A BRIEF HISTORY
OF THE GERMAN U-BOATS IN WORLD WAR II.
First, a poem written by a U-Boat crewman:
There are no roses on a sailor's grave, No lillies on the ocean wave, The only tribute as the seagull sweeps, Are the teardrops that his sweetheart weeps"! ______________________________________________________________________________________
Unfortunately, many records were destroyed in bombing raids and much information is still coming to light as the years go by.
Most of the U-boat commanders underwent their training in the series U1 to U100, and are sometimes listed as having command of these craft. I've listed some but it would take forever to list every one! Some commanders like Heinz Eck of U-852, had had previous sea-going experience and/or commands within the German Navy or Merchant Marine Service.
The UBootwaffe (U-Boat arm), of the German Kriegsmarine was organised under Admiral, later Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. Responsible to him was Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg, as "Führer der Unterseeboote". (Commanding Admiral U-Boats). His director of U-Boat control was Admiral Eberhard Godt, assisted by Günter Hessler, who was Dönitz's son in law. Between them they controlled all U-Boat operations. In 1939, 55 submarines were organised into Flotilla's of 5 to 8 craft, each Flotilla being named after a WWI U-Boat ace.
Officer skipper & doctor ranks: Fregattenkapitän (Commander); Korvettenkapitän (Lt. Cmdr); Marineoberstabsartz (Surgeon Lt.Cmdr); Katitänleutnant (Leutenant); Marinestabsartz (Surgeon Leut); Oberleutnant zur See (Sub-Leut); Leutnant zur See (Acting Sub-Leut).
By September 3rd 1939, 57 craft were available for active service of which 26 were considered suitable for Atlantic operations.
In the first year of WWII, 28 craft were destroyed and 28 built.
Craft U1 to U6 were known as "Canoes" and had been built in record time during 1935 as Type I. U7 to U23 were built equally rapidly and were known as Type IA & II (Ducks) with a doubled fuel capacity. Type II displaced 254 tonnes & Type IIa displaced 279 tonnes. These craft had been designed for coastal waters, and fron 1940 on they were used for training purposes. they had three torpedo tubes and three replacement torpedos.
Other types were: VII, VIIB(Attack), VIIC(Attack), VIID, VIIF(Supply), IX, IXA, IXB(Attack), IXC(Attack), IXC40, IXD1, IXD2(Cruiser), XB(Minelayer), XIV(Tanker), XVII, XXI, XXIII. (The latter described as smaller than Type II and little better than useless)!
The IXD2 were twice as large as the VIIC's and twice the range and were 1616 tonnes. The XXI's were 1623 tonnes of which 119 were built. These craft could travel faster under water than the Allied convoys could travel on the surface!
U793 was a prototype XXII fitted with Professor Walter's Hydrogen PeroxideOxygen powered engines, but they were built too late and only a few craft saw active service.
Type 1A was modified to be redesignated Type 1X and later 1XA.
By 1942 the U-Boats had sunk 1160 ships adding up to 6,266,215 tonnes. By the end of WWII they had sunk 2828 ships adding up to 14,000,000 tonnes of merchant shipping plus 175 Allied warships, bringing the total tonnage to14,593,987 tonnes! (Figures compiled by the British Admiralty).
The U-Boats never came close at any time during WWII to cutting the vital North Atlantic lifeline to the British Isles.
Huge "Pens" had been built using highly paid volunteer French labor as well as "slave" foreign labor from the Concentration Camps with opportunistic sabbotage foremost on their minds, at Brest, Lorient, St.Nazaire, La Pallice and Bordeux on the French Coast. These "Pens" were reinforced concrete blocks with cells for the U-Boats where they were housed, repaired and serviced. The British developed the "Tallboy" and "Grand Slam" super bombs which easily punched a hole through the re-inforced concrete roofs of these bunkers, designed initially to hide the UBoats rather than protect them.
By May 1941, 500 officers and OR's from sunken craft were in British POW camps, including Otto Kretschmer, whom Hitler had decorated the previous August.
By September 1942, 532 U-Boats had been sunk or damaged. 736 U-Boat crews totalling 27,491 officers and OR's were lying in their "Iron Coffins" at the bottom of the Atlantic. 736 craft were lost at sea of which 603 were destroyed in battle; 126 were lost from collisions, explosions from mines, power failures etc., Another 81 were destroyed in port bombings; 7 were destoyed by accident; 288 were sunk by Allied aircraft; 38 were scrapped as obsolete or beyond repair; 11 were handed over to foreign navies or were interned by neutral countries; 153 surrendered in British or Allied ports after damage; 7 were captured intact or with very little damage.
