Follow TV Tropes


Hot Sub-on-Sub Action

Go To

In the long history (at least back to 1775) and considerable number (more than 2000) of submarines used in many times do you think a submerged submarine has sunk another submerged submarine? 500? 200? 100? 50? 10?

Actually, to the best of our knowledge it has happened just once, during Operation Caesar, when HMS Venturer sank U-864 while U-864 was transporting important war materiel, vehicle blueprints and technical experts to Japan.

But if you were to believe Hollywood, it's a regular occurrence. No matter what war or what type of subs are involved... they will be fighting underwater.

During World War I and World War II, submarines were almost entirely episodically submersible torpedo boats, obliged to run on the surface using their air-breathing engines (mostly diesel-electric propulsion systems) for higher speed, greater endurance, and to charge the batteries that allowed them to maintain steerage and very slow speeds underwater. While surfaced, submarines were just as vulnerable to torpedo attacks made by submerged enemy submarines as any other vessel, but because of their lower profiles (small conning towers, decks almost awash) were difficult to detect visually, and thus were rarely attacked by enemy submarines—though this did happen occasionally, with US, British, Japanese, and German submarines notching confirmed kills on surfaced enemy subs.

That said, it does reflect actual military doctrine despite the sparsity of major naval conflict since World War II. This is because due to the nature of water acoustics and sonar a submarine has the best chance of successfully detecting another submarine as other real time methods are comparatively deaf. Whilst the crew of the Venturer only had paper, pencils and decent maths skills to plot a firing solution, modern subs have computers and advanced homing torpedoes - had the Cold War turned hot after the 1960s (not before then), there certainly would have been underwater submarine battles—and in fairness, that is when a large number of such sub battles are set (thank you, Tom Clancy!). NATO and Warsaw Pact submarines followed each other about all the time. Current American naval doctrine is to have each carrier battle group (structured around a Nimitz- or Gerald Ford class supercarrier) accompanied by two nuclear attack submarines (SSN) which include enemy sub-killing in their tasking - these are generally known as "Hunter-Killer" submarines. In fact, it's often said that the best defense against submarines in modern warfare is your own submarines, as they can dive beneath thermocline layers that hostile subs would use to hide from surface shipsnote 

The depiction in movies of sub commanders issuing commands using a codified phraseology ("Two degree up angle, twenty degree rise on the bow planes", "Dive, dive, dive!", "Take her down") is Truth in Television. To avoid misunderstandings, sub commanders use established language, chosen for its clarity over radio microphones and headsets.

