The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat

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Victorian & Edwardian Invasion, Future War & Spy Literature

More importantly, the Navy was struggling with the strategic impact of nuclear weapons on conventional war fighting and the resulting shape of any future world superpower conflict. If there was any single image that the public could grasp that showed the change in the Navy, it was the presence of just one battleship at the review: HMS Vanguard. Analysis of the figures for total strength by type at the review reinforces this picture of change; 28 submarines and four submarine depot ships were present. This represented over 50 per cent of the submarine force and nineteen per cent of the Royal Navy ships at the review.

In there were five battleships in service; of these four were in the reserve fleet and only one, HMS Vanguard, was at the review. This contrasts with the aircraft carrier of which nine out of eighteen 50 per cent were present at Spithead. Such figures suggest that even at the most superficial level, submarines and aircraft carriers were of roughly equal importance in the corporate culture. It is the change in the relationship between the numbers of submarines and anti-submarine vessels that is of greater importance and the one that had to be communicated to a public aware of the dangers posed by submarines.

The review was trying to show that the submarine was more important to the Royal Navy than traditional anti-submarine forces as a result of the reinvention of the submarine as an anti-submarine weapon. Numbers, however, are only part of the way that the change in the status of the submarine was communicated; significantly, it was also evident in the positions of the submarines at the review where it is possible to read the greatest changes.

Unlike the previous reviews of and , the submarine force at the review was of new construction with no pre-war vessels present. It is therefore not possible to explain the positioning of submarines as being dictated by their age, with the newest vessels closest to the public with the older vessels hidden in the centre of the review.

Nor, given the locations of the submarines in , does the argument that the submarines did not review well as put forward by the DOD in remain possible. In the submarines nearest to the public were much further out into Spithead than in Furthermore, as the lines of ships extended further to the west than at previous reviews, space constraints could not be a significant factor in the numbers or positioning of the submarines. It is therefore possible that the determining factor in the positions of the submarines and associated support vessels at the review was no longer governed by the practicalities of organising a review.

Instead, the relative importance of the submarine command was starting to assert itself as the dominant factor in the positions of its components at the review. In the review, submarines and Flag Officer Submarines, are present for the first time in line F, which might traditionally be considered the line in which the most prestigious and important vessels are moored, as well as being the first line passed by the Royal Yacht. The importance of this change is reinforced by the numbers of submarine command vessels in line F: out of 37 ships, eighteen are either submarines fourteen , submarine depot ships three or submarine target ships one.

The rest of the line is composed of the only battleship, all nine aircraft carriers, a seabed operations vessel and seven frigates. Importantly, the submarines in line F are placed after the aircraft carriers but before the frigates. These inferences can be seen as the start of a change in the importance of submarines due to perceptions of what submarines meant to the British.

The reason for such a change not being technology led is the state of submarine technology in Although experimental work was taking place with the new propulsion method of High Test Peroxide HTP , the two experimental submarines using this propulsion method were not yet in service. Indeed, the S, T, and U classes were pre-war designs, although they were being updated with the addition of snorkel masts itself a pre-war concept and the possibility of increased battery capacity and streamlining.

Such a change was caused by the experience of the Second World War, the reaction to the perceived Soviet submarine threat in the late s and early s and the way the submarine was being depicted in film and fiction. Twenty-four years were to elapse until the next review.

In that time the Royal Navy underwent a series of changes in doctrine, technology and operational areas, all of which had to be communicated in a manner that would unify rather than divide 44 THE SUBMARINE opinion about the Royal Navy against a background of economic failure, de-colonisation and growing links with the European Economic Community. Fixed-wing aircraft carriers that had been so prominent in the and Coronation Reviews were in their last gasp as the Defence Review had cancelled the next generation of strike carriers and the remaining modernised fleet carriers were to be scrapped by the end of the s.

An analysis of the composition of the Review is revealing. There were fourteen Royal Navy submarines present out of Royal Navy warships, auxiliaries and hovercraft equating to thirteen per cent of the fleet at Spithead; a reduction from the Coronation Review figure. However, analysis of the different types of submarine is useful as it shows that although no Polaris SSBN submarines were present, four out of nine hunter-killers SSNs were 44 per cent of those in service while 52 per cent of the diesel electric-powered patrol submarines SSKs were also present.

Overall, 44 per cent of all submarines in the Royal Navy were at the review. This compares to 52 per cent of frigates and a hundred per cent of aircraft carriers and helicopter cruisers. Given the small numbers of traditional capital units in service, it seems that every effort must have been made to ensure that they were present to give the Review impact.

The most interesting aspect of the Review is the position of the submarines. The SSKs were berthed alongside the track of the Royal Yacht and were closer to the head or eastern end of the lines than ever before. It is in the SSN, however, that we see a very discernible change. All four SSNs were moored at the head of their line, opposite the remaining heavy units of the Royal Navy. That the profile had undergone a transformation by the time of the Silver Jubilee is supported by the emphasis placed on submarines by the official souvenir brochure.

