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ANTONY PRESTON, JOHN BATCHELOR
All navies knew how close the Allies had come to defeat at the hands of the U-Boats, and so the years immediately after 1945 were marked by prolonged experiments in submarine design, and also in anti-submarine warfare. The Type XXI features, the streamlined hull and large battery capacity, were immediately incorporated into new designs. The deck gun began to disappear, for it caused too much drag, and the former bulky conning tower with its platforms and periscope standards was streamlined into a fin, known in the USN as a "sail". The schnorchel became a standard fitting, known in American submarines as a "snorkel" and to the British as a "snort".
Russian "W" Class. This class, like so many others, clearly owed much to the German Type XXI, and was probably begun as soon as Soviet designers had absorbed all the knowledge gained after the German surrender. The first units appeared in 1950 and about 200 were built by 1958. Many of these are now serving with satellite navies, and the class is obsolescent. Displacement: 1,030 tons (surfaced). Armament: Six 21-in torpedo-tubes (four forward, two aft) eighteen torpedoes carried. Speed: 17 knots (surfaced), 15 knots (submerged)
Propulsion remained the tried and proven diesel-electric drive for the moment, but the Walther turbine promised the dream of a "true submarine", independent of outside oxygen. The three major submarine powers, Great Britain, the United States and Soviet Russia all experimented with the idea, although the Americans soon decided to drop it because of its complexities. The Russian experiments remain shrouded in secrecy to this day, although it is known that Walther-engined boats were tested. The British ran the salvaged U1407 as HMS Meteorite from 1946 to 1950. She was regarded as about 75 per cent safe, and her crew were doubtless thankful to see the last of her. But she spawned two improved versions, the 225-ft Explorer and Excalibur, which entered service in 1956-58.
These two submarines were not unnaturally known as the "blonde" submarines because of their peroxide fuel. They served a useful purpose in as much as they gave the Royal Navy's anti-submarine forces some valuable practice against fast targets. Their main use, however, was to prove finally that the Walther system was only a stopgap. There was more than one contemporary report of explosions in the two submarines, and at least one instance when the entire crew was forced to stand on the casing to avoid the noxious fumes which had suddenly filled the boat.
British Amphion. For the Pacific, the Royal Navy needed a larger submarine with more endurance, and the "A" Class resulted. They were not as large as the American boats, but they had air-conditioning and a radius of action of 10,000 miles. The early boats like Amphion had a low bow, but after trials this was raised
The reason the Americans had been so lukewarm towards the Walther system was that they had practical experience of nuclear energy. When the war ended the only use made of nuclear power had been in the form of bombs, but it was clear that a controlled reaction would be feasible. Nuclear energy provides a limitless source of heat, and makes no demands on oxygen for combustion. The disadvantage was merely that of weight and size, for a reactor needs thick lead shielding to prevent radiation, quite apart from its bulk. Therefore American nuclear physicists bent their research towards producing a reactor small enough to power a submarine.
While the designers were groping towards nuclear propulsion, the immediate problem for the US Navy was to modernise their submarine fleet to incorporate all the lessons of the war. A number of the Tench Class were completing to a slightly improved Balao design, and they were altered. The new design was known as the "Guppy" type, standing for Greater Underwater Propulsive Power, and incorporated a lengthened and streamlined hull with larger batteries, as well as a modified sail and snorkel.
Many of the older Gato and Balao classes were converted in similar fashion, but even more were allocated to experimental duties.