Of the 41,300 officers and OR's 28,542 died in action whilst at sea. Another 4,500 died in bombing attacks whilst they were in their "home" ports".
In general, U-boats were prefabricated hurridly in many different factories in an unworkmanlike fashion using crude technology by people with little or no experience in submarine building. Many of the parts didn't fit together properly and had to be "bodge-jobbed" - welded or hammered with add-on pieces. Protective coating of the metal parts was poor and led to rapid corrosion in the sea air. The pressure hull was weak and not capable of withstanding sea pressure or of explosions from close depth charges. Many failed at depths of 300 metres or even less. This took a terrible toll on the crews nerves when lying doggo near or on the bottom. The diesel engines were underpowered, and design specifications could not be met. The hydraulic systems required to operate the rudders, diving planes, torpedoe doors etc., were too complex and too delicate and were located outside the pressure hull, and were therefore subjected to saltwater leakage, corrosion and enemy attack weapons. It could not be repaired from inside the craft. The deck guns were useless if the craft was attacked from the air because of the resricted elevation of the gun. The conditions for the feeding and comfort of the crew was atrocious. Washing and drinking water was interconnected and therefore unhygenic. Toilet facilities were inadequate and unsafe which could cause illness and infection.
The U-Boat was a death trap for sub-mariners. The U-Boat war was described as a suicidal enterprise foisted on the Kriegsmarine by Hitler, *Raeder and Dönitz. U-Boats, like the Allied bombers of Dresden, caused misery and death to thousands of both military and civilian men, women and children who were left in the water to drown, some in icy waters, some in shark infested waters, and without any means of support or rescue.
U-Boats were easily detected by Allied ships providing they were not directly above them. Using ASDIC (Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committe), a form of sonar which sent an electric AC through a quartz crystal causing it to vibrate and in turn send a sound pulse through water which bounced off solid objects under. The lapsed time between transmit and receive indicated the distance just like radar did. ASDIC accounted for 246 U-Boat sinkings in WWII.
Very few U-Boat Skippers ever pondered the consequences of their actions. After all they were doing their duty as directed "from above". None of them gave thought to the addage that "what goes around comes around", until they found themselves fighting a futile battle for their own lives trapped in a flooding tomb at the bottom of the sea-what a horrible way to die! The fanatical Nazi Dönitz sent thousands of Germany's youth to an absolutely certain death knowingly and willingly whilst he was safe behind an office desk.
* Raeder's release from Spandau Prison, Berlin. 28th September 1955: Erich Raeder, 79-year-old former Commander-in-Chief of Hitler's Navy, flew to Hanover on September 26th, hours after his release from the Spandau prison where he had served nine years of a life sentence for war crimes. The ex-Grand Admiral was blamed by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal for conceiving the Nazi invasion of Norway and for U-boat atrocities. A four-power communiqué issued on September 26 from British, American, French and Soviet authorities said he was being released because of his advanced age and the state of his health. His wife, Erika Raeder, who was arrested by the Soviet troops in 1945 and then released in 1949 without ever coming to trial, accompanied the ex-Grand Admiral on the plane flight to Hanover. Raeder told reporters before boarding the plane, "I do not plan to enter politics - that is the last thing I want to do." Raeder was Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy until 1943 when he was relieved from his post after a quarrel with Hitler over the scrapping of capital ships in favour of U-Boats.
By the end of July 1943, Dönitz acknowledged that U-Boat losses would rise to unacceptable levels and that his crews would sacrifice their lives for the Führer-Heil Hitler! In fact it was revealed by Royal Navy interrorgators that most U-boat men saw the British as "frustrators of Nazi progress". Dönitz well KNEW that every mission would be a potential suicide mission. He was also aware of the fact that his men held him in high esteem and trusted his every order. With this in mind he was able to convince his men that victory would one day be theirs, even though they knew in their hearts that it wouldn't!