If you were looking for the other kind of "sub", we don't do that here — the much cleaner Twice Shy is about as close as you'd get. And by that other sub, we didn't mean submarine sandwiches.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Cyborg 009 features a scene where the team's mobile base is being pursued separately by both an American and Soviet sub. The heroes make their getaway when the two subs notice each other and begin fighting.
  • Blue Submarine No. 6, although it's less sub-on-sub and more sub-on-monster-whales.
  • Full Metal Panic!: The last episodes of season 1 feature the huge submarine from which the hero operates trying to and succeeding in evading an American Los Angeles class submarine captained by an officer obsessed with Mithril's mythical submarine unofficially called "Toy Box". While the Tuatha de Danaan doesn't fire a single torpedo, the Americans on the other hand do, she (and it's a definite she at that point as the "female" AI commanding it was linked to the shows resident tsundere Kaname Chidori) does get to pull some very impressive maneuvers verging on the impossible for such a huge sub, and forces the American sub to the surface.
  • In Arpeggio of Blue Steel the main characters are the crew of the submarine I-401, so there are several battles between submarines:
    • I-401 manages to destroy an underwater submarine while under fire by the cruiser Takao, though to be fair I-401 used a Wave-Motion Gun to achieve it.
    • I-401 also uses an even bigger Wave-Motion Gun to vaporize the tender submarine Milchkuh from over 10km away.
    • In the anime, I-401 comes under torpedo attack from her sister submarines I-400 and I-402 as one of the more significant battles.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Hunt for Red October is the Trope Codifier. It features a Soviet submarine captain trying to defect to the United States; he goes up against fellow Soviet sub crews who are aware of his intentions, and American sub crews who are not.
  • Crimson Tide features a skirmish between the USS Alabama and a Russian Akula-class hunter-killer. The Akula is destroyed, but gets off a torpedo that damages the Alabama.
  • U-571 does this, with the Americans in the captured German U-Boat destroying another submerged German U-Boat with torpedoes.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra features what amounts to a dogfight UNDERWATER! It also features what amounts to the trench run in Star Wars Episode 4 UNDERWATER!.
  • Down Periscope involves a wargame that tests if a rogue World War II-era diesel submarine, run by a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, is capable of outmaneuvering the US Navy and cause significant damage to major ports. The diesel's main opponent? A Los Angeles class nuclear attack sub. The exercise included two simulated attacks on naval ports where the diesel sub is assumed to do significant damage. The first attack has a scene where the old boat surfaces and launches flares (stand-ins for actual weapons) in sight of two admirals eating dinner. The second one was where Admiral Winslow (Rip Torn) authorised the use of live torpedoes by Lt Commander Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer) against a target hulk, in place of the flares.
    • During the final chase scene, both subs surface to increase their speed. However, in Real Life, this would have only increased the Stingray's speed and would have slowed down the Orlando. World War II-era subs were designed to be faster on the surface. However, the cucumber shape of modern nuclear subs is best utilized underwater.
    • Also, throughout the film, it's less that Stingray and Orlando fight and more that Stingray does everything they can think of to avoid a fight with the nuclear sub, to include using other ships to mask the sound of their sub or stringing up lights and running on the surface while singing badly so they might be mistaken for a group of drunken fishermen. Once Orlando has a solid fix on Stingray, the only question is whether the diesel sub can attack her objective before Orlando can get a firing solution on her. In a standup fight, it's implied there's little the WWII-era sub could hope to do against the Cold War attack sub
  • The Abyss deserves a mention here. The minisubs involved aren't fighting with weapons — they're fighting over a weapon. .
  • Another particularly brutal minisub duel occurs in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. The bad guy's sub was actually piloted by the man who designed it, Graham Hawkes, who, amusingly, tried so hard to make the fight scene realistic (having been ordered to by the director, despite his earlier protests it was unsafe) that he almost killed Roger Moore's stunt double.
  • In Hostile Waters, the accident that forms the core of the plot occurs as a result of USS Aurora shadowing the K-219, leading to a collision between the two subs. When the K-219 begins to behave abnormally as a result of the damage done, the captain of the Aurora prepares to sink her, fearing that she may be preparing to launch her missiles.
  • Run Silent, Run Deep depends on, and arguably laid the groundwork for this trope since it turns out the Japanese vessel taking out American subs in the Bungo Straits is not a surface vessel, but another submarine.
    • It is torpedoed when it is lured to the surface rather than under the surface. The original writer was a submariner himself and knew perfectly well that it was pretty much impossible for one submerged submarine to torpedo another in World War II.
  • In Enemy Hands features several undersea battles with American and German submarines in the closing days of World War II.
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea features on the climax, as part of the rapid-fire barrage of calamities that the Seaview and its crew have to deal with to fire off the nuclear missile that will save the Earth, a pair of nuclear submarines showing up with orders to sink them because the UN believes the missile will destroy the world instead.

