of fulfilled and unfulfilled hopes. It was believed that the new combat vehicles would revolutionize the war at sea, leveling out the "old values" in the form of armadas of battleships and armored (linear) cruisers; will nullify the general battles as the main means of solving the military confrontation at sea. Now, more than in 100 years, it is interesting to assess how bold predictions have been confirmed.

In fact, the submarine most effectively manifested itself in the fight against trade, where they achieved really impressive results. From the standpoint of a high strategy, this does not contradict the idea of ​​achieving the main goals in a war. “The destruction of trade” especially hurts the island, highly developed countries, traditionally and heavily dependent on exports and imports; in addition, the very concept of “dominance at sea”, which was considered the prerogative of the great maritime powers and great fleets, is discredited. First of all, we are talking about the confrontation of Germany with England and its allies in world wars and about the US against Japan. These most large-scale and instructive examples formed the basis for an extensive and in-depth analysis, the search for patterns, up to the development of motivated views on the use of submarines in the future.

With regard to the capabilities of the submarines against military fleets, their main forces, this section is opened in less detail and leaves many questions.

It is noteworthy that even today this is not a routine scholastic question of the naval stories or applied sections of the development of combat use of torpedo weapons (BITO). It is relevant in determining the prospects for construction and development. fleet. The increased interest in it excites the objectively existing national aspect of the problem. It is no secret that the Navy, especially in the post-war period, had a clearly noticeable underwater focus. And this despite the fact that both world wars ended with the official defeat of the idea of ​​submarine warfare. After the First World War - the introduction of the convoy system and Asdikom, in the Second - the introduction of radar and aircraft. In general, following similar logic, betting on submarines in the future seemed pointless. Nevertheless, we did it, as the Germans did before us in World War II. To this day, disputes about the legality of such a step and the actual appearance of the Navy during the Cold War have not subsided: how justified was this step in the current circumstances? The question is not simple, still waiting for its competent researcher.

The most “subtle” place in objective analysis, and consequently, in the formation of a concrete answer is the lack of support from its combat experience. Fortunately for humanity and inconvenience for specialists, the ability to rely on such 67 for years is missing. This is an axiom: only practice is the criterion of truth, in military affairs, in any case. Therefore, the experience of the Falkland crisis of 1982 between the UK and Argentina is considered so valuable and unique. But it only strengthens in the confidence that, no matter how far the submarines went in their development - right up to equipping them with nuclear power plants, space communications and navigation, advanced electronics and nuclear weapons - they could not completely get rid of the special features of this kind of force. and restrictions. The Falkland "underwater experience" was doubly interesting. This experience of fighting against surface ships (NK) of the enemy. However, we will adhere to the chronology and begin with the participation of the submarines in world wars.


Submarines as the kind of forces of the fleet just over 100 years. The beginning of a wide combat use and their intensive development refers precisely to the period of the First World War. This debut in general can be considered successful. About 600 PL (372 of them were German submarines, but the Germans lost the most - 178 PL), then in service with the warring parties, sent to the bottom more 55 large warships and hundreds of destroyers with a total displacement of more than 1 million tons and 19 million br.rt (gross registered ton is a unit of volume equal to 2,83 cubic meters, currently not applicable) of trade tonnage. The most massive and effective were the Germans, who chalked up more than 5860 sunk ships with a total displacement of 13,2 million bps. shopping tonnage. The blow mainly fell on the trade of England and was extremely effective.

Record drowned tonnage will be repeated, but not surpassed during the Second World War and, which is characteristic, a much larger number of submarines. But the personal record of the German commander Arnaud de la Perrier is more than 440 thou. Br.t. - nobody achieved. The best of the submariners of the Second World War, also German, Otto Krechmer will leave the arena with a score of 244 thou. Br.t. and 44 sunk by ships still in the spring of 1941.

If we turn to the effectiveness of the submarine against the navy of the enemy, success is much more modest even where such actions were specifically planned. This is hard to match with the hopes and expectations of Otto Veddigen’s first high-profile successes, which already in the first days of the war on a primitive U-9, in an hour with a little, sank three armored cruisers. There are other well-known achievements of the German submariners in the part of the defeat of large enemy NK, but it will be later. In the meantime, the “mobilization” of almost all of the submarines (about 20) that were used to comb the North Sea, allegedly teeming with dreadnoughts, did not bring any results. Having learned in advance about the operation, the British removed from the North Sea all valuable NK.