Unlike earlier years when submarines were frequently the last vessels to be mentioned, and often in a cursory fashion, the official souvenir programme was startlingly different. If this was not enough publicity for the submarines, the programme continued its education of the reader with three pages, well illustrated, solely on the submarine service. John Winton was a retired submarine officer who had made a very creditable career as a naval journalist and writer.

Critchley, which does not place the submarine quite as highly. The reception of the Review is perhaps the most problematic. Spectators were few in numbers and nowhere near the million plus that were expected,99 suggesting a degree of disinterest and the fact that it could be watched on television. Some newspapers followed a traditional approach to the submarine by playing down its importance. The News — Fleet Review Souvenir placed its description of the submarine service on page 14, after the description of foreign warships present; only the description of civil vessels at the review came after it.

It seems that the review represents for the submarine the cusp of general acceptance, supported in no small way by the statistical trends provided by the analysis of the numbers of ships present at the reviews between and As figure 1. Such a view would be reinforced by the Coronation and Jubilee reviews during the inter-war period. In the Silver Jubilee Review the figure was fourteen percent with a barely appreciable rise to fifteen per cent two years later at the Coronation Review for George VI. Thus the interwar period while showing a considerable increase on the pre-Great War period also shows a level of consistency, although this could well be a distortion caused by the close proximity of the two Reviews.

Post-Second World War, the percentages show a further rise to nineteen per cent in , but then drop back in to below that of the previous Silver Jubilee Review with submarines accounting for thirteen per cent of the fleet. Such an increase from zero to nineteen per cent indicates a growing desire to display the submarine in a public sphere and to demonstrate that money was being well spent.

Thus not only might it be argued that these figures show an increasing acceptability of the submarine but that they also show a belief at the corporate level that the public will expect submarines to be displayed as part of the fleet. Increases in submarines as a percentage of the total number of ships at each review between and mirror those for the proportion of the submarine force as a percentage of the number of ships on review; in that too saw a fall see figure 1.

In only eight submarines ten per cent of those in service were at the review. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War this had risen to 22 or 43 per cent of all submarines in Royal Navy service. Overall since , over 40 per cent of all submarines in service at the time of a review were on display to the public, a relatively constant figure when compared to the variations seen in other ship types. Furthermore, given the decline of traditional capital units, first the battleship, then the aircraft carrier and cruiser, as the Navy has contracted, the static nature of the percentages of submarines present at the reviews actually displays their increasing importance.

Conclusions A naval review is one of the most complex pieces of pageantry in use. It is visually impressive and, due to its size and the media attention it attracts, capable of engaging even with disinterested sections of the public because it is so unusual and is laden with symbolism. Yet, because of the civil and corporate interest, taking a snapshot view of each of the six Coronation or Jubilee reviews from onwards can be very misleading due to the numbers of different interpretations that can be placed on the composition of the fleet and the positions of the vessels in the anchorage.

It is therefore necessary to step back and consider the trend of these reviews. In this way it is possible to see how the review has changed and how, as a result of this change, meaning has changed and perceptions about the submarine have altered. The authorship of the reviews as state occasions has remained stable throughout the twentieth century, with the Royal Navy playing its part in the establishment and continuation of an invented tradition that forms part of a greater royal ritual.

The use of reviews as part of the wider royal ritual coincides with the most significant changes in the standards of education, the great increased electoral franchise, transport and media which have allowed much greater mass participation in the ritual of the review. This transformed the ownership of the Coronation and Jubilee reviews from one that was the preserve of the monarch and the Navy, to a public ownership.

As an invented tradition, the Coronation and Jubilee reviews have superficially hijacked the conventions of the older nonpublic review. Thus, in terms of significance, it is possible to read the review as a cultural text, but the usual language is incorrect.

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Thus reading the review in terms of the old conventions of importance in naval pageantry such as proximity to the path of the Royal party will only give a fragmented image and specifically does not appear to work for submarines in the , , or reviews. With the changes to the Fleet between and through developments such as technology and strategy, the way in which a naval review should be read with regard to submarines changed, but not necessarily because of any radical technological development in submarines.

Those aspects of the review that would only be understood by the Navy, such as the positioning of Flag officers commanding sections of the Navy, did remain constant throughout the period, presumably because it is a matter of professional importance rather than one of lay interest. Throughout the period under consideration the positioning of the senior officer of the submarine branch has moved closer to that most prestigious area of the review, the head of line F. At the same time, the position of the submarines at each successive review have moved further south and east towards the most prestigious positions at the head of the lines.

These six reviews called on images of earlier reviews which were very different in nature when compared with the public displays of naval power for the masses from onwards. The target of the Coronation and Jubilee reviews between and was the public, either as direct observers of the event, or distant participants using the nationalising power of the media to involve them in the process. The reception of the reviews at the time and since has been generally favourable, and the general reduction in naval power has attracted adverse professional comment, both at the time and since.

