British Royal Navy, World War IQ-boat
Photo credit: Surgeon Oscar Parkes
- During World War I, the German Navy maintained a highly successful fleet of U-boats (aka Unterseeboots) that operated in the Atlantic Ocean. While submarines were technically invented and used as early as the US Civil War, they did not see widespread use in naval combat until 1914, and the Germans were quite adept at being sneaky under the sea. The biggest problem that a surface vessel faced during this time was a complete inability to locate a U-boat. Sonar was developed very early in the war, but it wasn’t anywhere near as effective or efficient as it is today, so navies like the British and French utilized hydrophones, which had a short range and weren’t very effective if a U-Boat’s crew was well-trained and quiet.Because of this, Q-boats were established.
- These were heavily armed vessels of all sorts that were “dressed” as merchant ships. Their job was to sail the seas and entice the U-boats to surface and attack only to find that their “prey” was much more skilled at defense than they originally thought. To further sell the deception, the ships would fly false colors would be flown, and when a U-boat approached, part of the crew, known as the “panic party,” would appear to abandon the ship. Once the submarine was in range, hidden guns were revealed, the White Ensign (the flag of the Royal Navy) raised, and the U-boat was sunk.The use of Q-boats led to the sinking of ten U-boats, so it was successful, although most of its success came by forcing Germany to completely change how it conducted naval warfare—albeit too late for them to effectively win the war.