All that was new in 1952 – Submersibles – yesterday, TODAY, TOMORROW?

Ship project history: These three small diesel submarines were intended as prototypes of a mass produced ASW submarine, which would ambush enemy submarines as they emerged from their bases. The principal requirements were quietness, low cost and an effective passive sonar, the latter being carried in an enlarged bow sonar dome. They were later criticized as too small for habitability or for sea-keeping, and Tullibee was an attempt to update the ASW submarine (SSK) concept. In view of limited resources available for new construction during the early postwar period, an SSK conversion of fleet submarines was developed as a mobilization measure, and the GUPPY submarine conversions were all designed to permit later modification to SSK standard.

Reaching back once more into the time vault, we find the Navy struggling to determine what the next step for submarine warfare will be in 1952.

The successes of the Second World War were obvious. A determined group of submariners had proven the lethality of the weapon in helping to defeat a powerful enemy. With each victory in the Pacific (and each loss) more and more was being learned about the use of submarines in controlling the ocean lanes. In the shadow of Pearl Harbor, the fleet boats sailed into history by taking the attack to the enemy in ways that were distinctly different than the pre war plans projected.

But what would the future look like? By 1952, modern jet aircraft were already being used around the world. Newer technology was being introduced to counter the undersea threat. Search planes with new types of radar that could pinpoint smaller and smaller objects were becoming the norm.

Most importantly, the Soviets had been watching. They saw the successes and failures of the undersea boat campaigns and were rapidly adding to their fleets. For the first time since the beginning of the century, Russian fleets had an eye on becoming a global threat once more. Communism would not be content with being in second place with the West on land, sea or in the air.

With all this in mind, the article that is highlighted today seemed to have been a challenge to the US Navy to think in ways it was not used to thinking. Today, the word we often use is “visioning”. This is the practice of looking at what could be beyond the next hill. In May of 1952, with the Korean war still playing out across the Pacific, what would be the future role of the submarine in Naval Warfare?

BUSHIPS Journal May 1952


Structural Improvements Boost Utility of Submarine to Staggering Possibilities

By James B. Mahoney

Chief Submarine Engineer, Shipbuilding Division, Bureau of Ships

To the man on the street the submarine is a recent invention. In reality its development covered many centuries. However, the submarine came into prominence during the twentieth century, and its development in design and utilization has been remarkable. Its successful exploits during World War I and II have kept it in the public’ eye and have earned for it military recognition as a key weapon in our forces afloat. Its future holds still more promise. Post war trends in submarine design indicate phenomenal achievements yet to come.

By comparison with the water tight barrel of Alexander the Great, in which man is believed to have first attempted to explore the undersurface wonders of the sea, the sleek submarine of today is a veritable giant of submersible perfection. It is a far cry from David Bushnell’s egg-shaped, hand-operated, one-man submarine of the Revolutionary War period, or THE INTELLIGENT WHALE, a craft capable of four knots and hand- propelled by a crew of ‘ten, which was built for the United States Navy in 1864.

Crude, Early Submersible: The ingenious result of the early effort at submarine building during the first third of this century dwarfs in comparison with the submersible of today, and the modern submariner might shudder were he required again to take a station on the crude and hazardous underwater craft of those days.

 Actually, development of the American military submarine began in 1900 with the acceptance by the U. S. Navy of its first submersible, HOLLAND- IX (later designated HOLLAND), from the J. P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company, known today as the Electric Boat Company. The seven HOLLAND-X type boats, ordered by the Navy the same year and designated A type, or ADDER class, were 120 ton each, driven by gasoline engine and battery, and capable of 8 knots on surface and 5 knots submerged.

Improvement in design and operational effectiveness has been rapid. The B type, VIPER class, which followed, was capable of 8 knots submerged speed. The C type, OCTOPUS class, adopted twin-screw propulsion and advanced in speed to 1 1 knots on surface. The D type, NARWAHL class, equipped with twin screws, improved the speed to 13 knots surface and 12 submerged.

