The Submarine: A History


For centuries people dreamed of navigating under the sea, but it was not until thebeginning of the twentieth century that inventors succeeded in developing practical submarines. With the coming of World War I, nations saw something entirely new in war: the deadly effectiveness of underwater craft, with German U-boats threatening to starve Britain and bringing the United States into the war, thus proving underwater battles more important than the great battles fought on land. A generation later U-boats repeated ...
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For centuries people dreamed of navigating under the sea, but it was not until thebeginning of the twentieth century that inventors succeeded in developing practical submarines. With the coming of World War I, nations saw something entirely new in war: the deadly effectiveness of underwater craft, with German U-boats threatening to starve Britain and bringing the United States into the war, thus proving underwater battles more important than the great battles fought on land. A generation later U-boats repeated the struggle in the Atlantic, while in the Pacific U.S. submarines literally put Japan out of business. Then in the nuclear age, the true submarine became the most powerful weapon of war ever created—the weapon that paradoxically kept the peace.

Now, military historian Thomas Parrish tells the story of those who first dreamed of underwater ships; of the practical and ingenious inventors and engineers who created and developed the submarine; of visionary naval strategists; of famous skippers on all sides—steel-nerved men like America's Dick O'Kane, Germany's Reinhard Hardegen—who wielded this weapon; of the famous and infamous deeds of boats like the U-20, the Wahoo, and the nuclear-powered Nautilus and George Washington; and of the tragedies that befell boats like the American Thresher and the Russian Kursk. Parrish's compelling narrative blends strategy, high policy, technology, heroism, and perilous adventure.

Author Biography: Thomas Parrish is the author of a number of highly respected books on twentieth-century history, including Berlin in the Balance, The Cold War Encyclopedia, The American Codebreakers, and Roosevelt and Marshall: Partners in Politics and War. He also created and edited the acclaimed Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of World War II and the six-volume Men and Battle series.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This readable if uneven history of the submarine takes the subject from David Bushnell's Turtle, which carried out the first submarine combat mission in 1776, to the Russian Kursk, whose explosion in 2000 was the latest of many disasters in the accident-prone Soviet and Russian fleet. In between are basically four episodes in the creation of undersea warfare. Late-19th-century developments culminated with engineer John Philip Holland's dual-propulsion system. By WWI, the unrestricted submarine warfare that was supposed to win the war for Germany lost it by bringing in the United States. In WWII, U-boats were again nearly decisive, and the U.S. subs in the Pacific actually were. Finally, in the postwar era, the nuclear submarine carrying ballistic missiles has become the ultimate deterrent. Parrish's coverage in each period varies among technical developments (a plethora of faulty torpedoes), combat operations (including strategy), heroic captains (e.g., Mush Morton of Wahoo) and inventors (Holland, Rickover and Raborn, the father of Polaris). Add a certain number of glitches (the British X-craft used dropped mines, not ones attached by divers against Tirpitz), but also add in smooth and even witty writing, and the result is a most respectable book. It may not be the seasoned experts' ideal, but it should set the new armchair submariner sailing off into the extensive and up-to-date bibliography. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. 4-city author tour; 20-city radioi satellite tour. (On sale May 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Well-known military historian Parrish (Berlin in the Balance, 1945-1949) provides a superb, in-depth history of the submarine, ranging from the 18th century to present-day, nuclear-submarine technology. Following an explanation of the appearance of the sub during the U.S. Civil War, Parrish continues with solid chapters on the role of subs in World War I, the between-war period of further advances in undersea technology, and the important role of subs in the World War II battles of the Atlantic and the Pacific, ending with chapters that cover present-day subs, the tragic loss of the Russian submarine Kursk, and more recent concern for advanced sonar technology and its potential negative impact on undersea mammals. Parrish applies his considerable narrative skills, providing a captivating background to the importance of subs in naval warfare, the functional aspects of how subs operate, the significant historical events that involved submarines, the influence of subs on sea power, and the political ramifications during the many eras of sub advancements, including the role played by subs during the Cold War. Parrish's solid work nicely updates Norman Friedman's U.S. Submarines Through 1945; provides a broader focus than United States Submarines, edited by David Hinkle; and complements the Encyclopedia of American Submarines, edited by Wilbur Cross and others. Highly recommended for all military research collections and for larger public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dive, dive! Ah-oogah, ah-oogah! Beg pardon, but military historian Parrish (Berlin in the Balance, 1998, etc.) steers his text so far away from Run Silent, Run Deep-like cliches (and, sadly, excitement) that the reader may feel compelled to provide some. Instead, Parrish's narrative duly points to the evolution of the submarine from experimental tinker toy to tactical spearhead. A high point comes early on, when Parrish discusses the many sources of the modern submarine, including designs by Leonardo da Vinci; 16th-century English mathematician William Bourne; American naval architects Robert Fulton and David Bushnell; and the unsung Irish revolutionary John Holland, whose Fenian Ram of 1878 "came close to ranking as the first functioning submarine." In WWI, Parrish holds, the now fully functioning submarine "exercised decisive political influence"; it helped shape political alliances that eventually drew America into the Allied cause, and its manufacture and use were political as much as strategic matters. Had it had only 50 more submarines, one English leader remarked, Germany would have won that naval battle, as it very nearly did the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII. Parrish revisits now-familiar episodes in WWII naval history, including the deciphering of the German Enigma cryptographic system. But, usefully, he illuminates some lesser-known aspects of the conflict: the lack of coordination among the Axis naval powers (Pearl Harbor, Parrish writes, was as a surprise to the Germans as to the Americans) and the successful application of German tactics on the part of American submariners in the Pacific, especially against Japanese merchant ships. Parrish closes his narrative with anexamination of the modern superpowers' submarine forces, including the Soviets' accident-prone supersubs and the Americans' stealthy "boomers," which are still in service today. In that modern era, he observes, the submarine had evolved still further, from highwayman-like destroyer of merchant ships to a powerful instrument of nuclear deterrence-and "queen of warships."Dry if well-researched: best for students of naval history. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky/Stuart Krichevsky Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670033133
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/6/2004
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.87 (d)

