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Sortie of the Gunboat Submarines

From the very first U.S. Naval submarine commissioned, USS Holland (SS-1)— which was designed with a “dynamite cannon” in addition to her torpedo tube– American subs have tended to tote around some sort of gun to either make short work of small craft or at least fire the literal “shot across the bow” to make a vessel heave to.

Sure, there have been some classes that didn’t mount a piece on the roof, and since the end of Vietnam when the final WWII-era diesel fleet boats were withdrawn, about the biggest piece of artillery available to a surfaced U.S. submarine is a 5.56mm light machine gun, but in between you had everything from 3-inchers to 6-inchers carried.


Perhaps the pinnacle of gun-armed U.S. submarine surface actions was the cruise of “Latta’s Lancers,” under CDR Frank D. Latta aboard his flagship boat USS Lagarto (SS-371) some 75 years ago last month.

CDR Frank D. Latta

Lagarto, a Balao-class boat commissioned in late 1944, was given a very gun-heavy suite to include a pair of 5″/25 caliber Mark 40 wet mounts as well as two 40mm/60 Bofors singles augmented with eight .50-cal M2 pintels.

This battery, enhanced with additional topside ready-use lockers, an expanded small arms magazine and the ability to store 220 80-pound 5-inch shells, gave the 311-foot boat a decent surface armament that rivaled a patrol frigate.

The Mark 40 was an interesting piece, weighing as much as a smaller 3-incher, but packing much more punch. Further, it could be put into action within a minute of surfacing.

USS Sea Dog (SS-401) with 5″/25 deck gun in action, as the submarine operates near Guam, preparing for her final war patrol into the Sea of Japan, circa mid or late May 1945.

The Mark 40. With a weight of 7-tons, a trained crew could make one of these stubby boys sing at about 15 rounds per minute– provided the shells could be hustled up the hatch from below at a fast enough rate.

A Mark 40 preserved today on the USS Drum, sistership to Lagarto. These guns had a maximum range of 14,200 yards.

Coupled with the similarly up-gunned submarines USS Haddock (SS-231), and USS Sennet (SS-408), Latta’s Lancers, formed a three-craft American wolf pack tasked with causing a ruckus off southern Honshū, Japan.

“Gunboat” submarines with two 5″/25 (12.7 cm) guns and centralized fire control. The submarine closest to the picture appears to be USS Sennet (SS-408). Note the two 5″/25s on deck and two 40mm guns on her sail

The goal was a diversion intended to lure early warning craft some 200 miles away from the track of carrier air strikes against Tokyo.

Surfacing in the predawn hours of 13 February 1945 and using their SJ surface radars to track a set of small Japanese trawlers-turned-gunboats that they dutifully opened fire on– and allowed said trawlers to transmit a warning back to Tokyo– before the subs sank same. The prey was no mighty craft, Kotoshiro Maru No.8 (109 tons) and Showa Maru No.3 (76 tons), but the mission was accomplished.

Later that night, around 2200, the Lancers began stalking two more auxiliary patrol boats and were able to engage the pair in the dark hours of 14 February. That action left the Kanno Maru No.3 (98 tons) damaged and Sennet with a number of holes in her sail. In the end, all three subs were out of 5-incher shells, leaving the trio to finish their patrols separately and through the use of torpedos.

Haddock would successfully return to port, then spent the rest of the war on lifeguard station near Tokyo, standing by to rescue downed airmen after raids on Japanese cities. Used as a reserve boat off and on after the conflict, she was sold for scrap in 1960.

Sennet had a much longer life, serving until 1968, and was sold for scrap in 1973.

Sadly, Lagarto would be sunk on her 2nd patrol by the Japanese net layer Hatsutaka on 3 May 1945, in the South China Sea, with all hands lost. This included CDR Latta, who sailed his boat to join the flotilla of 51 other American submarines on Eternal Patrol in WWII.

She has been visited several times since, and her twin 5″ guns helped in her identification.

One of Lagarto’s two deck guns. Photo via Navsource courtesy Steve Burton.

Stickleback found, filed 10,944 feet down

Just serving two days on her first (and only) WWII combat patrol before the cease-fire was issued in August 1945, the Balao-class submarine USS Stickleback (SS-415) served as a training ship until her GUPPY IIA conversion in the 1950s. She managed to complete five sometimes dicey Cold War patrols, spending lots of time creeping around Soviet Red Banner Pacific Fleet assets including snapping photos of two Sverlov class cruisers.

