WWII Submarine Fleet
The Axis powers versus the Allied powers, also known as World War II, was aptly named for the sheer magnitude of the War. Warfare took place from the freezing cold of the Russian tundra to the sun soaked expansive Pacific Ocean. America, isolated at the beginning of the war, was abruptly forced into action against the Japanese in the Pacific theater: thousands of miles of open ocean with nothing but a few atolls between Hawaii and Japan. To disrupt the flow of war resources and maintain control of the Pacific, the United States utilized submarines to slowly cripple Germany’s main ally, the Japanese.
In 1941 submarine technology was a far cry from the nuclear powered, highly efficient machinery of today. For submarine crews in World War II, 90% of their mission was spent at surface level. A submarine which can’t spend more than 10% underwater could hardly be considered a submersible but that was the state of their combined diesel and battery powered engines. At the surface the submarines were fast, clocking 20 knots using their General Motor diesel engines. However, once underwater the submarines relied on twin 126 cell batteries which slowed their speed to a pedestrian 2 knots. The inability to stay submerged for an extended period was owed to those battery powered engines needing to recharge; the diesel engines though needed oxygen at the surface to run.
Despite the massive battlefield of the Pacific and the relative restrictions of the submarines, the first model, USS Gato, and 54 of her ilk carried the early stages of war for the United States. Measuring 311 feet bow to stern, she moved a lot of water, over 1500 tons while surfaced and nearly 2500 tons while submerged. Two years after their successful deployment, 122 of a similar Balao class were launched to reinforce the hold the United States was gaining. The Balao submarine was almost an exact replica of the Gato save for a thicker hull, allowing for a deeper operating depth.
In the annals of history the submarines didn’t receive the bulk of the credit. Perhaps that was because the fleet accounted for less than two percent of the US Navy. Despite that tiny percentage the submarines were credited with sinking a whopping 30 percent of the Japanese navy that included 8 aircraft carriers. Talk about punching above your weight class! Aside from crippling the armed forces of the Japanese, the submarines were also responsible for sinking nearly 5 million tons of precious resources, invaluable to Japan’s work efforts and leading to the fall of Japanese economy at the end of the war.
Unfortunately, as always, victory comes at a cost. During the war 52 submarines were lost and 3,506 brave patriots went with them. Almost all of downed submarines would take the whole crew with her, as there was little hope for escape or survival from a downed sub. The men and women aboard those subs fought valiantly and extremely effectively in protecting our freedoms we enjoy today.