The participation of the submarines in the Battle of Jutland, to which great hopes were pinned - after all, the submarines had already managed to show themselves by the time of 1916 - they are generally discouraged. They didn't even find anyone there. The main forces of the fleets turned around and came together in the greatest naval battle in history, without even being noticed. The death of the British Secretary of War field marshal Lord Kitchener on the Hampshire cruiser blown up by mines is considered to be an indirect success of the submarine, but this is nothing more than a consolation “bonus”.

Strictly speaking, the goals turned out to be unachieved and in the fight against trade. The blockade of England, hastily declared by the German leadership at the beginning of the war, was not achieved, because it was not supported by real forces. Then followed a series of prohibitions due to the international scandal over the “Lusitania”, the accompanying recessions in the underwater war, a return to the principle of prize law. The late announcement of an unlimited underwater war in 1917 did not help either: the enemy managed to get ready.

However, let us return to the unfulfilled hopes in the part of the struggle of the submarines against the NK. It should be noted that in the interwar period (1918 – 1939 years) there was no shortage of analysis, researchers and theories on this subject, deeper and more interested than in Germany. If, in a variety of reasons and explanations, we single out the main ones and reject private, biased and secondary ones, which, by the way, have a wide circulation at the “school-cadet” level, the bottom line is the absence of the German Navy’s actions in the First World War corresponding to its objectives and material level of strategy.

For once and for all, Germany was able to build the world's second fleet with enormous tension of all its forces. In combination with the best-recognized army, this gave rise to hopes to occupy a dominant position in Europe, and not only in it. Moreover, such serious military preparations, according to the laws of the strategy, are irreversible. However, the military-political leadership and naval command of Germany did not have the corresponding strategic attitudes regarding the war at sea. This is recognized primarily by their own research specialists. Following from the general to the particular, it is appropriate to extend this problem to the account of the submarine fleet, then a very young kind of force. In this, apparently, it is necessary to look for the main reason for the non-achievement of targets in the war by the submarine fleet of Germany.

This can be seen and quite deep overall operational and strategic implications. Let us not forget that the British Grand Fleet was almost a third stronger than the German Open Sea Fleet, and joining such a balance of forces in a general battle was at least reckless. On this basis, the plan of the German naval command was to weaken the Grand Fleet in advance, luring the British into the sea with part of the forces and catching them there with superior forces, leveling the forces for the future general battle. After Admiral Hugo von Pohl 14, December 1914 of the year missed such a unique opportunity, hopes to equalize forces focused mainly around the successes of submarines. 200 of more than 5000 transports died on mines (1,5 mt) put up by the submarines.

As for other reasons, it is customary to say: The Germans entered World War II with a strategy and a well-developed system of training and using submarine forces. Compared to the Second World War, without exaggeration, it was a battle of talented, bold and enterprising single submariners. This is understandable, the young kind of forces had few experienced specialists, the submarines had tactical and technical characteristics limited before the war. The fleet command itself did not have clear and clear views on the use of submarines. Young submarine commanders with their modest captain-lieutenant stripes and sometimes valuable suggestions against the background of brilliant and venerable flagships and commanders of the ships of the Open Sea Fleet were simply lost. Therefore, it is not surprising that the main decisions on the conduct of submarine warfare were made without taking into account and in-depth knowledge of the use of submarines. Throughout the war, the submarines for the fleet operators and the high command remained a thing in themselves.


