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China’s Submarine Fleet

October 7, 2011

 A short chronological introduction 

To trace the developments of China’s submarines fleet we first have to trace the history of Russian submarines. This is another area where Russia has been so ideologically bound up with ‘socialism’ in the past that it has compromised its present day security by blindly sharing/selling its technology.

Pictured above is a Whiskey class Soviet submarine, designed in the mid 1940s and built between 1940 and 1958. This particular vessel (Sub P112) was sold recently (2011) for US $ 550,000. This article covers only conventional diesel-electric boats.

Early Years

Pre-war Russian submarines spanned vessels varying in displacement from those of a little over 200 tons to over 1,000 tons. Evidence exists to suggest that the Soviet Union and Germany were as early as the Weimar Republic (banned under the Versailles Treaty) co-operating on submarine design and construction.

Between 1929 and 1945 Russia had approx. 270 submarines, most were designed for the Baltic and coastal waters (see Table below).

Thus China’s submarine fleet only began in 1954 with the gift of Soviet vessels. However, before then Russiawas to enjoy a technological boost in 1945 with the surrender of Germanyand the articles in the Potsdam Agreement that gave it access to German technology on land, sea and air.

A single Type XXIII U-Boat was allocated to the Soviet Union under the terms of the Agreement but Russia was well placed to salvage other U-Boats from Baltic and Eastern Europe countries overrun by the Red Army.

Left: Type XXI U-boat (U-2540) sometime after 1945.

Of particular interest to Britain and America and therefore to Russia were the Walter designed U-boats – the Type XXIII  and Type XXI  known as the Elektroboot U-boats  – with their streamlining, higher underwater speeds and long range. Type XXIII  and Type XXI were futuristic and even today it would not be unresonable to believe that these craft could have been built 10  or 15 years ago. By enlarging this image (click on picture) it is fascinating to think that these clean and attractive lines were first propounded over 70 years ago.

The latter, Type XXI, could travel submerged for two or three days before recharging batteries (a 5 hours process using a Snorkel). There are more details of U-boat variants can be found at Appendix A below.

Post 1945

At the end of World War II, the Soviets obtained several Type XXIs, from which they were able to obtain certain key technologies. These technologies assisted in the design of the Zulu class and Whiskey class (NATO codes). Further improvements on the design led to the Romeo class.

The Type XXI and XXIII U-boats revolutionised Russian post-war submarine design. The Type XXI U-boat was almost as fast submerged (13 knots) as it was on the surface (15 knots) and some U-boats designs using the Walther hydrogen peroxide system (an unstable gas), were actually faster submerged than on the surface (15 knots vs 17 knots).

The Romeo class of Soviet diesel-electric submarine (Project 633) can trace its origins and streamlining to the World War II Elektroboot and to the Walter designs (as indeed, can the streamlined USS Nautilus, SSN-571).

Right: Romeo class Soviet Sub and Chinese Type 033

Russia produced 133 Romeo class conventional attack submarines – 29 are still in use but not operationally. ‘Attack submarines’ are designed and deployed to sink other submarines and not merely to target surface ships (eavesdropping is another of their other roles).

Nations that also took delivery of this 1,800 ton class were former Warsaw Pact members and several Middle Eastern countries, e.g. Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Algeria. Approx. 75 of these 1,830 ton Soviet-built subs have been scrapped.

The bulbous nose (bow) seen on the Romeo class pictured above housed the Soviet built Hercules or Tamir-5 high-frequency sonar for active / passive search and attack. Later variants are also fitted with Sintra DUUX 5, a low frequency sonar for passive ranging and intercept. Yet later variants were reported to have had weapon systems removed to accommodate surveillance and electronic intelligence (ELINT) equipment for special reconnaissance missions. [1]

Nuclear Option

Following the 1954 gifts from Russia, Chairman Mao visited Jiangnan shipyard (i.e. Shanghai) in Jan 1956 where the PRC’s very first submarine was being built from a Soviet kit. China would eventually go on to build 21 of these Soviet “Whiskey” class boats which were the predecessors of the Romeo class.