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PREFACEFrom time to time in the following pages, you will see mention of the American naval historian and philosopher Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose famous book The Influence of Sea Power upon History, published in the closing years of the nineteenth century, created an intellectual revolution among people in every country who concerned themselves with naval affairs and national policy. The captain’s insights and arguments gave his readers a new way of looking at issues and questions either that they had never thought much about or that they had believed long settled. In a similar if far more modest way, the present book seeks, in telling its story, to show the remarkable influence the submarine has exerted on the history of the world in the last hundred years. To put it another way, the book presents this history from the point of view of the submarine. It was fortunate that this theme, with its dimensions and implications, declared itself; otherwise, such a vast subject as the history of the submarine might well have sunk into an ocean of general information and become merely a catalogue of unrelated facts instead of a genuine narrative.

Although it had a colorful past in the minds of dreamers, the submarine reached its form and developed genuine usefulness only at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it went on to play dominant and diversified parts in the three great conflicts of the century: World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. In the first war (aptly called the Great War by most Europeans), it exercised decisive political influence (a startling realization for people at the time), even though it was still a brand-new part of the world’s navies. Was it a warship that should fight other warships—one good and proper soldier against another—or was it a wide-ranging highwayman, a commerce raider operating outside all conventions to attack merchant shipping? Once realizing the question, politicians and admirals endlessly argued it. In the second war the submarine played a central economic role, seeming to offer victory to one side in the struggle only to withdraw the prize and then, in another ocean, present it to the opponents. In the Cold War the submarine became the direct agent of strategy as the guarantor of the strange two-sided peace that ended in the 1990s when the world returned to its state of normal chaos. In each of the three conflicts, of course, the submarine played more than one part, but its dominant influence exerted itself in these three differing ways.

The story of the submarine is also a story of boats and people: those who created the boats (including the early dreamers), those who employed them, and those who fought against them. Influences can hardly exist in a realm apart from the personal and concrete and technical (for instance, the character of a chief like Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto or of a daring skipper like Lieutenant Commander Mush Morton; the effectiveness of torpedoes or the development of nuclear propulsion).

Lastly, and specifically, the story of the submarine is a story featuring a cast of heroes— many more than could find mention here. There are villains, too, and some of them are the same as the heroes.

The names of cities, islands, and other geographical entities are given as they were at the time under discussion (Surabaya, Formosa), with clarification supplied where it seemed needed.