  • Tom Clancy wrote multiple bookings that focused on submarine operations. SSN is about a US submarine fighting a war against China, while The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising also include significant combat events between subs.
    • One of the primary plots of Red Storm Rising is the second Battle of the Atlantic during a non-nuclear World War III, with a significant focus on the efforts of the USS Chicago (SSN-721) and other NATO submarines against the Soviet surface and submarine fleets.
  • Skipjack gives this an interesting twist, in that the ocean the submarines fight in is on a terraformed Mars.
  • There's a sub v. sub fight in, of all places, Zombie Apocalypse novel World War Z. And no, neither sub was piloted by Zombies. The subs involved were both nuclear submarines crewed by loyalist and renegade members of the Chinese Navy as China was being torn apart by both the zombie epidemic and a civil war. The renegade sub won, and then proceeded to nuke the Politburo to end the civil war.
  • The Dragon In The Sea (AKA Under Pressure) by Frank Herbert depicts tense underwater combat 20 Minutes into the Future between nuclear submarines. Despite being published in 1956 it has survived the ravages of Science Marches On and Zeerust remarkable well.
  • Fyodor Berezon's novel Incoming Cataclysm features an all-out battle between two modern carrier battle groups. A rip in space/time results in an entire carrier battle group crossing over from a parallel world. The ships belong to an alternate Soviet Union, which dominates much of the alternate world thanks to Operation Barbarossa being delayed by a month. Our world's US Navy decides to engage the "invaders" (who have no idea they crossed over and think they're fighting their Americans). The battle results in the loss of two supercarriers (one American and one Soviet). Since the rip was (in part) powered by the presence of active nuclear reactors, the remaining Soviet ships disappeared. However, a super-advanced Soviet nuclear submarine remained and proceeded out of the area. One of this trope's actions results when a Russian submarine decides to investigate the area and gets sunk by an American sub, which was looking for the Soviet one. When an American sub later detects the Soviet one (whose sonar is weaker), it launches torpedoes at it. The Soviets dive to a depth that is crushing for our world's submersibles but not to its enhanced hull, resulting in the torpedoes being crushed. It retaliates by launching nuclear-tipped torpedoes at the foe. The American sub manages to evade them, but the resulting pressure wave damages the boat, causing it to sink past crush depth. Both engagements are very quick.
  • The Silent Deep: The Royal Navy Submarine Service Since 1945 by James Jinks and Peter Hennessy notes that it is surprisingly easy for subs to crash into each other, despite having a whole ocean to play around in. Sub A learns that Sub B is nearby, and tracks it using passive sonar. Passive sonar gives good directional information, but range is little more than educated guesswork based on how much noise one expects the target to be making. If Sub B is quieter than Sub A thinks, then it is possible for Sub A to run right into it. Active sonar gives accurate range, but the ping is a dead giveaway.

    Live Action TV 
  • SeaQuest DSV, in its third season had actual ''sub fighters'' - the Specter-class for the UEO forces, and a host of other types for various bad guys forces.
    • The Chao Dai (Vietnamese) actually have the best sub-fighter pilots, since they have brain implants that jack into the sub-fighters and control the craft by thought. During the one episode they're shown, they manage to destroy one of the SeaQuest sub-fighters, piloted by a semi-regular character. She is promptly replaced by a rogue Chao Dai female pilot. Yes, they kill off one Twofer Token Minority (a black woman) to immediately replace her with another. This was the last episode before the series was cancelled, though.
    • There was also an episode where the seaQuest ended up in the past during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They found out that an American submarine was positioned in the wrong place and would attack a Soviet ship because they would assume it would cross the Naval Blockade. They fire torpedoes at the seaQuest, who use futuristic interceptor torpedoes to destroy them. Confused, the Americans deploy a distress beacon, which would also trigger a war. Luckily, Darwin manages to disable the beacon.
    • In fact, it even happens in the pilot episode, when Bridger commands SeaQuest in an underwater duel with a submarine captained by his rogue former protege.
  • Seen on Last Resort as the US Navy thinks the USS Colorado has gone rogue and is expending every effort to recapture or sink her, and the best way to do that is with attack subs. As it noted above, this is indeed the best way to destroy the Colorado. The crew even comment that the odds are against them, as their sub is not designed to engage other submarines. Instead they simply outmaneuver the opposing subs, get to a depth where they can launch their nuclear missiles, and open their silo doors. The other subs take the hint and back off.
  • In the Thunderbirds episode "Desperate Intruder", Thunderbird 4 engages The Hood's submarine in combat and sinks it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blue Planet, taking place on a water world undergoing an underwater resource rush, has quite a bit of this from groups attacking (or defending) underwater bases.
  • The tabletop game Captain Sonar has two teams each controlling a sub and attempting to locate and sink the opposing team.