Introduction of Diesel Engine

Another milestone was reached when Diesel engines were installed on the E type submarine. There was an immediate improvement in operational performance, and the submarine was graduated from what some submariners recall as “the rock crusher class.” Physical discomfort from fumes and exhaust gases of the gasoline engine were eliminated. Mechanically dependable, the E-l was capable of 13 knots on sur face and 10 knots submerged. It was reported to be “the smallest submarine ever to traverse an ocean the size of the Atlantic under its own power.”

From the E boat installations, American submarine Diesel engine development progressed by stages through various four cycle and two-cycle types, both single and double acting. The four-cycle, single acting engine was eventually settled upon as most satisfactory. Constant progress in submarine Diesel development from E-l to date has culminated in anew vertical, radial -type, Diesel engine that is only one -third the weight and size of standard horizontal counterparts bearing the same horsepower rating.


World War I, the U-Boat

Having experienced a few growing pains, the modern sub marine became vitally important as an instrument of war in 1914. German U-boats roamed the sea lanes, decimating Allied shipping and combat fleets until countermeasures were developed. When the United States entered the war, U. S. submarines participated primarily in patrol activities. American submarines assigned to European combat areas were of the E, K, L, and O class, the latter arriving in European waters only after the Armistice. This period, however, greatly stimulated research, development and construction of submersibles.

At the close of World War I, six of the most modern U-boats surrendered by the Germans were conceded to the United States Navy for research. Ex amination of these submersibles provided information which led to improvements in American submarine design. Many improvements in submarine propulsion machinery of the post- World War I era are directly traceable to knowledge gained from close study of U-boat construction, Diesels, and electric motors.

There was steady progress in design and construction methods from the F through the V types. Partial double hulls, originally introduced by the Electric Boat Company in 1913, became standard type hull construction for the Navy in 1935. This feature gave the craft greater reserve buoyancy and resulted in increased surface speed and better habitability.

Welded Fabrication Throughout

One of the most important factors in the design and construction of American submarines in this period was improved fabrication and assembly methods for building submarines. In the 1934 submarine program, SHARK and TARPON were the first submarines to be welded throughout. This new fabrication method resulted in a consider able saving in costs and production time, as compared with the more complicated previous system of riveting hulls together.

With the acceptance and development of welding, the sectional system of construction was introduced. Whole sections were now fabricated, then moved to the ways and welded together to complete the ship. This proved much more satisfactory than the former method of laying a keel and constructing the entire submarine on the building ways.

The transition from riveting to welding was not accomplished without doubt and apprehension. As a fastening method for ship construction, welding at that time was virtually untried. Techniques of welding, behavior of welds, placement of tack welding, and stress relief were only partially understood.

The 1934 program provided for the building of six submarines by the welding method, and a welding experiment was carried out at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to insure success of the project. A steel garbage lighter was constructed using welding methods throughout, but faulty technique caused considerable distortion in the hull form. As result of the welding experience on this hull the program was rescheduled, and four of the boats, PERCH, PICKEREL, PERMIT, and PLUNGER, were ordered riveted. Further study of welding methods was made and SHARK and TARPON were successfully completed with welded hulls.

World War II, Multiple Types

Throughout World War II, the submarine was rated by all navies as a dangerous and elusive menace. U. S. Navy sub marines are credited with destroying two-thirds of the Japanese merchant shipping and one-third of her combat fleet. The submarine was also found useful for special missions of rescuing downed aviators, delivering ammunition to combat activities, picket duty, and landing intelligence agents on enemy shores. Some subs were used for pre-Invasion Island scouting, and USS BATFISH accomplished a “killer” type task of sinking three Japanese submarines in 72 hours.

Recently the trend in submarine design has taken on extended forms to cover all operational requirements. They include: (1) an attack or conventional type; (2) a “killer” type designed primarily to hunt out and destroy enemy submarines; (3) special auxiliary types for various operational support requirements, and (4) such special types as needed in con junction with guided missiles, radar picketing and minelaying.