Left: Soviet “Whiskey” class

Soviet “Whiskey” class submarine displaced 1,350 tons submerged, had a range 13,500 nautical miles and so were ideal for the vast distances of the Pacifice.  Between 1949 and 1958 a total of 236 Whiskey class submarine were built incorporating many variants, e.g. Mark 1 to Mark V. It was succeeded by the Romeo class with a similar range, i.e. 13,500 naut. miles.

The Whiskey class and Romeo class must be seen as the transitional designs – the stop gaps – from World War II technology to the demands made by the Cold War of a nuclear missile strike capability.

It is remarkable to read, in Chinese sourced military and political journals in the late 1950s (and from US / CIA sources), of the apparent interest in nuclear powered ships especially submarines atthis early stage. This can only be a reflection of the progress made by the US Navy (USS Nautilus, SSN-571), and the ambitions of theUSSR.

The suspicion is thatthe first fully submerged circumnavigation of the globe by the atomic powered submarine USS Triton, in May 1960, made have riveted attention to the potential that nuclear propulsion held. (USS Triton maintained a steady submerged speed of 21 knots for nearly three months).

The party line in China appears to be that nuclear propulsion for submarines was adopted as a national priority by Mao himself. This may be true but Mao as a visionary and still a strategist in all things at the age of 63 is stretching credibility (Mao was born in 1893). Two years later, in 1958, an ailing Mao announced the “Great Leap Forward”, anattempt to increase agricultural and industrial production by Stalinist ‘collectives’ but which failed hopelessly and resulted in famines.

Shortly afterwards Mao retired from the post of Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and was  replaced as head of state by Liu Shaoqi – though Mao continued to wield political influence e.g. sponsoring the Cultural Revolution.

Ego clash

China’s long march towards naval self-sufficiency and her longer term aim of greater parity with the navies of the West halted when Mao metaphorically burnt China’s bridges with Russiain the Sino-Soviet split. Mao became openly critical of Nikita Khrushchev’s interpretation of the direction of world communism and how socialism should develop in theUSSR.

Personality and the cult of personality was the Achilles heel of China. From the 1960s to the late 1970s China was held back first by the nihilistic behaviour of the Red Guard and then the destruction influence of the ‘Gang of Four’ (circa 1973). Only with the death of Mao (1976) did China gradually return to some semblance of a normal state. [2]

While all this was going on Chinabegan producing Soviet-designed Romeo class submarines in significant quantities between 1965 and the early 1980s. Eventually the PLAN had more than 60 of these boats in service. It has been estimated that more than 100 the Type 033 were built by the PLAN and some exported.

NATO’s codename of Romeo class diesel-electronic submarine was known to the Russia’s as Project 633. They were armed with conventional torpedoes and the transfer of technology to China began in Feb 1959.

Project 629 submarines, known to NATO as Golf class were diesel-electric powered submarine but carried missiles. [3]  The illustration below shows the missiles were housed in the conning towr (referred to in american literatire as the ‘sail’), part of the boat

The two submarine types were to be built in Chinaas Type 6633 (later known as Type 033) and Type 6631 (later known as Type 031) respectively.

Left: Golf class

To clarify – Type 033 is the Chinese designation and carried torpedoes and Type 031 carried both torpedoes and missiles (Type 6622 / Chinese 033  = Romeo class and 6631 = Golf class, respectively).

Note too how submariens of this era still retained the bow indicating much of their operatinal time could be expected to be spent on the surface. With the advent of nuclear power the beed for a surface ship bow disappears.

Defence source point to Chinese 033 as enhanced Romeo class insofar as the 033 had better sonar and a longer range. Both the 033 and 031 projects suffered from the Sino-Soviet split in as much that although China managed to launch its fist Romeo type sub in 1965 it was not serviceable until 1970.

Left: Artist impression of a Golf class firing a missile

In terms of an offensive platform it is regarded as a ‘noisy’ vessel, of an ageing design, incapable of operating safely in deep water, e.g. Pacific and suitable only for coastal defence and patrol duties. By the end of the 1990s chain has decommissioned all the craft although 4 were sold to North Korea.

The original plan was for the production yards to use Soviet-supplied kits initially, and then gradually increase the indigenous elements untilChinacould build the submarines independently.

Developments in the 1970s

In the 1970s, approximately 20% of China’s defence budget was allocated to naval forces resulting in a dramatic growth in the Navy. The conventional submarine force increased from 35 to 100 boats, but the longer term ambition was still one of a submarine powered by nuclear technology.

