Letters from the Front
A Special Christmas Story
Music from World War One
World War One, The Submarine
By the eve of World War I
all of the major navies included submarines in their
fleets, but these craft were relatively small, were
considered of questionable military value, and generally
were intended for coastal operations. The most
significant exception to the concept of coastal activity
was the German Deutschland class of merchant U-boats,
each 315 feet long with two large cargo compartments.
These submarines could carry 700 tons of cargo at 12- to
13-knot speeds on the surface and at seven knots
submerged. The Deutschland itself became the U-155 when
fitted with torpedo tubes and deck guns, and, with seven
similar submarines, it served in a combat role during
the latter stages of the war. In comparison, the
"standard" submarine of World War I measured slightly
over 200 feet in length and displaced less than 1,000
tons on the surface.
prewar submarines generally had been armed with
self-propelled torpedoes for attacking enemy ships.
During the war submarines also were fitted with deck
guns. This permitted them to approach enemy merchant
ships on the surface and signal them to stop for
searching (an early war policy) and later to sink small
or unarmed ships that did not warrant expenditure of
torpedoes. Most war-built submarines had one and
sometimes two guns of about three- or four-inch caliber;
however, several later German submarines carried
150-millimetre guns (including the Deutschland class in
important armament variation was the submarine modified
to lay mines during covert missions off an enemy's
Germans constructed several specialized submarines with
vertical mine tubes through their hulls; some U-boats
carried 48 mines in addition to their torpedoes.
noteworthy was the development, during the war, of the
concept of an antisubmarine submarine. British
submarines sank 17 German U-boats during the conflict;
the early submarine-versus-submarine successes led to
British development of the R-class submarine intended
specifically for this role. These were relatively small
craft, 163 feet long and displacing 410 tons on the
surface, with only one propeller (most contemporary
submarines had two). Diesel engines could drive them at
nine knots on the surface, but once submerged; large
batteries permitted their electric motors to drive them
underwater at the high speed of 15 knots for two hours.
(Ten knots was a common speed for submerged submarines
until after World War II.) Thus, they were both
maneuverable and fast. Advanced underwater listening
equipment (asdic, or sonar) was installed, and six
forward torpedo tubes made them potent weapons. Although
these submarines appeared too late to have any actual
effect on the war, they pioneered a new concept in the
development of the submarine.
All World War I-era submarines were propelled by diesels on the surface and by electric motors submerged, except for the British Swordfish and K class. These submarines, intended to operate as scouts for surface warships, required the high speeds then available only from steam turbines. The K-boats steamed at 23.5 knots on the surface, while electric motors gave them a 10-knot submerged speed.