Taking some time off, she stood out of Pearl on 28 May 1958 with the John C. Butler-class destroyer escort USS Silverstein (DE-534) and a torpedo retriever on an antisubmarine warfare exercise.

As Stickleback was going to a safe depth about 19 miles off Oahu the next day, she lost power and broached about 200 yards ahead of the steaming Silverstein, who was unable to avoid a collision and holed the submarine on her port side, riding over the submarine’s pressure hull.

USS SILVERSTEIN (DE-534) and USS STICKLEBACK (SS-415) Collide 19 miles out from Barbers Point, Oahu Hawaii on 29 May 1958. The photo was taken in a HUP-2 piloted by Ensign Rucks, PHAAN R.K. Ahlgren, photographer. USN 1036229

USN 1036225

USN 1036226

While the submarine Sabalo (SS-302), destroyer escort Sturtevant (DE-239), and rescue ship Greenlet (ASR-10) quickly responded, the combined efforts were unable to correct the flooding, Stickleback at 19:57 made her last dive in 1,800 fathoms of water. Luckily, she suffered no losses and all 82 of her crew were taken off.

Silverstein would be mothballed at San Francisco the next year and would be disposed of in 1973.

Now, Stickleback has been discovered by the Lost 52 Project. She is one of four US Navy submarines lost since the end of World War II

Cuban-born micro submarine spotted in the wild

Esteemed submarine nerd HI Sutton of Covert Shores, writing for Forbes, covers a recent sighting of the rarely-seen Cuban midget submarine, Delfin.

Sutton writes, noting that only two images have surfaced in 15 years of the 65-foot home-rolled sub:

Delfin is Cuba’s sole submarine. Back during the Cold War, the Cuban Navy had three attack submarines supplied by the Soviet Union. But like most of their larger ships, these have long since been retired. Today the Cuban Navy operates a hodgepodge of vintage Soviet equipment, converted fishing trawlers with missiles and helicopters, and an array of improvised torpedo craft. The Delfin is the most impressive of these homegrown vessels.

More here. 

Perishable skills, or the Navy is actually running Atlantic Convoy Ex again

The best tactic to beat the vile threat of U-boats in the Great War was the convoy, be it coastal, trans-oceanic, or whatever.

July 1917: A photograph taken from the ersatz gunboat USS Rambler (SP-211) of a 25-ship convoy nearing Brest, France. NH 158

In WWII, the convoy was brushed off again, with success in the Atlantic, Med, and Pacific. An old tactic, but still a good one.

A staple of Cold War planning, ships like the Knox-, Spruance– and Perry-class frigates and destroyers were created with the purpose of shepherding convoys to Europe for NATO through a sea filled with Soviet attack subs and long-ranging Bear bombers.

Then, with the thaw in the late-1980s, the convoy tactic, with the exception of limited escorts in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, fell out of favor.

In short, convoying is a thing your Dad’s Navy and Grandpa’s Navy did.

With the 2nd Fleet rebooted, the Navy– for the first time since 1989– last week ran a convoy exercise in the Atlantic with a surface warfare asset and escorted mercies.

While MSC regularly tries to do such ops, it is usually just simulated and doesn’t include an actual escort or more than one vessel, so, while the four-ship group is small, at least it is a good sign of working those age-old skills that are sorely out of practice.

200228-N-PI330-0486 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 28, 2020) A convoy comprised of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), right, the vehicle carrier MV Resolve, center, and the Military Sea Lift Command (MSC) roll-on roll-off cargo ship USNS Benavidez (T-AKR 306) steam in formation. This exercise simulates an opposed transit, testing the fleets’ abilities to safely cross the Atlantic while testing new ways of conducting a convoy in today’s maritime environment. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Waters/Released)

Plus, and the photo doesn’t show this, the group was screened over the horizon by the Ike carrier group while Navy P-8 ASW/ASuW aircraft and an SSN was on tap as well.

From 2nd Fleet PAO: 

NORFOLK (NNS) — U.S. 2nd Fleet, on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and in conjunction with Military Sealift Command (MSC), is conducting convoy operations across the Atlantic, employing the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) alongside USNS Benavidez, MV Resolve, and MV Patriot.

Sealift remains the primary method for transporting military equipment, supplies, and material around the world. With the return to peer competition and access to sea lanes no longer guaranteed, it is important that the Navy and MSC train together in order to ensure the successful delivery and sustainment of combat power necessary for the joint force to fight and win anywhere around the globe.

