in the PACIFIC  1941 - 1945






A background and history overview of the
WWII U.S. submarine at war in the Pacific


Historians have indicated that militarily, Japan was up to the task of the island hopping campaign it had initiated in the Pacific. Her determination and will to win was not overly affected by the terrible combat of the island wars, nor by the bombing of Japanese cities. Post war analysis however, has determined that her downfall was the result of the very same reason she waged war from the start: Japan was literally starving. The failing war effort was draining an already thin supply of manufacturing materials as well as food and essentials. Hiroshima and Nagasaki sealed her fate. In the period following the end of the World War II, it was determined that the valiant effort on the part of the US submarine fleet was, in a large part, directly responsible for the severe shortage of raw materials and supplies which were so desperately needed by Japan. Accounting for 54% of the 10 million+ tons of Japanese military and merchant shipping lost during the war, US submarine personnel totaled a mere 1.6% of all US Navy forces engaged in the Pacific Theater. When one considers the fact that faulty torpedoes hampered the submarine fleet during the early part of the war, the total tonnage figures could have been substantially higher and the duration of the war considerably shorter.

The years following WW I proved to be an age of enlightenment for the United States Navy and their view of submarine warfare. The German U-Boats proved that submarines were much more then a defensive screen; rather they illustrated that these boats had the potential to be extremely deadly weapons of war. Owing to the effectiveness of the U-Boats, naval strategist now had to seriously include submarines in their planning. A growing  concern over Japan's quest to dominate the Pacific raised the specter of possible war. The United States developed a war strategy (Plan Orange) which now included submarines in a capacity never before considered. Realizing that the boats that now accounted for the US Sub fleet were basically inadequate, they set out to produce a sub that would meet the modern requirement of: 1) being able to conduct a long range patrol and 2) being capable of keeping up with the current fleet which had an average speed of 21 knots. The challenge to develop a "fleet boat" was issued. 

Modeled after the German U-Boats, the United States produced the first of a series of subs originally thought to meet the fleet boat criteria. The V class or Barracudas, proved however to be less then ideal. The second version of the V's was the Argonaut Class, which followed in 1928. Twice the size of the S-Boats, she had a capable range of 18,000 miles with a speed of 21 knots. Unfortunately, poorly designed diesel engines limited her actual speed to an unacceptable 15kts. The Narwhal Class, the first of which was commissioned in 1930 did not fair much better, although there was a slight improvement in speed (17 knots). In 1932 the Dolphin Class was developed followed by the Cachalot Class in 1933. While neither met the desired standard of a fleet boat, several notable innovations came about with the C's. The Cachalots were the first boats to employ the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer) and welded construction.

The P-Class submarines, first commissioned in 1933, marked a tremendous improvement over the previous candidates. With a forward speed of 19 knots and a range of 10,000 miles. it was not nearly perfect, but it was very close. The technique of welded construction, first seen to a lesser degree in the C's,  was now to be fully implemented in the P-Class. Air-conditioning and the use of diesel electric motors were first used in this class. Considered a huge success, it was the standard used for the classes which followed. The Salmon Class, which was basically a larger and improved "P",  was developed in 1938. Still, the Navy felt like they were ever so close to actually having developed the "fleet sub" which met all of the desired criteria, but even the Salmon fell just short.

1940 saw the commissioning of the first of the Tambor or "T" Class boats. With the required range, speed and armament, the Tambors were the last of the US submarines to be commissioned before the start of the war with Japan. The United States Navy's first fleet sub had, after many years, finally come of age!



More details:
Fleet Type Submarine Manual NAVPERS 16160

WW II U.S. Navy Ship Hull abbreviations

WW II Submarine Records and statistics

WWII U.S. Submarine Photo Archives




Product photo
United States Submarine Operations in World War II
By Theodore Roscoe
United States Naval Institute
George Banta Company Inc Copyright 1949
Product photo Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan
By Clay Blair
J.B. Lippincott Company
Copyright 1975
Product photo Subs Against the Rising Sun:
U.S. Submarines in the Pacific

By Keith H. Milton
Yucca Free Press
Copyright 2000
Book Cover U. S. Submarines in World War II:
An Illustrated History of the Pacific

By Larry Kimmett & Margaret Regis
Navigator Publishing
Copyright 191996


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