Yet the presence of the submarine at events which held so much visual symbolism for the construction of national identity around myths of the sea, empire, island status and the Navy is highly significant. Yet this was not a technologically driven process as the development of the submarine in the pre-nuclear propulsion age had been incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The effect of a technological revolution due to the use of nuclear propulsion can be clearly seen in the Silver Jubilee Review.

Significantly as a part of a cultural text, the nuclear powered SSNs at the review were in the positions of greatest importance while the other conventionally powered submarines, while still well placed under the traditional reading of a review, were in positions of lesser importance but the importance of the SSN only seemed to be on the edge of civil consciousness. These six reviews have shown the growth of the importance of the submarine and the striking effect that new technology can have on a reading of such an event as a cultural text.

Rather, it was understood by the British through its interaction with their existing concerns, preconceptions and indeed prejudices although it cannot be assumed that acceptance of the submarine indicated approval of it. Early reactions to the submarine in both the corporate and civil spheres fall into three broad categories, each of which played a part in the production, signification and reception of the submarine as a cultural artefact.

Although these categories are linked, they will be discussed separately. First, the militarisation of the submarine — the manner in which submarine technology was assimilated and given meaning — needs to be considered. Second, the challenges the submarine posed to British national identity and the conduct of maritime warfare will be examined. Finally, having identified the way submarine technology was given meaning and challenged ideas about British identity, the reaction of the Royal Navy and the way in which the submarine was integrated into the fleet will be analysed.

This chapter will examine these broad areas and how the submarine interacted with British culture between and It will demonstrate that cultural preconceptions played a major part in the assimilation of the submarine concept in Britain through images of seapower, chivalry and the cult of the battlefleet. As Cynthia Behrman has demonstrated, a belief in the romance of the sea, myths about island-hood and national character combined to produce a distinct late-Victorian mindset, which coloured British culture in the period up to It is also necessary to situate the perceptions of the Royal Navy and its principal weapon system — the battleship — in British culture, which was the context for the introduction of the submarine by the Navy.

Jane, the battleship was always the first type of vessel to be considered in each national section. When Germany passed a new naval law, expanding their dreadnought building programme and provoking a naval crisis in Britain in , public opinion demanded more dreadnoughts not submarines to meet this new threat. The threat of torpedo attack from surface ships hastened such stratification.

The Royal Navy was a key component of national identity and within this structure the battleship dominated British maritime thinking — strategically, operationally, tactically and socially. The actual and implied power conferred by the battleship was the cornerstone of Britain and its maritime Empire. British concepts of national identity, as well as domestic and imperial security, were all bound up within images of the strength and security of the battlefleet and its constituent battleships, and any technology that challenged this security was viewed with deep suspicion and indeed fear.

The submarine: a cultural history from the Great War to nuclear combat

This then was the psychological background that would influence the meaning given to the submarine by the British, when the adoption of submarine technology took place and the concept was militarised. The militarisation22 of the concept is a key indicator of how the British understood the world around them at the time the submarine was developed, and how they responded to the potential opportunities and threats of the new technology.

Submarines, even when demonstrated as a practical proposition, were not generally seen as peaceful inventions. From the midnineteenth century onwards, the pioneers of civil applications for submarine technology almost all gave up developing submarines for peaceful use and concentrated instead on sinking hostile warships. Even Monturiol, Garratt and Lake eventually applied their inventions to warlike rather than peaceful ends in order to try to attract financial support.

Even before the Royal Navy adopted the submarine, the concept had been militarised for the British. Jules Verne, author of probably the most famous submarine story first published in , made use of the submarine to show off the potential for undersea exploration with his descriptions of finding Atlantis or sailing beneath the ice cap and visiting the South Pole.

Jules Verne built better than he knew when he imagined out the hideous fear of the unknown and unseen which must always influence the moral [sic] of a war fleet expecting an attack from under the water. The relative immaturity of submarine technology was not the reason for the militarisation of the submarine. This, perhaps, is the nub of the issue: submarines were too frightening for passenger use. Such images also indicate an appetite for sensationalist stories as well as a specific interest in submarines.

Of the 26 postcards with submarines as their subject held at the Portsmouth Record Office, 13 refer to four submarine accidents between and including one French accident and there is no reason to believe that the proportions are unrepresentative of the degree of public interest in submarine accidents. Reports in the Spectator, for example, following fatal submarine accidents such as the explosion on A5 or the loss of A8, do not suggest such a morbid fascination.

Instead, they expressed concern that the thoughtless reaction by the public might lead to the cessation of submarine activity by the Navy. It could be argued that the militarisation of the submarine was down to pure economics: without government financial assistance, any submarine experiment would founder. The expense of submarine development can also be seen as a reason for the contrasting approaches to exploration at sea and on land. Although an expedition to explore regions of Africa or even the poles, could be realistically sponsored by the public or the fledgling non-governmental bodies of the pre-nuclear age,40 this was not possible for an exploration of the deep ocean either financially or technically.