“In a real-world conflict, much of the military equipment must still go by sealift, which makes convoy operations a critical skill set to maintain and practice,” said Capt. Hans E. Lynch, commodore Military Sealift Command Atlantic. “In the last five years, there has been an increased emphasis on including Merchant Marine shipping in large scale exercises to enhance tactical proficiency. Exercises that incorporate convoy operations are an extension of that ongoing tactical training.”

This exercise will simulate an opposed transit, testing the fleets’ abilities to safely cross the Atlantic while testing new ways of conducting a convoy in today’s environment. Convoy operations were critical during WWI and WWII as the primary method for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material to Europe. After WWII, convoys became less prevalent in the Atlantic theater, although still practiced in other areas of operation.

“The Atlantic is a battlespace that cannot be ignored,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander U.S. 2nd Fleet. “We need to be prepared to operate at the high end alongside our allies, partners and adversaries alike as soon as we’re underway.”

During her operations in the Atlantic, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), along with P-8s from VP-4 and a U.S. submarine, cleared the maritime battlespace prior to the transit of the Vella Gulf-escorted MSC convoy.

“The coordination between NAVEUR, 2nd Fleet, and 6th Fleet are indicative of a seamless Atlantic Ocean,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, NAVEUR. “This exercise allows us to sharpen our ability to move critical resources across the Atlantic, from the United States to Europe.”

“As I have said before, logistics is the sixth domain of warfare, and a critical part of any successful operation or exercise,” Foggo said. “The transatlantic bridge is just as important today for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material from the United States to Europe as it has been at any point in history.”

2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet work together to ensure the security of sea-lanes of communication in the Atlantic. If called upon, the Department of Defense’s sealift transportation fleet expects to move approximately 90 percent of required assets from the U.S. to the theatre of conflict. The safest and quickest way to get needed materials to the front lines is via maritime convoy.

“We, as a Navy, are inherently linked with the broader maritime industry and this exercise provides a great opportunity to train like we fight,” said Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, commander, USS Vella Gulf. “Practicing convoy operations flexes a blue-water, high-end skill for the first time in many years, enabling us all to operate on, above, and below the sea in a contested environment.”

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020: The Everlasting Albrecht Marsch

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020: The Albrecht Marsch

Here we see the unique early casemate battleship SMS Erzherzog Albrecht of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, the K.u.K Kriegsmarine, in Pola (Pula), sometime between 1874 and 1892. Designed as a “kasemattschiff” with a ram bow, she was built to fight at the Battle of Lissa, which predated her by a decade. Nonetheless, the obsolete Austrian would endure for 83 years in one form or another and live through both World Wars.

Lissa– as those who are fans of ram bows on steam warships are aware– was the iconic naval action in 1866 between Austria and Italy in which the tactic of busting below-waterline holes in one’s enemy’s ships proved decisive. Sadly, for a generation of battleships that immediately followed, ramming never really proved effective in combat again, save for its use in the 20th Century by fast warships against very close submarines caught operating on the surface.

Illustration of the Austro-Hungarian ironclad SMS Erzherzog Albrecht under sail published in “Europe in Arms: The Austro-Hungarian Navy”. The Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine. London: W. H. Allen & Co. IV: 384. 1886, via Wiki Commons

Beyond her reinforced ram bow, Erzherzog Albrecht was a decent brawler for her era. Based on the design of her preceding half-sister, SMS Custoza, Kaiser Franz Josef’s newest battleship went 5,980-tons, was 295-feet overall in length and carried a battery of eight 9.25″/20 cal cast iron Krupp guns in a two-tiered casemate protected by up to eight inches of wrought iron armor backed by another 10 of teak wood.

Cast iron 21cm cannon at Krupps Steel Foundry Works Essen, 1868. It was cast from single casing

The twin-funneled SMS Custoza. She differed from Erzherzog Albrecht in the respect that she was slightly larger and carried a battery of eight 10-inch guns. Erzherzog Albrecht was a “budget” follow-on.

Designed by Obersten-Schiffbau-Ingeniuer Josef Ritter von Romako, who also crafted Custoza, the two half-sisters were the country’s first iron ships. Capable of making 12.8-knots on her steam plant, Erzherzog Albrecht had a hybrid sail rig, common for her era, on three masts. Built at Trieste, she was commissioned in the summer of 1874, birthed out into the Adriatic.

