Were German WWII-era U-Boat crews allowed on deck?

Were German WWII-era U-Boat crews allowed on deck?

Were U-Boat crews allowed to stretch their legs and get some fresh air when the boat was on the surface during a war patrol?

I mean for recreational purpose, i.e. not when entering or leaving harbor, when operating the deck gun, or when taking on provisions.

For very practical reasons, these pure leisure activities did not take place close to enemy shores, or in climates that were just too uninviting. Close to the "Golden West" of American targets airplanes would be just much too quick to approach and the highest latitudes just too cold and often just too windy to be of any joy.

But the crews did try to enjoy every single opportunity at fresh air, everywhere. "On deck" on a boat means also on the top of the conning tower! Given the cramped conditions, bad smells and comparative darkness in the boats' interiors, this was almost necessary.

As the question is framed, it appears to be about being on the hull of the boat, outside the conning tower. This was done to make repairs, to practice with the secondary weapon, to dispose of waste. Just to name activities still involving duty.

But pure leisurely spare time was restricted to the relative safety of the air gap when look outs could relax somewhat since ships were relatively slow and planes unlikely. A surprising detail might be found in that at night the crew's movement was more restricted than during the day. Clear skies and long range visibility of enemy crafts was the deciding factor.

A map of the air gap shows that the vast majority of the Atlantic was for a long time considered quite safe for U-boats:

The Mid-Atlantic gap was an area outside the cover by land-based aircraft, those limits are shown with black arcs (map shows the gap in 1941). Bluish dots show destroyed ships of the Allies

One patrol of a particular boat was found completely documented with accompanying pictures:

Taken during the summer of 1942 by an onboard war correspondent, the photographs show a U-boat in action within the Atlantic and Caribbean, as the German submarine service teetered on the brink of what was, with hindsight, the unstoppable downward slide into defeat. However, at the stage of the war at which they were taken, U-boats could still spend time surfaced without fear of Allied air attack within the mid-Atlantic and were raking a harvest of considerable numbers of Allied merchant ships. (p10.)

As evidenced from the above quote leisure activities, fresh air, and keeping fit and stretched was essential and often possible in the first half of the war in the Atlantic.

Diving from the bow of U564, Gabler (top left, in the foreground) is dressed in attire known in German naval terminology as a 'peeled banana'. Even Suhren (above and left) took a dip in the warm Atlantic - one of the rare occasions when he divested himself of his red scarf. The Kriegsmarine also developed salt-water soap (below left), used by Teddy and his crew as Webendorfer sprays them with water piped from the engine room. Opinion remains divided over the merits of this soap: Suhren thought it wonderful; others were less than enthusiastic about the waxy residue that it sometimes left on the skin. (p102-103.)

[… ] the cramped, humid interior of a submarine often played havoc with man's physical well-being. A ritual observed by both Suhren and Gabler while within the 'Atlantic Gap' was the morning walk (above). Several lengths of the stern deck every day helped keep them fit, particularly Suhren, who suffered back pain from long stationary periods on the bridge. Moreover, the momentary ability to find solitude allowed the two men to talk without being overheard. (p164.)

On 1 September 1942, all available crew were drawn up on the stern deck for the surprise announcement of Teddy's award of the Swords to his Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves, as well as his promotion to Korvettenkapitän. (p 173.)

Pictures and quotes from: Lawrence Paterson: "U-Boat War Patrol: The Hidden Photographic Diary of U-564", Chatham: London, 2004.

Up until 1943, things were going well. The fate of this boat, German submarine U-564 shows that crash dive was not always hampered by crew on deck:

An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley sighted the two U-boats in the Bay of Biscay the following day and shadowed them. U-564 was unable to dive due to the damage already sustained. By 16.45 hours the Whitley was running low on fuel and attacked U-564. The two U-boats damaged their attacker with anti-aircraft fire but the aircraft's depth charges fatally damaged U-564 and she sank at 17:30 hours. The damaged Whitley was forced to ditch, where a French trawler rescued the crew. There were 18 survivors from U-564 including the commander. U-185 picked them up and transferred them to the German destroyer Z24 two hours later.

It seems unlikely. Additional crew on deck would risk a delay if a crash-dive were required.