This suggests that all submarines were viewed as a threat to seapower. At the same time photographs and postcards frequently framed the submarine or, in figure 2. In particular, figure 2. Punch Despite being almost universally conceived as a weapon by the British, when submarines appeared in a civil context they were lampooned. The fact that the civil uses of submarines could be used as an object of fun, indicates that the concept had been heavily militarised in British culture. The journalistic interest in submarines was likewise almost completely consumed by the thought of the submarine as a weapon system.

The combination of the literary heritage in the shape of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, poor financial rewards for civil applications and the attitude of the British to exploration at sea all encouraged the militarisation of the submarine. Figure 2. When considering the impact of the submarine on national identity and the attitudes towards naval combat, there are a number of factors that need to be discussed, including growing feelings of insecurity, views on freedom and how ideals of fair play and chivalry influenced British attitudes to the submarine.

The French success in when a battleship was hit with a practice torpedo fired from a submarine during exercises demonstrated the danger that was posed to the British fleet. The submarine destroyed such ideas. The Punch cartoon figure 2. In the cartoon, Neptune warns Britannia that there was a submarine threat to her naval mastery of the sea. There is also a suggestion here of a relationship between Neptune the sea on one hand, and Britannia Britain on the other; a relationship that is special to them and excludes all others,46 since Neptune does not warn Britannia of the dangers posed by the submarine to all seafarers.

In the photograph the periscope of the submarine can be seen moving in a harbour while the gun crew in the foreground stands impotent, unable to strike at the submerged weapon. The photograph emphasizes the fact that now there was a weapon other than the battleship that could take on the present arbiters of seapower and, moreover, could win. Just as importantly, the immature concepts of deterrence in Edwardian Britain were based on seapower and the dominance of the battleship. Submarines attacked, literally, the basis of pre-nuclear deterrence and with it a British concept of freedom.

The British clearly associated their navy with freedom — a vital component of national identity. The appearance of photographs such as figure 2. The benevolence of seapower was even recognised in prayer. In this environment, even before the advent of unrestricted submarine warfare, the submarine could be viewed as a threat not just to the traditional freedoms of the British and their conceptions of national identity, but also the world because of its ability to attack the basis of seapower and through this, the lawful use of the sea and the commerce of all nations.

The Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle commented in that: It is unnecessary to discuss the question as to which of the great Powers is responsible for this horrible form of modern warfare — for it is horrible. A submarine is an unseen foe, which with so many advantages in its favour, creeps along under the water and delivers a blow which destroys a fine warship and sends perhaps men into eternity, while affording them little chance of defence.

It was felt that the battleship encapsulated the British character. Indeed, submarines were used to great effect in this role in both World Wars; only cultural attitudes can explain such a deep- seated belief in what was morally right and the need for fair play. The technical requirements of submarines also made an amateur ethos a liability, an approach that would not have been equated with gentlemanly values.

The one thing that submarines require is an interest in technical matters and an ignorance of, or distaste for, such subjects would not have helped with the assimilation of either new technology or ideas. They play their grisly blindfold games In little boxes made of tin. Sometimes they stalk the Zeppelin, Sometimes they learn where mines are laid, Or where the Baltic ice is thin. When they return from run or raid. Unheard they work, unseen they win. It is also possible to see British national identity affecting the acceptance of the submarine through fiction.

Aside from Jules Verne, there were numerous works of fact and fiction involving the submarine between and Some of the fiction was what can be best described as pulp fiction, such as G. It is worth noting that with two exceptions, all the above titles were published between and , by which time the submarine had passed beyond the experimental stage and was being slowly integrated into the battlefleet. While this cluster of titles indicates that knowledge of submarines was sufficiently well distributed within a literate society for submarines to be used as a setting for fiction, it does not reveal how the British thought of themselves.

Although these novels have little literary worth, nevertheless the characterisation speaks volumes to the historian. The portrayal of British submariners as clean-cut gentlemen was in stark contrast to the perceptions of submarines as essentially ungentlemanly. A gentleman could not associate with a weapon that hid from its opponents.

This might account for the obscurity of these titles in comparison to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. At the same time, the success of Nemo as a character could well be due to the fact that he was not a gentleman from the British point of view; Nemo had a deep interest in science and technology, he was an engineer. Therefore, if the submarine was to be assimilated into the Royal Navy, it had to be absorbed in a manner that could be explained as reinforcing the British values of freedom and fair play as well as minimising any perceptions of an attack on national security.

However, the militarisation of the submarine and British culture left little room for manoeuvre. The Submarine and the Surface Fleet. By looking at the relationship between the submarine and the surface fleet it is possible to see the how the navy viewed the submarine both symbolically and in practice, as well as to examine how the corporate culture forced the submarine down certain developmental paths.

These exercises can be read as a test of inclusion or acceptance. Those units exercising with the fleet gain a measure of inclusiveness or acceptance with the Royal Navy, while those that cannot, or will not, participate lose out. However, the sailing navy that Nelson knew was incapable of achieving the precision demanded by first steam tactics and later fleetwork. Quite simply, the sailing navy — dependant as it was on the force of the wind — could not guarantee equal motive force for the ships in what might be charitably described as a formation, let alone have comparable handling characteristics, when the rate and diameter of a turn for a given angle of rudder are the basis of fleetwork.

