From World War to Star Wars: Spaceships, Submarines, and Seismic Charges

While many of the ships from Star Wars were inspired by planes from World War II, the space combat seen in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Two episode “Cat and Mouse” took space combat to new depths — literally. This Clone Wars story introduces Star Wars fans to a Republic stealth ship that draws on many parallels to submarine warfare of the past.

Submarines and stealth ships in Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The story finds Jedi Anakin Skywalker alongside Admiral Yularen attempting to break an impenetrable Separatist blockade around the planet Christophsis. When brute force doesn’t work, Obi-Wan Kenobi brings Anakin a new experimental stealth ship equipped with a cloaking device. The plan is to move in undetected and deliver supplies to the surface of the planet, but their plan is complicated when Yularen and Anakin realize they are facing Admiral Trench, who is no stranger to battling stealth opponents. What ensues is a deadly game of cat and mouse, with the stealthy capabilities of the Republic ship matched against the giant frigates of the Separatists.

Similar battles played out every day during World War II. During the war, submarines were the silent hunters and larger surface vessels their prey. Submarines, like the republic stealth ship, were long, narrow, and sleek. Relatively lightly armed, they were built for precision strikes with torpedoes and deck guns. Their advantage was their ability to move quietly underwater. The stealth ship of The Clone Wars and World War II submarines share many similarities. Even the length of the stealth ship (99.71 meters) is shockingly similar to the United States Gato, Balao, and Tench-class submarines of World War II which measured up to about 95 meters from bow to stern. The similarities don’t stop there either:

Cloaking Devices
While Anakin admits that no ship that small usually has a cloaking device, during World War II no ship of any size had a cloaking device. Technological limitations and even the laws of physics haven’t stopped conspiracy theorists from spreading stories about the famous USS Eldridge and the famous “Philadelphia Experiment.” The Philadelphia Experiment was a rumored trial carried out by the US Navy in 1943. This urban legend suggests that the destroyer escort USS Eldridge was made invisible by using electrical generators to bend light around the ship. Furthermore, it is said that Eldridge even teleported from place to place. The wild story has never been proven. The US Navy has maintained that no such experiment existed, and many of the details from the story contradict themselves.

Real stealth in the 1940s required diving below the water to avoid detection. Just like in “Cat and Mouse,” submarine crews would often power down non-critical systems to improve their chances of hiding from ships on the surface. Staying as silent as possible increased the chance that enemy ships would pass safely overhead. And just like in The Clone Wars, World War II submarine crews could give away their position by taking offensive action.

Radar

Star Wars: The Clone Wars stealth ship radar

The Republic stealth ship, like submarines of the 1940s, was equipped with a radar dish atop its hull. Radar was a relatively new technology during the war, but played an important role for submarines hunting in the open seas. You might not think that a radar dish would be useful on a submerged boat, but during World War II submarines spent more time moving on the surface than underwater, in part due to the limitations of their batteries. Submarines were faster on the surface under the power of their diesel engines and submarines employed their radar to track targets to sink in the middle of vast oceans.

ASDIC and SONAR
“Cat and Mouse” builds suspense with the age-old submarine movie technique of using audible sonar pings to convey a growing sense of danger. That iconic “ping” comes from active SONAR (or ASDIC to the British), which projects sound waves to detect objects on or below the surface of the water.  Submarines rarely used this active sonar, and instead relied on passive sonar that did not give off sound waves which could give away the submarine’s position. Yet crews wearing headphones could hear the ping of surface ships hunting them.

Hunting Submarines
During World War II, anti-submarine warfare often included techniques seen in Star Wars. Depth charges were some of the most dangerous threats to submarine crews. These barrel-like explosives were dropped into the water by surface ships and their delayed charges went off at a pre-determined depth. The shock wave of depth charges could tear a submarine apart—if the ships could blindly drop the charges in the proximity of the submarine.

Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones seismic charge

These depth charges are quite similar to the seismic charges used by Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones. Like depth charges, they have a delayed yet powerful explosion that rips ships and asteroids apart.

Clone Communications

Star Wars: The Clone Wars communications clone trooper

Even the unique armor worn by the clone troopers in this episode share a connection to World War II. The helmets worn by the clone crew were originally meant for a different type of trooper. “Originally they were communications troopers” says Dave Filoni. “They were guys that were in the patrols, in the platoons that were in charge of all the communications. He had a backpack with a mic on it and a crank box and it looked like what old WWII communications officers carried around to crank up the telephone and contact back to command.” In a galaxy where communicators can be worn on a wrist, George Lucas decided to skip the backpacks but the helmets were recycled in many episodes, including this one.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Republic stealth ship corridors

The long, narrow interior of the Republic stealth ship parallels the cramped submarine interiors of World War II.

Cole Horton is an R2 builder, historian, and creator of From World War to Star Wars, an ongoing series of lectures at Star Wars Celebrations. He has also worked as World War II historian for Marvel Comics Augmented Reality app. You can find him on Twitter @ColeHorton.

 

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