The true extent of how daunting this challenge represented only became fully clear to the Chinese when Moscow refused Peking’s specific request to share nuclear propulsion technology. The rejection was made on the grounds that it would be ‘premature’ for the PLAN. A valid point consideringChina’s lack of experience with underwater craft and the deadly accidents caused by bad luck and casualness.

Notwithstanding this, the rejection was taken as an affront and foreshadowed the imminent souring of Sino-Soviet relations. [4]  The 20th century should be remembered (among other things) for the homicidal, sociopathic political leaders it managed to produce. Mao was no different to many others and he “reacted indignantly” to Russia’s refusal saying:

  • “We will have to build nuclear submarines even if it takes us 10,000 years.”

Mao got his way, and a famine-ridden, near-bankrupt country – forced to import grain from Canada and the West – embarked in July 1958 on a voyage into the unknown and the unknowable. Mao got the Politburo to approve an ambitious plan to develop not only SSN submarines, i.e. nuclear-poweredattack submarines, but simultaneously an SLBM system (submarine-launched ballistic missile).

Of the two developments the SLBM is the most threatening because of its capacity to deliver a ‘stand-off’ nuclear warhead launched from a submarine hidden in the oceans.

That said, the danger is less acute today then in Mao’s day. Comparatively speaking, he was a lose cannon (in the same way as the behaviour of North Korea’s leader is today viewed as dangerous).  He was quite prepared to kill hundred of millions of his own citizens in an ideological ‘nuclear exchange’ (war) with the US and Russia. If it meant the end of the US and capitalism the price of self-destruction was , in his mind, worth it.

Era of Growth

The 1970s and 1980s saw China build up its Romeo and Ming class submarine fleet. The Ming class (or Type 035), was first commissioned in 1974, and was based on the Romeo class (aka Type 033).

To illustrate how one class has superseded another, the Table below traces operational types since 1990. The Ming and Romeo class, once the most numerous had by 2009 been overtaken by the Song class at 19 boats.  

At least 17 Ming class hulls (2,113 tons) are still in service, with the latest versions

adopting modern sonar systems purchased from the French (see DUUX-5). The latest Ming class hulls are also thought to have tested out AIP (Air Independent Propulsion).

AIP is a generic tem for closed loop engines. It is a term that encompasses technologies such as oxygen substitution or Stirling Engine, which allows a submarine to operate without the need to surface or use a snorkel to accessatmospheric oxygen. These technologies significantly reduce the noise level of the submarine and thus their rate of detection.

Right: Ming Class (Type 035 B)

Ming class submarines have reportedly been exercising more frequently and making recent incursions into Japanese waters. 

There are at least four known variants of the Type 035 built between 1969 and 1979. The early variants were said to be trouble-prone and were retired in the 1980s.  However, production resumed in 1987 with the improved Type 035G and a total of 12 boats built between 1988 and 1995.

The production line used for the Type 035 was re-opened due to the delay in the development of the new-generation Type 039 (to be known as the Song class). An additional 6 boats were built between 1997 and 2001.

On one occasion a Ming surfaced briefly within Japanese waters before submerging again and another – an enhanced Ming class, designed Song class – surfaced briefly near the USS Kitty Hawk when she was on manoeuvres.

In 2003, a Ming class (No. 361) was lost with all hands. It was speculated that 361 was testing an AIP system, and that a failure caused the near-instantaneous death of the all crewmembers (as they were found dead in their quarters with the submarine intact). But it is one theory among several.

Ming class submarines have an ‘acoustic signature’ in the higher reaches which makes them an easy target for modern antisubmarine warfare (ASW) systems. Today (2011) it is better suited to coastal defence, regional patrolling and surveillance duties. Combat missions and deep ocean patrols are better suited to the more capable Type 039 (Song class) and Kilo class.

Notwithstanding  these grave shortcomings the advances made in weapons systems, as we shall see below, have breath new life in whatwould be obsolete craft.

Modern Age

The Kilo class represented a huge leap forward in the PLAN submarine fleet. In the 1980s the Kilo was acknowledged to be one of the world’s quietest class of submarines and NATO’s rating reflected this. China’s first Kilo class was operational in 1982.