The Notes, which begin on page 519, give the sources of all quotations and of other material in the main body of the book. In some instances the Notes present background information or give further details about particular points.

CHARLESTON 2000–1864

On the sunny morning of Tuesday, August 8, 2000, the city of Charleston gave itself a party. Men in Civil War uniforms and women in dresses of the period—some in the symbolic black of widows—mixed with other residents and tourists, while out in the harbor and beyond more than two hundred boats of all sizes rode the swell, their owners waiting for a special moment. Crews from the broadcast TV networks, the History Channel, and German TV had come for the occasion, and even a team from Fox Sports, though, as a reporter commented, “they weren’t exactly sure why.” A place on the media boat went for $150.

About four and a half miles out from the Battery, a huge crane began raising a steel superstructure and the sling that hung from it, and at 8:39 a strange-looking object broke the water—a 40-foot cigar, encrusted with corrosion and marine growths, that had lain on the bottom, just thirty feet below the surface, for 136 years. Hesitating, carefully timing his move against the swell, the crane operator deftly deposited the 23-ton object on the barge that would carry it into the harbor. A great wave of sound arose from sirens, whistles, and bells, and the thousands of people began applauding as the tugs maneuvered the barge shoreward. Then, as it passed the Maritime Center, with members of the recovery team constantly wetting it with garden hoses to protect it from the air, Confederate battle reenactors fired a twenty-one-gun salute.

At Waterfront Park, a woman said, “I can’t even find the words to describe what I felt when they went by. We don’t have heroes like that any more.”

The cradle holding this strangest of cigars bore the sign:

At the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln had ordered a blockade of the Confederate coast, and the navy, unprepared for such a responsibility, cobbled together a scratch force that even included the Staten Island ferry.

For a year or more the blockade proved ineffective, but as the Union navy grew, it stood guard in ever greater force outside Confederate ports. The Reverend Franklin Smith, a Tennessee inventor as well as preacher, published a letter, widely reprinted across the South, in which he proposed a new kind of weapon against the tightening Yankee hold— a cigar-shaped craft that could move underwater to attack enemy ships.

A group of like-minded New Orleans citizens, including a planter and merchant named Horace L. Hunley, began working to create such a vessel. By 1863 the group had moved to Mobile, with Hunley as one of the designers as well as the chief contributor. Their work produced a craft that was constructed from a converted iron boiler and was only about five feet in diameter. When put to the test in July 1863, this tiny vessel performed perfectly, as its “torpedo,” a trailed explosive charge, sank a coal barge. After the test the Confederates shipped the vessel, named for the man who financed it, to Charleston, where the blockading Union ships were almost shutting down the port, giving the North a symbolic as well as an economic victory. Charleston merchants put a $50,000 bounty (presumably in Confederate currency) on each blockading Union ship.

The military commander in Charleston, General P. G. T. Beauregard, took the H. L. Hunley over from its private owners, but army proprietorship immediately proved disastrous. After bumbling soldiers allowed it to be swamped by a passing ship, with the loss of five members of the crew, the general permitted Hunley himself to take control of the vessel, but the financier also proved incompetent as a skipper. Two months later, a hatch mistakenly left open caused the submarine to sink again, taking Hunley and his seven crewmen to their deaths. General Beauregard, who saw the Hunley brought up, said that “the spectacle was indescribably ghastly. The unfortunate men were contorted into all sorts of horrible attitudes.” The Hunley, raised and repaired, became known as the “peripatetic coffin.”

The motive power of the boat came from the muscles of the crew, who turned cranks attached to a drive shaft; she could achieve a speed of about 4 knots. Night after night in January 1864, the laboring crewmen would crank the boat out into the bay in search of a Union victim, but, warned by Southern turncoats, the Union commander, Admiral John Dahlgren, had spread iron booms to protect his ironclads. Then, at the beginning of February, a new Union ship arrived, the wooden-hulled steam sloop Housatonic, which, most conveniently for the hard-working crew of the Hunley, anchored closer in to the harbor than the other Union ships, just about 4 miles out.

On the cold night of February 17, the Hunley set out from Breach Inlet, near Charleston, heading toward the Housatonic, which lay at anchor just 6 miles from Fort Sumter, where the war had started. The submarine would employ a new mode of attack; instead of trailing the black-powder charge, she would now assault the enemy with the torpedo mounted on a 15-foot spar protruding from the bow. At about 8:45, a deckhand on the Housatonic spotted the approach of what looked to him like a dolphin swimming on the surface. But as suspicion spread among the crewmen, they began peppering the craft with small arms fire. Others slipped the anchor chain and tried to get the ship moving away from the impending attack.