She was named for Hapsburg general and war hero, Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen, the bespectacled victor in the battle of Custoza in 1866 over the Italians.

This guy.

Unlike most European powers, Austria fought no outright wars from 1866 until 1914, except for a low-key counter-insurgency campaign in the Balkans, a fact that translated to a relatively peaceful half-century for the K.u.K Kriegsmarine. With that, Erzherzog Albrecht spent her front-line career in a series of short cruises around the Mediterranean and its associated seas, with long periods in ordinary, swaying at her moorings.

Pola (Pula), the Navy Yard, Istria, Austro-Hungary, Detroit Publishing Co postcard, the 1890s, via LOC

The only time she fired her guns in anger was to bombard Bokelj rebel bands near Cattaro (Kotor), Dalmatia, in March 1882, a factor of using a hammer to crush a grape. The year before she was used in gunboat diplomacy to protest French expansion in Tunisia, calling at La Goulette (Halq al-Wadi) on the North African coast for several weeks.

Austrian steam ironclad SMS Erzherzog Albrecht with her naval ram before 1892

Modernized on numerous occasions between 1880 and 1893, she received additional small-caliber anti-torpedo boat guns as well as a quartet of 14-inch torpedo tubes while engineering updates swapped out her plant. She picked up watertight bulkheads for safety and an electrical system for lighting and communication, two things that didn’t exist when she was designed in 1868.

SMS Erzherzog Albrecht by Leopold_Wölfling via Austrian Archives

By 1908, the ram-bowed ship, with her then-quaint wood-backed wrought iron armor and stubby 24 cm/20 black powder breechloaders, was as obsolete as can be in the era of Dreadnoughts and she was semi-retired.

Renamed from the regal Erzherzog Albrecht to the more pedestrian Feuerspeier (fire gargoyle), she was tasked with operating as a naval artillery school ship in Pola. For this work, she was demasted and largely disarmed other than for training pieces.

FEUERSPEIER (Austrian schoolship, 1872-1946) former battleship ERZHERZOG ALBRECHT photographed while serving either as a naval artillery school ship from 1908-1915 or as an accommodation ship for crews of German submarines operating from Adriatic ports during 1915-1918. An Erzherzog Karl-class battleship appears in the left background. The stern of the artillery school ship ADRIA (ex-frigate RADETZKY, 1872-1920) appears to the right. The photograph was taken at Pola. Courtesy of Mr. Arrigo Barilli, Bologna, Italy. NH 75917

Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier was such a non-threat in Western circles that she was not listed in the 1914 edition of Janes, which ranked Austria-Hungary as a 7th rate naval power.

When the lights went out all over Europe in 1914, Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier continued her use as a school ship until the next summer, when she came to the next chapter of her career.

In June 1915, the Germans established U-Flottille Pola to help their submarine-poor Austrian brothers-in-arms and use the base in the Adriatic to raid the Allies in the Med. Using a mix of U-boats sailing directly from German ports and breaking through the Allied blockade, and small coastal type UB- and UC-boats, which were dissected and moved by rail to Pola for reassembly, the Germans at one time or another ran 45 boats through the port.

It was during this time that Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier became one of the accommodation ship/submarine tenders (mutterschiff) for this force of visiting sailors.

Austrian submarine loading torpedo (Osterreichisches Staatsarchiv 5.17)

Among the “aces” sailing from Pola was the famed Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, considered the king of Great War U-boat skippers, who bagged 77 ships totaling 160,000 GRT in four months in 1916 alone.

Of interest, the Austrian martial musical Erzherzog Albrecht Marsch, by Viennese composer Karl Komzak, was used by German submariners in both World Wars as a sailing song to celebrate departures and arrivals of U-boats, a holdover of the Happy Pola times when Feuerspeier’s band would play the tune on such occasions. So much so that the music was used in Das Boot when the fictional U-96 leaves her pens for the Atlantic, then when she returns.

Nonetheless, once the war was over and both the Imperial German and Austrian navies– along with their empires– were consigned to the dustbin of history, and Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier was captured by the victorious Allies along with several floating relics and more modern U-boats in Pola, then part of the newly-established Yugoslavia.