In 2002, a $2 billion deal was signed for eight more Kilo 636 submarines these were fitted with the capability of launching the Russian made Novator 3M-54E Klub S (a cruise-type missile) capable of engaging land and sea targets at 220 km. By 2006 China had 12 Kilos operational.

Despite the purchase of the Kilos, the PLAN has continued to develop indigenous designs. The Song class (Type 039) is another conventional diesel-electric submarine which was first launched in 1994 with sea trials in 1995 and operational in 1999.

It is the first Chinese submarine to use the modern teardrop hull shape – a design said by some to have first been used byBritainin the R-class hunter-killer submarines designed in 1917.

Left: Song class (039)

The Song class, at 2,500 tons, is said to represent a major milestone to indigenous submarine designs, being comparable in its capabilities to contemporary Western built submarines.  Note the loss of any bow profile on this generation of boat.

First commissioned in 1998 it featured Western influences with a German propulsion system, in the shape of a seven bladed ‘skewed’ propeller and noise-reduction rubber tiles. Song submarines are armed with torpedoes and a sub-launched variant of the YJ-8 anti-ship missile. Earlier Russian and Chinese submarines had to surface in order to launch missiles.

Visually the Song class looks very much like a Kilo class submarine which also features the water-drop (teardrop) shape, a double hull with a T-shape stern rudder and a single large shaft.

Kilo class submarines have a pair of bow planes located close to the midship on the upper hull in front of the sail. With a reserve buoyancy of 32%, the submarines consists of six watertight compartments separated by transverse bulkhead in a pressured double hull, which increases the survivability of the submarine, even with one compartment and adjacent ballast tanks flooded.

Left: Kilo class (3,950 tons submerged)

The command and control and fire-control systems are located in the main control room which is sealed off from other compartments.

The rational is forChinato build a modernised underwater force thatis capable of supporting its military actions againstTaiwanand to deter any unwelcomed intervention, i.e. by the U.S. Navy.

Of the 49 Kilo class subs ever built over 40 are still in service. and 17 of the approx. 3,000 ton vessel are thought still to be operated by Russia. Kilo class have “Pump Jet Propulsion” to help overcome cavitation (a problem first faced by high-speed propeller aircraft like the Typhoon in WWII).

The Kilo class is being succeeded by the Lada class (2,700 t) submerged; which began sea trials in 2005. This latest diesel electric offering small size and low noise with powerful torpedo and missile armament and the use of hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells generating electricity. The hull, as have other Soviet designed craft, is covered with rubber anti-sonar protection tiles to reduced the risk of detection.

The Kilo class can be fitted with a launcher for eight Strela-3 (NATO codename: SA-N-8 Gremlin) surface-to-air missiles, but those in service with the PLA Navy are not equipped with this system.

The eight newer Project 636M submarines are equipped with the Klub-S missile complex, which can fire the Novator 3M-54E anti-ship cruise missile. The missile has a maximum range of 220 km and a 450 kg high-explosive warhead.

Type 041, known by the NATO code as the Yuan class is expected to adapt an AIP system to achieve maximum quietness in operational mode.

The Yuan could be armed with advanced Russian and/or Chinese made torpedoes and cruise missiles.

 This class of SSK (hunter killer sub) is an improved Song class and is expected to have capabilities which surpass the Kilo and Song class SSK currently being operated by the PLAN.

Right: Yuan class

Series production of the Yuan class began late in 2007, with at least two boats identified so far. The Yuan came as a surprise to US military intelligence, as the submarine’s existence was entirely unknown until internet images emerged.

The last of the conventionally powered boatto be mentioned before moving on to submarines using nuclear propulsion is the new Russian Lada class.

Left: Lada class in dry dock

To date China has not asked or taken delivery of this new type. Only one is thought to be operational and so new is it thatnone have been exported although an export model is available. The ‘export’ model is known to the Russians as the Amur class submarine. It comes in a variety of displacements from 700 tons to 2,600 tons.

Essentially the Lada class is a highly improved version of the earlier Kilo class and externally looks very similar. In comparison to double-hulled Kilo class, surface displacement has been reduced by 1.3 times – from 2,300 down to 1,765 tons. The submerged speed has been increased from 19 to 21 knots.

