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Radio-controlled decoy ships in World War 2

Dilandu

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Just thought a bit. Before World War 2, remote-controlled technology for target ships was already quite advanced. A perfect example is British "Centurion", which could perform up to 99 different commands, encoded by 2-digit sequence of pulses; from 1-0 to 9-9. Operator could remotely control ships speed, heading, smoke screen dispersion or even return fire pyrotechnical imitation.

1589482417560.png

The question is - why don't apply the same remote-control technology to special purpose decoy ships, which goal would be to distract the enemy & provoke his attack?

For example, let's took Coral Sea battle, and put the remote-controlled USN decoy ship (rebuild from cargo steamer, for example), camouflaged as aircraft carrier, and send with minimal destroyer escort to a forward position - where it would be most likely detected by Japanese. The skeleton crew would run the decoy during transit, and left if before action. The goal is to provoke Japanese aerial attack in wrong direction, thus forcing them to spend the attack potential of their carriers on literally worthless (but inviting) target.

Could such trick be actually pulled?
 

Grey Havoc

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The technology was indeed there, but whether it was yet robust and long ranged enough to successfully use in a combat situation at that time is debatable, at least at that scale. There would also be concerns about the technology falling into Axis hands.
 

edwest

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The US Navy did look into the idea in the early 1930s.

 

Dilandu

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The technology was indeed there, but whether it was yet robust and long ranged enough to successfully use in a combat situation at that time is debatable, at least at that scale. There would also be concerns about the technology falling into Axis hands.
Well, the target ship radio control is robust by definition - since it is supposed to be used on the ship that would be pounded by heavy shells.

And the range is of no importance - if the decoy "carrier" is escorted by manned destroyers, one of them would just took the control role.

About tech falling into Axis hands... Frankly, this is 1890s technology; commands encoded by primitive sequence of pulses, decoded by the stepping switch that moved one position after one pulse received. It is very-very primitive technology - not sophisticated, or even modern. By 1940s, it was known by literally everyone.
 

r16

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ı have forgotten the names , but a tanker and a destroyer in the very same Coral Sea , Neosho and Sims ? And the tanker was indeed sunk after the Japanese took it to be a carrier and Midway and the torpedo planes are always on one's mind . You know , actual people seen dying .
 

Dilandu

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ı have forgotten the names , but a tanker and a destroyer in the very same Coral Sea , Neosho and Sims ? And the tanker was indeed sunk after the Japanese took it to be a carrier and Midway and the torpedo planes are always on one's mind . You know , actual people seen dying .
The whole idea of decoy is so that actual peoples would not die, by deflecting attention on robot ship.
 

r16

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not attacking the theory , simply pointing out it was "being done."
 

iverson

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I suspect that actual, immediate disadvantages--mainly the extra logistics burden associated with fuel, spares, crew, and maintenance during transit and operations--would have offset any potential advantages, at least in the minds of fleet commanders. And then you have to add the need for destroyers (always in short supply) to escort and control a ship that has no other combat role. If a decoy is necessary, a fleet commander can detach warships (battleships, cruisers, or escort carriers) that can do a better job of simulating a fleet, defend themselves, and inflict losses on the enemy. The rest of the time they pay their as normal warships.

Specialized decoys become attractive when they are cheap, have minimal impact on normal operations, and have advantages that greatly outweigh their disadvantages. So, for example, lightweight aluminum radar reflectors--Windows and Chaff--have seen widespread use while more complex spoofing methods, like radio-controlled ships, have been passed over.
 

Jemiba

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There would also be concerns about the technology falling into Axis hands.
No need to, I think. The Kriegsmarine had two of them, the Zähringen, a Wittelsbach class pre-dreadnought, converted 1926 to 1927,
and the Hessen, Braunschweig class pre-dreadnought, converted 1937. On the way to the trainig area, they were conventionally manned,
only for gunnery training, they were remotely controlled from a converted torpedo boat (small destroyer).
In a fleet, maybe a kind of MAC ship could have done the trick, doubling as tanker, as it certainly would have had to be a big ship.
But tankers weren't throw-away ships neither,I think. And for special decoys, without another function in a fleet, I would agree with iverson.

(drawings from Erich Gröner "Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe 1815-45")
 

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