Tag Archives: midget boat

CIA SKIFF Semi-Submersible

This mysterious little midget was photographed in the CIA Museum in McLean, Virginia in 2011.

cia-semi-submersible-skiff-3 cia-semi-submersible-skiff-1 cia-semi-submersible-skiff-2

From the official description:

CIA designed and manufactured this two-man semi-submersible in the 1950s. It carried no weapons, was cramped, had limited endurance, and required a “mother ship” for transport and recovery. However, the vessel could approach areas ships could not.

Then there is the rest of the story.

Codenamed the SKIFF, the craft could be towed to a location and cached at a depth of up to 30 feet below the surface if needed.

Designed in the tail-end of WWII as part of the OSS’s Project NAPKO, these craft were to be used to deposit specially trained Korean Americans and Korean prisoners of war for infiltration into Japanese-occupied Korea, and ultimately into Japan itself. Their mission was to collect intelligence and conduct sabotage in advance of Operation Olympic, the planned US invasion of the Japanese home islands in November 1945.

Half the 2-3 man teams would be landed via nylon boat from fleet submarines coming danger close while the other half would infiltrate via our trusty little submarines towed within 30-40 miles of shore. The little semi-submersibles could be cached just offshore on the seabed and used by (surviving) agents to exfiltrate back to sea.

As noted in a great 11-page article from Studies in Intelligence, the agents would go local:

“Typical of NAPKO missions, the teams were to carry minimal equipment and supplies: 100,000 yen, a radio, appropriate clothing for passing as locals, and a Japanese-manufactured shovel for burying the team’s equipment after landing.”

The boats, built by John Trumpy and Sons of Camden, New Jersey, were termed “Gizmos” and never used, though the Navy did keep them around for awhile, one even lasting long enough to be put on display at the USS Massachusetts in Fall River, incorrectly labeled as a Japanese suicide submarine for years.

In 1953, the CIA thought the concept valid enough to commission two more from Trumpy, codename SKIFFs.

“SKIFF also appears to have come close to operational use, but at least two missions for which it was deployed were canceled.”

Some 19-feet long, the craft drew 2’8″ when buoyant and could ride almost four feet low when semi-submerged, leaving just a foot or so of the low-profile hull above surface. Powered by a 25hp “Atomic Four” gasoline engine with 30-gal tank, the craft could putter along at 5-knots when buoyant or 4.1-kts semisubmerged with a combat radius of 110 nm. The craft weighed 3,650-pound sans crew. Without removing the slabs of ballast, the maximum cargo carried including crew was 608-pounds (exclusive of the weight of two submachine guns). If the ballast was scuttled this could be boosted about another 100 pounds.

The 49-page declassified manual is here. Enjoy!

Warship Wednesday July 9, Italian spaghetti and midget meatballs.

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 9, Italian spaghetti and midget meatballs.

Italian midget submarine at Sevastopol, Russia , circa 1942 CB

Here we see one of the plucky little Italian-made coastal submarines of the CB-class at Sevastopol, Russia, circa 1942. Ordered from the Società Caproni e Comitti in Milan, the company specialized in the production of military aircraft, not ships, but they did a great job on these tiny u-boats.


Capable of spending a couple of days at sea and carrying a pair of 17.7-inch torpedoes (externally), these boats were capable of sending a decent sized ship to the bottom and, if there had been enough of them, would have made any amphibious assault of the Italian coastline very dangerous as these ships could submerge in waters as shallow as twenty feet of sea.

CB sub moored at Sevastopol 1942

The Regina Marina ordered 72 of these plucky 50-foot long boats in 1941, but only 20 or so were completed due to Allied invasions and blockades. Of those ships, about half served the Axis forces, with the others being completed after Italy switched sides in 1943.

in romanian service

The first six ships completed, CB-1 through CB-6, were shipped to the Black Sea along with a group of some 40 Italian submariners where they quickly set up camp in captured Soviet digs and went looking for Russkies.

Constanza, September 1944. These four CB were used by the Soviets after the war with the initials TM 4-7 for experiments and training

About the only victory chalked up by these Italian midget subs was sending Soviet Black Sea Fleet Shchuka-class submarine SHCH-208 to the bottom by torpedo attack on June 18, 1942, just weeks after they arrived at Yalta. As a Shchuka was some 187-feet long and 700-tons load, that was a true David and Goliath victory for the Italians. This was something of a bit of payback for the Italians as one of the boats, (CB-5) was bombed and sunk by Red bombers near Yalta, 13 June 1942.

cb_taranto italian midget

Italian minisommergibile CB Mar Nero Yalta 1942

Once Italy switched sides, these five remaining Black Sea boats were transferred to Romania in 1943.

Former Italian CB midget submarine at Costanza Romania late 1943

With the advance of the Red Army, the Romanians and Germans scuttled these in Constancia harbor in August 1944. The Russians, never one to let a piece of kit go bad, promptly raised them and put them in local service until the end of the war.

italian cb midget firing on surface

Other craft were captured by the British or Germans in the Adriatic and were in turn sunk or scrapped around the end of the conflict. One was found in Bordeaux by the Americans in 1944, where it had been sent along with a crew under Lt. Eugenio Massano in 1942 for trials in an aborted program that would have seen a false-flagged mothership such as the DaVinci take a few CBs to the Hudson River in hopes of running amok in New York harbor.

Minisommergibile CA 2 -1944, captured in Bordeaux

One boat, CB-20, fell into the hands of Tito’s Partisans and was soon pressed into service with the new Yugoslav navy (as pennant P-901). The Yugos loved the little craft so much that they kept it in service for nearly two decades and even then kept it as a museum and trials ship.

It should therefore surprise no one that the Yugoslav navy built its own class of homemade midgets, the Una-class, in the 1970s. These half-dozen craft were very similar in size (61-foot long, 70-tons) as the old Italian CB craft they still had in storage. The Italians, likewise, spent several decades making their own improved midgets from COSMOS and others which have a direct lineage to these humble WWII-era boats.

CB-20/P-901 still exists by the way.

April 7, 2010: The unveiling ceremony of the newly rebuilt CB-20 at the Teknicki Muzej (Technical Museum), Zagreb, Croatia. The boat has been completely restored inside and out to the original specifications and paint scheme she had when launched. (Photo courtesy of Vladimir Tarnovski)

April 7, 2010: The unveiling ceremony of the newly rebuilt CB-20 at the Teknicki Muzej (Technical Museum), Zagreb, Croatia. The boat has been completely restored inside and out to the original specifications and paint scheme she had when launched. (Photo courtesy of Vladimir Tarnovski)

An excellent reference is at Maritime Quest on the CB20, including more than 9 pages of in-depth images on CB-20.

There is also this:

Trieste, 22 – 24 giugno 1996. Il sommergibile tascabile CB 22 esposto a Piazza dell’Unità dopo il trasferimento da San Vito ed in attesa di essere conservato nel Museo Henriquez.



Displacement: 35.4 tons surfaced, 44.3 tons submerged
Length:     14.99 m (49.2 ft)
Beam:     3.00 m (9.84 ft)
Draught:     2.05 m (6 ft 9 in)
Propulsion:     1 shaft diesel-electric,
1 – 80 hp Isotta Fraschini diesel, 1 – 50 hp Brown Boveri electric motor
Speed:     7.5 knots (13.9 km/h) surfaced, 7 knots (13 km/h) submerged
Complement: 4
Armament:     2 externally mounted 450mm torpedoes or two mines

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