Ex-Austrian ships at Pola, circa 1919. Surrendered ships photographed by Zimmer. The surface ships are probably the ex-torpedo gun-vessel SEBENICO (1882-1920) and the ex-submarine tender PELIKAN (1891-1920) behind her. The two submarines in the foreground are probably of the U-27 class (German UB-II type) and most of the others are probably of the U-10 (UB-I) class. The conning tower on the right probably belongs to U-5. Catalog #: NH 42825

Pola Harbor, Yugoslavia in the foreground are three ex-Austrian hulks: front to back, LACROMA (ex-TIGER, 1887-1920), CUSTOZZA (1872-1920), and BELLONA (ex-KAISER, 1872-1920). To their right are two US SC boats. In the upper left are four French ALGERIEN class destroyers: bow letters I, H, Q, and R. In the center are three Italian destroyers including one of the ALESSANDRO POERIO class. The photo was taken late 1919-early 1920. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 95006

In 1920, the old Austrian battleship was awarded to Italy as a war trophy under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, aged 44, and was towed to Taranto where she was to be used as a tender under the name of Buttafuoco for the submarines of IV Gruppo.

She would continue in this task for another two decades, losing her name for the more generic designation of GM 64. (Her near-sister, SMS Custoza, was likewise awarded to the Italians but was quickly scrapped and never used.)

As in 1914, the 1945 edition of Janes neglected to list GM64/Buttafuoco under Italy’s entry, although such minor craft as 600-ton water tenders did make the cut.

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), Taranto, 1940

Italian submarines Giovanni da Procida and Ciro Menotti alongside GM 64, Taranto Mar 1941

An unidentified Italian submarine moored next to GM 64, Taranto 1941

In 1947, still in the Arsenale of Taranto, she was held as a floating hulk until it was decided to scrap the old girl in 1955.

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), Taranto, 1947 along with cluster of Italian subs

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), 1949

Her name has never been reissued.

In a hat tip to her Italian legacy, in 1996, a group of 11 winemakers joined to form the Buttafuoco Storico, with an ode to the former RN Buttafuoco of old.

Meanwhile, Chilean and Argentine U-boaters, err, submarinos, still reportedly sortie and arrive to the sound of the Erzherzog Albrecht Marsch.


1874, left, 1892-1908, right

Displacement: 5,980 long tons
288 ft 3 in waterline
294 ft 3 in o/a
Beam: 56 ft 3 in
Draft: 22 ft
8 boilers, one 2-cylinder Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino steam engine, one screw, 3,969 IHP
Ship rig as designed, schooner rig in practice
Speed: 12.84 knots
Endurance: 2300 @10kts on 500 tons of coal
Crew: 540
Belt- Composite 8 inches iron/10-inches teak
Casemate- Composite 7 inches iron/8-inches teak
8 x 9.4″/20cal C.24 Krupp breechloaders
6 x 3.5″/22 Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.8-inch Krupp breechloaders
8 x 9.4″/20cal C.24 Krupp breechloaders
6 x 3.5″/22 Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.8-inch Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.59″/16 L18
9 x 47mm Hotchkiss RF
10 x 25mm Nordenfeldt RF
4 x 350mm torpedo tubes with Whitehead torpedoes

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Oh, Canada…

The Canadian Navy has been heavy into the submarine biz for generations.

The Canucks got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.

Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.


Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.


After this, Canada went out of the submarine business for a while until 1945. Then, Ottawa inherited two newly surplus German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889, which they kept as working souvenirs for a couple years.

Canadian war artist Tom Wood's watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat's crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190's crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine's surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Canadian war artist Tom Wood’s watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John’s. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat’s crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190’s crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine’s surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Fast forward a bit and the Canadians began using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974.

Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000.

Three O-boats (Oberon-class) submarines of the Royal Canadian Navy in Bedford Basin, Halifax, 1995. RCNavy Image 95-0804 10 by Corp CH Roy

Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.

HMCS Submarine Chicoutimi.

The thing is, the Canadian Navy managed exactly zero (-0-) days underway with their subs last year– but not without cause.

As reported by CBC:

“The boats were docked last year after an intense sailing schedule for two of the four submarines over 2017 and 2018. HMCS Chicoutimi spent 197 days at sea helping to monitor sanctions enforcement off North Korea and visiting Japan as part of a wider engagement in the western Pacific. HMCS Windsor spent 115 days in the water during the same time period, mostly participating in NATO operations in the Atlantic.”

It is hoped that three of the four may return to sea at some point this year.


Warship Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020: That time one of the Kaiser’s U-Boats Went to Memphis

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020: That time one of the Kaiser’s U-Boats Went to Memphis

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog NH 42484

Here we see the German UB-III class coastal submarine, SM UB-88, photographed in New York Harbor after she passed the Statue of Liberty in the distance, on 27 April 1919, just after she arrived from Harwich. As you note by the U.S. ensign, she is under new management despite the Maltese crosses on her sail.

