- In November, a team of Greek divers uncovered a long-lost Italian submarine that the Allied Forces sank during World War II.
- Britain’s Royal Navy submarine HMS Torbay struck the ship just once by a salvo of six torpedoes.
- Today, underwater sonar systems help crews prepare for sub-on-sub combat.
Late last year, a team of Greek divers located the wreckage of an Italian submarine that sunk in the Aegean Sea in the early days of World War II. The British Royal Navy’s HMS Torbay sunk the submarine Jantina in 1941—one of the few times during the war that a sub-versus-sub engagement ended with the loss of a vessel. More than 80 years later, Jantina was located off the Greek Coast in waters more than 300 feet deep.
Kostas Thoctarides, one of Greece’s “best-known divers” used the remotely operated vehicle Super Achilles to find Jantina’s remains, according to Reuters. Jantina’s general whereabouts were known about for years, but it was Thoctarides and his team of divers that finally located and surveyed the boat south of the island Mykonos.
Jantina (pictured at the top of this story) belonged to the Regia Marina, or Italian Royal Navy. Commissioned in 1933, she displaced only 1,000 tons underwater, or about an eighth of what a U.S. Navy Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine displaces. Only 202 feet long, she had six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes and a crew of 48.
On the evening of July 5, 1941, the Royal Navy submarine HMS Torbay sighted a submarine off in the distance. Here is an account of what transpired next, according to U-Boat.net, a blog that covers undersea boats, which quoted the ship’s official records:
At 1946 hours (time zone -3), while Torbay was in position 240° Stapodia Island 11.5 nautical miles, a submarine was sighted bearing 080° 4 nautical miles away. Torbay at once turned to engage the target.
At 2016 hours 6 torpedoes were fired from 1500 yards. One minute later an explosion was heard followed by a tremendous double explosion 10 seconds later. The explosion shook Torbay violently causing some light damage. When Lt.Cdr. Miers took a look through the periscope an aircraft was seen approaching so he took Torbay deep. (7)
The submarine engaged was Jantina. She sank quickly, and only six of her 48 crew members survived.
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Submarine-versus-submarine combat was rare until relatively recently. Although World War II-era submarines typically cruised on the surface, they did so at periscope depth if enemy action was expected. This made them much more difficult to spot. The fact that Jantina was caught on the surface suggests that the captain thought he was in a safe operating area.
World War II torpedoes were also unguided, making it harder to hit targets. A submarine might fire a salvo of six torpedoes, but torpedoes fired just seconds apart might end up hundreds of feet apart at 1,000 yards or more. The fact that there was only an initial explosion means Jantina was struck just once by a salvo of six torpedoes, making Torbay’s single hit a relatively lucky one.
The U.S. Navy lost only one submarine to another submarine. USS Corvina was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-176 in 1943, south of Truk Lagoon. I-176 fired three torpedoes and two hit, causing a great explosion. Corvina was lost with all hands.
Today, sub-on-sub combat is expected by the major submarine powers. The development of homing torpedoes and more powerful underwater sonar systems—spurred on by the deployment of nuclear weapons at sea—has made detecting and attacking enemy submarines much easier. A nuclear-powered attack submarine typically accompanies every U.S. carrier battle group, acting as a bodyguard against enemy subs.
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