The movements of these drills are similar to those of a formal dance. The formal dance also acts as a courtship ritual; those that cannot perform the steps remain outsiders and do not get to benefit from participation. The dance also forces a degree of central control over the participants by demanding conformity in order to allow the dance to progress.

The Submarine : A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat

As a dance, from the perspective of the submariners, the exercises left much to be desired. The overriding aspect of the , , , and exercises with the battlefleet was the lack of realism. Instead of exploring the capabilities of the submarines in service at the time, the exercises were organised in a manner almost guaranteed to produce results that favoured the surface fleet and the battleship.

The restrictive nature of the exercises illustrated the importance of the surface fleet and a Mahanite strategy to the Royal Navy. By hamstringing submarines, the Navy showed that they wished to protect the battleship ethos believing in the superiority of the gun over the torpedo. The timing of his statement is equally important. Writing in , he cannot be describing a knee-jerk aversion to a strange technology and a challenge to an existing mindset as was seen between and Instead, Repington is illustrating the hold over corporate culture that the surface navy had during a period of intense naval and technological competition with Imperial Germany.

The easiest way for the surface navy to neutralise these usurpers was to force the submarines into joining their dance rather than developing one of their own. In this way the Navy echoed the civil prejudices about modes of fighting at sea. In this climate of restrictive exercise conditions and internal conflict, there was a remarkably realistic set of manoeuvres carried out by the submarine service without any surface fleet involvement. The exercises involved several submarines and throughout the manoeuvres they were treated as a single tactical unit and manoeuvred as such on the surface in the manner of a division of destroyers or capital ships.

Through the emphasis on working as a single tactical unit on the surface, the exercise is clear evidence that rather than approaching the subject of submarine warfare with a blank sheet of paper, the Royal Navy and its battlefleet ethos was forcing the submarine — and the submarine service — down a route that supported the surface fleet ideals. By using submarines primarily as a surface weapon and by deploying them as a single tactical unit, the submarine service was making an obvious attempt to join the fleetwork dance.

Only by being able to use and manoeuvre numerous submarines as a single tactical unit in the same way as the surface fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, would the submarines be accepted. The concentration on using the submarines as a single tactical unit would, as far as the surface fleet ideal was concerned, help turn the aggressive thinking behind these exercises into something acceptable to the battlefleet ethos by subordinating submarine offensive action to the battlefleet and its dance.

Yet efforts were made to integrate the submarine in a loose operational and strategic framework. Flotilla defence was a sea denial strategy that would prevent invasion of the United Kingdom by establishing a close blockade of an enemy coast with torpedo craft, while at the same time allowing the projection of power into far-flung corners of the globe by the battlefleet.

The manoeuvres, the last before the outbreak of war, represented a sea change in the mindset of the some of the seagoing, non-submarine navy — the battleship navy. These manoeuvres, the battleship navy felt, demonstrated a new aspect of submarine warfare. There was an increased radius of action thanks to the new D and proposed E class submarines, which was seen as introducing an entirely new element in naval warfare.

It is particularly noteworthy that this transformation in the way submarines were conceived by the battlefleet was not due to advances in submarine technology; the D and E class submarines were incremental developments of the earlier A, B and C classes.

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The use of submarines in a close blockade or for flotilla defence would, however, dangerously unbalance the fleetwork dance by allowing submarines the ability to operate away from their dance partners in the fleet in an independent manner. It was also noted that a submarine on the surface at night would be harder to see and hit than a conventional torpedo boat and that a higher surface speed would increase its potential. If, however, the emphasis had been placed on submerged attack by submarines at night two consequences would have been apparent.

First, the submarine would be slowed, as submerged speeds were lower than surface speeds, thanks to the existing designs of submarines optimising their surfaced performance. Second, there was the problem of communicating between the submerged submarines and the tactical commander. Despite the development of the fleet submarine concept from onwards and the demands for high surface speed that that non-specialists such as the Director of Naval Construction insisted upon, it was not until that an effective method of communicating between dived submarines was adopted.

Indeed the time that the enciphering process imposed on communications was such that Morse Code as used in wireless telegraphy was too slow for tactical rather than operational and strategic uses at sea. Such a lack of attention to a rather fundamental problem, coupled with the emphasis on surface-handling characteristics demonstrates that surface-orientated mentality predominated.

From onwards, even if the submarine was being twisted into conforming to a battlefleet-dominated role, it was at least gaining greater acceptance in the corporate and public arenas. This acceptance came, however, almost completely as a consequence of the submarine being understood through its relationship with the battlefleet at a tactical level and its ability to participate in the fleetwork dance. The conclusions reached as a result of the manoeuvres on the use and usefulness of submarines provoked reaction by some of the senior participants the opinion of more junior officers was not sought.