Built by AG Vulcan of Hamburg, UB-88 (Yard Werk 104) was commissioned on 26 January 1918, one of the 200~ planned unterseeboots of her class. At a cost of 3.6M marks each, the UB-III class were not large submarines, just 182-feet long and displacing 640-tons of seawater when submerged. However, they carried a decent-sized deck gun (105mm) and carried five torpedo tubes (four forward, one stern) with one brace of 19.7-inch steel fish loaded and another in reserve. Importantly, due to their economical MAN-Vulcan diesels and Siemens electric motors, they had a range of about 7,000nm– long enough to sortie from captured Belgian ports almost all the way across the Atlantic and back.

The class did a lot of damage, chalking up something like 500 Allied (and neutral) merchant and warships (including the RN battleship HMS Britannia) in the last two years of the war, bigger numbers when you realize that, of the 200 UB-IIIs ordered, only 96 (SM UB-48 through UB-155) were completed before Armistice Day, and about 80 or so of those actually became operational.

Speaking of which, UB-88 was assigned to the Flanders flotilla with her wartime skipper, Kapitänleutnant Reinhard von Rabenau, helming her to take 14 ships, a mix of small British, American, Swedish and Norwegian steamers, (see the list here) for a total of 31,076 tons. Von Rabenau picked up two Iron Crosses during the war as well as the Hohenzollernscher Hausorden— the decoration just under the Blue Max.

The UB-IIIs also took a lot of damage in 1917-18, and by the end of the conflict, at least 45 sank, were missing, or were scuttled in the last days of the war. The remaining 50 hulls were surrendered to the Allies between November 1918 and March 1919 per the requirements of the Armistice. In all, some 176 surrendered German U-boats, many in poor material condition, were gathered under the watchful eyes of a combined Allied fleet at Harwich in England.

What became of those 50 (former) UB-III-class German U-boats was varied, as they were split among five flags.

Two German U-Boats grounded near Falmouth in 1921. The one nearer to the camera is UB 86. Original text: “A most remarkable post-war incident was the washing up on the rocks at Falmouth, England, of two German U-boats. They were cast up but a few feet apart; both had been sunk during the war.” National Archives Photo 208-PR-10K-1, caption via Wikimedia Commons.

The British got the bulk of them (34), and promptly sent them to the breakers after removing their periscopes and deck guns, which were commonly circulated as trophies:

UB-49, UB-50, UB-51, UB-62, UB-67, UB-77, UB-79, UB-120, UB-149— broken up at Swansea 1921-22.
UB-60 beached off the English east coast and was broken up in 1921.
UB-86, UB-97, UB-106, UB-112, and UB-128 stranded and eventually broken up in Falmouth in 1921.
UB-89, UB-100 broken up in Dortrech in 1920.
UB-76, UB-93, UB-133, UB-136, UB-144, UB-145, UB-150 broken up in Rochester in 1922
UB-64 broken up in Fareham in 1921.
UB-91 broken up in Briton Ferry in 1921
UB-92, UB-96, UB-111 broken up in Bo’ness in 1919/20.
UB-98 broken up in Porthmadog in 1922
UB-101, UB-117, UB-105 broken up in Felixstowe in 1919/20.
UB-122 foundered off the East Coast of England while under tow.

The French got nine:
UB-73, UB-87, UB-154, UB-155 broken up at Brest July 1921
UB-94 served as Trinité-Schillermans until 24 July 1935, later broken up.
UB-99 served as Carissan to 1935, later broken up.
UB-118 was broken up in Cherbourg.
UB-121 used for underwater demolition training and then scrapped at Toulon in 1921
UB-142 broken up at Landerneau in July 1921

The Italians got three:
UB-80, UB-95, UB-102, broken up at La Spezia in May-July 1919.

The Japanese received two, which they dragged back to the Pacific along with U-46, U-55, U-125, UC-90, and UC-99
UB-125 served as O-6 in the Imperial Japanese Navy until 1921, broken up in Kure.
UB-143 served as O-7, used as a jetty at Yokosuka after 1924.

