Ship bomb: the history of "sea kamikaze"
A brander is any watercraft stuffed with explosive or flammable substances and designed to destroy enemy ships. Unlike the Japanese kaiten, this is a “drone”: to attack the ship was sent towards the enemy fleet, tightly jamming the helm in the right position.
Perhaps the most famous precedent in which the firemen had a serious influence on the outcome of the battle took place on August 8, 1588 - it was the legendary Battle of Gravelin, in which the British fleet routed the Great Armada, which was considered invincible. The armada was assembled by Spain for the invasion of Britain, but the British found the weak spot of the massive fleet - its slowness and gaps in the organization. As a result, the English pirates and light flotillas were “biting” the floating monster in the final battle of Gravelin. And on the night before the battle, Charles Howard, the Duke of Nottingham, commander in chief of the British Navy, ordered eight ships battered with tar, gunpowder, straw and brushwood to be burned, set on fire and blindly sent to the side of the Spaniards crowded into a heap. The firewalls did little physical damage, but caused a terrible panic: to avoid a collision with flaming ships, the Spaniards chopped anchors (they just didn’t have time to raise them) - and the next day they could not really maintain the formation because of the inability to land. In addition, many ships suffered collisions.
In principle, just such a goal - to sow panic, set fire to a couple of ships, break the order - the firewalls were carried around the 5th century BC. In naval battles, they were also actively used in Russia: in the Chesme battle against the Turks (1770) and even earlier, when Gangut - even Peter I, creating the basis of the Russian fleet, drew attention to the experience of using firewalls in battle.
There was only one factor that allowed firewalls to "live" as weapons for nearly 2, 000 years. This material of ships is wood. As soon as in the XIX century warships began to be made of iron, the firewalls, it would seem, lost relevance once and for all.
Technology of the past
From the fourteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century, firewalls existed as a dedicated class of ships built specifically for "suicidal" use. The device was dictated by its purpose: maximum low cost and simplicity of construction, speed of construction, ease of management, well-thought-out locations for the location of combustible and explosive substances. The firewalls were built with one- or two-deckers and often had minimal armament - if the path to the target was long and it was required to shoot from other enemy ships.
From the usual ship, the firewall was distinguished by some details. For example, closer to the stern, a door was provided on board, at which a boat was moored for evacuation, and mooring for reliability was carried out not by a rope, but by a chain. The door allowed the crew to leave the ship under cover of the side. At the mooring point on board there was another hole with the end of the Bikford cord pointing out - the sailors set it on fire, already sitting in the evacuation boat, and its length allowed the team to move to a safe distance.
Depending on the situation, almost any ship could be made a firewall - in the 19th century, when firewalls were no longer built as a class, unnecessary ships of other types were used as bombs. Usually they took a small ship that had served its time - decrepit, sometimes with holes fixed up somehow - or just a ship whose effectiveness as a firewall exceeded its effectiveness as a cannon ship. All valuable, including weapons, were removed, after which the hold and other internal premises were filled with combustible substances. Most often they did not use warships, but merchant ships sailing with the fleet as floating food depots.
By the method of delivering a floating bomb to a target, firewalls can be divided into several types. The first type was intended to set fire to an enemy ship. Typically, such a firewall was managed by the team until the very end - the task of the sailors was to moor the burning ship to the enemy, and then evacuate from the opposite side in a boat prepared in advance. Another variety was just a bomb - the team simply directed the ship at the enemy and left the firewall, without waiting for a collision, followed by an explosion. As already mentioned, with a fair wind or current, the firemen could simply direct the enemy fleet without a command, with a fixed helm.
Naturally, there were methods of struggle. The easiest way was to shoot a fire vessel from cannons in the hope of damaging the fixed steering wheel, knocking down the mast, or - at best - blowing up the powder supply at a decent distance from the target. Therefore, the efficiency of the open sea firewall was almost zero: a maneuverable warship managed to destroy the “bomb” on the way. All successful applications of firewalls took place in “bottlenecks”, in harbors and straits, where many ships that interfered with each other accumulated. There was another technique: the scorers of the attacked ships tried to get on the boat on which the team was to be evacuated. If the boat was lost, the team could deploy a firewall - the European sailors did not differ in their desire for self-sacrifice.
But the XIX century dictated its own rules. A new, more long-range weapon made it possible to shoot and sink the fire at a safe distance, and the fire could not cause iron ships such harm as wooden ones. Nevertheless, the technology has not died, but has changed.
