Let Me Tell You About the Worst Submarine of All Time

James Holmes

James Holmes

Security,

Let me go further: I nominate an entire silent service.

Let Me Tell You About the Worst Submarine of All Time

For the Worst Submarine of All Time, I go further and nominate an entire silent service: the undersea arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

There are many candidates for this dubious honor. After all, submarining has been around for well over a century now. Many ships render honorable but unexceptional service. Standouts emerge, generally in times of strife, as do “floating coffins” and plain old hard-luck ships.

And there are some that subtract value from the nation’s effort to reach its strategic and political aims. This is the unpardonable sin.

The idea of ships that could submerge has been around since antiquity. Combat submersibles date to the Turtle, a hand-propelled contraption built to smite Royal Navy ships from beneath during the War of American Independence. But subs really became a going concern during the fin de siècle age, when propulsion technologies such as batteries, electric motors, and internal-combustion engines came to maturity around the same time.

Combining these technologies yielded the diesel-electric propulsion plant, a hybrid affair that enabled subs to run silent, run deep on quiet electric motors when submerged and run on diesels and recharge batteries while cruising the surface. At the direction of First Sea Lord Jacky Fisher, the Royal Navy ordered five rudimentary boats designed by John Phillip Holland in 1900, and the age of modern undersea warfare was on.

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