    Video Games 
  • In the American campaign of Battlestations: Pacific, this is an Averted Trope due to the fact that no Japanese submarines appear in the levels where American submarines are present. Played straight in the Japanese campaign though.
  • Anno Domini includes lots and lots of naval battles. But Anno 2070 specifically also includes submarines, courtesy of the Tech faction. Very few submarines are useful for attacking other subs while underwater, and most of your sub kills will probably come from surface ships but it IS possible to encounter this trope in-game.
  • In the Hunt is practically made of this about half the time. You play a sub, and you shoot down enemy subs... and planes, robots, a dragon-snail, and a Living Statue.
  • Final Fantasy VII has a minigame where you pilot a submarine to seek and destroy another submarine.
  • Red Faction: Both the original game and Red Faction II had a submarine-on-submarine section with ridiculously clear water.
  • The classic sub simulator 688AttackSub features several Cold War-era missions that involve sub-on-sub combat.
  • Submarine Titans, a real-time strategy game taking place underwater with subs. Combat occurs at close range, but stray torpedoes can hit targets at a distance.
  • Sid Meier also did a game version of Red Storm Rising, which, like the novel mentioned above, has plenty of this.
    • Completely averted in the sequel, though. Japanese subs didn't even have any sprites.
    • Also averted in the NES version - there were no other subs. The %@&! kaiboken, on the other hand...
  • Dangerous Waters.
  • Subs are reasonably effective against other subs in Rise of Nations, though ultimately less effective than cruisers at the job.
  • The Aquanox series is basically a space combat sim underwater, involves a lot of dogfights, mostly using futuristic weapons, complemented with occasional torpedo launches. Unlike actual submarines, most subs featured in the series were all single-pilot with a cockpit. In a bit of realism, there was a way to instantly kill another sub by shooting out the thin cockpit glass with a sniper-like weapon, causing the other sub to implode. Strangely though, hitting the same glass with a much more powerful weapon would not necessarily have the same effect.
  • The PS1 game Critical Depth was basically Twisted Metal UNDERWATER. Subs ranged from a wooden pirate sub with cannons to a converted private jet. It was not very realistic.
  • XCOM Terror From The Deep had this when intercepting alien craft. Then again, all of the alien races from this installment of the X-Com series were amphibious, traveled around in weird-looking submarines, and came from a colony ship that crashed some 65 million years ago.
    • Also, for the sake of completeness, the submarines in the game are flying submarines. That's right: sufficient velocity to break the surface of the water means you can activate turbo jets and fly! Weapons only work underwater though (which generally makes sense: torpedoes don't have the right engines, the powerful sonic cannon apparently has vastly decreased range when you're traveling faster than the speed of sound, and the omni-powerful Pulse Wave Torpedo actually requires water to work properly).
  • Supreme Commander features submarines as an entry-level naval unit, but due to the lack of decent anti-submarine weapons, they tend to be used in massed fleets late game. The only real counter to these fleets are more submarines as destroyers(the anti-submarine boat) are simply too expensive to produce in large numbers and torpedo bombers (the anti-submarine aircraft) are vulnerable to anti-aircraft surface fire.
    • The Forged Alliance expansion pack adds submarine hunters for each of the factions as a counter to this. The submarine hunters tend to be effective against submerged targets but are vulnerable to surface warships.
  • Warship Gunner 2 allows you to engage enemy subs underwater if you're controlling a submarine. Note that you are completely Point Defenseless while submerged and submarines usually attack with torpedoes. If you'd researched the best sonar and long-range torpedoes (giving yourself superior detection and attack range to enemy subs), you'd be fine as long as you didn't advance too quickly. If you didn't do that, expect to see the game over screen frequently.
  • Pretty much averted in Warcraft II. Submarines and sea turtles must surface to fire and can only be fired upon if a flying unit (griffon, dragon, helicopter, or zeppelin), tower or another sub or sea turtle can see them.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert: The Soviets' only combat naval unit is a submarine, which stays invisible until attacked but can't hit land targets (fortunately, destroying all buildings forces them to emerge, making finishing them off much easier). The expansions gave them the Missile Sub, which can hit surface targets but has a shorter range than the Cruiser.
  • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge, the Soviets and Yuri's forces have submarines, except a fight between them involves floating in place while shooting one torpedo after another until either is destroyed. The Allies only have surface ships and trained dolphins.
  • Red Alert 3 gives Akula submarines to the Soviets and smaller Yari mini-subs (which can perform kamikaze attacks) to the Empire. Neither is very happy at their job. The Imperial Sea-Wing is also underwater but doesn't count because it is anti-air only in that state (it can take off and fly, but can only engage surface targets). The Allies are again left with dolphins, which can't submerge or attack submerged targets, although their Riptide AC Vs and Assault Destroyers can fire on submerged units.
    • Both subs are visible to other units but not radar, meaning you can hear "Enemy unit spotted" but have to take a wild guess as to where).
    • The Akula is the only sub that can (technically) attack without surfacing: its Ultratorpedoes ability fires a pair of supercavitating torpodes straight ahead that don't stop until they hit something, be it friend or foe. However, this attack takes a while to recharge, and hitting a specific target requires the sub to be pointed in the right direction. Which, given the series' wonky pathfinding, is easier said than done.
  • The old Origin game Subwars 2050 was an action/simulator of submarine combat where submarines are purposely built with aerodynamic, jetfighter-like hulls for better maneuverability. Oddly in-game this doesn't play out so much as the game isn't so much a big dogfight as it's about deciding when to switch from passive to active sonar and launching guided torpedoes at the enemy from a range that's too close for them to evade from.
  • Steel Diver is a submarine action/simulation hybrid that bends a few rules of reality, and has some submarines as enemies.
  • In Advance Wars, sub-sub fights are quite common because submerged subs can only be attacked by cruisers and other subs. Given that cruisers are not constantly invisible and very vulnerable to battleships and bombers, they tend to be prime targets of opportunity and generally die quicker than subs. A sub attacking another sub will do between 55-65% damage; most sub battles end up with 8 HP on the attacker and 4 on the defender.
    • The fan Sprite Comic Bob Squad. At one point, a sub tries to attack a lander carrying the main characters. On their turn, the lander — which can neither dive or attack — proceeds to do BOTH. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Because subs in most versions of Civilization are invisible except to each other and certain air units, they tend to be most useful for keeping one another at bay.
  • From the Depths: One of the best ways to deal with enemy subs is to send your own sub after them.
  • Sunless Sea: The "Zubmariner" DLC, naturally, comes with many enemy submersibles to match your own against.
  • As it's set during the Cold War and is the spiritual successor to Red Storm Rising, Cold Waters features lots of submarine combat, in addition to plenty of anti-surface attacks.
  • Empire Earth:
    • Subs replace galleys in the modern age: strong against battleships (who can't even target them), but weak to frigates (and because of the way the game categorizes units, it's entirely possible for a top-of-the-line modern nuclear-powered submarine to be destroyed by a raft with two cavemen chucking big rocks at it). The modern age gives ballistic submarines, who fire missiles with the longest range of any unit but are defenseless against anything that can reach it.
    • The Hyperion mech is capable of moving and attacking underwater. This can lead to odd situations like a battleship firing at an underwater Hyperion when it can't target subs, or a sub firing uselessly at a Hyperion standing close enough to the water to register as a target but not enough to take damage.
    • In the second game, submarines can be fired on by battleships, removing their greatest defensive strength.
  • Pac-Man World 2: In the 21st level, "Whale on a Sub", Pac-Man rides a his Yellow Pac-marine while fighting the ghosts that are riding their giant whale-shaped sub named Megawhale.