In the First World War, Germany managed to do without a strategy, albeit with a fleet, and by the Second got a strategy, but did not manage to build a fleet. It is close to the truth. Indeed, to start a war with England with the existing balance of forces at sea for Germany was a real insolence or insanity. Not by times, but by an order of magnitude and more than the Royal Navy, especially in conjunction with the French, with which they operated, surpassed the fleet of the Third Reich in 1939 – 1940. But Hitler knocked France out of the game, almost taking possession of her fleet. Only the absolute geopolitical indifference of the Fuhrer saved the day. Attach it then, or a little later, to its albeit compact but well-prepared fleet, an excellent in quality Italian, as well as French fleet, the situation could not be in favor of Great Britain. Especially, taking into account such a decisive factor as the acquisition of the most important strategic position with access to the ocean as a result of the Norwegian and French campaigns. In such strategic conditions, the strangulation of England by the conduct of a total tonnage war (the economic blockade of the islands) does not look like fantasy. But soon enough, the commander of the submarine forces of Germany, Admiral Dennitz with his submarines will remain alone in this war against the Royal Navy, and then the US Navy.

Dennitz opposed any attempt by the strategic leadership to “pull apart” his submarine in other tasks and areas. In his understanding, in order to achieve the objectives of the suppression of trade, submarine strikes should continuously have approaches to England. Therefore, studying the problems of the effectiveness of submarines against the fleet of the enemy, we have to turn to rare cases of deviations from this rule. This is a Norwegian operation, submarine operations in the Mediterranean, perhaps an episode known as the Bismarck Hunt.

The start of the war, as in 1914, was promising. At the Mediterranean theater of military operations, the German commanders had to “sharpen” their weapons to fight the enemy’s fleet, and the results were not slow. Their efforts are best commented on by the Prime Minister of England. At an emergency closed meeting of the House of Commons in 1941, Churchill said that almost a third of all major ships of the Royal Navy had been lost or incapacitated for a long time in the shortest possible time, within a few weeks.

Sinking of military transport by a submarine in the Mediterranean.
German postcard from the First World War. Xnumx

Admiral Dennitz is not very cunning, promising to strangle England with submarines. As soon as their number approached the declared number of units in the 100 position, success exceeded 700 thousand bp, which overlapped the reproduction of vessels. However, the calculations were valid for 1939 – 1941's. Time was lost, and by the time of the "triumph" of his ideas, the United States helped raise the tonnage reproduction to 2 million tons, as well as complete the PLO events, which soon allowed to win the "Battle of the Atlantic".

Achieving the goals of "tonnage war" made, in fact, irrelevant the hunt for the enemy fleet. From this proceeded Dennitz, who did not consider it possible to disperse forces. Hence, apparently, more modest than one would expect, the results achieved by the German submarine against the Allied fleet.

As in the First World War, the Germans were not given secret control of the forces of the fleet. In at least 75% of cases, the enemy was aware of their intentions, the location of submarines and wolf packs in the ocean was direction-finding. The Germans failed to establish interaction between the submarines and other branches of the naval forces and aviation on a regular basis, which significantly affected the combat effectiveness. With the deployment of communications maneuvering anti-submarine forces equipped with aircraft and radars, the submarines were driven into the water, which completely deprived them of maneuverability, and with it the results. Attempts to resist this circumstance only multiplied losses.


The appearance of the post-war Navy suggests that it was primarily a submarine fleet. And not even because more than 200 atomic and at least 400 diesel submarines passed through it. He had to solve problems in the ocean, where no other kind of forces of the fleet simply met the requirements of combat stability. The absence of aircraft carriers, this most universal means of solving the problem, was attempted to compensate for the unprecedented specialization of the submarines. Even at the end of the 50-x began to appear underwater carriers of cruise and ballistic missiles.

In parallel with the introduction of nuclear power plants on the submarines, the deployment of missile and torpedo nuclear weapons, which informed the submarines of completely new operational and tactical capabilities, ocean navigation areas, which were as close as possible to the intended combat areas, began to develop at a faster rate.

However, we didn’t leave much choice, taking into account the overt threat of a surprise attack by forces of aircraft-carrying strike groups (AUG): 6 and 2 of the operational fleets of the US Navy from the west, 7 and 3 from the east and 5 th - from the south. At the same time, the AUG 6-th, 7-th and 5-th fleets were deployed on a permanent basis and maneuvered in the immediate vicinity of the aviation lift lines - just up to the deck aircraft 240 – 270.