This new type of submarine was clearly designed to work as an integral part of the fleet at sea in the same way as the destroyer flotillas and light cruiser squadrons. Indeed, the need for physical integration with the fleet dance produced a class of submarine during the First World War that became a byword for maritime misfortune — the K class Fleet submarine. These submarines were characterised by many undesirable traits such as unintentional diving whilst on the surface, a tendency to dive hopelessly out of control and a great many openings in the pressure hull thanks to the need to use steam propulsion on the surface.

Yet immature technology did not prevent the development of fleet submarines. The K class were described as having the bridge control facilitates of a picket boat, but this was still an improvement on the existing types of submarines. The immature technology, although contributing to the initial failure of the fleet submarine concept, did not determine the decision to proceed with fleet submarines in the years before the start of the First World War. Instead it was the way in which the British imagined submarines and the method by which they were integrated within an existing cultural construction centred on the veneration of the battleship and the battlefleet that set the Royal Navy on the path to find a successful fleet submarine.

These individuals did not understand what was technologically possible or even tactically desirable but they did want the submarine to be a physical part of the fleet. This conceptualisation of the submarine as a tactical or physical part rather than an operational or intellectually integrated part of the fleet was continued with the suggestion of submarine cruisers. With the exception of a high surface speed, this is almost a perfect description of the capabilities of the patrol or overseas submarine such as the D and E classes; however, by describing it as a submarine cruiser, a whole new emphasis is made.

Cruisers were important commands, with prestige and a vital role; above all, light cruisers were an integral part of the battlefleet. When the fleet submarine was deployed in the shape of the steam and battery-powered K class submarines in the middle of the First World War, their integration as part of the battlefleet was beyond doubt.

The Twelfth and Thirteenth Submarine Flotillas, consisting of the K class fleet submarines were allocated positions in the cruising disposition of the Grand Fleet as well as given detailed instructions as to how and when they were to engage an enemy force as an integral part of the fleet. Conclusion The way in which the British understood the submarine in the period — was determined largely by cultural attitudes.

The Submarine : A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat

Indeed, the only way to make sense of British involvement with the submarine at this time is through the analysis of the ideas that were in circulation prior to the launch of Holland 1 in British culture and national identity was bound up in the attitude to seapower, with the battleship having iconic status in naval and civil perceptions of the fleet.

The fleet itself was integral to British views of freedom, while British views of fair play meant that stealthy and secretive weapons like the submarine were treated with deep suspicion. Approval, however, was a different matter, and it is clear that British beliefs of chivalry and fairness and the way they conferred meaning on what it was to be British and a gentleman meant that disapproval of the submarine concept was present even before the outbreak of the First World War and the use of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans.

Indeed, the use of unrestricted warfare by a THE SUBMARINE — 89 naval power such as Germany that had failed to defeat the British Navy in a surface battle, would have rammed home to the British the idea that submarines were the weapon of both the physically and morally weaker nation. It is also clear that in terms of the production of the submarine concept as a cultural artefact, the militarisation of submarine technology played a very significant role in how it was brought before the public.

This and the failure to produce viable civilian usage naturally affected the reception and signification of the submarine. However, the signification of the submarine, how it related to the formal conventions of the time, has to be considered not just in terms of how the submarine affected British views of combat or themselves, or indeed integration with the fleet, but also the cultural hinterland. The submarine did not relate well to normative constructions of British national identity; it challenged the British view of formal conventions of combat, freedom and themselves.

As a result of this clash with the cultural predisposition of the British, the reception of the submarine was relatively poor and the British by and large could only relate to the submarine by conceptualising it in terms of a surface vessel. Therefore, it can be considered that the production, signification and reception of the submarine concept together with the three areas that have been discussed in this chapter as separate considerations were in fact interdependent in many ways.

The militarisation of the submarine was not inevitable, but the process had started in fact and fiction well before and the British helped hasten it with their attempts to integrate the submarine into their concept of seapower. Feelings of national and naval insecurity pushed the British to consider the submarine in naval rather than civil terms, but the images that reinforced the idea of the submarine as a weapon in turn increased British feelings of insecurity.

The British view that they were the preeminent naval power ensured that they could only view submarines as a threat to their concepts of freedom and fair play. The need to comprehend the submarine in relation to existing ideals of naval power generated the desire to physically integrate 90 THE SUBMARINE the submarine with the battlefleet, as this would reduce the cultural threat it posed.

The fleet submarine concept was the natural result of the intertwined nature of the militarisation of the submarine, British preconceptions of seapower and the importance of the battlefleet. Once the idea of the submarine was militarised, it was a threat to British conceptions of seapower which centred on the supremacy of the battleship and battlefleet.

A threat to seapower was in turn perceived as a threat to British freedom. A close tactical or physical integration into the fleet, rather than a looser operational one, reduced the threat posed by the adoption of the submarine by making it physically subservient to the imagined guarantor of British freedoms, the battlefleet. Instead, the adoption of surface fleet mentalities to the submarine ensured that surface fighting capabilities were emphasized rather than sub-surface ones, a phenomenon which reached its apogee in the K class fleet submarine.