The need to keep crew on watch to a minimum is mentioned by Timothy Mulligan in his book Neither Sharks Nor Wolves: The Men of Nazi Germany's U-boat Army, 1939-1945. If essential watch crew were kept to a minimum when the U-boat was on the surface, it is unlikely that crew would be allowed on deck for relaxation, except perhaps in very exceptional circumstances where the risk to the U-boat was considered minimal.

In addition to ASDIC, the Royal Navy had ship-mounted radar even before the war broke out in 1939. The type 79 radar was installed on Navy vessels from 1936, and had a surface range of up to 6 nautical miles.

This was superseded by the type 281 radar, which had a significantly increased range, from late 1940.

Thus, even early in the war, a U-boat captain would have been concerned about the risk of detection if there was the possibility of Royal Navy ships in the area, and the consequent possibility of the need to perform a crash dive.

At night, the risk of detection by radar / ASDIC would remain, and there was also the increased risk of losing personnel overboard in all but the calmest seas. Providing lights on deck would have posed an unacceptable risk of detection as well as damaging the night-vision of crew on-watch.

However, it appears that, while U-boat crews were aware of the risks posed by Royal Navy vessels, early in the war they were not necessarily aware that merchant vessels were accompanied by escorts. The U-boat "U-70" was sunk on 7 March 1941. The report on the interrogation of survivors makes exactly this point:

"Several of the crew honestly believed that British convoys were unprotected, that it was an easy matter for a U-boat to attack a convoy and that the risks they ran were small."

Given that attitude, we can't discount the possibility that some captains would have permitted crew members to get fresh air on deck when they believed they were relatively safe. That situation couldn't have lasted for long however.

Certainly, by the time that U-664 was sunk in August 1943 the attitude of U-boat crews was very different. While the interrogators of the crew of U-70 remarked on the high state of the morale of the survivors, the interrogation of the crew of U-664 noted:

"The exceedingly low morale aboard U-664 no doubt facilitated the interrogation, and more than one prisoner was willing to cooperate fully with the interrogation officer."

One factor the interrogators noted that contributed to the low state of morale on U-664 was the regularity of crash-dives on each voyage. Under such circumstances it is extremely unlikely that recreation on deck would have been permitted. Presumably, the only time crew were permitted on deck would have been when they were on watch.

(Another reason for the low morale mentioned in the report was the number of other U-boats known to have been lost.)

There are some interesting resources, including records and photographs, available on the web site U-boat Archive.

Yes, I've seen many movies made on board U Boats in which the crews were enjoying themselves on deck. Obviously this happened a lot more in the tropics (which were relatively save waters for U Boats) than in the icy waters of the Arctic and the north Atlantic (which were also highly dangerous waters for U Boats to be in). It happened, one can assume, only when the tactical situation (and the weather) allowed for it. At night would be out of the question. Far too dangerous. Besides, U Boats preferred to work in the dark. They had other things on their mind.

Those movies were made by the crew themselves or a member of the propaganda ministry. I've seen people swimming, sunning, do some games (jumping in bags, biting for sausages).

You can watch many of those movies if you do a search on Youtube about U Boat documentaries.

The Surrender of the Last Two German U-boats in WW2

Throughout the Second World War, U-boats played a critical role in Germany’s warfare strategy. This was especially so during the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted the whole length of the war. One of the reasons that Germany depended so much on submarines was that, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the number of marine craft they could have was limited. Restrictions put in place after the First World War prevented them from building up a strong navy.Under the terms of the

Under the terms of the treaty they were only allowed to have six battleships of no more than 10,000 tons each, six cruisers and 12 destroyers. As U-boats were not specifically mentioned in the treaty, these became Germany’s way of gaining some advantage at sea.

The U-boats generally carried deck a gun in addition to its torpedoes. The gun could be used while on the surface, but it was the torpedo that was most associated with submarine warfare, and the main reason they were so feared by the enemies of Nazi Germany. Even Winston Churchill himself once admitted that the German U-boat was the only thing that he feared. The U-boats were very successful in their mission to disrupt the Allied shipping operations including disruption food supplies. Out of almost 3000 ships sunk by the U-boats, 2,845 were merchant ships. Less than 200 were battleships.

When German U boat Saved British Civilians In World War II- Laconia Incident

Passengers on the deck of U boat.Source-Wikipedia

A German U-Boat carried survivors of the passenger ship it sank two days back.