Japanese Cruiser Nisshin U-boats escorted surrendered German submarines allocated Japan 1918 Malta by Frank Henry Algernon Mason, via the IWM

The Americans (stay tuned, this is where our boat comes in) got the never-used UB-148 (many of the latter flight ships never served actively in the Kaiserliche Marine) and the aforementioned UB-88. The U.S. also picked up the larger U-111, U-117, U-140, as well as the smaller UC-97, four boats of other classes, giving the U.S. Navy a six-pack of former Kaiserian subs.

Naval personnel was dispatched from the States early in 1919, and they took over the trophy warships on 23 March 1919. UB-88 was placed in special commission for the voyage across the Atlantic, LCDR Joseph L. Nielson, a battleship sailor who had skippered the early American sub USS H-1 (SS-28) for a year, in command.

UB-88 stood out of Harwich on 3 April– less than two weeks after taking her over– along with USS Bushnell (Submarine Tender No. 2) and three ex-German U-boats: U-117, UC-97, and UB-148. Logically dubbed the “Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force,” the group steamed via the Azores and Bermuda to New York, where it arrived on 27 April. Notably, the Americans were the only nation who undertook to sail the German boats home on their own plants.

German U-boats UB-148 and 88. The photo was taken from light cruiser USS CHESTER (CL-1), March 1919 NH 111088

Four German submarines convoyed by US submarine tender Bushnell, left Harwick, England for the United States piloted by American officers. Shows American officers on board one of the larger German submarines just before their sailing for America. LOC 165-WW-338B-39.

WWI German subs, UB-88, UB-148, & UC-97, surrendered to allies, 1919. O.E. Wightman Collection photo # UA 42.06.01

As noted by DANFS, the ships soon became swamped with tourists and were used in Victory Loan drives and in recruitment tools, becoming “center-stage attraction for a horde of tourists, reporters, and photographers, as well as for technicians from the Navy Department, submarine builders, and equipment suppliers.”

Ex-German Submarines UC-97, UB-88, and U-117 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 29 April 1919. NH 111110

UB-88 and UB-148 tied up in Brooklyn, New York being inspected before going to the various ports to be used to help the Victory Loan, 29 April 1919. NH 111084

UB-88 at Brooklyn Navy Yard showing saw teeth on bow used to cut nets, damage to the bow, and “magic eye” to ward off evil spirits, 29 April 1919. No details on why she carried the eye, but a couple German gunboats operating in Chinese river waters at Tsingtao had the same practice and even sported dragons on their bows, so it could have been that one of her crew hailed from the Graf Von Spee’s Asiatic Fleet. NH 111085

With U-111 carved off to perform a series of mechanical efficiency experiments against U.S. designs, five of the six the remaining ex-German ships were dispatched to points North and South (the tiny UC-97 even set off for the Great Lakes, where she rests today under Lake Michigan) to gin up dollars and recruits for Uncle Sam.

Exhibitions of war trophies were a common thing in 1918-19. “Thousands of German trophies from the front at the U.S. gov’t war exposition” by Philip Lyford; Illinois Litho. Co., Chicago. LOC LC-USZC4-9887

UB-88 drew the longest itinerary of the five U-boats, assigned to the ports on the east coast south of Savannah, along the Gulf coast; up the Mississippi River as far north as St. Louis, and then on to the West coast.

She departed New York on 5 May escorted by the Coast Guard cutter Tuscarora. She visited Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami, and Key West. After leaving the Keys, boiler issues with Tuscarora forced the cutter to remain there for repairs and the minesweeper USS Bittern became her tender.

German submarine UB 88 at Key West, in late July, early August 1919. The Heritage House Collection, donated by the Campbell, Poirier, and Pound families, via the Florida Public Library Collection MM00032049.

From Key West, UB-88 headed for Tampa, then to Pensacola and on to Mobile and New Orleans, where she entered the Mississippi River. For the next month, she made calls at ports large and small along the great river including Vicksburg and Natchez– ADM Porter’s old Civil War stomping grounds.

SM UB 88 submarine pier-side on a river bulkhead among the southern pines, U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1986.094.001.024

Though originally intended to travel as far north as St. Louis, UB-88 only made it as far as Memphis before low late summer water levels forced her to cut short her voyage on the Mississippi and head back downriver.

Chris Dubbs, in his excellent book “America’s U-Boats: Terror Trophies of World War I” covers the trips of these subs and comments “In all, the Mississippi River recruitment cruise of the antisubmarine flotilla was a great success. During its Memphis visit, when it shared the spotlight with UB-88, twenty young men had enlisted in the navy.”

UB-88 returned to New Orleans on 1 July and entered drydock for repairs to her port shaft.

