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About this Book

In both the First and Second World Ways, the submarine came close to winning a decisive victory. Twice, it almost succeeded in cutting off Britain's supply routes and completely crippling the Allied war effort in Europe. Today, however, those achievements pale in comparison with the almost limitless power of the ICBM-armed nuclear submarine.

In this book we take up the story of the submarine at the end of the First World War, when it had uncontestably claimed a major place in the arsenal of any military-minded nation. We trace its development in the inter-war period, its vital role in all the major theatres of the Second World War. And, through Antony Preston's readable and authoritative text, and John Batchelor's magnificent illustrations, we follow the story up to the present day.

The engine room of a British submarine with the engines cut and the crew at action stations waiting for the signal to dive


Antony Preston was born in 1938 and educated in South Africa. He worked for some time as a research assistant in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He has written numerous reviews and articles on warship design and aspects of 19th and 20th century naval history for various journals, and periodicals. Among his books are Send a Gunboat (with John Major), V & W Destroyers, and Battleships of World War 1.

John Batchelor, after serving in the RAF, worked for three British aircraft firms in their technical publications departments. He then contributed on a freelance basis to many technical magazines, as well as the boys' magazine Eagle, before starting what was to be a marathon task of over 1,000 illustrations for Purnell's Histories of the Second World War and First World War. He takes every opportunity to fly or sail in, shoot with, or climb over and photograph any piece of military equipment he can find.


The experience of the First World War had left no doubt of the military value of the submarine. As victors and vanquished alike gradually began the inevitable re-armament, they could not afford to ignore the new weapon - and, for the Allies at least, the surrendered German U-Boats provided a good starting-point

When the exhausted world powers turned to negotiation in 1918, as an alternative to the four years of destruction which had been endured, it was with a wholesome respect for the submarine. Whether the war would have ended sooner without the submarine is arguable, but there can be no doubt that it would not have been so ruinously expensive. The British Empire, having started the war as the world's largest ship-owner and operator, lost over 9 million tons, as against 4 million tons lost by all other countries put together. This represented about 90 per cent of the steamships under British registration in 1914, and the loss of national wealth went far beyond the actual cost of the cargoes.

The submarine had proven its worth as a fighting weapon during the First World War, as the fearful slaughter of ships showed only too well. When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918 between Germany and the Allies, one of the key clauses stipulated that the U-Boats must be surrendered at a designated port. All boats fit for sea had to retain their armament, but those unfit for sea were to be disarmed and immobilised.

On the morning of 20 November a melancholy profession began, with batches of U-Boats going to the British east coast port of Harwich until the early months of 1919; others surrendered at Sevastopol or in neutral ports, and even more were put out of action in German ports. A total of 176 boats were surrendered, and immediately the victors seized the chance to study the sinister weapon which had cost them so much in blood and treasure. The U-Boats were parcelled out as follows:

Great Britain
105 boats, of which at least U126, U161 and one of the UC90 class wore the White Ensign for a time

46 boats of which 10 were incorporated into the French Navy and renamed: U79/Victor Reveille; U162/Pierre Marrast; U105/Jean Autrice; U166/Jean Roulier; U108/Léon Mignot; UB98/Trinité Schillemans; U119/Réné Audry; UB99/Carissan; U139/Halbronn; UB155/Jean Corré

7 boats renamed UC90-O3; U125-O1; UC99-O5; U46-O2; UB125-O6; U55-O3; UB143-O7

Italy: 10

USA: 6

Belgium: 2 originally allocated to Great Britain

With the exception of the ten French boats listed, all these submarines were scrapped and disposed of by 1922/23 by agreement between the nations concerned (the French arrangement having been a special case) to compensate for wartime losses. But the lessons had been learned and would be incorporated in future construction.

Despite the fact that wartime experience had not justified the "U-cruiser" type, with its large, clumsy hull and superfluous heavy guns, every navy plumped for cruiser-submarines. The two nations whose navies were expanding rapidly were Japan and the United States, and both took possession of the larger types of U-Boat as their share of surrendered tonnage. The United States took over U140, a 311-ft vessel armed with two 5·9-in guns, and incorporated many of her features into the so-called V-series, the Barracuda Class, and the Narwhal Class, both with high endurance and heavy torpedo-armament, and in the case of the two Narwhals, having two 6-in guns. The sixth in the V-series was the giant Argonaut which was also based on U140, but incorporated the minelaying system of the UEII type U117, which was also among the US Navy's booty.

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