859 U-Boats were ordered out on war patrols. Of these 648 were lost (75%), and of these 429 left no survivors. A staggering 215 (33%) were lost on their first patrols. Why? Most Skippers were on average very young. It wasn't that they were irresponsible, rather that they were "green" and untrained. Their crews likewise, although a few had had previous Merchant Marine experience before WWII. Added to this was the fact that unknown to the Germans the Allies had their Enigma codes, so they plotted most of their operations. One of the reasons for the high loss of U-Boats was the British Observer Service's cryptographing for the Admiralty's Government Code & Cypher Arm based at the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. This service monitored the signals sent between the German Kriegsmarine Headquarters in Kernevel, Lorient, France and the GHQ Berlin to all U-Boat commanders. All messages were intercepted between 1942 and the end of the war and deciphered using captured Enigma machines unknown to the Germans. Until the British possessed the Enigma machines they had to rely on "Huff-Duff" (High frequency direction finding) equipment, which was not very effective. The Bletchley Park staff, nicknamed by Churchill as "the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled", decyphered some 18,000 messages a day from the various German commands. These intercepted messages were kept secret by the British until 1967!
The RN kept a card record in their Interrogation Centre "Secret Room" library so that it could build up information on each U-Boat , its skipper and crew members. It was updated every 3 weeks. To avoid direct references to individual craft over the communications networks (UK to US and vice-versa), which were intercepted by B-dienst (German intelligence). Each craft was permanently designated by a 2 letter code. The first letter was the type; the second the specific craft within that type Eg., A,C,E,G,I etc., Intervening letters denoted type IX's=B,D,F,H,J,L etc., M=Minelayers, S=Cruisers, W-Cargo & Z=Tankers & torpedo re-supply craft, E.g., BA,BB,BC,BD & DA represented specific type IX's. MA could be the XB Minelayer U116 & MB the U117 etc., Skipper name identity code could be GD, (VII U598 Gottfried Holtorf)!
Enigma was designed to prevent eavesdropping by using several million possible solutions to an intercept. Inexperienced German operators actually helped the British with valuable information by their mistakes!
RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain), licensed members also picked up U-Boat and other Kriegsmarine morse-coded messages on equipment installed in their homes, and relayed these messages to the Admiralty, in their capacity of official observers. information was then used to destroy U-Boats and other ships. All decyphered messages were retransmitted as ULTRA to various Allied ASW ships and aircraft to aid in seek and destroy missions.In fact the Allies knew details of each UBoat crew, when it left port and roughly where the craft was most of the time, hence the very high casualty rate in the latter years of the war!
During WW2 Allied propaganda characterised U-Boat crews as "cold-blooded murderers; willing servants of evil". At the Nuremburg trials they were described as "a pack of submarine killers in conducting warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle". What was forgotton was that submarines by their very nature make a "kill" by stealth, without warning and without quarter!
After Hitler's suicide, Dönitz ordered the scuttling of all Uboats afloat whether serviceable or not. A few days later he was forced to rescind this instruction in accordance with the Allies Terms of Unconditional Surrender. Dönitz then ordered the 377 U-boat commanders still at sea and in port to cease hostilities and surrender rather than scuttle their craft as was the tradition. This order was resented and ignored by many of the U-Boat commanders and or crew and resulted in more than two hundred craft being uselessly scuttled. It is hard to believe that the thinking of the day was Goebles' propaganda that if defeated, all German males were to be sterilised by the victorious Allies, and that Germany would be turned into the 'cabbage patch' of Europe for ever!
Dönitz set up a Government on 23rd May 1945 in the mis-guided belief that he could negotiate a settlement with the Allies. He used the Naval Base HQ at Mörvik as his seat of government. General Eisenhower, as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Europe ordered that Dönitz and his staff be immediately arrested along with General Jodl and held as POW. British troops from 158 Infantry Brigade which included the Hereford & Cheshire Regiments;KSLI and stationed at the recently occupied Hereford Barracks, Flensburg, were assigned in "Operation Blackout" to occupy the Naval HQ and round up all surrendered naval personnel (including spouses).
Raeder and Dönitz were put on trial at Nuremburg after the war. They were charged on three counts: 1. Plotting to wage aggressive war. 2.Waging aggressive war. 3.War crimes.
Luckily for these two men, British Naval Authorities firmly opposed trying either Raeder or Dönitz being indicted or tried. They were of the opinion that, in general, the German Navy had fought a clean war in contrast to the US Navy which with Pearl Harbor in mind, had sunk Japanese shipping without any warning and rarely attemted to rescue survivors, even on a few occasions murdering Japanese survivors in lifeboats or in the water!
The proceedings at Nuremburg and other places in Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia etc., immediately after WWII where people were tried for war crimes went down in history as farcical "Kangaroo Courts" conducted by the victors demanding vengeance and retribution over the vanquished.
