A wolf in sheep’s clothing, but largely ineffectual
Q-ships were merchant vessels drafted into wartime service, armed with concealed heavy weapons and sent out to lure enemy submarines into combat. They were used extensively by the Royal Navy during both World Wars and, to a lesser extent, by the US Navy during World War II. The term is derived from the homeport utilized by most of the Royal Navy vessels on these missions: Queenstown, Ireland. The Royal Navy commissioned 200 Q-ships during World War I. A typical Q-ship resembled a tramp steamer, and probably was one prior to conversion. It was equipped with deck guns hidden behind panels that could be dropped quickly for combat. The Q-ship generally carried a cargo of balsa or cork so as to remain buoyant even if struck by a torpedo. During World War I, German submarines (U-boats) carried a limited number of torpedoes and preferred to attack on the surface using deck guns when feasible. The Q-ships were designed as bait to lure the U-boat into a surface attack. The guns on a Q-ship were generally superior to those on a U-boat, plus they had the element of surprise. In 150 engagements, Royal Navy Q-ships sank 14 German Navy U-boats and damaged 60, while losing 27 of their own. With the coming of World War II, submarine technology had changed. Few submarines engaged in surface attacks. The Royal Navy commissioned nine Q-ships when war broke out. Two were promptly sunk by U-boats and the remaining Q-boats were converted to other work. Shortly after the US entered World War II, five merchant vessels were converted by the US Navy to operate as Q-ships off the Atlantic coast. One was promptly sunk by a German U-boat and the others proved unsuccessful. There have been some suggestions that Q-ships should be utilized in the Indian Ocean to lure Somali pirates into making attacks. Because the pirates have mistakenly attacked armed warships, there seems to be little need for subterfuge here.