Killer Subs

In the field of the anti-submarine submarine, the emphasis is on speed and detection apparatus to enable it to locate and close with enemy submarines. The first of the Navy’s submarines of this type was designated as the K- 1, commonly called the “killer.” The K- 1 is 195 feet long and displaces 750 tons, as compared to the present fleet type submarine, which is 311 feet long and dis places about 1500 tons. Latest developments in sonar and other electronic detection equipment have been fully exploited and incorporated in their design. The Bureau of Ships awarded a contract recently for the conversion of USS ANGLER, USS CAVALLA, and USS CROAKER to SSK “killer” types.

The impact of the “killer subs on enemy submarines should be tremendous. Lying it submerged silence, they will be able to hear enemy submarines operating in their area. The enemy sub would be destroyed by homing torpedoes released by the “killer,” which would seek out their victims by propeller noises or other sound emitted by the hostile vessel.

Dual Purpose Atomic Subs

To bridge the gap between the killer and fleet type submarine, the Navy’s first atomic-powered sub, now under construction at the Electric Boat Company, will serve a dual purpose. Capable of high surface and submerged speeds, the atom-powered sub will be able to track down its surface victims, instead of merely lying in wait for them. They could be used also to destroy enemy submarines. The performance characteristics of the atomic submarine will permit it to span an ocean, almost without showing itself or its equipment at any time.

New improvements in the fleet or attack type submarine are also of importance. USS TANG and TRIGGER, fast attack types, have recently been completed, and four additional submarines of this type are under construction. This class will have almost the same displacement as the 1,500-ton World War II submarine, but the subs will be shorter and more streamlined for greater underwater speed.

Guppy Conversions

The “Guppy” conversion of fleet or attack type submarines represents another important innovation, a development which resulted from the “Greater Underwater Propulsion Program”. In the main, the “Guppy” ships are converted fleet type submarines which have been given more battery power for higher submerged speed at depth and a snorkel system to permit shallow submerged operation of the submarine’s main engines. The bow of the Guppy has been streamlined, the deck guns eliminated and other appendages streamlined to increase sub merged speed. Recently, a Guppy snorkel, USS PICKEREL, set a record of 505 hours of undersea travel by going from Hong Kong to Honolulu without surfacing.

The advent of the snorkel was still another step in submarine development.

The Bureau was aware as early as 1942 of the possibilities of charging batteries while the sub is submerged. The problem was being studied and some work had been done on it, but information received from German prisoners-of -war in World War II speeded our solution of the problem. The principle of the snorkel is to supply air to the Diesels, and the crew, while the submarine is submerged at shallow depth, and to eject Diesel exhaust gases simultaneously.

Auxiliary Type Craft

This is accomplished by the use of two tubes, one for supplying the air to the ship and the other to dispose of the engine exhaust gases. The intake tube is operated above the surface. The exhaust tube disposes of the exhaust gases slightly below the surface. On submergence, due to loss of depth control, a head valve in the air intake tube closes automatically and pre vents water from entering the submarine. When the air intake tube again clears surface, the valve opens automatically. When the boat is surfaced, snorkel tubes are retracted.

Special type submarines are being groomed also for support of the “killer” and other types, to supply advance information to the tactical command, to rocket enemy shore installations, and to back up amphibious invasions. For example, USS CUSK and USS CARBONERO have been converted by the Bureau into guided missile launchers. The Navy’s LOON, an adaptation of the German V-l buzz bomb, has been launched from each, and the flight of the missiles was guided from a control panel located aboard the submarines.

Another function of the new submarine is detection of approaching enemy guided missiles or airplanes. Equipped with extensive communications, radar and sonar gear, these picket subs will serve as proto types for the future construction of electronically -equipped underwater craft. USS SPINAX, USS REQUIN, USS BURRFISH, and USS TIGRONE have already been converted to radar -picket subs, and six additional subs are undergoing similar alterations.

Special minelaying submarines are under development, to be added to the submarine fleet. They will be equipped to plant mine fields, as well as attack. These submarines will be expected to enter enemy harbors, lay their deadly cargo and slip away unnoticed.

