The 5 craziest ideas the British had for battling German subs

Whenever a new weapon sees widespread deployment, all the rules get rewritten. The draft version of the new rules can be a bit strange though. Here are five crazy ways Britain thought it might get a handle on Germany’s U-Boats in World War I.

1. Training seagulls to sh-t on the periscopes


Photo: Wikipedia/Sanchezn

There is no explanation of how the seagulls would be trained to do this. Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield, head of all “motor-boat patrols” (discussed below), believed seagulls would defecate on submarine periscopes if properly trained. The blinded submarines would then be forced to surface or attempt to escape the harbor.

2. Hammers and bags


Photo: Wikipedia

The British tried to stop the submarine menace with a “motor-boat patrol.” There were hundreds of these boats, each with at least two crew members. The boats would patrol designated areas near the coast looking for periscopes. But only 1 in 10 was armed.

So, if the crew spotted a periscope, they were supposed to sneak as close to it as they could in the boat and then swim the rest of the way. One man would take a canvas bag and pop it over the periscope while the other would swing a hammer as hard as he could to break the periscope.

3. Meeting submarines under the surface with top notch swimmers and sharp hammers

There’s no record of the British ever attempting this method, but someone proposed the Royal Navy select some especially strong swimmers. When a submarine was spotted these swimmers could swim to the hull and attempt to hit it with a pointed hammer, piercing its hull and sending it down.

4. Training birds and sea lions to watch for periscopes


Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tony Hisgett

In an effort to more quickly identify submarines working near British and Allied shipping, the British Navy attempted to train seagulls and sea lions to chase periscopes. The training was done by creating dummy periscopes that dispensed food.

Seagulls were trained in the open ocean while sea lions from British music-halls and circuses were trained in tanks.

5. Covering the ocean in paint

This was supposed to work in two ways. First, any submarine that raised its periscope while the ocean was covered in paint would be blinded as the paint covered the periscope glass. Second, the paint was generally green which may confuse the submarine captain as to what depth he was cruising at, possibly causing him to move higher in the water which would expose his hull.

Artillery on the shore or motor boat patrols could then target the blind, exposed U-boat. While this tactic was proposed to the Royal Navy, it’s not clear that they ever attempted it. This could be because they didn’t have enough green paint to cover the surface Great Britain’s 19,491 miles of coastline.

 (h/t David A. H. Wilson, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, United Kingdom)

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