The collision with the subsequent arson or explosion became completely ineffective, but during the Russo-Japanese war, suicide bombers found another use. During the legendary siege of Port Arthur, the Japanese tried to block the entrance to the harbor for Russian ships, flooding several trading ships in a bottleneck. The attempt failed (out of nine transports in the “right” place only one sank, the others were torpedoed or hit by coastal artillery on the way), but the term “firebrand” received a new meaning. However, the flooding of ships to block a certain closed water zone was practiced in the XVI century, just at that time other ships were called firewalls. A blockage of this type was also common in late naval battles - for example, in the Orkney Islands, pipes and masts of ships flooded during the two world wars still stick out from under the water.
Oddly enough, during the Second World War, firewalls also received a new life in the classical sense of the term. An interesting incident with their use was Operation Lucid, planned by the British command in late 1940. By July 1940, France had fallen, and German troops began to prepare for the invasion of Britain. Transport and military vessels dispersed along the northern coast of France. Great Britain tried to prevent the landing; the Royal Air Force set off to preemptively bomb German transports. But to destroy two serious groups of transports, the British decided to use firewalls.
Several prehistoric tankers, which have long been unused for their intended purpose, acted as suicide ships: War Nizam (1918), War Nawab (1919), Oakfield (1918). The ships patched up and stuffed with about three tons of hellish cocktail (50% of naval fuel oil, 25% of engine oil and 25% of gasoline), called the “special Eger mixture” in honor of Augustus Eger, the head of the operation. A little cordite and nitrocellulose were added to the mixture to increase the explosive effect. We conducted preliminary tests on a pair of small firewalls - the effect was good: according to all calculations, a firewall detonated in the vicinity of nearby vessels could have a devastating effect at a distance of up to 800 m.
On September 26, 1940, all three firefighters set sail on their last voyage under the escort of a number of small military vessels - two ships in Calais and one in Boulogne. But initially the poor technical condition of the old ships affected: first, Oakfield began to almost fall apart, and then the War Nizam power plant refused. The operation did not make sense with one ship, and had to be abandoned. Subsequently, several more attempts were made - on October 3 and 8, but they failed due to bad weather.
There were several more examples of using firewalls — more successful ones. The most famous in this regard is Operation Chariot, due to which the British completely destroyed on the coast of France, in the city of Saint-Nazaire, the largest German dry dock capable of accepting the flagship Kriegsmarine battleship Tirlitz. The main strike force of the operation was the converted Campbeltown destroyer. It was facilitated as much as possible so that it could pass through small fairways, cut off part of the decks, so that its silhouette from afar resembled a German ship, and most importantly - they charged 4.5 tons of explosives, and hid it behind concrete false walls inside the vessel.
In the early morning of March 28, 1942, Campbelltown, under heavy fire, reached the dock gates and rammed them - without explosion. In parallel, the British fired and bombarded Saint-Nazaire, as well as the landing of commandos. During the attack, the Germans suffered a number of injuries: sabotage troops destroyed several guns, ships and locks were damaged, but in the end the British were forced to retreat; during the attack, the Campbeltown team was evacuated. Having repelled the attack, the Germans relaxed. A large group of officers and soldiers set off to study the Campbeltown docked in the dock. After almost nine hours, at 10:30, the firewall exploded in a planned way, completely destroying the dock, and at the same time more than 250 German soldiers and officers, despite the serious losses of the commandos during the distracting landing, the operation was a success.
An attempt to use firewalls in World War II was also noted by Italy. Back in 1938, a series of 18 compact boats MT (Motoscafo da Turismo) was made - light, equipped with a 95-horsepower Alfa Romeo engine, capable of accelerating to 60 km / h and regularly stuffed with 330 kg of explosives. The pilot was aft; jamming the steering wheel, he had to jump onto a special liferaft before a collision with a target.
MT took part in several operations, the most successful of which was the incapacitation of the British heavy cruiser York on March 26, 1941 - the raid was called "Attack in the Bay of the Court." Six boats took part in the operation - they were lowered from larger transports, stole up to the bay at night and carried out an attack at 5:30. In addition to the York, the Norwegian tanker Pericles was destroyed, and boats slipped past two more transports. All six Italian pilots were captured, but the operation was considered successful.
Subsequently, the Italians developed two more generations of fireboats - MTM and MTR. The former were used, but the latter were unlucky: the Ambra submarine transporting them to the operation site was sunk from the air. Interestingly, the four survivors of the MTM war went to the Israeli armed forces later, and the Israelis successfully used three of them during the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli war. In October 1948, with the help of firewalls, the Emir Faruk patrol ship and a mine sweeper were sunk.
Exploding firewalls can be used in our time - in the format of compact boats stuffed with explosives. Such tactics are sometimes used by terrorists (for example, al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole destroyer in Aden Bay in October 2000), but in recent times there have been no firewalls in military operations. However, wars are getting smaller every year, and let the firewalls remain part of the story.The article “Ship bomb” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 7, July 2014).