It was unbelievable that Churchill, Rooseveldt, Truman, Atlee and other heads of State teamed up with the mass-murderer Stalin and his cohorts, to sit in judgement on the Nazis and their supporters for committing the same crimes that Stalin and the Russians were guilty of. The big difference of course was that there was public revulsion at what the cameras had captured in the Concentration Camps. The only revolting pictures that Westerners had seen of Russian atrocities was the murder of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest. The Russians had blamed that on the Germans!
There is no excuse for war crimes and atrocities and such crimes cannot go unpunished. However, all criminals must be punished equally-or justice simply isn't justice. The Germans were easy scapegoats at the end of WWII just as they had been at the end of WWI! This was one reason why Hitler and the Nazis came to power. Ordinary people saw one law for one group and another for a different group. Who was it who said, "The thing about history is that we never learn from history". Why is it that man has to destroy man just because of a grudge or different political view. War is stupid, aboslutely bloody stupid!
I digress: Dönitz was found not guilty of count 1 above, but guilty of counts 2 & 3, and sentenced to a relatively light sentence of 10 years in prison on 01.10.1946. He was released from Spandau Prison, Berlin in October 1956. A large number of Allied senior Naval officers were outraged at Dönitz's treatment by the Tribunal and urged Dönitz to deplore the verdict and sentence.
Dönitz took over from Raeder in 1943. Raeder was found guilty on count 1 above and sentenced to life inprisonment at the age of 70. he was released in 1955 because of ill-health. He was then 80 years old!
A bit about Karl Dönitz's son's: Peter was the youngest son and died in combat in May 1943 whilst serving as an officer in U954 under the command of Odo Loewe. Hitler had issued a decree stating that if a senior officer (like Dönitz) lost a son in battle and also had other sons in the German forces then the latter son could withdraw from a combat role and return to a civilian role. Therefore, Dönitz's elder son Klaus, who was also a naval officer decided to enter Tübingen University to study as a naval doctor, recognised as a non-combatant position by the military). Klaus kept in touch with his friends still serving, and on the eve of his 24th birthday (13.05.1944), he paid a visit to friends serving with the 5th Schnell Flotilla at Cherbourg, France, where he foolishly accepted an invite to "ride" in a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) S-141 which was scheduled to carry out a mission near Selsey off southern England. Unfortunately for Klaus, two warships, the RN Frigate"Stayner" & the Free French Destroyer "La Combattante" spotted them and destroyed their boat. The British picked up six survivors. Klause's body was washed up on the French coast. He was buried near Amiens. This loss shattered Dönitz, his wife Ingeborg, daughter Ursula and her husband-Günther Hessler-who was a Staff Officer at U-Boat Control. It could not be claimed that Klaus died on duty!
The state of surviving U-Boats at the end of WWII.
There were 222 craft found by the Allies in a damaged/scuttled/dismantled state at the end of WWII.
The following is a list of craft and the location where they were found.
WILHELSHAVEN:U8,U14,U17,U37,U60,U61,U62,U71,U137,U139,U140,U141,U142,U146,U151,U152,U339,U382,U552,U554,U778,U3006 & U3504.
FLENSBURG:U29,U30,U46,U827,U1132,U1161,U2540,U2551,U3033 & U3034.
WESER ESTUARY:U38,U120,U121,U822,U828,U3001,U3005,U3009,U3501,U3509,U3527 &U3528.
NEUSTADT:U48,U52 & U3024.
KIEL:U56,U57,U58,U59,U446,U474,U475,U560,U795,U922,U924,U958,U1192,U1205,U1275,U2330,U2508,U2519,U2520,U2539,U2543,U2545,U2546,U2548,U2552,U3022,U3028,U3029,U3031,U3038,U3039,U3040,U3518,U3525,U3530,U4705,U4709,U4711,U4712,UUA,UB(a former RN Sub.)&UDI(a former Dutch Sub).
KIEL CANAL:U428,748,792 & U793.
BERGEN (NORWAY). U256.
GELTINGER (NORWAY).U267,U349,U370,U397,U794,U903,U1016,U1101,U1162,U1193,U1204,U1207,U1306U2333,U2339,U2343,U2346,U2347,U2349,U2357,U2358,U2360,U2362,U2363,U2364U2366,U2368,U2369,U2507,U2517,U2522,U2525,U2541,U3015,U3044,U3510,U3524,U3526,U3529,U4702,U4703,U4707 & U4710.
WARNEMUNDE:U612,U929 & U1308.
TRAVEMUNDE:U316,U1170,U1196,U2510,U2526,U2527,U2528,U2531,U2533,U2535,U2536,U3002,U3010,U3011,U3013,U3016,U3018,U3019,U3020,U3021,U3023,U3025,U3026,U3027,U3037,U3507,U3511,U3513,U3516,U3517,U3521 & U3522.
