THE RUSSIAN SUBS ON OUR COASTLINE
EXCLUSIVE: Our Navy knows now that Russian submarines scouted Canada’s east coast last summer —INSIDE OUR THREE-MILE LIMIT AND UNDETECTED. And it knows that new high-speed subs could deliver troops, planes, guided missiles and maybe atom bombs for a sneak attack more sudden than Pearl Harbor. Can we prepare our defenses in time?
LAST SUMMER reports of strange submarines sighted off Canada’s east coast—in the Bay of Fundy, off Cape Breton, in Newfoundland’s White Bay and on the Grand Banks—created a rash of newspaper headlines across the country. One such sighting was later explained by the passage of a Royal Navy submarine, but in all other instances the presence of friendly undersea craft was officially denied.
Newspapers speculated that the prowlers were Russian, but this the Navy declined to confirm. The Toronto Star, in a report from its Ottawa bureau, said that, after sifting the evidence Navy Headquarters had decided the submarine rumors were without foundation.
This consoling dispatch was decidedly premature; Even as the headlines petered out an alert young naval intelligence officer, veteran of three years’ war service in British submarines, was patiently interrogating east coast sub-spotters. The RCAF assigned a floatplane to fly the Navy man up and down the Labrador coast tracing further reports and rumors. Back at headquarters in Ottawa the “sub-scare” file bulged two inches thick, bound between red-bordered covers labeled SECRET.
I was permitted to read portions of the redbordered file. I talked with the young intelligence officer and studied other reports from the east coast.
For political and diplomatic reasons the Navy
still refuses to say officially what the Navy most certainly believes. For there is not the slightest doubt that one or more Russian submarines carried out a careful reconnaissance of Canada’s eastern approaches, penetrating well into the Bay of Fundy and well within our three-mile territorial limit.
One foggy day in July last year, not far outside Chance Harbor, near Saint John, N.B., 13-year-old Barry Crawford was rowing a skiff while his uncle, George Tiner, tried to haul a lobster pot into the boat. Suddenly Barry pointed and cried, “What’s that long grey thing over there?”
Tiner had already heard the rumble of Diesel engines and, as the fog lifted, he saw the “grey thing” take shape.
“It was a sub,” he told the Navy investigator flatly, and when he was shown silhouette drawings of three different types of submarine he pointed unhesitatingly to one picture and added, “like that.” The Navy does not say that Tiner saw a Russian submarine but it has announced that no British or American subs were in the area at that time.
Tiner said the sub was dead ahead of his skiff but altered course 15 degrees to pass 200 yards off his port bow. A patch of fog obscured his view for 30 seconds and when he caught sight of the sub again it had submerged until only three feet of conning tower and the periscope remained in sight. For perhaps a quarter mile he followed it until only the periscope showed, and then this, too, vanished.
Two further facts make this far more serious than it sounds. The first is that Canada’s maritime defense forces didn’t know we had unexpected visitors until the Fundy lobsterman notified the RCMP he had encountered a sub in the fog. (There are understood to have been about eight “confirmed” sub sightings out of 25 or more
reports.) The second is the little-realized striking power of modern enemy submarines should they arrive thus undetected and bent on delivering a Pearl Harbor punch at the coastal cities of North America.
Many Canadians who worry about Russian planes atom-bombing our cities just shrugged off last summer’s “sub scare.” Yet it is quite within the sober realm of possibility for a submarine flotilla to hurl guided missiles 80 or 100 miles into Halifax, New York, Vancouver or San Francisco, and for those missiles to be fitted with atomic warheads.
Big transport submarines could cruise 3,500 miles from the Baltic to Canada’s east coast without ever coming to the surface. Each could dispatch 160 shock troops in amphibious landing craft to make commando raids on vital port facilities and industries. Slipping back beneath the surface, the U-boats that brought them could support their landing with rockets fired from beneath the sea.
From one type of carrier sub, small planes could be catapulted to provide aerial reconnaissance and, from another two or three, midget submarines could be launched to sneak right into our harbors. Special mine-laying subs—Russia has a new model —could plant deadly pressure mines in harbor approaches, while packs of killer subs waited offshore to torpedo merchantmen and warships. The entire operation could be directed from a command post five fathoms down in a picket sub whose precision periscope and special radio and radar antennae would just clear the waves.
All these modern offspring of the old-fashioned pigboat—1917 nickname for the German U-boat— could be refueled and restocked with food and ammunition by still other submarines. And the clumsy but capacious “cows” could, if necessary, transfer their vital stores to the front-line subs entirely under water.
Submarines have actually done all of these things except fit atomic warheads to their guided missiles.
The United States submarine Carbonera and a sister ship have conducted extensive trials, launching “loons”—a modified German V-l or buzzbomb which can travel 80 to 150 miles. It is debatable whether a missile this size (the V-l had only an 1,800-pound warhead) can accommodate even one of the “scaled down” atomic bombs of which there have lately been reports. But the U. S. Navy has revealed that it is developing other “powerful guided missiles designed to make full use of the potential stealth and mobility of submarines as launching bases.” Also if a B-29 Superfortress could fly an atomic bomb to Hiroshima, a 2,000 or 4,000-ton submarine (the Japs had one larger) as long as a football field is big enough to carry a delayed-action A-bomb, to be laid like an egg in an unguarded harbor.
How alert are our defense forces to the menace of the modern submarine?
The RCN has always been an anti-submarine navy and its men are never permitted to forget their prime adversary. In their magazine, the Crowsnest, they are read a stern warning from Modern Arms and Free Men, by atomic scientist Vannevar Bush: “We have twice entered war while underestimating the power of the submarine, and twice the outcome has been in doubt. We must not do it again.” They are often reminded of Churchill’s confession: “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”
Continued page 54
The Russian Subs on Our Coastline
Continued from page 15
The Navy’s boss, Vice-Admiral H. T. Grant, C.B.E., D.S.O., recently told Montreal’s Richelieu Club that the importance of sea-borne trade to our economy is too little appreciated; we depend almost entirely on sea transport for such commodities as bauxite (for *»’ iminum), sugar, tin, rubber, wool ^nd cobalt.
It is estimated Russia has close to 400 submarines—100 or more of them ready now to put on station anywhere in the world. Hitler had only 60 U-boats in 1939, but he had 250 by the start of 1942, and in that year his undersea fleet almost won the war by sinking ships faster than the Allies could replace them. Jane’s Fighting Ships reports Russia’s goal as 1,000 submarines.
“If war comes with Russia they’ll • move first, probably surprise us; and, because we won’t be as ready as they are, we’ll get hurt,” one Navy man told me. “We presume their primary aim will be to overrun Europe and we think their first move in our direction will be to try to bottle up our harbors with mines and slash our sea lanes with torpedoes, cutting off aid to Europe at the source. Whether they will go farther and try to knock out our coastal ports and industries with atomic missiles depends on whether their atomic armory is that far advanced, and whether they think it tactically worth while.”
A major part of a $1734¿-million building program is going into the immediate construction of seven antisubmarine escort ships and 10 minesweepers. The 18,000-ton carrier Magnificent has recently been outfitted with what our naval airmen call the world’s best anti-submarine aircraft, the propeller-driven American Gruman Avenger. The RCN says it is adopting every new anti-submarine device. Canada’s active fleet consists of one cruiser, seven destroyers, four frigates and six minesweepers, plus the Magnificent. Another cruiser, four destroyers, two frigates and nine minesweepers are still in moth balls, but Defense Minister Claxton recently announced the Navy’s active strength would be brought up to 100 ships of all types in the next three years.
At a new RCN-RCAF maritime warfare school in Halifax students are learning that the immediate problem has little to do with the submarine’s ability to hurl atomic missiles, land troops, lay mines or launch planes. It is concerned, instead, in offsetting a far more fundamental and revolutionary change in the submarine itself which can be stated so simply as to sound like something from Gertrude Stein. For the first time in its 331-year history a submarine is a submarine.
The most enthusiastic submariners confess that before 1944 they considered their craft merely torpedo boats which could duck out of sight for brief periods. These now-antiquated pigboats could lie below for six days in emergencies, but traveling even at a cautious three knots they could stay down only 36 hours before storage batteries for the electric motors required recharging. The sub could muster a top speed of eight knots underwater for short bursts; but whenever possible it traveled on the surface, driven at 15 to 19 knots by powerful diesel engines which it also used to recharge batteries.