At least four or five nuclear submarines (PLA) of the probable enemy literally periscopes examined exits from the main fleet bases in the North and the Far East, ready to detect and thwart the massive deployment of our Navy forces. Someone needed to fend off these very obvious and constant threats, including the creation of a “possible inconvenience” to the likely opponent. In addition to submariners, it was nobody to do. Thus, the Navy submarines during the Cold War years found themselves in the main direction of fighting the fleet of a potential enemy. Therefore, the question of their combat viability in the list of main tasks on the main line, including against aircraft carriers, is of fundamental importance.

To begin with, the potential enemy in those years was not himself inclined to underestimate the degree of threat posed by the Navy. His anti-submarine measures in scope and tension corresponded to the norms of wartime. The problem of antisubmarine war was raised to the status of a state. This was the best assessment of the naval submarine forces. The likely adversary is developing underwater forces at priority rates and attaches paramount importance to their combat effectiveness, which is also a recognition of the high status of the navy underwater. And finally, it remains to be noted that the actual state, structure and organization of the submarine fleet of the Navy left such a rich field for improvement that it is impossible not to discern a powerful unused reserve in them.

No matter how today some of the suddenly “enlightened” authors insulted our recent past, including the choice of a strategy for building the Navy, according to the universal acceptance of their own and other specialists, the Navy during the Cold War as a whole fulfilled its task. As for the interpretations and judgments about our alleged defeat in the Cold War, these claims are not to the military and, especially, to the military sailors.

Despite the divisions of missile and torpedo atomic submarines that appeared in the middle of the 60-ies, many exercises with a complex tactical background with missile and torpedo firing, an element of uncertainty remained, and quite significant.

With regard to diesel submarines in the main direction, this uncertainty was destroyed during the Caribbean crisis. In the conditions of active counteraction to the fleet of a probable enemy acting according to wartime regulations, almost all of our submarines were found on the approaches to Cuba, which meant their destruction in wartime.

In assessing the combat effectiveness of nuclear submarines, one has to rely on the truly invaluable experience of the Falkland crisis, where both warring parties turned out to be modern and wealthy. Special attention should be paid to the experience of using submarines in a remote area of ​​the ocean theater, without relying on the coastal infrastructure. (Approximately, our nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean zone acted for many years.) The Royal Navy's PLA formally fulfilled the tasks assigned to them: they imposed a blockade of disputed islands, created a real threat to the enemy attack forces and even drove the Argentine fleet into bases by attacking and defeating the light cruiser. ” General Belgrano.

At the same time, the experience of the combat use of submarines in the South Atlantic strongly alarmed and very puzzled not only the command of the Royal Navy, but all specialists. There were few reasons for delight. The sinking of an old cruiser, “crawling” in the region with the speed of 13 knots, with the complete inactivity of its ship escort, is difficult to recognize as a great success. At the same time, the other two British submarines lost an aircraft carrier with escort ships. It was he who, with his “long arm” in the form of “Super Etandars” with the Exoset PKR, represented a real threat to the expeditionary forces of Great Britain. Moreover, there was absolutely nothing to counter this threat, except for the PLA. The death of the destroyer Sheffield, which soon followed, confirmed the thoroughness of such fears.

The revelation was limited search capabilities of independently operating submarines in the ocean, insufficient reliability of torpedo weapons, which forced the use of the old “straight-through” MK-8, marked by an acute shortage of anti-ship missiles on board modern submarines, and limited tracking at high speeds, especially in shallow water. But the main problem was the imperfect control of the submarine, which remained almost at the level of the First World War. This nearly jeopardized the success of the whole operation.

Decentralization with the remoteness of the theater and the dynamics of events seemed to the Admiralty too bold step. If management were more flexible, the case would probably not be limited to references to the achieved indirect efficiency. It would be about attacking the Argentine AUG. There can be no talk of any condescending assessment of the actions of English SSNs in the South Atlantic. Rather, on the contrary, it was found that the problem of the use of submarines in remote areas is universal, recognizable and typical.

The active appeal to the Navy of the middle of the 80-ies to the problems of decentralized control of submarine groups that solve one problem is also surprising. We “overslept” the problem of the deployment of anti-ship missiles (RCC) on all submarines. The very possibility of finding and detecting a large ship connection in the open ocean using technical means even of modern submarines operating independently remains a very problematic task.