The UB-88, first German submarine to enter the Mississippi, in dry dock at New Orleans for minor repairs. Image and text provided by University of Utah, Marriott Library. Newspaper text courtesy of American Fork Citizen. (American Fork, Utah) 1912-1979, 16 August 1919, Via Navsource.

The submarine completed repairs on 22 July and departed the Crescent City to cruise ports along the Texas coast and thence to the Canal Zone. Breaking down between Houston and the Canal Zone, meant that Bittern had to tow the German sub the final 200 miles into Colon.

UB-88 alongside USS Bittern at Pedro Miguel Panama Canal, August 1919

UB-88, moored alongside the float at Pier 18, Balboa, Canal Zone, on 13 August 1919. UB-88 arrived here at 17:50 on the 12th following her Canal transit and was open to visitors from 0900 – 20:00 on the 13th. She departed at 10:25 the next morning for Corinto, Nicaragua. NARA photo.

After receiving repairs, provisions, and visitors, UB-88 crossed through the canal on 12 August. Following a two-day visit to Balboa, she headed north along the Mexican coast to San Diego stopping at Acapulco and Manzanillo along the way.

Photo via the UB-88 Project

The last leg of her voyage took the U-boat north to San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco then to the PacNorthWest to Astoria, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and Bremerton. On the return voyage, she stopped at San Francisco only, departing Mare Island on 6 November for the submarine base at San Pedro, where she arrived the next day.

The German submarine, SM UB 88, at Mare Island, California, September 23, 1919, on her trip up the West Coast. NARA 19-N-7936

Between November 1919 and August 1920, she was extensively gutted and disassembled in preparation for the end game.

Numerous interior shots of UB-88, likely taken for intelligence purposes while she was being stripped out at San Pedro, are in the Navy’s collection.

Interior view of the forward torpedo room, looking forward, taken 24 September 1919 while in U.S. Navy service. The four torpedo tubes are 50-CM. (19.7-inch) diameter and each carries the motto “Gott Mit Uns” (God with us) on the breech. Note the open door on the upper right tube with the torpedo tail visible. NH 42487

View of the torpedo room of the former German UB III-class submarine UB 88 in the United States. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1986.094.001.028

Interior view of the engine room, taken on 24 September 1919 while the vessel was in U.S. Navy service. The ship’s two 6-cylinder, 4-cycle diesel main propulsion engines can be seen here. NH 42488

Star’bd dive levers UB88. Photo via

UB-88’s engines were removed for examination before sinking her. Photo via

Starboard Main Motor Control UB88. Photo via

UB88 Diving Stations. Photo via

Placed out of commission on 1 November 1920, the former U-boat was towed offshore where she was sunk on 1 March 1921 as a gunnery target for the old four-piper destroyer USS Wilkes (DD-67).

Likewise, sistership UB-148 was sunk as a target by the destroyer USS Sicard (DD-346) off the Virginia Capes while former “Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force” mates U-117 and U-140 were similarly dispatched in the same area. U-111, her testing done, was sent to the bottom by USS Falcon (AM-28) on 31 August 1922 via depth charges.

The era of the Kaiser’s U-boats in the U.S. Navy lasted 40 months.

Ex-SM UB-148 in rough seas, National Archives Identifier 512979

As for UB-88, she was discovered by skin divers off Long Beach in 2003 and has become a popular, albeit rusty, dive site– although over the years most small items of interest have been removed. CarWreckDivers notes that UB-88 still has an unexploded scuttling charge consisting of 25 pounds of TNT, so keep that in mind if visiting. She is also peppered with 4-inch holes from Wilkes.

She is celebrated by the most excellent UB-88 Project “formed from the common desire to be the first to locate and document the only German U-boat off the west coast of the United States” as well as a listing on Pigboats.


510 t (500 long tons) surfaced
640 t (630 long tons) submerged
Length: 182 ft 2 in (o/a)
Beam: 18 ft 11 in
Draught: 12 ft 3 in
2 × propeller shaft
2 × MAN-Vulcan four-stroke 6-cylinder diesel engines, 1,085 bhp
2 × Siemens-Schuckert electric motors, 780 shp (580 kW)
13 knots surfaced
7.4 knots submerged
7,120 nmi at 6 knots surfaced, 55 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 50 m (160 ft)
Complement: 3 officers, 31 men
5 × 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes (4 bow, 1 stern)
10 torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.13 in) deck gun

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