  • Archipelago has a few submarine battles, although most are implied, with only one actually seen in the story so far. It was, however, epic, and involved grappling onto and then boarding the other sub. Without surfacing.
    • Justified, as this section of the world consists entirely of scattered islands, and submarine is the routine method of travel. Warfare between submarines would be more common.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Of the 52 submarines lost by the U.S. Navy in World War II, at least one - USS Corvina (SS-226) - was confirmed torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine while running on the surface, while the Japanese lost five submarines to American submarine attacks. Three of the Japanese losses were credited to USS Batfish during a single three-day period in February 1945.
  • A second, unconfirmed example involved the captured German U-Boat later re-launched as HMS Morse which was used by the Royal Navy to patrol the sea lanes leading back to the German home bases in western France, the intention being for returning German U-Boats, relaxing security on the last stage home, to see nothing more than a friendly submarine - which would then run up the White Ensign and fire a spread of torpedoes at them. The Morse sank several U-Boats in surface attacks and may have sunk one that was submerged.
  • Almost an example: In the closing months of the First World War, a US Navy submarine spotted a submerged U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland and was about to attack it when the U-boat exploded all on its own; it is surmised that the U-boat attempted to attack the US boat only for the torpedo to malfunction and detonate in the tube.


Video Example(s):


Akula Sub

Hidden killers that surface only to fire. Nothing can withstand their torpedoes for long.

How well does it match the trope?

2 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / HotSubOnSubAction

Media sources: