The History of Sea-Based Airborne Antisubmarine Warfare: 1940-1977

March 2, 2021 11:27 AM

The following is the unclassified 1978 three-volume history, Sea-Based Airborne Antisubmarine Warfare 1940-1977.

The so-called Cross report was declassified in 1990. A partial version of this report was published by USNI News last month as part of the rolling release of documents related to the 1963 loss of USS Thresher (SSN-593). 

From the report

Sea-based Airborne Antisubmarine Warfare came into being with the creation of the escort carrier in 1940. Initially conceived as an anti-air platform providing fighter protection for the North Atlantic convoys in mid-Atlantic, it was ultimately adopted by the U.S. Navy to the Hunter-Killer role. During the course of the war the resulting ASW groups, operating TBF and F4F aircraft from these small ships, succeeded in sinking 42 German submarines and in the process, helped free the mid-Atlantic sea lanes of the submarine menace. The success of these 1943-44 mid-Atlantic operations depended to a great degree on intercepted German radio traffic which was decoded to provide “ULTRA” information on the submarine forces whereabouts, as well as providing HF/DF fixes on current submarine locations. The free-roaming Hunter-Killer forces based on the escort carriers would have made little sense without this localizing information.

In addition, they depended primarily on a force tied to the surface where each submarine
submarine could be spotted visually or by radar before attack. To counter this need to surface, the Germans introduced first the snorkel in their existing boats during 1944 and then developed the Type XXI and XXIII submarines in 1945, both of the latter capable of high underwater speeds and with the ability to operate largely independent of the surface. On this note, the Atlantic war ended with Germany’s surrender. The TENTH Fleet, created to direct Atlantic ASW operations and the essential intelligence work required, was immediately disbanded. Up to the present, ADM King’s TENTH Fleet remains the Navy’s most powerful organizational commitment to ASW ever made.

During the immediate postwar years, Sea-based Airborne ASW slowly made a comeback as the Soviet submarine threat, presumably based on the German technological advances, was recognized. The Hunter-Killer CVE concept was reinstated, using the best of the World War II escort carriers, the CVE 105 class, as well as ASW modified TBMs with improved sensors and armament. The Navy, concerned that airborne ASW would be ineffective against a submarine threat with little need to surface, turned to new surface combatant and submarine construction to resolve the ASW problem. Of these new designs, all possessed improved sonar systems hopefully capable of detecting an attacking submarine before it reached firing position. Exercises in the late forties demonstrated this objective had not been successfully reached against the Guppy submarine – the U.S. Navy’s Type XXI counterpart. Fortunately, it was assessed just before the outbreak of the Korean War, that the Soviet submarine force, contrary to earlier predictions, was not as capable as that of the German Navy at the end of World War II.

Download the document here.

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