Briton Suspects Soviet Use : Modern Role Seen for Inexpensive Midget Subs

United Press International

A retired Royal Navy officer says midget submarines may be considered primitive in comparison to the sleek, modern nuclear ones but they could play a major role in a modern war.

"Most of us have forgotten about midget submarine operations," Cmdr. Richard Compton-Hall said. "I am saying that it may be high time we remembered."

During World War II Compton-Hall commanded a 50-foot X-Craft submarine that was powered by a London bus engine. He said the craft is still a force to be reckoned with.

"There is nothing that ever kept a midget sub from its target--ever," Compton-Hall said in an address to the recent ROV '87 conference on remote operated vehicles in San Diego.

Compton-Hall said the relatively inexpensive midget submarine could have a major role in a conventional war, adding there is evidence the Soviets are building a formidable fleet of about 200 of them.

Soviet Use Expected

"I have no doubt that the Soviets have taken to heart the lessons that we learned and have nearly forgotten," he said.

Midget subs may not be able to deliver nuclear missiles, but they can slip in and out of harbors to attack moored ships, tap underwater telephone lines and drop off commando teams, he said.

Their possible use by Third World terrorists in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea also cannot be discounted, he said.

During World War II midget subs were used by Germany, Japan, Italy and Britain in several daring operations.

A pair of X-Craft, each manned by four men, rigged bombs to the German battleship Tirpitz, docked 50 miles inside a Norwegian fjord.

"It's called cost-effective today," Compton-Hall said.

Track Marks Found

Compton-Hall said the Soviets have learned a lot about midget subs since the war while the Allies regarded them more as a curiosity and have turned their attention toward mammoth nuclear submarines.

He said track marks found a few years ago on the bottom of Swedish harbors are believed to be from a Soviet midget sub and exactly match those made by a German prototype that was captured during World War II.

The tracks, like those on a tank, would allow a midget submarine manned by Soviet forces to creep into shallow waters and deposit commandos and their equipment inside harbors, he said.

Midget subs also can be launched quietly from innocent-looking merchant vessels, he said.

Old Ones Cramped, Cold

Compton-Hall said World War II midget subs were cramped, cold and wet as well as very demanding to operate. A dash of modern technology could make them easier to handle, he said. "Just enough to save the crew from exhaustion," he added.

While modern anti-submarine warfare can find large nuclear subs in open water, finding a discreet midget submarine in a shallow, crowded harbor calls for other measures, he said.

Stringing heavy cable nets across the mouth of the harbor, as was done by both sides in World War II, is a backbreaking job that is becoming a lost art, he said.

Modern ROV's--such as those with remote-controlled cameras used to inspect offshore oil rigs and photograph the inside of the Titanic--could be used as a picket line of cameras and sonar.

The best way to guard against intruding subs, Compton-Hall said, would be a simple process that might anger environmentalists but would cover the sub's vital periscope with a blinding film that could not be removed unless the boat surfaced.

"Just tell the conservationists to get lost and pump oil all over the surface of the water," he said.

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