Conclusions can be reduced to answering two questions. Was the Navy ready in its “underwater format” during the Cold War to give an adequate response to a potential enemy? And is there a serious prospect for the submarine in the future?

The answer to the first question just involves the assessment of the viability of the submarine fleet against the main forces of the enemy fleet. This answer is also not easy because the author in his time more than five years headed the grouping of diverse shock forces in the direction of the fight against aircraft carriers in the fleet. There is always the risk of bias, no matter how honest the answer may seem. In addition, the situation and, above all, the real balance of forces of the parties did not remain constant. As our strike capabilities grew, the probable enemy vigorously increased efforts to improve anti-submarine, anti-aircraft (anti-missile) defense, their operational depth increased. The very idea of ​​defeating the main objectives of the enemy — from the nuclear to the non-nuclear variant of defeat — evolved, which could not but affect the operational indicators of the task solution. The impact of the Falkland crisis had a great influence. "Aegis", CERTAS, SGAR appeared after him. For our part, the submarine missile cruisers and supersonic rocket-carrying aircraft, equipped with qualitatively new missiles with artificial intelligence and a space target designation system, were no longer opposed to the forces of a potential enemy.

Of course, it was in a position to crush the enemy's first strike echelon. True, the mechanism for solving the problem depended on the quality of control, the actions of the commanders and crews of submarines and airplanes. As for the fate of the second echelon of the enemy and the subsequent actions, the question rested on the problem of withdrawing forces from the battlefield and "reloading", first of all, the missile carriers. But this is another story and a higher prerogative of addressing the issue!

As for the second question, it is no less important, since the construction of a new fleet has been launched, almost from scratch. Often there are voices not in favor of the submarine. To oppose aircraft carriers to submarines, to put it mildly, is an unreasonable and ungrateful task. Look at least at the experience of the great fleets of the world. In addition, we have more than solid national experience in submarine shipbuilding.

With the advanced development of anti-missile technologies and their wide spread, the prospects for achieving the goals of guaranteed fire destruction are increasingly shifting towards the underwater, suddenly used weapons. Its reliable carrier traditionally is precisely the PL. However, a full “revision” of the torpedo weapon park is required in favor of giving it modern tactical and technical characteristics, deploying RCC on all submarines, the immediate and widespread introduction of air-independent power plants on all non-nuclear submarines, including through their modernization during repairs, as well as implementation of network-centric technologies. The delay for another year or two is like death.

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  1. Sakhalininsk
    Sakhalininsk 5 February 2013 12: 00
    Plus to the author, for a good overview of the history of the submarine’s struggle against the surface fleet, but it seems to me that I should have started with the Russo-Japanese war. Nevertheless, the first attack of the submarine was just then, and the fact that there was no result, so the attack itself is already the result given the technical level of those first boats.
    1. Kibb
      Kibb 5 February 2013 13: 25
      Quote: Sakhalininets
      Yet the first attack of the submarine was then

      The first submarine attack was a city earlier, during the civil war in the USA, on the other hand, you are still right, as more or less modern weapons within the framework of the use of the "heterogeneous fleet" of submarines were used in RYaV
      1. Chicot 1
        Chicot 1 5 February 2013 18: 18
        She was even earlier ... Also in the United States, and more precisely then back in the North American colonies, during the so-called War of Independence ... And that ..
        1776 - "Turtle" designed by Bushnell attacked a surface ship (if the memory of the New York harbor does not change) ...

        And then followed ...
        1801 - the famous R. Fulton builds his "Nautilus". By the way, J. Verne borrowed this name for the submarine in his novel. So the Americans named their first submarine not at all after the submarine of the fictional Captain Nemo ...
        1834 - General C. Schilder builds the world's first missile submarine. So we can say that Russia is the homeland of submarine missile carriers ...