The British reinvention of the submarine as a component of the battlefleet left them highly exposed, culturally, tactically and strategically, to opponents who conceived the submarine in different ways. By investing the submarine with their own cultural preconceptions and prejudices, the British found that when the submarine was used against them in a manner that contradicted such perceptions they could only understand it as the weapon of the morally as well as the physically inferior power.

As a result of investing the submarine with their own cultural preconceptions, the British had great difficulty in adjusting their understanding of the submarine to the reality of unrestricted submarine warfare. If, on the other hand, there is time to spare a motorist might take the local roads through villages such as Burwell and Fordham, but even then the chances are that Swaffham Prior would not be seen except as a sign as the car passed along on the B road that now bypasses the village to the south. Two of the windows depict scenes from the Great War — including trenches, tanks, aircraft, zeppelins and field hospitals — while the last window represents peace, and the opportunity for man to enjoy the fruits of his labours.

The experience of modern total war, even for an isolated village like Swaffham Prior, was shocking, as shown by the images in these windows. In amongst the eighteen images of war and the nine images of peace that make up the memorial, it is the treatment of naval warfare that is of particular interest. The absence of any images of dreadnoughts either in battleship or battlecruiser form may reflect a deep disappointment with the way the surface war at sea had failed to present the public with a second Trafalgar. In addition, the driving force behind the memorial, the local squire, was an enthusiastic advocate of new technology3 so he might well have chosen to portray the contemporary pinnacle of naval technology, the dreadnought, in one of the scenes.

As the close-up in figure 3. At the very top of the window is an image that the church guide professes to be a representation of a British E class submarine,4 while the image below left is an image of a German mine laying submarine caught in anti-submarine nets. This chapter will focus on unrestricted submarine warfare as a cultural construction and the reaction to it between and In addition, there will be an examination of the early warnings that submarines might be used in a way deemed to be most offensive to the British showing that although some of the warnings were remarkably accurate regarding the likely form of submarine warfare, they were disregarded, often because the idea 94 THE SUBMARINE of sinking non-combatant vessels without warning was unthinkable.

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  4. This chapter will argue that the reason for this was British cultural attitudes to maritime conflict and non-combatants. Early Warnings about Unrestricted Submarine Warfare Perhaps the biggest question about the use of the submarine prior to the advent of unrestricted submarine warfare in February is why did the idea of attacks on merchant vessels receive so little credibility? The sense of bafflement in some historians of the period is evident from their assessments of the Royal Navy and, by default, Britain, in the run up to the First World War.

    First, it implies a misunderstanding of what a submarine was. The fact that the targets were assumed to be warships does not mean that no other vessel could be targeted if desired. Furthermore, in , the submarine had been brought into service specifically to find out what it was capable of achieving and just as importantly what could form a defence against it. Indeed, the Secretary to the Admiralty was quite explicit about this in his statement to Parliament.

    By both British and German submarine technology had advanced sufficiently to produce submarines which were clearly capable of operating against merchant ships. Those officers in positions of responsibility were the best of their profession with years of practical experience in their fields of specialisation. Furthermore, by , the Royal Navy had a healthy respect for the submarine — one born out of the knowledge of what it was actually capable of thanks to the fleet manoeuvres. Fisher, in one of his famously florid memos, written in after his removal from office, suggested that the submarine would be used as a commerce raider and that the method of attack would not be in accordance with the prize regulations.

    Conan Doyle seems to have independently developed the idea of unrestricted warfare and used it in the plot of a short story for The Strand Magazine where the Royal Navy is rendered impotent by the hostile submarines of a small navy who successfully force the surrender of Britain by sinking merchant ships without warning, thus paralysing trade and the supply of food to the United Kingdom. The technology was there; the submarines were there, and were more than able to take on slow steaming merchantmen after practising against fast manoeuvring warships; the fear of commerce raiders was there.

    The personnel were capable of assessing and appreciating the dangers posed by hostile submarines. In fact, what the historian is confronted with is what Robert Darnton has called the joke you do not understand, or the image that defies comprehension. Such a heavily controlled representation of warfare allows the participants to play out their understanding of warfare without having to reconcile it to an unsavoury and very dangerous reality in the case of medieval warfare or a culturally unimaginable future in the case of submarine warfare.

    Being the Log of Captain John Sirius. Cairnes factual piece for the National Review some 14 years earlier. I can see now their sullen, angry faces. Many shock their fists and cursed us as we went by. It was not that we had damaged them — I will do them the justice to say that the English, as the old Boer War has proved, bear no resentment against a brave enemy — but that they thought us cowardly to attack merchant ships and avoid the warships….

    War is not a big game, my English friends. It is not fair to blame me if I have found yours. It was my duty. In a group of landowners tried to pressure the Conservative government into forming national granaries and holding a Royal Commission on food supply. The very first attack of the story involves the torpedoing of a steamer without any warning, a clear breach of the prize rules.

