-----------------During the war years many 'items' was controlled by some crudly remote-control device....since I wish this site to be related to naval subject matter....I'm going to just comment on the development of small remotely controlled vessels....and in so doing I think you'll find it most interesting on 'who, what and when."
Would you believe that an electrically controlled boat was used in experments conducted by the British torpedo ship Vernon as long ago as 1885....??? Yep....it sure was, but there just was no practical results.....mainly because there was no suitable motors available nor was there any means of the tranmission of electrical power. So understandablely not a whole lot was gained.....but still they were playing around with it.
Nobody really gave this 'remote control' a whole lot of thought....other than the British fooling around with it...and Germany had there nose into it as well. Over the decades the British more or less dropped their interest....but not the Germans, they continued their efforts....persistently and systematically, until they had come up with a product fit for what they considered "combat use."
Now the Germans had been messing around with the remote control of torpedoes, which had been going on in the Siemens plant from about 1906, onward. The Germans had always tossed around the idea of the delivery of a 'payload' with some sort of remote controled device, and this is why the torpedo was of interest to them, but the 'payload' of explosive was too large or bulky...as well as complicated for a torpedo. This is why the Germans switch their experiments and attention to a remote controlled surface craft and gave up on the remote controlled torpedo
What really was throwing a jinks into these pre-war experiments was the lack of motors, light and powerful enough to give the remotely controlled vessel sufficient speed, and reliable enough to operate for several hours in succession without supervision. Yep, they certainly had their work cut out for them. They needed a small high-boat....as well as the power plant to drive them. They considered gliders...as well as hydroplanes....but soon dumped those...since their hard and jerky motion would damage the delicate control mechanism.
The Germans did get their act together to some extent. They experimented with remote-control from land, ships, as well as airplanes, all using cables as well as radio waves. Then around 1915, just before World War I started the Germans figured they had perfected the control by land, so twelve boats were ordered for coastal defense. More was built later on....all told about 17 electrically controlled motorboats were built and used during the war.
They were of about 6 tons displacement.....42 ft. long with a beam of 6 ft. These were mighty little buggers....equipped with twin gasoline engines with a total of about 400 horsepower...which could attain a speed of 28 to 30 knots. They carried enough fuel capacity for about 6 hours at full speed, though their radius of action actually depended less on their fuel capacity than on the distance to which the boats were visible from the control station. These mighty little rockets could carry some 300 to 450 pounds of high explosives, which was to detonate upon impact with the enemy, thus destroying the boat itself. The boat did not carry any type of crew, it was being directed by means of electricity, which was being transmitted to it through an insulated single-core cable of somewhere between 30 and 50 miles in length.....that folks is one heck of alot of wire.
Well the Germans now had the idea of the boats, and the miles upon miles of cable to carry the power....how does one control this mighty rocket on water....brimming with high explosives??? The answer was....to build control stations, and that is what they set out to do at Zeebrugge, Kiel, Travemunde, and other places along the North Sea and Baltic coast. So as the boats were being built they started to erect stations on 100 ft. towers. Why so high you ask?.....well the Germans needed to see the boats to direct them ...and they figured with the high towers they could probably see those vessels at least 15 miles.
The first of the two boats was suppose to be ready by December 1915, but that didn't happen...when they did receive them....as well as others....they all had motor trouble, so the actual use of these new 'mighty remote control cigars' was not until about 1916.
All the while they (Germans) was working with this head pounding motor problem, but as they was dealing with one difficulty they did make some headway in doubling the control range of the vessel. They used a seaplane equipped with a strong radio sender to overcome interference from the enemy....and protect this seaplane by a strong fighter escort. The sea plane accompanied the explosive-filled craft and signaled to the shore operator the direction to give it by means of the controlling cable. Actually the signals were extremely simple....starboard, port, or steady.....not overly difficult.
Well the Germans kept working with this remote-control project until a destroyer was equipped to take the small boat on board for more extensive trips and to control it in co-operation with the seaplane, thus eliminating the shore station and greatly increasing the radius of operation. This all worked out fairly well, but they pushed on and eventually they eliminated the cable as well as any intermediaries.....and the boats were controlled by radio from the plane.....
So, by 1917 the Germans more or less crown there experiments with the remote controlled boats a success. This new procedure, permitted the full utilization of the 200-mile radius of action which the boats possessed, and enabled them to be used offensively instead of purely as a means of coast defense.
The Germans stated to the press that these boats were envolved in a number of sinking of Allied vessels....but none of these so called sinkings could ever be substantiated by neither the Germans or the British offical reports..... Now don't take this the wrong way.....there was a number of factors that could have been envolved in all of this....it took considerable amount of experience and practice to insure the proper team work between destroyer, seaplane, and land station. Several of the small craft were lost during experimentation, and others had to be scuttled to prevent their capture. Recurrent motor problems, as well as along the Flanders coast the use of the boats was hindered by the net barricades protecting the British ships and ports. Yes, the light remote-control craft could slide over the net barricades, the problem being the light cables that was the controling 'arm' of the craft were easly damaged by the net....and making the boats useless.
This example was the cause of one failed attempt. On September 11, 1916, the FL8 [ the "F" stands for "Fernlent" or remote control] proceeded from Ostende to attack a group of monitors. Conditions were unusually favorable to the attacker. Nevertheless, some 3,000 yards from its goal the boat stopped. To save it from falling into British hands, the control plane alighted alongside the boat, the observer transferred to it and steered it back to is station.
All in all the British was not overly concerned about this 'new weapon' of the Germans. Yes the remote-controlled boat was low in the water...somewhat hard to detect....but the 'feather' caused by traveling at high speed gave ample warning of their approach for protective measures.
Also the British had been forewarned of this somewhat "new weapon." On March 1, 1917, the FL-7 struck the mole of Nieuport and, according to German accounts, blasted a hole of some 150 ft. in it. Because a troublesome British observation post was thus eliminated, the Germans claim this as a success for their FL boats, although not many of the British Naval command believe that to be true.
In 1917.....the remote-controlled vessel more or less had it's best year. Many attacks were made on monitors and destroyers.....Oh no they didn't do a whole heap of damage....but they did keep the British vessels farther away from the German-held coast.....which was an achievement in itself. However there was one incident that an FL-12 did in fact do some damage. On October 28th of 1917 the Erebus and other units was operating some 25 miles off Ostend when she was attack by the remote-controlled vessel. The FL-12 was being directed by a plane overhead, and was manuvered right into the group of escorting destroyers, all the while enduring a heavy artillery barrage laid down by the British vessels....did in fact strike the slow monitor fair amidships. Actually the explosion caused so little damage the vessel didn't even spring a leak....in fact in two weeks time it was repaired and back in the swing of battle.
I don't have to tell you here that the Germans was extremely disappointed....a huge failure...and the German Navy demanded the cable-controlled boats be replaced by radio craft, but when this did take place, there were new difficulties, and before these were overcome the war had ended....so this whole remote-control boat issue more or less died.
But here we are in the year 2010....and just think, what we are playing with in todays military electronic world is not so far removed from what the Germans was thinking about back in the very early 1900's. If you stop and give this all some serious thought, and do a "what if"...on this subject...the Germans just might have pulled off one heck of military weapon. Just think, with a tad of luck, a better motor, and they could have developed complete radio control....."oh my...who knows just where all this would have gone.
Hope you enjoyed this 'tad' of history...... Sometimes it is the 'little things' that make you set back and say, "I didn't know that...wow!!!...now that is super interesting"
Author: Bud Shortridge