Submarines of Russia’s Project 677 (NATO code Lada) appear to be a series of Russian diesel electric subs developed in 1997.

Right: Lada class

Launched in Oct 2004, sea trials began in Nov 2005 and by April 2010 the submarine was reported to have finished its testing. Another three Lada class submarines are believed to be under construction.

There are plans to launch between four and six of them by 2015 and ultimately the Russian Navy plans to have a total of eight Lada class submarines in the near future.

The Lada class boat is designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, defense of naval bases, seashore and sea lanes, as well as for conducting reconnaissance. It boasts the latest generation of Russian missile, torpedoes and sonar systems.


Political Intrigue ?

Russia sells warships and exports military hardware as regularly and as casually as Germany exports Mercedes Benz and BMW cars. The Amur class submarine is a case in point. There is a size and price to suit every pocket. Third world countries – as they used to be known – can now indulge in a little sabre rattling with their neighbours (Pakistan) or even with the accepted muscle on the block, i.e. the US.

For all its moral protesting at the role of  NATO in Libya, it is Russan made AK47s, RPG s, rocket launchers, artillery pieces and tanks that are being used in large numbers by the rebels against the former corrrupt government of Kaddafi.

India is a case in point. India “leased” a Russia Charlie class nuclear powered missile armed submarine in 1988 for 3 years (fee undisclosed). India paid US$ 2 billion for the completion of two 12,000 ton Akula class submarines which were 40 – 60% completed.

Left: Akula class nuclear powered

But whereas Russia’s Akula class could be equipped with 28 nuclear-capable cruise missiles with a strike range of 1,620 naut. miles, the Indian version was reportedly armed with the 162 naut mile range 3M-65 Klub nuclear-capable missiles.

In parallel with China’s path to increased military might Indiahas cultivated a home grown design and builds capability for nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. The product of this, the 6,000 ton Arihant class is expected to be commissioned starting in 2012 (INS Arihant was launched in July 2009).

All around the Indian Ocean and stretching into the Pacific from Iran to Malaysia and on to Haiwai, nations are acquiring lethal technology from the USA, China or Russia.  Of itself this can be said to be normal but whereas prior to 1945 one could assume that the barrels of most country’s guns would point in unison the same cannot be said today.

At another level the intrigue gets more interesting. Russian and Italy has signed a partnership agreement to build the S1000 class submarine. Externally this looks similar to the Lada and Amur class submarines. In the last few weeksItaly has surprisingly negotiated with China for the financing of its billion Euro national debt. Will Russia or will Italy supply China with is next generation submarine ?

Righr: S1000 class

One would expect the sale to be made by Russia but could the Italians be seduced by an overture and perhaps include some Western sonar technology ?

The existing illustrations of the S1000 class appear to give it a conventional north south crucifix rudder assembly but on others it is shown turned 45 degrees to give an ‘X’ configuration.

Submarines China did not get

Zulu class submarines (left) were the Soviet Union’s first post-war attack submarines. At  2,387 tons they were a contempaory of Whiskey class andUS ‘GUPPY’. They were as capable as the American GUPPY fleet-boat conversions (see feature below).

Zulu class boats had a ‘step’ at the top leading edge of the conning tower. Later Romeo tyoes had an inward step at the foot of the leading edge of the conning tower (see Romeo above). Zulu class boats shared a similar sonar arrangement as the Whiskey class and both were heavily influenced by the German Type XXI U-boat of the World War II era. In all 26 boats were built overall entering service from 1952 to 1957

Unfortunately, Zulu class vessels suffered from structural weaknesses and harmonic vibration problems that limited their operational depth and submerged speed. It was replaced by the Foxtrot class (2,475 long tons )

Right: Foxtrot class

This was designed to the earlier built between 1957 and 1983 and thought its hul was better its three propellor design made it ‘noisier’ than other designs. The Foxtrot class was one of the last conventional designs before the adoption of the teardrop shaped hull.

Characteristic of almost all Soviet boats built since 1945 are the windows in the conning outlined in white paint thatappear half way up the conning tower (US = sail).

Left: Foxtrot class at sea

The next Soviet submarine, chronologically, was the Tango class (3,800 tons submerged) of which 18 were operational from 1972 (the last one was retired in 2010).