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    Those shots of mine will bring the torpedo-boats, and I dare say at the moment your wireless is making trouble for me. Get your people into the boats. Throughout the story, Captain Sirius recounts the affects of the sinkings with rising insurance rates, rapidly increasing food prices, higher infant mortality, culminating with the most frightening image for the British establishment — revolution. Jane agreed, all thought that granaries were the solution to a food shortage in war, whatever the cause. It might be expected that Fisher, as a former First Sea Lord, would be taken more seriously than a popular fiction writer such as Conan Doyle.

    This was not the case. Fisher suggested in his paper that unrestricted submarine warfare, the sinking of merchant vessels without warning was to be expected, as submarines were physically incapable of operating in accordance with the prize rules. Naturally, such a suggestion had very serious implications for a maritime trading nation, particularly when involved in a period of major naval competition with a naval rival.

    It was abhorrent to the immemorial law and practice of the sea. Of these is the greatest is the question of the use of submarines to sink merchant vessels. I do not believe this would ever be done by a civilised power. Despite the warning in his article on the submarine menace, the admittedly small section devoted to submarine attacks on trade seems to have aroused no interest.

    Nor was the idea of unrestricted submarine warfare the first intimation for the British that commerce would be attacked without warning. The Shock of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the Stigmatisation of the Submarine The shock of unrestricted submarine warfare is evident not only from an isolated and unusual war memorial, but also through the language used by the British to describe their reaction to such a mode of warfare as well as their post-war responses to it.

    Taken as a whole, the language associated with unrestricted submarine warfare was highly emotive and heavily charged with very negative imagery. As the epigraph at the start of the chapter suggests, the majority of the language about unrestricted warfare concentrates on images of piracy. It clearly shows representations of women drowning, with a German submarine officer looking on with a look of evil pleasure on his face.

    The U-boat itself is called U, a clear reference to the antichrist and to the idea that unrestricted submarine warfare was the work of the devil. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. This was a frustrating book to read. On the one hand, Redford argues from a very useful and rarely used framework in military histories.

    I agree that a cultural framework can tell us much - however, there are limits and I there are some major weaknesses in the argument. Firstly, Redford does not really engage at all with the British usage of submarines during the First World War, concentrating almost entirely on how the British responded to German usage of the submarine. By not engaging with it This was a frustrating book to read.

    By not engaging with it at all, it leaves a huge gap in his interpretation and I feel that British usage of the submarine does dial back his timeline of change in corporate attitudes at least some. As a result of that omission, there is almost no discussion of how the British tried or didn't square their usage of the submarine from with public attitudes. Was the relative silence about Allied submarines a result of the German usage of unrestricted submarine warfare? Was it due in part due to the nature of the "Silent Service"?

    Questions such as this are left unasked and unanswered all because the First World War was not dealt with in a good manner. This shows in some details for example, Redford dismisses the usage of Jolly Rogers in the First World War - but there is photographic evidence of one being used on HMS H5 for example in The image of "pirates" was being embraced at least by submariners during the First World War, it was not a process that started in as Redford argues - but As well, the first ship sunk without warning by a British submarine wasn't in - it was in when Martin Nasmith sailed in Constantinople Harbor and took the first periscope picture.

    While there, he sunk without warning, a Turkish vessel. Some claim it was a coal ship and others a transport. But in the end, he sunk it without warning. How did the Royal Navy react to this act? How did the Ottoman government? The British public? How did this feed into the image of submariners and their perception?

    Did it start to change what submariners thought of their own service? Why didn't this become widespread and mainstream in the Royal Navy until ? Again, all unasked and unanswered since he does not engage with a critical piece of evidence from the First World War. Which leads me to my next point, Redford does not examine the culture of the submariners themselves and this interplayed with corporate Royal Navy culture and civil British culture.

    A fairly large omission if you ask me that would provide another light on the subject.

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    He also dismisses the idea of the Fleet Submarine as almost nonsensical borne entirely out of cultural attitudes, that admirals and thinkers could only imagine the submarine as adjacent to the battlefleet. While I am sure conceptualization of fleets played a part in the idea of the "fleet submarine", the idea was not just limited to the Royal Navy. As well, the period of was one of huge experimentation, experimentation that Redford dismisses as the submarine had been around for almost 20 years in a usable form at that point.

    It was a period ripe for experimentation and new ideas, the Fleet Submarine one of them. Besides, the idea of the Fleet Submarine wasn't to supplant all others - but rather to add and address a tactical issue: how could you easily ambush an enemy fleet while drawing them to battle? The answer was a submarine that was capable of keeping up with a battlefleet as it sortied out in order to act as that ambushing screen. The first two chapters dealing with Naval Reviews in the 20th Century and the submarine from were excellent.

    Things get shakier in the middle when Redford discusses the World Wars, as I state above. The chapter dealing with the submarine in British film and fiction was excellent, although I feel it could also have used some more illumination on the First World War period and interactions between British culture and American culture - especially as American films became very popular abroad.

    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat
    The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat The Submarine: A Cultural History from the Great War to Nuclear Combat

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