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World-Wide Midget Submarines

In the navies of the USA, Great Britain, France, and Japan, in the complement of submarine large units there are midget submarines, which were combined into groups of several submarines each. Such submarines, existing as prototypes, can, given the well-developed shipbuilding industry in these countries, be produced in large numbers in a short time. They would most probably be used according to the instructions of a naval theater command toperform sabotage against important military and economic installations and to carry out reconnaissance actions. Inasmuch as the basic principles of sabotage-and-reconnaissance actions are concealment and surprise, it may be assumed that, to carry them out on an extensive scale, operators strive to distract attention from the area ofthe actions of reconnaissance-and-sabotage groups and of creatinga more complex and tense situation.

Midget submarines, with an underwater displacement of less than 100 tons, are considered an extremely important type of, underwater sabotage force and are a necessary supplement to the actions of multi-purpose submarines. This type of ship was being intensively developed as far back as in the years of the Second World War, when up to a thousand of them were built.

Statistics can be misleading, especially when it comes to counting submarines. Depending on how one counts, by around the year 2000 there were nearly 500 conventional -- or non-nuclear powered -- submarines in the world-wide inventory, including nearly 90 midget submarines. But some of the "midget" submarines can only carry swimmers as their weapon load. The number of such swimmer delivery vehicles is hard to estimate, as these are more in the nature of equipment than vessels, but is surely much much larger.

The midget sub, while perhaps not the most glamourous (or successful) of tools to be used in past wars, did make an impact. These frogmen and commandos who waged war with midget submarines and human torpedoes. This story begins with the inception of the Submarine, (and incidentally, the first 'One man' sub) in David Bushnell's "Turtle," a wooden clumbsy thing, experimented with by the revolutionary United States in 1776. These subs, which came to prominence during World War Two, were potent weapons, better able than any other craft to penetrate deep into enemy waters and close in on unsuspecting targets.

In the years of World War II, many navies around the world, especially Italy and Japan, devoted much attention to the development and use of so-called "assault means" to accomplishvarious sabotage tasks with the aim of paralyzing the activity ofnaval bases and ports, destroying or putting out of action major surface combat ships and vessels at the basing points and outlets of the bases, demolishing important coastal hydrotechnical structures and other installations, and also of supporting the debarkation of amphibious landing forces.

According to incomplete data, during the Second World War, underwater sabotage forces and means sank or seriously damaged 47 combat ships and vessels with a total displacement of around 420,000 tons, including five battleships and five cruisers. In 1944, in the Normandy landing operation of the Allies, 120 frogmen cleared mines and underwater obstacles from the passages for the landing craft; and during the debarkation of the landing force on Okinawa, frogmen disarmed up to 3,000 different obstacles set out by the Japanese for the anti-landing defense ofthe island.

Underwater sabotage forces achieved their greatest successes in the period 1941-1943, when there existed no proper organization for detecting and destroying these forces. Thus were accomplished the attacks, for example, on the bases of Alexandria (Egypt), Jackson (Australia), Pearl Harbor, Gibraltar, Altenfjord (Norway), and others. From an analysis of the combat actions of underwater sabotage forces in the Second World War it is evident that even the rather well organized protection systems in 1944-1945 could not reliably withstand their attacks. In spite of the availability of anti-sabotage and anti-torpedo nets and other protection measures, the underwater sabotage forces managed to break through into bases and ports and deliver very tangible surprise attacks.

Midget submarines, owing to their tactical and technical capabilities, are able to operate under any water and weather conditions, i.e.,they may show up, having been delivered in surface vessels, undertheir own power, or on helicopters, in all naval theaters, including closed (inland) seas, river mouths, gulfs, etc. Consequently, the distinctive features of the water and weather conditions of the naval theaters will not tangibly affect the actions of modern underwater, sabotage forces.

Underwater sabotage forces are based on frogmen. They are usually recruited among skin divers and undergo training in sabotage actions under water and on dry land. The time they remain under water, i.e., their autonomy of action, depends primarily on the conditions ofthe breathing equipment, the perfection and strength of the suits, and also the degree to which they are heated. With a low water temperature (+2 to +5 degrees), this time period amounts to two hours, and without heating of the suits, to not more than 30 minutes.For communications among themselves to a distance of 90 meters and also with the ship (vessel) that set them down, frogmen use an underwater acoustic communications device. This device weighs about two kilograms. The availability of such a method of underwater communications allows one to assume that frOgmen may act also in groups.

Working in the underwater environment requires a variety of gas supply systems dependent upon, for example, diver working depth and the mission or task to be performed. For example, in shallow water use may be made of scuba equipment utilizing a shallow water face mask and mouth piece. For operation from the surface down to about 180 feet use is made of the common hard hat dress with an air supply and for deeper depths, with a mixed gas supply, helium and oxygen, instead of air. Fully closed and semi-closed rigs may utilize different helmets and face seals and some mission requirements have divers living underwater in a habitat and when working out of the habitat the divers are supplied with a breathable gas mixture which is returned to the habitat for CO.sub.2 scrubbing and oxygen makeup. Accordingly, a diver to be able to work the full spectrum of diving requires a well equipped diving locker with as many as six or seven different masks or helmets for working in different depth ranges with different gas supplies.

The actions of underwater sabotage forces, in particular of frogmen, depend not only on the operational condition in the area where they are employed, but also on water and weather conditions (wave conditions, water temperature, etc.), which favor or hinder a man's remaining long under water in a special suit. It can be expected that they will be employed on a wider scale in areas with favorable conditions. However, it is not out of the question that frogmen will operate also in the North Sea theater, since intensive work is being conducted on the heating of diving suits and the improvement of breathing equipment.

After the Second World War, the navies of the USA, Great Britain, Italy, West Germany, Japan and other countries continued all-around training of underwater sabotage forces, produced more powerful models of combat means, and also sought new ways and methods of underwater sabotage actions. Much attention was also devoted in Japan to the development and perfection of midget submarines. Submarines displacing 35 to 85 tons were able to cruise a distance of from 200 to 2,600 miles (360 to 4,700 kilometers), to develop a submerged speed of four to six knots (seven to 11 kilometers per hour), and of up to 20 knots (36 kilometers per hour) on the surface. The basic weapons were torpedoes. In 1963 the United Arab Republic built its first midget submarine, the "S-1" (length up to 15 meters, diving depth 30 to 40 meters, crew five to six men), for actions in coastal areas. It had an attachment for landing sabotage and submarine men. All this was in keeping with the general trend in the construction of ships of this type.

The current proliferation of low cost, low technology means of access denial raises the cost of U.S. power projection in many areas of the world. This problem is especially evident in the littoral environment, where enemy forces may employ a host of access denial methods including submarines, mines, small boats, and undersea sensor systems. These regions also exhibit maneuvering and navigational challenges such as underwater obstacles and civilian shipping vessels. Future naval platforms will rely heavily on the use of unmanned vehicles to more effectively perform their missions. While it is possible to deploy, support, and retrieve many of these unmanned vehicles from a high- end platform (e.g., SSN, SSGN), it is proposed that there may be a more efficient and cost effective means of managing these smaller vehicles and payloads.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:29:39 ZULU