The submarine towed few lifeboats with passengers in it. The survivors included Italian POWs, British and Polish army personnel, women, and children.

A US aircraft flew towards the U-Boat. The U-Boat captain flew a Red Cross flag on the vessel’s gun and indicated that the sub is not on a combat mission. Among the passengers was a British Army soldier who contacted the US aircraft pilot and informed the situation.

The US aircraft didn’t heed to it and dropped a depth charge on the U-Boat. The U-Boat captain asked the passengers to leave the submarine and took a deep dive to avoid another attack.

It is the Laconia incident where German U-Boats tried to save passengers while the US Army Air Force attacked it. The event came up as an embarrassment to the US during the Nuremberg Trials.

U-Boats in Atlantic:

The German U-Boats caused menace in the Atlantic Ocean region. They harassed the convoys from the USA to the UK, which transported vital supplies for the war effort.

The U-Boats hunted in packs and were also present near the African coast. The group, or Wolf Pack, of U-Boats in this region was called Eisbar.

The area had British colonies that supplied raw materials to Britain. The U -Boats had the task of disrupting the supply lines. On 12th September 1942, U-156 saw a large ship in its periscope.

The commander of the U-Boat Captain Werner Hartenstein noticed the ship had a gun and concluded it to be a ship that carried troops. The vessel in periscope was the RMS Laconia, a passenger ship that carried Italian Prisoners of War, British and Polish army personnel, and some civilian passengers, including women and children.

The RMS Laconia carried 2,500 people on that day. U-156 torpedoed the RMS Laconia, and the ship started to capsize.

The gun in RMS Laconia.Source-Wikipedia


As the ship sank, chaos gripped passengers. Polish soldiers bayoneted Italian prisoners of war who tried to escape.

There were fights for spots in the lifeboats. As the ship sank, many were deserted and tried desperately to cling to rafts. The lifeboat passengers feared that overweight might tilt the float and refused to let anymore inside.

The U-156 captain Wener Hartenstein saw the disaster and realized his mistake that he torpedoed a passenger ship. He immediately surfaced his U-Boat and took some passengers on the vessel’s deck and some inside the U-156.

It was the first time British civilians were allowed inside a German U-Boat. Captain Hartenstein immediately informed the situation to Karl Dönitz, the Admiral of U-Boats in German Kriegsmarine. Dönitz instructed all German U-Boats in the area to help the passengers.

The U-506 and U-507 of the German Navy came to the spot and rescued some passengers. The Italians, too, sent their submarine Comandante Cappellini for the rescue mission.

Karl Donitz.Source-Wikipedia

A moral rule at sea was that if a submarine sank a ship, its captain would rescue the survivors give them food and a compass. He will point them to the nearest landmass and help them off in lifeboat.

The act of kindness was a rule followed by both Axis forces and Allied forces in World War II. Captain Hartenstein contacted nearby French and English radio stations and informed them that the RMS Laconia had been sunk and needed immediate attention.

Vichy France responded and sent two warships from Dakar for the rescue. Britain thought it was ruse operation by the German Navy to get closer to the African coast for an attack. Dönitz informed Adolph Hitler of the situation, which infuriated the Fuhrer.

Hitler ordered Dönitz to dump the passengers into the sea, and said the U-Boats must go back to their mission. Dönitz delayed the order and provided the U-Boat crews some more time to rescue the stranded civilians.

US Intervention:

A US aircraft spotted the U-156 near on 16th September. The U-Boat was on a rendezvous with Vichy France warships to transfer passengers.

The US aircraft crew informed the US airbase in Ascension island of the U-156’s location. Captain Richardson, the commander of the base, ordered an immediate attack on the U-Boat.

Captain Hartenstein raised the Red Cross Flag on the U-Boat gun, radioed to the US base, and informed that it was a rescue mission. Richardson thought it was a deception by the German Navy to attack Ascension Island, which stored the essential fuel for the Allied African campaign.

The US aircraft under the order of Richardson drooped three depth charges, but luckily all missed the U-Boat. Captain Hartenstein thought he might put the U-Boat at risk, asked the passengers to leave the submarine, and informed their position to the Vichy France ships and dived deep into the sea.

The other German U-Boats, too, came under attack and followed the same method. Vichy France ships were able to save only a few passengers while many perished at sea. About 1,500 passengers of the RMS Laconia died due in the incident.


