"Submarines" by Antony Preston


Some fascinating used books are out there...

Submarines are considered by some to be the most dangerous weapons in the world today and author Antony Preston made a compelling case for it in this book. He began with the
first known submersible plan of 1578 by William Bourne of England. The book ends by making strong statement of facts which might convince a person that submarines are most formidable.

This publication is a nice overview of the history of submarines from the 16th century to 1974 when the book was first released. Over the years, I browsed this book at public
libraries and recently decided to read it cover to cover. The author has a talent for finding the things which matter about submarines and orgranizing his thoughts to
communicate the interesting and important relationship of the subs to warfare and the course of history. Illustrations by John Batchelor give a feel of the submarine
characteristics with many nice paintings, plans, and diagrams.

Author Antony Preston gave a nice summary of the evolution of the sub. In the first few hundred years, there was much trial and error. Inventors were everything from blundering yet
making some progress to apparently brilliant ones hindered by skeptics in governments and naval commands. Every creator was looking for better means of submersing,
stabilizing, and propelling the crafts. The biggest challenges were finding underwater propulsion worthy of the task and suitable weapons which allowed the submarine
to destroy enemy ships while surviving the attack.

The big advances in submarines include ballast systems, torpedoes, battery electric propulsion, diesel-electric drive, and nuclear power. The conditions for the
submariner went from poor chances of survival to a relatively comfortable environment for those who can cope with long periods underwater in nuclear subs. Its an amazing evolution.

As weapons are concerned, the sub actually took a few hundred years before it was capable of being a significant threat to surface warships. Many countries experimented with
them in the early stages, particulary in the 1800s. It was ironic that the British Empire was denied a part in this beginning in 1801 and for almost another 100 years
because of naval authorities attempt to discourage any threat to surface warships. This is when France, the United states, and others made great strides in improving
the technology. It could have been a disaster for Britain had it not been for a small group of dissenters who nudged the British navy into seeing urgent need to
both make their own subs and create counter-measures against enemy ones.

World War One and World War Two saw the German submarines nearly strangle the British Isles and win the war for Germany and its allies. The number of parallels in these
two wars is amazing with submarines, too many to list here but the author does a splendid job in explaining it. The British came to the task just in time and became
a leader in both sub technology and antisubmarine warfare in the 20th century.

Several nations had fine submarines before and during WW2, also. The French continued their strong momentum from the 1800s into the 1900s and were a major contribution to sub technology.
The Second World War early stage saw German and American defective torpedoes cause their top navy commanders to nearly abandon sub warfare. Italian submersibles crippled the British naval efforts in the Mediterranean for months during WW2 and also breathed new hope in the sub as a weapon. The British later used their subs to bring a surprising many tons of supplies to Malta south of Italy because in the early months other means were very scarce for cargo delivery to the critically important island. The Axis failed to take Malta, so the British used it as a base to dominate the central Mediterranean Sea region with subs and aircraft. The Axis nearly won the region but were foiled by deciding not to take Malta which allowed British subs to tip the battle in the Allies favor with massive sinking of Axis shipping and war vessels. The reconoiter role was crucial, too. In the Far East, Japan had formidable submarine technology and significant number of subs but the Japanese army insisted on rediculous use of subs for army resupply of far flung troops. The United States navy had excellent submarines designed for the Pacific with long range, many torpedoes, and a lot of onboard supplies. They were fast, too. No waste of potential here, as the U.S. subs sank huge numbers of Japanese shipping. Russia was able to keep German warships and merchant marine from roming freely in the Baltic Sea which slowed German military efforts. More German subs were needed for the Atlantic than were built and their high command made critical blunders which sealed their doom. Never the less, in both WW1 and WW2, German subs came only weeks from putting the British isles on starvation rations which surely would have greatly hurt British ability to wage war. When vehicles, stomachs, and rifles go empty, how can a war be won? The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest and most critical aspect of WW2, for surely the most important life lines to Europe passed through that turbulent, dark water.

In the few years after WW2, all major powers benefited from the leading German sub technology of the world war and a new arms race began among empires of new types.

In the Cold War, all the major powers developed formidable submarines to different degrees of success. Russia, America, Britain, and France have substantial fleets of
nuclear powered submarines. Germany as of this publication created good diesel-electric subs, much needed for seas and coastal defense though not ocean going, and continues to export subs.
This domestic and trade race of submarine technology has resulted in dozens of countries sailing them.

Today one attack submarine has the potential to sink a surface fleet and one ballistic missile sub can destroy the major cities of any nation. The author asks if the modern submarine is the ultimate weapon while revealing counter measures to it in the last chapter. Keep in mind that a sub can launch weapons very quickly and before counter measures can reach it. You be the judge.

Antony Preston did not have the benefit of quick and easy finding of information in this World Wide Web age, but certainly did a lot of research for this 1974 book.
It was very interesting and a worthy read for any naval enthusiast.

Though I enjoyed the book very much, I did notice some errors in specifications and illustrations, for example U-31 of WW1. It seems as though the book was rushed into publication, but still
very fun to read.

Used book stores, Ebay, and public libraries may have this nice book waiting for you.

"Submarines - The History and Evolution of Underwater Fighting Vessels" - by Antony Preston, Phoebus Publishing Company, 1974


Hi Fireskull, I hope you are well ;o)

Very interesting indeed.

Thanks for sharing ;o)


Very nice and interesting review Fireskull,

thank you very much!

Mr. Antony Preston might be very interested in the latest class of the German U-boots?
Very silent - very deep... 8)

Wish you all a nice evening!

Jambo :wink:

Thanks, guys.

Ted, I am well, thanks. Big Grin


Is not the determination to keep a place in the world so very powerful? Imagine that Type 212 German submarines evolved through many experimental, prototype, and production types beginning with Type I. Another thing that has not changed is the relationship of Germans and Italians which has roots in the Roman Empire. Submarine technology has been traded between Germany and Italy most of the time since the 1800s and continues with Type 212. German subs are among the fastest, quietest, and deepest running ones in the world once again! Big Grin Many nations have good subs either domestically manufactured or purchased, too.

Guys, the submarine is the most effective deterrant to World War III because it is such a devastating mobile weapons platform, establishing fear of "mutually assured destruction" which prevents war. Confusedhock:

Hopefully, some readers will take another look at the technology by doing some reading about it themselves in the future. I am glad that you liked the review. Big Grin

Have a nice day,


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