World Aircraft Carriers List Photo Gallery

Aviation Oddities

Part II: Submarines and Destroyers

Submarine Carriers

Over the years there have been many schemes to put aircraft aboard submarines. The chief advantage, of course, is that a submarine can approach a target unseen, then surface and launch a quick reconniassance or strike flight. The problem always came in trying to secure the aircraft for underwater travel. Not surprisingly, there are few real success stories involving submarine aircraft carriers.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is HM Submarine E22, carrying two Sopwith Schneider floatplanes. The submarine was outfitted as an "aircraft carrier" at Harwich, early in 1916. The intent was to intercept German airships over the North Sea, although the advantage of a submarine for this work is unknown, since the sub could not submerge with the aircraft aboard.

 [THUMBNAIL] E22 ballasts down to launch her aircraft. In the first launching trial the fragile seaplanes were destroyed by choppy seas before they floated free. One successful trial was carried out, but the scheme was abandoned as impractical. The submarine was soon sunk, taking her logbooks to the bottom with her, so little more is known about this experiment.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is the submarine USS S1 (SS 105) with a MS-1 seaplane on deck. The date is 24 October 1923. The seaplane was to be stowed, disassembled, in the cylinder on deck while the submarine was submerged. Trials were carried out in 1926, but the concept appears to have been deemed unsuccessful. One problem was that the aircraft barely fit into the cylinder, and could only carry enough fuel for 15 minutes in the air! The photo was probably taken at New York.

 [THUMBNAIL] Japanese submarine I-400 comes alongside I-14, post-WWII. The Japanese employed the "submarine aircraft carrier" concept extensively, building some 47 boats capable of carrying seaplanes. I-14 was a fairly large seaplane-carrying submarine, having hangar space for 2 aircraft. Most IJN submarine aircraft carriers could carry only one aircraft, but the giant I-400 class boats could carry three. Hangars were built into the lower section of the sail. I-14 was scrapped postwar, and all the I-400s were scuttled in 1946. All had been at sea at the time of Japan's surrender, preparing for an attack on the US fleet anchorage at Ulithi Atoll. Earlier in the war they had been preparing for a cancelled attack on the Panama Canal.

 [THUMBNAIL] A Foche-Achgelis manned rotary kite towed behind a German U-boat in the Indian Ocean during WWII. This contraption was clearly meant as a spotting aid for the U-boat.

 [THUMBNAIL] USS Guavina (AOSS 362) refuels a seaplane in 1955. This submarine was employed in various "submarine tanker" trials in the postwar era, being employed to support small surface vessels and aircraft. The need for tankers to support seaplanes was eliminated when the US seaplane program was terminated.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is USS Sealion (APSS 315) off Little Creek, VA on 4 May 1956, with an H-19 helicopter on deck. Originally a WWII "fleet boat", Sealion served in various troop-carrying configurations postwar, including special forces transport. She carried several designations: SS, SSP, ASSP, APSS, and later LPSS.

Seaplane Destroyers

It was common practice to put one or two seaplanes on a cruiser for scouting purposes. But when a small ship such as a destroyer was equipped with aircraft, the result certainly qualifies as an oddity.

 [THUMBNAIL] USS Bagley (TB-24), a small torpedo boat, was the first US destroyer-type vessel to carry an aircraft. Commissioned in 1901, she served as a training vessel at Annapolis from 1907 to 1914. During July and August of 1910, she was used as a test platform for an aircraft designed by Congressman Bulter Ames. The aircraft was assembled and tested on a platform (apparently being constructed in this view) abaft the bridge. The brief tests produced unfavorable results. Bagley was sold in 1919 following duty as a patrol boat.

 [THUMBNAIL] The Ames aircraft being assembled aboard Bagley. It was intended to derive its lift from two rotating 12-sided cylinders, the mountings for which are seen here. Not surprisingly, the arrangement failed to provide sufficient lift, and the aircraft apparently never flew.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is USS Charles Ausburn (DD 294); she was fitted with a seaplane ramp over her forward gun in 1923. After trials and seaplane operations, the ship was sold in 1931.

 [THUMBNAIL] Noa (DD 343) was a later trial in seaplane-carrying destroyers. Her aircraft was carried forward of the aft deckhouse, replacing two sets of torpedo tubes. This setup was meant to test the concept prior to installation of seaplanes in later Fletcher class destroyers. The seaplane concept proved valuable, but in the end unworkable due to mechanical problems.

 [THUMBNAIL] Pringle (DD 477) was one of the Fletcher class destroyers selected to receive a single seaplane in place of one 5" gun and one set of torpedo tubes. Ultimately the seaplane hoisting arrangements proved unworkable, and the concept was abandoned.

 [THUMBNAIL] Another view of Pringle prior to removal of her catapult.

 [THUMBNAIL] Halford was another of the catapult Fletchers. Her aircraft arrangements lasted only a few months and were removed before she deployed operationally.

 [THUMBNAIL] Dutch destroyer Piet Hein with a seaplane embarked. Four Dutch destroyers built in the 1920's were equipped to each carry a single seaplane. All four were lost in 1942.

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