Invisibility, a Mighty Weapon

Currently the Navy is interested in finding a solution to the problem of continuing striking power in a fleet which may be thousands of miles away from its home base. As a result, the special auxiliary type of submarine is being developed to carry supplies, ammunition, personnel, and oil to our far-flung bases in combat areas without the enemy’s knowledge or interference.

The Bureau has now converted a fleet type submarine to one or more prototypes of practically every new submarine auxiliary suggested for future use, and it is working out fresh techniques to enable it to build a fleet of special duty units rapidly in the event of an emergency. Already the Navy has converted USS PERCH and USS SEALION to underwater troop transports. These submarines can carry also an amphibious tractor or a few jeeps to support landing parties. In addition, USS BARBERO has been converted into a submarine cargo carrier, and USS GUAVINA into a submarine oiler.

The keel of another new type submarine was laid on April 1, 1952. It will be a 250-ton SST to be used for training personnel and for submarine target service. Two of these boats have been authorized.

The future of the submarine is as limitless as imagination.

From the single -purpose attack type, the submarine has developed into a multitude of types for duty not heretofore assignee to submarines. Undoubtedly military requirements will fix the submarine as essential to the technique of naval warfare. Capacity of some submarine categories of auxiliaries may well be increased until their size will begin to approach their surface counterparts. Higher speeds, surface and submerged, will give greater security to the submarine, although the present emphasis on attack types is on greater submerged speeds, even at the expense of surface speed.

The established existence of hostile supersonic aircraft with new offensive armament, such as rocket missiles, indicates a rapidly approaching .need for submarine fleet auxiliaries to relieve the vulnerable surface AP’s, AK’s, and AO’s. This applies particularly to cargo and oiler types. Combat types of submarines equipped for the delivery of guided missiles will undoubtedly compete in the future with surface craft for limited shore bombardment and landing support tasks. They could certainly be used effectively as an invasion spearhead. Invisibility is a mighty weapon, and submersible invisibility has few effective countermeasures. Radar is ineffectual against it, and sonar and magnetic indicators are effective for short distances only.

The scant half -century between the Navy’s acceptance of HOLLAND and its design of the atom-powered NAUTILUS has shown well-nigh miraculous strides in the Bureau’s submarine design program. In the years ahead, submersibles may well become one of the most vital links in the chain of national security.

The Navy unveiled a 4 1/2 – foot model of its atomic-powered sub marine NAUTILUS scheduled for completion in 1954, on 7 July at the Pentagon. The display of the model took place as Secretary of the Navy Dan A. Kimball awarded the Cold Star to Capt. Hyman George Rickover in lieu of the second Legion of Merit Award.

The Award was given to Captain Rickover for his outstanding work in the design and development of what the Navy hopes will be the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The keel for NAUTILUS was laid by President Truman on 14 June, at Groton, Connecticut.

A section of the model’s hull had been removed so that the position of the atomic motor near the center of the submarine is visible. Captain Rickover said that the model is diagrammatic and is not intended to give any indication of size or relative location of machinery.

The Award Citation, in part, follows:

“Displaying exceptional talents in the field of mobile power reactors and exercising unceasing drive and energy, Captain Rickover, more than any other individual, is responsible for the rapid development of the nuclear ship program His efforts have led to the laying of the keel of the world’s first nuclear-powered ship well in advance of its original schedule ”

Captain Rickover is Chief of the Naval Reactors Branch, Division of the Reactor Development, United States Atomic Energy Commission, and Director of the Nuclear Power Division, Bureau of Ships.


Well, that’s another chapter in American Submarine History for the books.

Hopefully, the information will be useful to someone who wants to learn about the continuing improvement cycle the Navy went through to get to where it is today

Mister Mac


One thought on “All that was new in 1952 – Submersibles – yesterday, TODAY, TOMORROW?

  1. Great article. Having served and qualified on the Cavalla this was great read. Thanks

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