Osprey's USN Destroyer vs IJN Submarine 1941-42


Mark Stille, illustrated by Paul Wright


Osprey Publishing


$20.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2063-1

World War I showed that the greatest threat to trans-ocean logistics was the submarine. The Germans had developed submarine warfare into something that was quite devastating and while the Allies were able to somewhat mitigate the threat, it was really the lack of numbers that prevented the U-boat from really changing the tide of the war.

The Japanese were not ignorant of this aspect of naval warfare and their post WWI submarines were of German design. However, the Japanese realized that they had a considerably larger amount of water to cover so they developed much larger cruiser submarines. The main job of these boats was to operate in concert with the fleet, providing advance reconnaissance and special operations. Sinking transports was not the primary focus. So their submarine development focused on coastal defense and very large ocean going types that often carried a seaplane.

Meanwhile, the US was developing destroyers that initially fell into the restrictions of the various naval treaties and while anti-submarine warfare was a consideration, these ships were multi-purpose in terms of small ship actions and fleet defense. Their high speed was designed to allow them to dash into the fray, loose a spread of torpedoes, and scurry away.

The beginning of the Pacific War was a bit of an eye-opener for the Japanese. Their submarines were not very effective in the roles for which they had been designed. When the boats were sent out on missions to destroy transports along the US west coast and in the Indian Ocean, they had some success, but it was the lack of aggressiveness as much as anything else that produced disappointing results.

However, they were quite successful against US warships. Indeed, they managed to sink or otherwise put out of action every US aircraft carrier save one during all of 1942. Not only that, but no attacking submarine was ever sunk. The majority of destroyed Japanese subs were caught on the surface by airpower and not by destroyers.

US destroyers were pretty inept at their ability to find and sink Japanese submarines. This was despite having probably the best electronic system available. It is really luck as much as anything else that kept the Japanese submarine from wreaking havoc with transports. This is because the Japanese Navy kept using their submarines as transports during the various campaigns, a job for which they were not designed and for which they could carry very little. They were also tasked with all sorts of fairly unsuccessful special missions with things like midget submarines when they should have been out sinking cargo ships. As much as anything else, this misuse of assets doomed the IJN submarine force, when it could have made a huge impact in the first year of the war.

As is the norm with this series, the authors provide a bit of background history to the two types as well as a look at how the crews were trained and how the vessels were planned on being used. A goodly portion of the book covers their combat experiences and pretty well dispenses with the myth of the Japanese submarine being ineffective during this time. It was the I-19 that fired the most destructive torpedo spread ever. In September 1942 it fired six torpedoes at the USS Wasp, sinking here. Those that missed went several additional miles and sank the USS O'Brien and severely damaged the USS North Carolina, taking her out of the war for several months.

Add to all this some great period photos and superbly done art work and you'll have an excellent book that is well worth picking up. 

December 2018

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