RUP (NORWAY): U351,U4701,U4704.
HAMBURG:U474,U1201,U2332,U2370,U2371,U2501,U2504,U2505,U3502 & U3506.
ECKERNFÖRDE:U876,U904,U2512 & U3030.
BALTIC:U2534 & U3503.
PORTUGAL:U963 & U1277.
Craft which surrendered at the end of WWII.
Location: NORWAY:U92,U170,U298,U299,U310,U315,U324,U328,U369,U437,U483,U539,U637,U712,U716,U773,U775,U778,U861,U868,U874,U875,U901,U907,U926,U928,U930,U953,U975,U978,U985,U991,U994,U995(handed back to Germany after war to become a display in the Naval Museum,Laboe).U1002,U1004,U1005,U1019,U1022,U1052, U1057,U1061,U1064,U1104,U1108,U1163,U1171,U1202,U1203,U1271,U1272,U1301,U1307,U2321,U2322,U2324,U2325,U2328,U2329,U2334,U2335,U2337,U2345,U2348,U2350,U2353,U2354,U2361,U2363,U2502,U2506,U2511,U2513,U2518,U2529,U3017U3035,U3041,U3514,U3515 & U4706.
Location:FRANCE:U123,U510 & U766.
Location:HELIGOLAND:U143,U145,U149,U150 & U1230.
Location:WILHELMSHAVEN:U155,U368,U680,U720,U779,U883,U1110 & U1233.
Location:JAPAN:U181,U195,U219,U862, UD2,UD3,UD4 & UD5 (former Dutch Subs).
Location:CANADA:U190 & U889.
Location:UNITED KINGDOM: U244,U249,U255,U278,U281,U293,U294,U295,U312,U313,U318,U363,U427,U481,516,U532,U668,U716,U760,U764,U776,U802,U825,U826,U956,U968,U992,U997,U1009,U1010,U1023,U1058,U1105,U1109,U1165 &U2326.
Location:USA:U234,U805,U858,U873 & U1228.
Location:KIEL:U262,U3008,UD2,UD3,UD4,UD5 (former Dutch Subs).
Location:GIBRALTAR:U485 & U541.
Location:ARGENTINA:U530 & U977.
Location:CUXHAVEN:U291,U1103,U1198,U2341 & U2356.
Location:DANZIG:U3531,U3523,U3434,U3535,U3536,U3537,U3538,U3539,U3540,U3541,U3542,U3543,U3544,U3545,U3546,U3547 & U3548 (in various stages of completion).
REFER BELOW FOR BRIEF DETAILS OF EACH INDIVIDUAL CRAFT AND TO PHOTOS OF RAEDER,DONITZ AND MANY U-BOAT COMMANDERS.
U1 to U50 U51 to U100 U101 to U150 U151 to U200 U201 to U250 U251 to U300 U301 to U400 U401 to U450 U451 to U500 U501 to U550 U551 to U575 U576 to U600 U601 to U700 U701 to U800 U801 to U900 U901 to U1000 U1001 to U1100 U1101 to U1200 U1201 to U1300 U1301 to U1400 U1401 to U1500 U1501 to U1600 U1601 to U1700 U1701 to U1800 U1801 to U1900 U1901 to U2000 U2001 to U2100 U2101 to U2200 U2201 to U2300 U2301 to U2400 U2501 to U2600 U3000 to U4000 U4001 to U4719 Captured French submarines Captured Dutch submarines Captured Noregian submarines Captured Italian submarines Captured British submarine Reference Books
Museums where you can view UBoat data.CLICK HERE
"Operation Pledge", an interesting article on the surrender of UBoats when they ceased to be hostile, either through surrender or capture, by Derek Waller.CLICK HERE
Adalbert Schnee Alfred Eicke Carl Emmermann Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat Erich Raeder Günther Hessler Günther Prien Heinrich Timm Herbert Schultze Joachim Schepke Johann Mohr Jürgen Oesten Karl Dönitz Lehmann-Willenbrock Otto Kretschmer Otto von Bülow Otto Ites Peter Erich Cremer Reinhard Hardegen Reinhard Suhren Richard Zapp Rolf Mützelburg Werner Henke U175 Survivor
June 1997. (With a little help from my two ex U-Boat friends who survived).
Updated January 2004.
Updated December 2006.
Updated September 2010: U Boat Memorial added:CLICK HERE