Submarines, thought of as surface ships capable of travelling under water for periods of time, played a vital role in WWII.  On the surface, the WWII submarine’s diesel engine allowed them a higher speed and a longer range than the electric motors they relied on for underwater power.   The main weapon of a submarine is a torpedo – capable of travelling close to four miles underwater to its intended target.

Sonar and Radar Systems

Submarine Control Room

Sonar is a system developed to detect submarine sound in water; whereas, radar uses radio waves to locate objects on and/or above land and sea.  Both sonar and radar systems were used during WWII and played significant roles for Allied submarines in the forewarning of aircraft attacks and also counterattacks from surface vessels.

Radar equipment was responsible for a heavier German submarine loss in WWII as Allied aircraft could use radar to locate and destroy these u-boats as they surfaced to recharge their batteries.


The Snorkel

WWII German Snorkel

The use of radar by the Allies prompted the Germans to perfect a Dutch device – the snorkel.  The snorkel allowed a submarine to recharge its batteries just below surface while running its diesel engine.  Though it did somewhat reduce detection, the snorkel device did protrude just above water, making it detectable by radar.  The introduction of the snorkel came too late in WWII though to make a significant difference.

First All Welded Submarine

During WWII, the United States would produce the first all-welded submarine.  Christened the USS Pike, this submarine was capable of submerging deeper than other submarines.  The design also offered the Pike better protection from depth-charge attacks.

U.S. Submarines in WWII

USS Wahoo

U.S. submarines in World War II tallied less than 2% of the US Navy; but they were credited with sinking more than 30% of Japan’s navy, which included eight Japanese aircraft carriers.  They are also destroyed over 60% of the Japanese merchant marine tonnage – an estimated 5 ½ million tons.  The victories did not come without a large price tag.  The US

suffered a total loss of 52 WWII Submarines and 3,506 lives.