        But then there were the events of the North American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War ... Perhaps not all and not all were listed. Alas, not the best expert on the history of the submarine fleet ... Maybe someone more knowledgeable and will add to this list ...
        1. Kibb
          Kibb 5 February 2013 19: 49
          I agree,
          Quote: Chicot 1
          1776 - Bushnell's "Turtle"
          but I meant the first successful attack. Ezra Lee couldn’t undermine Eagle
          1. Chicot 1
            Chicot 1 5 February 2013 20: 28
            Be that as it may, this is essentially the first thoroughly undertaken attempt to use an underwater vehicle directly to solve military problems. And the fact that it was unsuccessful is so difficult for pioneers ... But the beginning was made and the first step was taken ...
  2. I think so
    I think so 5 February 2013 16: 46
    With modern means of detecting submarines, their combat use may be limited to their own terrestrial waters, and then it’s a question ... Throwing a couple of trifles into the ocean of autonomous moving reconnaissance buoys ... Moreover, if the intelligence of these buoys is increased, they can serve as mines ... After all, the submarines are not always in motion, but for the most part they simply lie at the bottom waiting for the command ...
    1. rainer
      rainer 5 February 2013 17: 27
      Well, you’re an optimist, my friend .... estimate how many of these buoys do you need for the entire world ocean? and currents? and marine fauna that is noisy not childish? Well, for sweet as a mustache it is controlled ....
  3. rainer
    rainer 5 February 2013 17: 41
    The article is interesting but with flaws ...
    Frankly, the actions of submarines are a branch of the cruising war brought to a logical maximum. And as a result - a continuous destructive destructive of world trade. Is it strange that the author ignored the Pacific Ocean in World War II? But it was there that the Lockwood guys consistently embodied Doenitz and Co.'s dream of unlimited submarine warfare. By the way, it was Lockwood who, together with Nimitz, smeared Doenitz at Nuremberg, such professional solidarity. And to be honest, the style of warfare by the Americans is purely primitive in the trivial trick - we are crushing the masses. Well, I do not see anything outstanding in the victory over the country with the economy of the level of Belgium (this is about Japan who does not know).
  4. Veteran
    Veteran 5 February 2013 20: 10
    Nevertheless, certain accents of the combat use of submarines must be emphasized in modern conditions, which are very different from the features of the use of these forces, for example, in previous World Wars. The most significant nuclear submarine’s possible task was the task of ultra-long-range remote destruction of large ground targets by nuclear ballistic missiles, which can be used to completely dust the entire enemy’s country with dust. Under the conditions of non-use of nuclear warheads, the same task — the defeat of objects vital to the functioning of the state and its armed forces — can be assigned to nuclear submarines equipped with strategic missile defense systems, although they will solve this problem with a much smaller, but quite safe distance from the coast , from the far and near sea zones, and much more massive strikes, requiring the use of thousands of TFR. This is the first and main feature of the use of submarines - a massive defeat of ground targets. The second direction is participation in the damage to the naval composition of large operational strike and multi-purpose groupings of the enemy in the far sea zone, in order to disrupt the fulfillment of combat missions by them. This should be performed by strike and multipurpose submarines with anti-ship missiles. The third direction is “hunter”, anti-submarine, whose tasks are carried out by multi-purpose boats with anti-submarine weapons, aimed at detecting, tracking and defeating enemy nuclear submarines. And only then come the other, already becoming secondary, areas of the tasks - the struggle for communications, actions in the near sea and coastal zones.
    1. rainer
      rainer 6 February 2013 05: 20
      With this approach to the use of submarines, the vital issue is the deployment of submarines in the combat zone, the sad point is that in the threatened period, the submarine’s exit from the base is fixed at one time (an hour ago the submarine was here and now there is no strange ??? fixed by satellite), therefore the process of deploying a submarine connection in the database area becomes crucial, here the question is for staff and commanders to ensure this very process ... Well, I would not be afraid of using tactical nuclear weapons, especially since the military doctrine of the Russian Federation allows for this.
  5. crambol
    crambol 5 February 2013 20: 40
    Supplement to the article. 1967 year. Germany, roadstead of the Kiel Bay. The Germans are towing a "pocket" submarine for sea trials. The workers carefully close the wheelhouse and the tail number.
  6. Kars
    Kars 5 February 2013 20: 46