Midget Submarines

Photograph of D class midget submarine

National Archives #80-G-339841

Midget submarines were small submersible craft with limited range and firepower. Because of their very limited endurance, they were typically carried close to their target by a mother ship, which was often a conventional submarine. However, the Japanese converted some of their seaplane carriers (such as the Chitose class) to carry midget submarines.

Japanese midget submarines were typically manned by a crew of two or three and carried two small torpedoes. The British also experimented with midget submarines, but their X-craft were armed with timed charges rather than torpedoes.

Japanese midget submarines were developed to be used during the Great Decisive Battle that dominated Japanese strategic thinking. However, some thought seems to have been given to coastal defense as well. Offensive-minded Japanese tacticians pressed for their employment at Pearl Harbor, Sydney, Diego Suarez in Madagascar, and other heavily defended harbors. Predictably, these missions proved suicidal, but at Diego Suarez the submarines did succeed in sinking a merchant ship and damaging battleship Ramilles. A number of midget submarines were deployed to Okinawa but were destroyed by air strikes on 30 March 1945, before they could go into action.

The British deployed a number of XE-class midget submarines to Brisbane in April 1945. Their crews trained until July, when five of the midgets were transported by mother submarine to cut telegraph cables off Hong Kong and Saigon and to attack Japanese heavy cruisers at Singapore. The midgets managed to severely damage heavy cruiser Takao.

Japanese midget submarines

A class

C class

D class

Kairyu class

British midget submarines

XE class


Bagnasco (1977) (accessed 2007-12-17)

Hastings (2007)

Morison (1959)

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