The Laconia incident bought a change in German attitude treatment of prisoners of war.

Captain Hartenstein infuriated by the US response on the rescue mission and released the famous Laconia order. As per the law in the future, German U boats are forbidden to rescue people at sea.

After the war at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi crimminals, the Laconia order came as a charge against Dönitz. When Dönitz argued his point, the entire world came to know about the Laconia incident and how the USA mishandled it. Due to the USA’s incorrect response, many died at sea.


German Type IXC/40 submarines were slightly larger than the original Type IXCs. U-869 had a displacement of 1,144 tonnes (1,126 long tons) when at the surface and 1,257 tonnes (1,237 long tons) while submerged. [3] The U-boat had a total length of 76.76 m (251 ft 10 in), a pressure hull length of 58.75 m (192 ft 9 in), a beam of 6.86 m (22 ft 6 in), a height of 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in), and a draught of 4.67 m (15 ft 4 in). The submarine was powered by two MAN M 9 V 40/46 supercharged four-stroke, nine-cylinder diesel engines producing a total of 4,400 metric horsepower (3,240 kW 4,340 shp) for use while surfaced, two Siemens-Schuckert 2 GU 345/34 double-acting electric motors producing a total of 1,000 shaft horsepower (1,010 PS 750 kW) for use while submerged. She had two shafts and two 1.92 m (6 ft) propellers. The boat was capable of operating at depths of up to 230 metres (750 ft). [3]

The submarine had a maximum surface speed of 18.3 knots (33.9 km/h 21.1 mph) and a maximum submerged speed of 7.3 knots (13.5 km/h 8.4 mph). [3] When submerged, the boat could operate for 63 nautical miles (117 km 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h 4.6 mph) when surfaced, she could travel 13,850 nautical miles (25,650 km 15,940 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h 12 mph). U-869 was fitted with six 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes (four fitted at the bow and two at the stern), 22 torpedoes, one 10.5 cm (4.13 in) SK C/32 naval gun, 180 rounds, and a 3.7 cm (1.5 in) Flak M42 as well as two twin 2 cm (0.79 in) C/30 anti-aircraft guns. The boat had a complement of 48. [3]

U-869 conducted one World War II war patrol without success. It suffered no casualties to its crew until it was lost in February 1945, with all but one of 56 crew members dead. The surviving crew member, Herbert Guschewski, was not on board, as he became ill just before the patrol. Robert Kurson chronicled the story of U-869 ' s finding in the book Shadow Divers (2004).

Supposed sinking off Africa Edit

On 28 February 1945, the American destroyer escort Fowler (DE-222) and the French submarine chaser L'Indiscret conducted a depth charge attack on a submerged contact in the Atlantic, near Rabat, and reported a kill, although little visible evidence was presented to confirm the kill. Based on the information provided, U.S. Naval Intelligence rated the attacks "G—No Damage". U-869 had been previously ordered by Karl Dönitz to move its area of operations from the North American coast to the Gibraltar area. Postwar investigators upgraded the rating from "G—No Damage" to "B—Probably Sunk", leading to an erroneous historical record that U-869 was sunk near Gibraltar. For many years this attack was assumed to have been its end.

Discovery off U.S. coast Edit

In 1991, Bill Nagle, a former wreck diver and the captain of Seeker, learned about a wreck off New Jersey and decided to mount a diving expedition to the site. On 2 September 1991, an unidentified U-boat wreck was discovered 73 meters (240 feet) deep (a hazardous depth for standard scuba diving) off the coast of New Jersey. Nicknamed U-Who, the exact identity of the wreck was a matter of frequent debate, and initially the wreck was thought to be either U-550 or U-521. The discoverers of U-Who, John Chatterton, Richie Kohler, and Kevin Brennan, continued to dive the wreck for the next several years, [4] taking considerable risks. (Three divers, Steve Feldman, Chris Rouse and "Chrissy" Rouse, died exploring U-869. [5] ) Eventually, the team recovered a knife inscribed with "Horenburg", a crew member's name. However, they learned at the U-boat archives that U-869 was supposedly sent to Africa, so this piece of evidence was initially disregarded. A few years later, they found part of the UZO torpedo aiming device, and a spare parts box from the motor room engraved with serial and other identifying numbers. On 31 August 1997 they concluded that the boat they found was U-869. [6]