But submariners have always dreamed of the “true submarine,” and their dream came close to realization
when the Germans introduced the schnorkel—a breathing tube for men and engines which enabled a U-boat to submerge, cruise 15,000 miles and never surface until safely back home. (The word was soon shortened to “snorkel” and “snort”.)
With its retractable snorkel raised, a sub can travel about 30 feet below the surface showing only the top of its “snort”—no bigger than a bushel basket and a mere pinpoint in a choppy sea. To make it more difficult for radar to spot the snorkel, the Germans painted them with a composition designed to deflect radar waves.
A Dutch invention, the snorkel was perfected by the Germans in sheer desperation when Allied planes literally drove the old-fashioned pigboats beneath the surface. Snorkels were hastily installed in many old style U-boats, but the real thing was the Nazi’s Type XXI which packed two other nasty surprises—speed and depth. This new model could reach an incredible 17 knots completely submerged, instead of eight knots, and it could withstand water pressures to a depth of 450 feet, about twice as deep as any earlier model.
Coming: The Atom Subs
Germany might have won the war if she’d managed to get this undersea killer into the fight two years earlier, but only three saw action in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Most of the time Type XXI prowled the convoy lanes just below the surface, its snorkel riding four or five feet above the waves, gulping air for its diesel engines and crew. The drag of the water on the snorkel pipe reduced “search speed” to three or four knots —a problem yet to be overcome. But when XXI spotted a victim, retracted its snorkel and switched from diesels to electric motors, then its 17 knots enabled it to intercept the fastest (15 knot) convoy.
When the convoy was intercepted the XXI could dive to 450 feet, idling silently there until the approaching ships overran it, then cruise along with the convoy and pick off one victim after another. Here it was difficult for escort vessels to detect the sub on their underwater listening gear; and, once located, the sub’s speed and depth gave it manoeuvrability our subchasers had never before encountered.
But, to perfectionists among the underseadogs, even “snorkeling” is akin to flying with one foot on the ground, and they resented being tied to the surface by that 35-foot breathing pipe. When the war ended we discovered Nazi U-boat designers had developed a vapor-turbine engine which didn’t need a snorkel to breathe through because it drew its oxygen from hydrogen peroxide mixed with fuel oil and salt water. This unique engine could drive the sub at 26 knots underwater —faster than a corvette or a frigate and fast enough to intercept the 28knot liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, which always scorned escorts because no sub could catch them.
Only one Type XXVI, as the hydrogen - peroxide sub was called, made sea tests and its turbine engine gobbled fuel so fast it could do its maximum 26 knots for only three hours. Besides, the special mixture cost 1,000 times as much as fuel oil. Yet the U. S. Navy is spending $37 millions to build a similar model.
The U. S. is confidently betting another $40 millions on an even more daring attempt to produce the first true submarine. This is the atomic submarine, whose nuclear reactor engine will require no air yet will generate Continued on page 56
Continued from page 54 an inexhaustible supply of heat and thus produce the steam to spin the submarine’s propellers.
Vice-Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, retired ex-commander of U. S. submarines in the Pacific, wrote in a recent article that two fundamental problems of building a submarine-size atomic engine have been solved: the reactor can be shielded to protect the crew from radioactivity and the extreme temperatures produced by such an atomic furnace can be safely controlled. When the atom sub is ready next year it will have a submerged speed of 25 to 30 knots and it may be able to go 40 days without raising even its snorkel to the surface.
Whether the Russians are building an atomic submarine is not known (Lockwood figures the U. S. has a three-year lead), hut for all practical purposes the era of true undersea warfare arrived with the snorkel. And all the naval men I consulted admit the new high-speed undersea boats are dangerously far ahead of our best defensive measures. What do we have in the anti-sub armory?
We can hear an enemy submarine’s propellers with our hydrophones at six to 10 miles—but he can hear one of our big convoys 20 miles away. With Asdic we can send out a searching beam of sound which returns as a pinging echo from the sub’s hull. But when World War II began we counted too much on Asdic (Americans call it Sonar) and the convoy system.
