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A cruiser submarine is a very large submarine designed to remain at sea for extended periods in areas distant from base facilities. Cruiser submarines were successful for a brief period of World War I; but were less successful than smaller submarines during World War II. Large submarines remained vulnerable to damage from Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, were slow to dive if found by aircraft, offered a large sonar echo surface, and were less able to defensively maneuver during depth charge attacks.[1]

Surcouf FRA

Surcouf had the largest guns of any cruiser submarine.


The cruiser submarine concept originated during the unrestricted submarine warfare campaign of 1917. Three German Type U 139 submarines and seven former merchant submarines, each armed with two 15-centimetre (5.9 in) guns, patrolled areas distant from their North Sea bases to sink Allied merchant shipping as part of an effort to end World War I by starving the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. These distant patrols enjoyed unique immunity to the defensive convoy measures which limited successful submarine attacks in the vicinity of the British Isles.[2]

The first world war combat experience of these submarines encouraged all major navies to build submarine cruiser prototypes between the world wars, but their cost discouraged most from further production. Japan developed the widest variety, including the A, B and J types. Germany decided against building projected 3,140-ton type XI U-boats with an aircraft hangar and four 5-inch (13 cm) guns.[3] Long-range submarines with less impressive deck guns, including Type IXD2 U-boats and United States Navy fleet submarines, were sometimes identified as cruiser submarines.[1]


Name Nation Surface Displacement Submerged Displacement Speed Guns Torpedo Tubes Crew Reference
Surcouf Flag of France.svg France 3,250 tons 4,304 tons 18 kt 2 × 203mm/50 Modèle 1924 guns 12 118 [4]
Narwhal-class Flag of the United States.svg USA 2,730 tons 4,050 tons 17 kt 2 × 6"/53 caliber guns 6 90 [5]
Type U-139 War Ensign of Germany (1903–1919).svg Germany 1,930 tons 2,483 tons 15 kt 2 × 15-centimetre (5.9 in) guns 6 62 [6]
Type U-151 War Ensign of Germany (1903–1919).svg Germany 1,512 tons 1,875 tons 12 kt 2 × 15-centimetre (5.9 in) guns 6 56 [6]
Type J1 Naval Ensign of Japan.svg Japan 2,135 tons 2,791 tons 18 kt 2 × 14 cm/40 11th Year Type naval gun 6 80 [7]
Type B1 Naval Ensign of Japan.svg Japan 2,584 tons 3,654 tons 23 kt 1 × 14 cm/40 11th Year Type naval gun 6 100 [8]
Type AM Naval Ensign of Japan.svg Japan 3,603 tons 4,762 tons 16 kt 1 × 14 cm/40 11th Year Type naval gun 6 100 [9]
HMS X1 Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy 2,780 tons 3,600 tons 19 kt 4 × 5.2-inch (13 cm) guns 6 110 [10]
Kaidai class Naval Ensign of Japan.svg Japan 1,833 tons 2,602 tons 23 kt 1 × 12-centimetre (4.7 in) gun 6 80 [11]
Type IXD2 Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Nazi Germany 1,616 tons 1,804 tons 19 kt 1 × 10.5 cm SK C/32 naval gun 6 57 [12]
Cagni class Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Kingdom of Italy 1,461 tons 2,136 tons 18 kt 2 × 10-centimetre (3.9 in) guns 14 85 [13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Blair, p.501
  2. Tarrant, pp.44-60
  3. Lenton, pp.198&199
  4. le Masson, p.157
  5. Silverstone, p.186
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gray, p.227
  7. Watts, p.167
  8. Watts, p.185
  9. Watts, p.200
  10. Lenton & Colledge, p.136
  11. Watts, p.188
  12. Taylor, p.104
  13. Kafka & Pepperburg, p.790


  • Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War. The Hunters 1939-1942. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-58839-8. 
  • Gray, Edwyn A. (1972). The Killing Time. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  • Kafka, Roger; Pepperburg, Roy L. (1946). Warships of the World. New York: Cornell Maritime Press. 
  • le Masson, Henri (1969). Navies of the Second World War. The French Navy 1. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 
  • Lenton, H.T. (1976). German Warships of the Second World War. New York: Arco Publishing Company. ISBN 0-668-04037-8. 
  • Lenton, H.T.; Colledge, J.J. (1964). British and Dominion Warships of World War II. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 
  • Potter, E.B.; Nimitz, Chester W. (1960). Sea Power. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 
  • Silverstone, Paul H. (1968). U.S. Warships of World War II. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 
  • Tarrant, V.E. (1989). The U-Boat Offensive 1914-1945. London: Cassell & Company. ISBN 1-85409-520-X. 
  • Taylor, J.C. (1966). German Warships of World War II. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 
  • Watts, Anthony J. (1966). Japanese Warships of World War II. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 

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