WWII Sub tactics in "Run Silent, Run Deep"

Mods: move this if you like; it’s sort of a GQ/CS border case

I’m guessing that anyone who knows much about WWII Sub tactics has seen the movie, so I won’t give much background or explanation.

My question is: Why did Burt Lancaster use the same tactics as Clark Gable in attacking the Japanese Destroyer, and was this at all consistient with real WWII tactics?

I was gathering that Gable’s idea of taking them on with a bow shot was insanely risky … and yet when Lancaster is in charge, he does the same thing: he takes out a tanker first, with the deliberate intention that the destroyer would then turn towards the Nerka, obligating them to try another bow shot.

I’d say it was just Hollywood, but a quick search found several comments to the effect that 1) the movie was loyal to the book and 2) The book was loyal to real-life tactics.

Would a real-life sub commander even consider anything other than taking the destoyer out first, and then in safety attacking the relatively defenseless tankers? What were the tactical principles involved in sub warfare?

Oddly enough for a big fan of Run Silent, Run Deep, the novel, I haven’t seen the movie. However, the novel was written by Capt. Edward L. Beach, a distinguished submariner in WWII and the post-war era and is generally recognized to be extremely accurate.

Most of the incidents in the novel (and the movie, I presume) were based on real life WWII incidents, and many of those were based on exploits of the U.S.S. Wahoo, commanded by Dudley “Mush” Morton and the U.S.S. Tang, commanded by Richard H. O’Kane, two of the war’s most acomplished submarines. Admiral O’Kane, who served as the Executive Officer of the Wahoo before commanding the Tang, wrote two memoirs of his service on those ships, Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World War II Submarine, and Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang. In Wahoo, O’Kane describes a “down the throat” shot against a Japanese destroyer.

As to attacking the merchant ships before the warships, that was simply sensible strategy for the stealthy but relatively slow WWII submarine. First, attacking a small, fast, manueverable destroyer or other escort ship was more difficult than attacking a slow merchantman. And if the merchant ship attack could happen unobserved or away from escorts, the submarine might be able to attack multiple ships in the convoy before being forced off. This would be less likely to happen against the watchful naval crew of an escort ship.

Second, destroying a merchantman (particularly a tanker) would deprive the Japanese of both the ship and its cargo, while sinking a destroyer would likely cause little damage beyond loss of the ship (many of the crew would likely be rescued in either case).

Third, convoys were often guarded by multiple escorts, so sinking one would bring the others out against the submarine, forcing it to break off its pursuit of the merchant ships. And even if all escorts could be destroyed, by the time they were dealt with, the merchantman sould probably escape by running away, as the submarine had little speed advantage that it could use to chase down a fleeing ship.

Of course, if a a submarine could target a major capital ship like a battleship or a carrier it would go after it, but attacking destroyers and other small escorts just wasn’t worth the high risk and low reward for the U.S. WWII submarine fleet, which was primarily engaged in commerce rading.

Thanks, Billdo; I guess I had been assuming that the destroyer was a more attractive target. That and the speed issue explain it.

This comes from a game that was based on WW2 sub warfare, accoring to the instruction manual a great deal of research on WW2 sub warfare was done and incorporated into the game.

From Silent Service 2:

Points and score were solely on tonnage, regardless of if it was a war ship - it was made clear in the instruction manual that this was taken from the WW2 sub tactics and how they ranked people.

Also it was far easier to get an end on, comming right toward you shot then a side shot, or worse a shot at a fleeing ship.

A common tactic that naturally developed was to get in front of the convoy, dive, fire the torps when you are about 1/2 to1/3 the max range of your torp, fire at the big cargo ships. as the torps were running aim at the closest escort. When the escort ships turned and headed directly at you - fire at them, re-aim at the next escort ship, fire, so on till you are out of torps, then make a hard turn so the stern tubes are facing the enemy and fire everything you got at the remaining ships. When they close to a distance closer then the min range of the torps, lower periscope, change direction, dive or crash dive, slow down to 1/4 speed and lucklely crawl away.