Tango_class_2013Tango class had far more battery capacity, far higher than previous conventional Russian submarine classes.

Right: Tango class

Designed to ambush and attack Western nuclear powered submarines at shipping ‘choke points’, e.g  Gibraltar, Suez, Skagerrak and Kattegat, it has suitable sonar equipment and because all of its hull was rubber coated it was nicknamed “rezinka” (rubber).

China lacks sincerity

Peking always insists its military modernisation poses no threat to anyone. Yet it denies and prevents Taiwan the right to modernise and enlarge its naval and air forces.

If Peking were sincere in it friendship to its nairghbours it should raise no objection – in the same way that Britain does not object to France building submairnes and aircraft carriers. Taiwan and China are separated by 90 miles of water yet Britain and France are separated by only 22 miles of water.

The US defence budget has been – and remains – the biggest in the world at  around $700 billion pa, but in the current economic climate for how much longer ?

China’s defence budget is the second largest and the rate of increase may well go up this year. China and Russia appear, so far, to be insulated from the global monetary upheavals and banking turmoil.

There have been three major modern wars in other parts of the world which have have hardened the resolve of  China’s armed service leaders to catch up militarily.

The Taiwanese Navy currently operates four submarines; two are the Hai Lung class submarine – the Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) 793 and Hai Hu (Sea Tiger) 794. They were acquired from Holland and commissioned in 1987 and 1988 respectively.  Two former U.S. Navy Guppy II-class vessels which were delivered in 1973 – the Hai Shih and Hai Bao – are also still in service, but only for training purposes. All 4 of Taiwan’s submarines operate out of Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung. Taiwan is interested in acquiring additional vessels but has been unsuccessful as a result of the political pressure (black listing, orders cancelled, etc) put on potential exporters by mainland China.[5]

Taiwan’s submarines are aimed at providing a capability to deter Chinese naval blockades and to ensure that its sea lanes remain open, thus protecting the trade on which the island depends. In addition, Taiwan’s submarines could be used to block Chinese ports but are unlikely to be capable of countering Beijing’s superior submarine fleet.

Since the acquisition of the two Dutch made “Hai Lung” vessels commissioned in 1987, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has been unsuccessfully exploring ways to procure new diesel submarines. [6] 

In April 2001, the George W. Bush administration offered Taiwana substantial arms package which included eight diesel-electric submarines. However, the United Stateshas not produced diesel versions since the 1950s. [7]

‘Special requirements’

In an article recently published in a Chinese Communist Party publication, General Jiang Luming, head of the military economics unit at China’s National Defence University, called for “maximising national interest” by doubling China’s military funding to 2.8% of GDP, which he said was the average of 132 countries since the end of the Cold War.

He said this was needed to meet “special security requirements” – an apparent reference to preparing for eventual re-unification with Taiwan, safeguarding key interests overseas and off-shore, and China’s position as a post-socialist country flirting with capiltalsim but without any military allies in the region.

That deficit is presently being actively addressed. Since May 2008 a series of visits between the Russian and Chinese heads of state and senior ministers have taken place. In the West this might be seen as just a necessary courtesy but the Chinese mindset places greater store on the meaning of words, sentience and overt act of “friendship”, e.g. state visits.

Russia’s President Medvedev flew to China in Sept 2010 for a ceremony marking the completion of an oil pipeline thatwill transport Russian oil directly intoChina.

China’s realises that its economic growth will make it dependant on Russian oil should its sea-lane supplies be put under threat. Chinese leaders are therefore expected to focus heavily on energy, including a potential gas-supply deal and a $5 billion joint-venture oil refinery in China’s eastern city of Tianjin.

Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin (and President designate), visited Peking (Beijing) in Oct 2011 signing trade agreements and coming understandings about the future balance in economic matters.

Red Shift Eastwards

A “Red Shift” is unmistakable as global military and political power moves ever Eastwards. For the present day and into the future Russia and China are the new “heavyweights” in currency markets, sovereign debt, trade, and political dominance. They represent an Eastern axis in which might be difficult to counter. Russia’s only lament is that its ‘normal’ trade with China, excluding military contracts, is 2% compared with China’s trade with the US.

