Interest in Ukraine’s maritime drones grew sharply after our defenders’ use of such weapons on August 4, 2023, damaged the Russian amphibious assault ship “Olegenorsky Hornyak” in Novorossiysk. On August 5, they hit a Sig tanker to transport aviation fuel.

The very fact of carrying out such attacks already looked like a revolution in the world of unmanned weapons because our kamikaze boats could go several hundred kilometers unnoticed by the enemy, launch an attack without obstacles and simultaneously transmit images of the target in real time.

But here, it is worth emphasizing that the revolutionary nature of Ukraine’s developments in the field of maritime kamikaze drones actually lies in the fact that our country became the first in a century of similar attempts to bring this weapon to absolute technological perfection. Because if you look in historical retrospect, the first developments in this field cannot boast of success.

In fact, the world’s first sea kamikaze drone was created by Germany back in 1915 during the First World War. The Germans wanted to create a weapon that could break through the naval blockade of Great Britain without harming sailors and ships. The search result was the so-called Fernlenkboot, built in the amount of 17 units, each of which was marked with the FL index and serial number.

It was a boat with a hull length of 13 meters, equipped with two Maybach gasoline engines with a capacity of 210 hp each, and equipped with 700 kg of explosives. Such a world-first marine kamikaze drone could reach a speed of up to 30 knots per hour, but its range was limited to approximately 20 km, that is, the range of the control system.

Germany's 1915 Attempt at the World's First Sea Drone

The fact is that commands from the coastal control post on the Fernlenkboot had to be sent in general by means of a cable, the reel of which was placed on this remote-controlled boat. And to correct the movement of this sea drone, a seaplane was also to be used, which was to transmit data to the coastal control post by means of radio communication.

In “testing” conditions, such a control system worked perfectly and exactly as the designers intended. But in real conditions, it was possible to carry out only one attack: on October 28, 1917, the FL-12 kamikaze boat damaged the British monitor HMS Erebus off the coast of Belgium.

Germany's 1915 Attempt at the World's First Sea Drone
British monitor HMS Erebus, the first ship in the world to be attacked by a naval kamikaze drone, archive images from open sources

HMS Erebus had armor up to 150 mm thick, depending on the part of the hull, which was 123 meters long, 26 meters wide, and had a total displacement of 8,000 tons. But it is indicative that to sink such a ship, even a 700 kg warhead placed on the kamikaze boat, was not enough. Other unsuccessful attempts by the Germans in the First World War to use naval drones are not mentioned at all in open sources.

The planned control system probably did not provide the necessary reliability in the conditions of real combat, but the existing technological barrier did not allow “jumping over” this problem.

All of the above is only intended to emphasize the revolutionary nature of Ukraine’s developments in the field of maritime drones. Because it turns out that they started working on this weapon in the 20th century, but we managed to achieve the necessary result only in the 21st century.

Germany's 1915 Attempt at the World's First Sea Drone