In the black year of 1942 subs sank 1,064 of our merchant ships and six million tons of vital war cargoes, at a cost of only 85 subs destroyed. The Germans put out long-range reconnaissance planes to spot our convoys, and directed wolfpack tactics by radio from Berlin.
Meanwhile, about our only weapon against a submerged U-boat was the depth charge. This had to explode within 21 feet to kill and the subchaser had to overrun its intended victim to lob its depth charges overside, which put ship and sub so close together that Asdic contact was lost and the sub could often dodge and run.
Hedgehogs and Mousetraps
Discovering that air bubbles would set our Asdic pinging, U-boat commanders discharged soda bombs (sailors called them Eno’s Fruit Salts) and escaped behind vast clouds of bubbles. They fired 45-knot wakeless torpedoes into our convoys from five miles away, or well beyond the one-mile range of our Asdic. Later, homing torpedoes located target ships by the sound of their propellers. What finally licked the sub in the last war were RDF, radar, air cover, better underwater missiles and a violent change in our thinking.
RDF was the radio direction finder which gave us a dead line on a U-boat whenever it started chatting with Berlin. Radar, transmitting a radio beam and catching the reflection bounced back by an object, could spot a surfaced sub at 25 miles and sometimes “see” a periscope at five.
But ship sinkings in 1943 dropped to 30% of the critical 1942 level after almost all convoys were assigned both carrier and land-based aircraft escorts. When these planes spotted a sub by radar they could dive on it with depth charges, bombs, torpedoes or steelheaded rockets. If the sub crash-dived a plane could track it by dropping a ring of sonobuoys, tiny floats equipped to listen for the sub beneath the water and broadcast what they heard.
Navy ships finally got two vast
improvements on the depth charge, called “Hedgehog” and “Mousetrap.” These were something like an automatic mortar battery which fired shotgun patterns of 24 bombs at a time, 100 feet ahead of a racing destroyer. And, by swerving to avoid overrunning its victim, the ship could maintain Asdic contact while awaiting results.
We shielded our convoys with these new devices but we still waited for the subs to seek them out. Finally we woke up and created hunter-killer groups of ships and aircraft which ranged the sea lanes to pounce on the enemy wherever he could be found— and before he could find us.
Although Germany put her revolutionary Type XXI submarine into the
Atlantic too late, it is against the snorkel sub with submerged speeds of from 17 to 25 knots that all our undersea weapons must now be matched.
For instance, when old-style escort ships approach 20 knots their propellers drown out their own Asdic. With the old device thus useless against a highspeed sub, the U. S. is testing new Asdic mounted in a streamlined dome beneath the escort’s hull.
A pre-snorkel sub had to surface for at least five hours every 24 to recharge batteries, which gave our radar a splendid target even at night or in dirty weather. “Say this makes snorkel subs a thousand times harder to see by eye or radar,” suggested one anti-sub man, “then that means we need about 10 times the air coverage and perhaps twice as many surface ships to locate and kill them.”
Again, a convoy could expect to be attacked by any pre-1944 U-boat within 376 square miles of itself, but even a 17-knot sub increases the convoy’s “danger area” to 1,256 square miles.
Naval planning for the future is based on deadlier hunter-killer groups and sub-chasing submarines, for we found in the last war that one sub was often another sub’s worst enemy. Work is progressing on guided missiles designed to seek out subs beneath the surface, and more sensitive radar. There may be other advances of which we know nothing, but we’ve still plenty to worry about.
When 100 U. S. warships and 36,000 men, covered by 500 planes, tried to make a landing during Newfoundland manoeuvres two years ago, eight defending snorkel subs smashed the invasion. More recently, the RCN’s Magnificent was “sunk” seven times in four days during trials against U. S. su bmarines.
“Oh yes, but—■” protested one Navy man, “you must remember the carrier had only two escort ships to protect her instead of her required six!”
This brought an uneasy grin from a senior officer. “But isn’t the point that, with a couple of ships in Korean waters and a couple in refit, two escorts were all we could muster?”
In the last war Canada’s anti-sub navy expanded from six tin-can destroyers to a rugged fleet of 378 escort ships. The RCN is obviously ready and willing to try to pull the same rabbit out of the hat again if necessary. But the big question is: Will there be time enough? ★
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