A sign of this increasing political dominance came in August this year (2011) when the reclusive North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, travelled not to the Kremlin but to Siberia (Russia’s Far East) to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev. It was Kim’s first trip to Russia in 9 years and a further sign of Pyongyang’s increasing efforts to reach out for economic assistance and diplomatic support.

With North Korea’s economy in dire straits North Korea is seeking to improve its trade relations with its neighbours, i.e. China and Russia. North Korea will probably want to talk about a Gazprom pipeline through its territory into South Korea (Gazprom has the monopoly of all Russian gas). North Korea could earn between $500 million and a $1 billon in transit fees if it allowed the pipeline to go ahead. A pipeline that would bring in both revenue and fuel to North Korea’s gutted economy is a 20 year old dream for Pyongyang.

However, Russia is not overly eager given Pyongyang’s history of aberrant and brinkmanship behaviour which could sour relations between Russia and South Korea, its ultimate customer.  Russia will also want to know the true intentions of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and might use energy and food shortages in North Koreaas a bargaining lever.

In the alternative – though this option is doubtful -Russia might consider, should North Korea behave in a dependable way, to lease a port or port facilities in waters free of ice (a newPort Arthur).

How this will go down with the Chinese in what they see as their exclusive territorial waters is problematical. As always, North Koreawill be forced to balance its foreign relationships and avoid causing offence to either Russia or China or both.


Appendix A

U-Boat developments (1939- 1945)


It is difficult to believe at this point in history that German navy, under Karl Donitz, began World War II with only 5 operational U-boats in the Atlantic. In part this is due to the more overwhelming fact that during the war the Kreigmarine took delivery of over 1,500 boats – mostly in the early and middle war years.

In tandem with the know-how of building U-boats at an ever-increasing rate, the Third Reich engineers pioneered radical concepts in engines and hull design. For instance, by 1944 it was possible despite air raids for U-3017, a Type XXI, to have its keel laid down on Sept 2nd 1944 and to be completed and launched a few months later on Nov 5th 1944.  By 1942 German engineers had devised ways of doubling the underwater speed of a U-boat to over 10 knots.

U-3017 was ccommissioned on Jan 5th 1945 and used as a training vessel in Norway. She was handed over to the Royal Navy in full working order in May 1945.

Fortunately for the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic, many of these designs did not come to fruition for a variety reasons; some proved impractical; some fell victim to internal squabbles; and some for external reasons, e.g. limited funding / materials by 1943. Towards the end of the war some German shipyards in both the East and West had to be abandoned to the approaching Allied forces.

The following list is a Table of U-boats projects that were designed and sometimes tested but never completed or put into production. 


Appendix B


Cloak and dagger

The noble cause of defending democracy anmd saving the world from tyranny was quickly forgotten after May 1945 and the utterly abandoned  as the squabble for the spoils began. The scene must have been reminiscent of the Carpet Baggers pillaging the Southern States after the American civil war.

The Cuningham Papers” give us an insight into the brutal duplicity required and the newly emergent fear of having to deal with “the Russkies.” Admiralty Directive dated 13 August 1945 to Vice Admiral Geoffrey Miles and Rear Admiral William Parry, the British Representatives on the Tripartite Naval Commission, made it very clear that the Russians were to be denied access to the Walterwerke in Kiel – the very factory where Dr Helmut Walter researched and developed a whole series of new and advanced technologies related to the use of gas turbines for military purposes.

Both the British and American authorities were determined that such technology should not fall into Russian hands. The Postdam Agreement had been signed but sincerity and trust is obviously absent even in this short quote: [8]

  •  “ . . . In particular, the Russians are not in any circumstances to be allowed access to the research laboratory, establishments or equipment of the Walterwerke.”
  •  “ . . . .  The disposal of the latest types of U-Boat, fitted with hydrogen peroxide propulsion units, presents a problem of special importance and some difficulty. The most valuable boats are U-1406 and U-1407, which are fitted with the unit type 18X, and are capable of being completed within a reasonably short time. In addition, there are four badly damaged boats fitted with a smaller unit, type 17, namely U-792, U-793, U-794 and U-795.”  

