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Midget submarine

From Academic Kids

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German midget submarine Seehund, with a torpedo

A midget submarine is a small submarine, typically with a one or two person crew and with no on-board living accommodation. Midget submarines normally work with mother ships from which they are launched and recovered, and which provide living accommodation for the crew and other support.

Both military and civilian midget submarines have been built and operated. Military types have worked using both surface ships and submarines as mother ships. Civilian and non-combatant military types are generally referred to as submersibles, and normally work with surface ships.

Five Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarines were used in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the only occasion on which the type 97 torpedo was used operationally. Another famous attack by midget submarines was launched by the Japanese Navy against Sydney in 1942, this time using more conventional type 91 torpedoes. Of three midget submarines launched on that occasion, two were destroyed by harbour defences and recovered by Australian defenders, the third remains lost. A fourth intended to be part of the raid was damaged by an explosion soon after the mother ships left Truk and never launched; some accounts wrongly indicate it was launched and returned to rendezvous with the mother submarines.

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Japanese Midget submarine Wreck

The term midget submarine has also been applied to the Japanese Kaiten and Kairyu-class suicide weapons of the Second World War, which were both single-use munitions armed only with a fixed warhead. All five types of Kaiten were more accurately heavy torpedoes modified by the rough addition of a one or two person pilot's cabin. The Kairyu had conventional gasoline and electric propulsion, and is normally regarded as a proper midget submarine. Only the type 1 Kaiten and the Kairyu were produced in significant numbers, and only the type 1 Kaiten was used. It achieved little operational success.

The Kohyoteki-class submarine carried two light torpedoes in muzzle-loaded 17.7 inch torpedo tubes one above the other, and was intended to return to the mother ship for rearming and battery charging after these were fired. Its 35 kg fixed explosive charge was intended only for its own demolition to avoid capture. It also achieved little operational success.

The Royal Navy also used a number of midget submarines. The first group (known as the X class) were used to attack German warships in the North of Norway. A particular target of a successful attack was the battleship Tirpitz. They had a crew of three and carried two large mines, one each side. The idea was to lay the mines on the sea bottom underneath the target, set a time fuse and depart.

The later XE class were used in the Far East and a number of attacks and special missions were carried out.

The British also developed the Welman class a single person submarine which is widely considered to have been a failure.

The German Navy also had some including the Biber. They were used against the D-Day invasion fleet but do not seem to have achieved very much.

See also submersible, human torpedo.

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