In their day, these belligerent battle boats ruled the waves. The Captain rates his top 10 warships.
At 251m in length with a top speed over 30 knots the Bismarck was the largest and fastest battleship of its day, posing a massive threat to Britain’s supply lifeline during WWII. In the spring of 1941, after an epic battle with the Brits in the Baltic Sea, she had her steering damaged by an aerial torpedo strike, then was cornered by battleships Rodney and King George V, whose combined cannons sent the leviathan to the bottom with the loss of 2000 crew.
2. M24 MIDGET SUBMARINE
As night fell on May 31, 1942, three Japanese submarines, each with a two-man crew, slipped unnoticed past the anti-sub boom net into a Sydney Harbour filled with Allied shipping. Although not terribly successful, the raid prompted civilian panic in the city. Two of the intruders were detected before doing any damage, but M24 launched its torpedoes. Targeting heavy cruiser USS Chicago, M24 instead sunk a ferry, HMAS Kuttabul, killing or injuring 31, before escaping to rendezvous with its carrier submarine off Broken Bay. Fast-forward to late 2006, when weekend divers found her intact hull tangled up in nets 55m deep on the sea floor, off Bungan Head.
Britannia ruled the waves in the 18th and early 19th centuries, thanks in large part to one of the largest wooden warships ever built. HMS Victory achieved legend status as Lord Nelson’s flagship during the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, smashing the combined French/Spanish fleet and saving England from invasion. The oldest commissioned warship in the world, weighing in at 3500 tons, is now a museum attracting 350,000 visitors a year.
The most lethal German submarine of WWII, U-99 sunk 38 Allied ships, damaged five others and captured one as a prize. Her captain, nicknamed “Silent Otto” for his expertise in using his U-boat’s silentrunning capability, pioneered a new type of attack, striking convoys at night. He was also a compassionate kapitän, known for assisting his sunken victims. U-99 eventually got nailed and Otto scuttled his sub and spent the rest of the war as a POW.
The most decorated warship in US naval history got the nickname Lucky E for being out at sea when the Japanese caught Pearl Harbor napping in December 1941. The Japanese claimed to have sunk the 32,060 tonne, 252.2m goliath three times, hence her other nickname, Grey Ghost. She was decommissioned in 1947 and her name passed to the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, launched in 1960.
Powered by oars and a single squarerigged woollen sail, the langskip gave Vikings a distinct technological advantage in the murky mayhem of Middle Ages rape and pillage. Once at a pillaging destination, their shallow drafts meant they could sneak upriver to freak out the locals. These boats allowed Vikings to explore/raid/settle as far afield as Iceland, Britain, the Mediterranean and America.
7. MV KRAIT
Named after a deadly snake, the Krait was a clandestine Aussie assailant disguised as a Japanese fishing boat, Krait sailed into Singapore Harbour unloaded six commandos in canoes who paddled to lock and load lethal limpet mines, blowing up seven Japanese ships; 37,000 tonnes in all. Krait then snuck home undiscovered, no casualties. She arrived at Exmouth, WA, on 19 October, having covered 4000 miles on the 48-day mission.
Debuting in the Korea v Japan Seven Years’ War, the “turtle ship” was the world’s first ironclad battle boat. It was the brainchild of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, who figured a boat covered in iron plates, bristling with spikes and cannon, would be a tough boarding proposition. Plus the dragon head at the prow was a flamethrower and could also pump out a sulfurous smokescreen if retreat was called for.
The Balao-class fleet submarine was America’s most famous WWII sub. In a short but spectacular career (five patrols 1943-44) she sunk 33 enemy merchant ships and rescued 22 naval aviators. On her final mission, Tang had successfully ambushed two convoys before launching her final torpedo at a crippled tanker. The torpedo malfunctioned, broached and struck the unlucky sub aft. The nine survivors, including Commander Richard O’Kane, spent the rest of the war as POWs.
10.MAORI WAR CANOE
With the primary job of conveying angry raiding parties via coastal and inland waterways, waka taua (war canoes) were monohull beasts up to 40m long and 10m wide, making them very stable battle platforms. Legend tells of war canoes ramming each other in ancient sea battles, but in more recent times they were essentially armoured personnel carriers. Built from a single hollowedout kauri or totara tree, they were decorated with intricate carvings and considered tapu (sacred).