 ” . . . It is desired to exclude the Russians from acquiring any of these special types of U-Boat. The Russians are, however, almost certainly aware of the existence of one or both types, and have a right under the [Potsdam] Protocol to inspect the boats. The exercise of this right, if a request is made, should be permitted, but inspection should be confined to the boats themselves and restricted to the minimum. You should report immediately any enquiries made by the Russians concerning these types [of U-Boat], and pending further instructions your case should be:

  1. to maintain that U-1406 and U-1407 are the only boats of this type available for disposal within [the] Protocol.
  2. to insist in concert with your USA colleague, that U-1406 and U-1407 are to be allocated to the USA and UK respectively.

The refusal of any of the U-792 to U-795 class to the Russians may be a delicate matter, but has great importance, since the acquisition of one of these boats might lead the Russians to put forward a claim under . . . .  the Protocol to examine and take equipment in the Walterwerke establishments for the purpose of providing spares for the U-Boats to be delivered to them. Further consideration is being given to the question of the disposal of these special types of U-Boat and establishments in relation to the Russians. Meanwhile, you should, if possible, avoid discussing the subject with the Russians.”

There is no doubt that the Americans and British were determined to deny the latest German submarine technology to the Russians if at all possible – while exploiting it for themsleves.

In practical terms the Russians had captured a considerable number of unfinished Type XXI U-Boats in the shipyards in Danzig, and because they had also gained access to the plans for, and a full-scale model of, the HTP-powered Type XXVI U-Boat  [U-4501 through to U-4600], which would have been a larger and longer-range version of the Type XVIIB U-Boat.

Post Script

Three intact Type XVIIB U-Boats (U-1405 to U-1407) fell within the British Sector after May 1945 with 2 or 3 more, U-1408 to U-1410 partially fininished. These U-boats were powered by the fabled HTP [high test peroxide] system.  Unfortunately, U-1405 to U-1407 had been scuttled by their crew following the German collapse at the end of the Second World War.

Right: U-boat, U-1406, a Type XVIIB allocated to  US being dismantled after World War II

 U-1407,which was allocated to Britain, was raised and salvaged in June 1945 and together with its inventor Prof. Hellmuth Walter, transported to Barrow-in-Furness. There Vickers under the supervision of Prof. Walter, fitted her with a new and complete set of machinery (also captured in Germany). She was re-commissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite.

LaterHMS Explorer  and HMS Excalibur entered RN service as experimantal HTP powered craft (see


[4] See

[5] Communist China came close to cutting diplomatic ties with Holland after the sale of 2 submarines

[6] Improved Dutch Zwaardvis class

[8] See 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2012 3:53 am

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on
    this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

    • rwhiston permalink*
      July 15, 2012 8:13 pm

      Hello Seo, I have looked at that particular page for you and can see nothing wrong with it – so I guess is must be the settings on your screen or similar [?]. Robert Whiston.

  2. edward fraser permalink
    February 23, 2013 4:12 am

    the picture of the Tango class is wrong!
    it was British Astute SSN

    • rwhiston permalink*
      March 5, 2013 6:02 pm

      Interesting observation, Edward.
      Can you send me pictures of both to confirm as these pictures are all taken from a variety of naval sources and if they are in error then my blog page will also be in error ?

      • edward fraser permalink
        March 14, 2013 4:02 am

        well, you can upload that pic to google image, to search any site containing that pic.
        you can search also Tango and Astute submarine for the pic.
        I know submarine my friend, I can identifiy ’em quickly.

  3. Robert Whiston permalink*
    March 14, 2013 12:23 pm

    Edward is absolutely right ! The picture I have for the Tango class is a more modern British Astute class sub, so I will have to change it ASAP. I can’t think how I got the two pictures mixed-up, it must have been ‘fingering’ problems on my keyboard because in no way could a reliable naval source have made a ‘gaffe’ such as mine. Thanks Edward !
    PS. Now done, so please check I have got it right this time ! !

  4. May 6, 2013 3:37 pm

    Hi, Robert!
    I`m glad to know You continue to work and I wish You bogatyr`s health and strength to work many years more. I think, I can help to fix some mistakes in this article using some Russian-language references.

    • rwhiston permalink*
      May 6, 2013 8:37 pm

      Hello Ivan, lovely to hear from you again. Yes, please – send in any corrections that need to be made [and that applies to all readers of this blog]. With 58,000 hits so far the more accurate I am the better.
      BTW. How is the family ? I saw on TV that Russia celebrated Easter a few days ago.

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