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World War I
World War I was the last war which capital warships with guns fought on the high seas. World War I was also the first war that saw the significant use of submarines. Early in the war, Britain's massive navy blockaded German ports. In August, small German raiding squadrons attempted sorties, but all were ended by the British. By the end of 1914, Germany was relying on its submarine fleets to cut Britain off from the outside world. They almost succeeded.
The submarines that Germany used during the war were the fleet type, which looked almost like a surface ship. It spent most of its time on the surface, going underwater only briefly. The snorkel was invented to prolong that stay. These submarines, like modern ones, used diesel. While on the surface, diesel engines ran the ship and charged its batteries. Underwater, the batteries ran motors that powered the submarine. Underwater, the submarines was also much slower.
Another aspect of these submarines was their use in wolf packs, a practice used extensively also during World War II. Radio communication was applied to coordinate these wolf packs. World War I also saw the development of other devices. Noticeably, sonar and radar became available.
Despite the success of the submarines, Germany continued to use surface raiders to a degree of success. Early 1915 saw escalation of the submarine war, when Germany launched submarine offensives around the British Isles. Unrestrained submarine warfare called for the destruction of enemy and neutral shipping alike. Despite the international outcry, submarines were succeeding in their purpose of isolating Britain. Meanwhile, Germany itself was being isolated by the British blockade and allied submarine warfare.
The last major battle between capital warships occured on May 31-June 1, 1916 during the battle of Jutland. The ships involved were more powerful than any of previous periods. The ships of Jutland were dreadnought type battleships, armed with massive guns and thick steel armor. For two days, more than two hundred ships fired shells at each other. Casualties numbered in the thousands. German hopes for its surface fleet was ended as was an era in naval warfare. After Jutland, Germany used submarines almost exclusively.
Submarines were sinking up to a million tons of shipping a month by the last months of the war. Britain responded by convoys, which stemmed the threat of the submarine and contributed to the defeat of Germany. The submarine was used on a large scale in World War I and the war also saw the introduction of the aircraft carrier, a class to play a vital role in the next world war.
World War II
World War II in the Atlantic was similiar to World War I in the Atlantic. The beginning days of the war involved a major surface operation in Norway, in which the British home fleet failed to route a German invasion, largely because the British submarine patrols failed to spot the German force. After the fall of Norway and Poland, Germany turned to France. Armor ran past French defenses through Belgium and the Netherlands, surprising the defenders from behind.
June 1940 turned out to be a disaster for the Allies, a fact that was somewhat obscured by the evacuation of Dunkirk. In May, a large allied force was trapped in Dunkirk and the desperate amphibious evacuation carried out by naval transports, destroyers, and private yachts turned out to be a success. From there on, Germany turned east towards Russia and the atlantic became another submarine battleground. At first, submarine warfare concentrated was concentrated around the British isles while surface raiders filtered out into all the oceans.
Aircraft now played a major role in the atlantic battle in guiding the submarine wolf packs. The convoy system was adopted again in addition to newly established air cover, which made it increasingly difficult for submarines to operate, forcing them underwater for longer periods of time. Submarines spread westwards towards the U.S., away from the dangerous British Isles. When the U.S. entered the war, submarine warfare spread further, to the coast of Africa, the east coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Carribean. Arctic warfare broke out as Russia entered the war.
War broke out in the Pacific with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, heralding the age of the aircraft carrier. Two waves of carrier-launched Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th and decimated the U.S. fleet. However, there was an unforeseen, but very important, side effect of the bombing. The U.S. lost many battleships in the bombing but its carrier force, which was at sea at the time, was unscathed. This forced the U.S. to adopt carriers as its primary force, something Japan had done earlier.
What followed was a rapid Japanese amphibious offensive. Amphibious forces escorted by large carrier task forces occupied the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Indochina, and the East Indies. The Japanese attempt to invade Australia caused the first major battle between carrier forces. At the Battle of Coral Sea, Americans and Japanese main fleets never sighted each other, but the aircraft of the carriers fought the battle. The Americans suffered major losses, but the Japanese threat to Australia was stopped.
These assaults the Allies were powerless to stop. However, the Japanese were eventually stopped at what may be the most decisive naval battle of the war in 1942, Midway. Midway was a major confrontation between carrier task forces. The U.S. sank all the Japanese heavy carriers with the loss of one heavy carrier. The following years in the Pacific involved island hopping strategies that required careful planning of amphibious operations and was very important to the development of amphibious warfare. Carriers now played the biggest role, other ships only shielding the carriers.
Battleships proved incapable of surviving a major battle, especially under attack by swarms of carrier-based aircraft and were relegated to bombardment duties. By the end of the war, American submarines had destroyed the Japanese merchant fleet and aircraft had levelled much of Japan.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the German submarine fleet was contained by the second half of 1943 by the introduction of escord carriers and improved ASW(anti-submarine warfare). In the Mediterranean, Allied submarines achieved what German submarines did not: cutting off the enemy. The Axis was now isolated. In addition, as Russians drove Germany out of the east, its own submarine fleet came out of their ports and attacked German shipping.
The worst sinking in history occured when the Wilhelm Gustloff, evacuating Germans from Russia, was torpedoed by a Russian submarine, resulting in the death of 7000. The Normandy landings of 1944 was the largest amphibious operation ever, involving literally thousands of ships. Battleships were used to bombard the coast, although airplanes played the major role. The war ended with the nuclear weapon, something that would change navies forever.
World War II established the basics of post-war naval warfare: submarines, carriers, ASW warfare, guided missiles, and nuclear weapons. Missiles replaced guns as the primary weapon of ships and armor became obsolescent as powerful missiles became capable of tearing through even the thickest armor. Aircraft were also fitted with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
Nuclear powered submarines (See Nuclear) with long-range cruise or ballistic missiles became capital ships. Nuclear power enabled ships to travel without refueling for years.
Carriers were generally reduced in size, with the exception of the U.S., which built bigger and more powerful supercarriers with over 100 aircraft. The angled deck and ski jumps made their appearance, as did the helicopter and V/STOL aircraft. Carriers were now, undeniably, the core of a navy, as demonstrated in Korea, Vietnam, and the Falklands.
Battleships were retired after the war, although some continued to serve sporadically in certain situations. However, smaller ships stayed in service as missile platforms and to shield carriers from aircraft and submarines.
Modern navies rely more and more on electronics. Chaff(small pieces of material made to mislead radar-guided missiles), flare(heat sources to mislead infrared-guided missiles), and missile-killing missiles made their appearance to meet the threat of anti-ship missiles.
Methods such as electromagnetic detection were devised to counter more sophisticated submarines. Fast attack boats, using hydrofoil(See Hydrofoil) also appeared. Amphibious landing ships have been replaced by hovercraft (See Hovercraft), which can carry marines from the sea onto land rapidly. The more complicated naval warfare of today has also resulted in the development of non-combat auxiliary support ships.
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