Cause of sinking Edit

The men who found U-869 believed it was a victim of its own torpedo, which may have become a "circle-runner". Torpedoes manufactured later in the war had acoustical seeking capability. It was theorized that the torpedo was initially fired in a turning pattern and when it missed its target, it picked up the sound of the submarine's propeller. At least two other German U-boats supposedly have been lost due to their own torpedoes: U-377 in 1944 and U-972 in late 1943. Chatterton and Kohler based their theory largely on a lack of evidence to support other causes for sinking. They claimed there was no reported naval activity in the vicinity, thereby ruling out a sinking by attack. Moreover, the damage to the hull was from the outside and thereby ruled out an internal explosion. This problem also affected the US submarine force at least twice, as seen with USS Tang (SS-306) and USS Tullibee (SS-284) .

Gary Gentile, a noted wreck diver, researcher, and author, rejects Chatteron and Kohler's theory. He cites attack logs and eyewitness accounts from the crew of two destroyer escorts suggesting that the U-boat was initially damaged with a hedgehog launched by the Howard D. Crow (DE-252) and then subsequently damaged with a depth charge by the accompanying Koiner (DE-331) . [7]

The United States Coast Guard, in its official evaluation of the evidence, discarded the circle-running torpedo theory and awarded the sinking to the two destroyers. This was confirmed by Marlyn Berkey, who was on a destroyer as part of the Pacific fleet entering New York Harbor after the war's end the submarine showed up on sonar, Berkey's destroyer depth charged the sub, it sank as evidenced by oil and debris that floated on the surface the destroyer's crew was allowed to place a broom upside down atop the mainmast coming into New York, which meant "clean sweep". [ citation needed ] Contributing to their findings are two damage holes in the wreck of U-869, which are more consistent with the attack reports that cited two explosions than with the circle runner theory which would only explain one hole. The official records state that U-869 was destroyed on 11 February 1945 by two U.S. destroyer escorts, Howard D. Crow and Koiner. [8] John Chatterton, one of the divers who discovered U-869 in 1991, states in Wreck Diving Magazine his belief that the two U.S. destroyer escorts attacked the wreck of U-869 after the U-boat had been struck by its own torpedo. [9]

Only one crew member survived by virtue of not having been aboard. Second Radio Officer Herbert Guschewski came down with pneumonia and pleurisy shortly before the boat's departure. Like the families of the crew, Guschewski did not know what happened to his fellow sailors until 1999. He watched a program which eventually became the PBS NOVA episode "Hitler's Lost Sub" and contacted the producers shortly afterward, who interviewed him and placed a portion of it in the 2000 American broadcast. [10]

Treatment of Merchant Ship Survivors by U-boat Crews 1939 - 1945

It has been a common misconception by many including some in Germany that during World War II U-boats machine-gunned survivors of the ships they sunk. There have been allegations that they machine-gunned the lifeboats to make them unusable to escape in, that they machine-gunned lifeboats as the men were getting in them and as they were being lowered, and that men were machine-gunned while in the water. These stories were however, rarely reported for the record at the time by the crews of ships sunk or damaged by U-boats. The questions were asked when the survivors were debriefed though and the answers were over and over again, "No we were not fired on in the lifeboats or in the water". On the contrary, the official records are full of stories about U-boat crews giving survivors directions to land or giving them medical care etc. The machine-gunning stories have however crept into a large number of books, magazines, movies and newspaper articles, etc.

As recently as April 21, 2000 a U-boat machine-gunning men in a lifeboat was depicted in the movie U-571. The movie wasn't true and neither was the scene containing the machine-gunning but many still believed it.

It is quite easy to see why so many still believe those stories. The Third Reich committed some horrendous atrocities during that war and as a result way too many folks are willing to believe any story about the German war machine without the slightest question and without any investigation at all.

However, the stories of U-boats machine-gunning survivors are simply not accurate. There was only one proven case of a U-boat intentionally machine-gunning survivors during the whole war. It was never the policy of the U-boat service to shoot men in the water or in lifeboats. On the contrary, they routinely helped the men in the water and in lifeboats when they could even after they were ordered by Dönitz not to do so.

There is however some truth to the stories and this makes getting to the bottom of what happened just that much more difficult. Men were killed by gunfire while on the decks of merchant ships, while getting into lifeboats, and perhaps while helpless in the water. They were not however targeted and their deaths were tragic but were not crimes.

