Statistical Submarine Summaries

21 Nov

The US Submarine Force of World War II started from modest beginnings and modest successes to become a force that took out half of the Japanese World War II Navy. More than any other vessel type, carriers, destroyers, cruisers, or battleship, the US submarine is responsible for bringing the Japanese Navy to its knees, gradually whittling it down, encircling Japan itself and cutting it off from its Empire and the rest of the World.

Approximately fifty-four percent of all Japanese merchant ships fell to submarine torpedoes and gunfire. These were from the beginning of the war, up until 1944, the primary target of the submarine. These vessels contained or had the capacity to transport food, fuel, ammunition and troops to all corners of the Japanese Empire, supplying the defenses of these islands and the ships at sea. More so than the mighty battleships, like the Yamato, these slow, lumbering vessels, possibly armed with some kind of light armament to fend off aircraft and ward off enemy surface vessel attack.

These were also the only vessels the submarine had a serious chance of killing on a regular basis.

The three classes of submarines built during the war, the undeniably excellent Gato, Balao, and Tench class submarines were capable of doing approximately twenty knots in the surface, where the boat would spend most of its time. Knots are used to indicate speed of vessels; one knot is equal to 1.151 miles per hour.  Underneath the water, the speed was reduced to just over eight knots if they really pushed their electrical batteries, though if they wanted to stay under the water for at least forty-eight hours, they could only travel at two knots. Meanwhile, the more common Japanese long-range vessel encountered by the submarine, the destroyer, could do an excess of thirty knots.

USS Flasher at sea. Taken from Navsource.org.

The merchant ships, however, were slow to begin with and, when loaded down with cargo, were even slower. The Shiretoko class oilers for example, were only capable of twelve knots according to statistics and most transports were not much faster. Many was the time where a submarine’s watch officer caught site of such a vessel on the horizon, spotting a mast or a small, lazy stream of black smoke in the distance, and, after calling it out, would trigger a boat’s skipper into action. Those targets, juicy, heavy freighters were even more valuable than the heavily armed battleships, the carriers and their squadrons of aircraft, and the destroyers, one of the submarines greatest adversaries. The loss of these logistical vessels would have long-term implications on the destiny of the Empire.

There are two ways to measure what Navies loose during conflicts. One way is to count the actual number of ships lost, while another is to add up the tones of each of those ships lost. In both cases, the Japanese losses are staggering.

When the war began, Japan had approximately 589 warships in service. Of these,

  • 393 of these vessels were either aircraft carriers, battleships, light cruisers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines.
  • 193 of these vessels were smaller, less capable, but equally important warships, these being: patrol ships, gunboats, armed merchant ships, submarine chasers, minelayers, minesweepers, and other auxiliaries

Japan lost 201 warships to American submarines.

The merchant ships, of course, being the main target of American warships, suffered even more.

  • These were vessels weighing over 500 tons.
  • When the war started, Japan had 6 million tons of merchantmen and they succeedded in capturing another 4 million
  • 1,079 individual merchant vessels were lost, this coming to 4,649,650 tons. Another 600,000 tons worth of shipping was so heavily damaged, they were of no further use to the Japanese
  • By August of 1945, there were 1.8 million tons left. Most of these vessels were wooden transport vessels travelling in inland waters

For their efforts, the United States lost 45 boats against the Japanese in action. We lost fifty-two total, the other lost because of accidents as far as can be told today. Some of those boast lost had been built at the end of World War I or shortly afterwards and were simply old. Mechanical failure was most likely the reason in those cases.

Plate honors those US Navy boats lost. Image from Navsource.org

The most incredible statistic is the number of submarines deployed, versus the number of surface ships.

  • By August of 1945, the US Navy had 6,768 ships, both old and new deployed worldwide, 70% of all the world’s tonnage in ships.
  • On December 7th, 1941, the Navy had 112 submarines in service and 203 more were built, most of those being deployed in the Pacific.
  • At its height, the US Navy’s submarine force only made up just under 2% of all Allied vessels deployed in the Pacific.

That tiny force inflicted such heinous damage on the Japanese!

Below is a chart of some of the top scoring boats in terms of tonnage and numbers of ship sunk during World War II.

Submarine Tonnage Sunk Number of Ships   Sunk
Flasher

100,231

21

Rasher

99901

18

Barb

96628

17

Tang

93824

24

Silversides

90080

23

This was the mark made by the Submarine Force of the United States during World War II. It is interesting to note that the Germans did not have the same success the United States did in the Atlantic despite the enormous number of sinkings they did achieve. One of the reasons for this was the kinds of defenses the two sides’ submarines went up against; the Japanese put, if anything, a warship or two with some transports, while the German U-boats went up against highly organized convoys with very sophisticated plans and methods for dealing with the marauding submarines.

Battle flag of the USS Tang. The origional was lost with the boat. This replica was made with the survivors consent. From Navsource.org

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One Response to “Statistical Submarine Summaries”

  1. waylonlathern November 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Fascinating!

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