Anti-Submarine Division (Royal Navy)

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The British Naval Staff's Anti-Submarine Division (short title A.S.D.) was created by an order dated 16 December, 1916 and commenced duty two days later. It was a development and enlargement of the work of the preceding Anti-Submarine Committee to coordinate existing and devise new weapons and methods for blunting German submarine attacks, and it immediately took up the personnel and resources that had embodied the committee.

According to Dr. Nicholas Black, seventy-seven Royal Navy officers served in the division during the war.[1]

Scope of Work

At the time of the division's creation, the majority of weapons that would constitute the Royal Navy's toolbox to combat German submarine warfare had been put in place, but the best of these weapons were only slowly displacing earlier hardware and tactics that were often abysmally ineffective. The bulk of the anti-submarine effort was embodied in the work of the Auxiliary Patrol and the operations of "Special Service" (or "Q") ships, employing depth charges, bomb-throwers, non-directional hydrophones, Indicator or E.C. Mine Nets, High Speed Submarine Sweep and Modified Sweep, the single-towed charge, and smoke-making apparatus of various forms. Alongside these glutted technological evolutions, efforts to widely arm merchant ships continued.

The Division's early work included:

  • the new strategy of grouping destroyers into Hunting Patrols
  • building "P" and "PC" class patrol boats
  • establishment of coastal air patrols
  • deployment of friendly submarines on anti-submarine patrols
  • deploying more decoy ships
  • increasing supply of depth-charges and high-speed sweeps
  • increasing supply of later-model hydrophones

The Division was also responsible for evaluating suggestions, from any source, of new methods and devices that might warrant further development or deployment afloat. Those ideas that were purely scientific were, however, sent to the Board of Invention and Research.

Offensive Measures

A scheme to have "Q" ships tow submerged submarines to ambush unwary attackers was tried in 1917 to some small success, but the difficulties of managing this trick for the extended periods needed to await an attack proved exhausting and it was abandoned. Extensive laying of deep mine anti-submarine fields along avenues of U-boat travel were suggested by British submarine commanders as being particularly grueling for the dread they instilled in submariners. E.C. Mine Nets and even towed nets were tried, and a scheme to arm lifeboats for "Q" ships with hidden 14-in torpedo tubes was abandoned only after ten had been constructed in light of the realisation that the natural enemy response to the first failed use of one would be the indiscriminate slaughter of crews abandoning ships in the face of submarine attack.

Defensive Measures

Merchant ships were equipped with guns taken from "K" class destroyers being fitted for minelaying, and from foreign sources; the civilian crews were spiced with reserve naval crews to boost their proficiency. Bomb Howitzers were provided to Special Service and Merchant ships. Supplies of smoke apparatus for use on board ships and in buoys to be tossed overboard were increased. Finally, the anti-torpedo Actæon Net was developed to protect merchantmen while underway.

Passive defences emerged in the form of traffic control and re-routing of shipping away from known areas of U-boat activity. Measures were taken to increase the effectiveness of darkening ships. The final innovation was certainly the establishment of a comprehensive system of convoy.



Dates of appointment given:

Assistant Directors

Dates of appointment given:

See Also


  1. Black. The British Naval Staff. p. 21.
  2. Duff Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 80.
  3. Duff Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 80.
  4. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 122.
  5. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/44. f. 45.
  6. Arnold-Forster Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/44/166. f. 186.
  7. "The Anti-Submarine Division" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 29 January, 1919. Issue 42010, col E, p. 5.
  8. Arnold-Forster Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/44/166. f. 186.
  9. The National Archives. ADM 196/44. Register 11. f. 156.
  10. Dreyer Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/44. f. 156.
  11. Walwyn Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45/24. f. 24.
  12. Walwyn Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45/24. f. 24.