But they had not moved quickly enough. The Hunley plunged the point of her spar into the wooden hide of the Housatonic, forward of the mizzenmast on the starboard side and just in line with the powder magazine, as if administering a lethal injection with a hypodermic needle. Then, backing the boat away under the small arms fire to a distance probably considerably less than the desired 150 feet, the skipper, Lieutenant George Dixon, pulled on the rope trigger that detonated the torpedo. A large explosion resulted, sending the Housatonic heeling to port and sinking stern first. When she went down, the tops of her masts remained above water, and sailors took refuge in the rigging. Only five of them died. Meanwhile, having done her work, the Hunley sailed away into a lasting mystery. She sank about half a mile seaward of her victim, carrying nine men to their deaths, but no one knew why. Before disappearing, she flashed the blue lantern, the agreed-upon signal of success, and a soldier on shore at Breach Inlet lit a bonfire to guide her home. But she never arrived.

In her one brief engagement, however, the Hunley had entered history by becoming the first submersible craft ever to sink an enemy ship. The world and the submarine itself would undergo vast changes before such an event occurred again.

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Table of Contents

List of maps
Ch. 1 The peripatetic coffin 3
Pt. I The underwater pioneers
Ch. 2 Dreamers and some doers 9
Ch. 3 The dream realized : Holland and Lake 23
Pt. II The great war : the u-boats and Mr. Wilson
Ch. 4 "Those damned Englanders" 45
Ch. 5 "The dreaded little submarine" 57
Ch. 6 Blockades for a new war 67
Ch. 7 "My God, it's the Lusitania!" 82
Ch. 8 A president too proud 94
Ch. 9 From Folkestone to Dieppe 105
Ch. 10 In the med 113
Ch. 11 "The cursed crowd" 123
Ch. 12 The fight for sea shepherds 139
Ch. 13 Ideas, methods, and triumph 150
Pt. III From war to war
Ch. 14 Boats and builders I 165
Ch. 15 Arms and the nations 171
Ch. 16 Boats and builders II 178
Pt. IV World War II : the struggle for the Atlantic
Ch. 17 Lieutenant Lemp's great decision 195
Ch. 18 U-boats in trouble 207
Ch. 19 Atlantic raiders : the "happy time" 220
Ch. 20 Deja Vu in the North Atlantic? 234
Ch. 21 Raiders in the far west 251
Ch. 22 Massacre in the north 265
Ch. 23 "Too much for the hun" 284
Pt. V World War II : the Pacific prize
Ch. 24 Surprise and shock 299
Ch. 25 "Execute unrestricted warfare" 317
Ch. 26 Battle : boats vs. invaders 334
Ch. 27 Submarines at Midway 355
Ch. 28 War mission for the giants 378
Ch. 29 The star and the torpedoes 388
Ch. 30 Medals of honor 404
Pt. VI The cold war : the nuclear guarantee
Ch. 31 Toward the true submarine 427
Ch. 32 "The price that would be paid" 442
Ch. 33 Admiral Burke makes a choice 462
Ch. 34 The reign of the boomers 476
Ch. 35 Killers, spies, and tragedies 491
Epilogue : on eternal patrol 513
Notes 519
Bibliography 547
Acknowledgments 559
Index 563
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2004

    The Substance of Things Hoped For: Understanding The History of the Forest, Not One Tree

    Thomas Parrish provides a reference for one seeking to grasp why the submarine brought as enormous a fear to mariners during WWI and WWII as did the fear of bombing from airplanes for civilians and military on land. The material exhibits the possible truncation of an editorial hand when more information is desired, yet to have not kept the overview of material in focus would have led to a loss of the continuity Parrish brings to this story of a weapon--combined with the nuclear missle capable of being fired from beneath the ocean surface near any land mass--as much responsible for the end of the Cold War as on ground events. This is a volume for the general reader as well as an important coalesence of stories on these boats and their people. And, if not for the submarine rescue of one George H. W. Bush, we would not have known one of this century's warrior/hero Presidents.

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