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British Submarines in Two World Wars

British Submarines in Two World Wars

Norman Friedman
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Norman Friedman has produced another definitive study, this time of the development of the Royal Navy submarine from a ‘clockwork mouse’ bought specifically to develop submarine tactics to the lethal fighting machines that caused so much damage to the Axis in the Mediterranean in WW2.

The RN, in the run-up to WW1, was caught between trying to maintain its dominance as a sea power and to maintain a cutting edge. There was a fear in many corners of the service that any new innovation would reduce the existing combat power of the RN’s various surface fleets. The biggest threat was, of course, the submarine. Admiral Wilson’s well-known comments about submarines being underhand and damned un-English, and his call for captured submariners to be hanged as pirates are well-known. The RN had no choice but to start to assess the capabilities and limitations of this new weapon of war. Naturally, this would lead to assessing how to make them more effective.

During the inter-war years, the RN’s thoughts turned to the growing threat from Japan. This informed the design of submarine cruisers – the O and P classes – that had the speed and range to reinforce Singapore and the China Station. The large size of these vessels made diving them a slow and leisurely process, which would make them highly vulnerable to ASW attack from the air during the next war.

The culmination of all of this experience was to be the prewar T-class and the wartime U-class – although the latter was originally designed to be a short-range training submarine to replace the elderly H-class. T and U-boats became the definitive Royal Navy submarine classes of the Second World War. Seaworthy, able to crash dive and surface rapidly to fully exploit the principle of surprise, powerfully-armed with ahead and astern-firing torpedoes, and a lethal 6 inch gun that its crew could bring to bear within seconds of surfacing, these boats, in the hands of aggressive commanders, were deadly but versatile craft.

This book is a well-illustrated, all-encompassing study. Friedman’s work shows the RN to be a lot more innovative in the field of submarine warfare than I previously thought. 5/5 anchors/mushroomheads.

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