My father Robert Edison Dunn was Third Engineer on the SS Cardonia on March 7, 1942 when she was shelled, torpedoed and sunk by U-126 (Bauer). He survived but has since passed away.

When the SS Cardonia was attacked with gunfire from U-126 my father (like so many other Allied merchant seamen) assumed he would be killed in the water if he managed to get off of the ship. The ship was traveling alone and was unarmed. When the abandon ship signal was sounded, the U-boat immediately stopped firing in order to give the men time to get into the lifeboats and get it into the water safely. My father was at his post in the engine room and that ceasefire gave him the time he needed to get out of the engine room and get away. It saved his life.

In addition to the ship being torn apart by 40 to 50 hits from the U-boat's 105mm deck gun there were three raging fires, the steering was disabled, and the ship was sinking. My father told me he would thank the commander of that U-boat for stopping the shelling when he heard the abandon ship signal from the Cardonia if he could. He had heard all of the stories passed around by men he had shipped with over the years. He was both very surprised and very thankful that he was allowed to get away. I was too, but after studying the treatment of survivors by U-boat crews over the last few years now I am no longer surprised.

Most of the stories of U-boats shooting men in the water and in lifeboats etc. simply stem from wartime propaganda. They never actually happened. The propaganda worked both ways too. U-boat crews also thought they might be treated poorly if they fell into our hands (and some were).

Our merchant seamen were led to believe that these things would happen to them by propaganda and rumors. The Japanese did commit this type of atrocity on numerous occasions so there was some truth in the rumors and propaganda, it just didn't apply to U-boats.

The origins of some of these atrocity stories can be traced to a number of things in addition to the propaganda though. For example if a live round comes close to you, the natural thing to think is that you are the target.

It gets a little easier to understand what really happened when you look at how a U-boat attacked with gunfire.

First, the participants. Every member of the crew on a U-boat had a battle station just like in any other nation's submarine service. Almost all of them were below deck. These men didn't have a clue what was going on above deck. They could hear gunfire and perhaps some shouted orders and that's about it. Even if some wrongdoing would have been going on above decks these men certainly couldn't be held accountable for it. Right away it is obvious 80 to 90% of the entire U-boat service that went to sea could not have been guilty of any atrocities. Not to mention all of the naval support staff that never went to war on a U-boat.

U-boats were very vulnerable to enemy aircraft. Germany almost never controlled the air space above its U-boats. Sometimes nobody did because the attacks happened too far from land for a plane to get there and back. Later the Allies almost completely controlled the air. First planes were carried on especially converted merchant ships and some convoy escorts. The planes could be launched from the merchant ship but the plane had to be able to land in the water or the pilot had to ditch after his mission. Long-range aircraft became available as the war went on and eventually escort aircraft carriers were deployed against the U-boats. The reason I bring this up here is that the U-boat had to be ready to dive at a moments notice and that involved getting everyone on deck inside and getting the hatch closed before the U-boat could submerge. Just getting under the surface wasn't enough either they had to get down deep enough that the bombs wouldn't destroy them. All of this took time. There was only one hatch that everybody on deck had to get through before the U-boat could dive and that meant that the number of people on the bridge and deck had to be limited to just those necessary for the task at hand.

The anti-aircraft gun(s) had to be manned as well as the deck gun. type IX U-boats also had a 37mm cannon mounted on the deck aft of the conning tower that would be manned too. The commander had to be on the bridge as well as the Second Watch Officer (IIWO). The rest of the watch (perhaps 4 or 5 more people) would have been there too. The IIWO was in command of the guns while the commander was in charge of the whole operation including the IIWO and the rest of the watch. Watch had to be kept in all directions even while the guns were firing in order not to be surprised by the enemy from any direction including the air.

There might also be a non-crewmember on the bridge on occasions. Sometimes a war correspondent was attached to a U-boat for one patrol. They were really not part of the crew although they sometimes did stand watches. Also a prospective U-boat commander might be aboard for one final patrol under an experienced commander before being given his own U-boat. Again, he was not exactly part of the regular crew. In one case I have researched, an American merchant seaman who had been fished out of the water and kept onboard the U-boat because there was no lifeboat to put him was allowed to stay on the bridge for over an hour while the U-boat finished off his ship with gunfire and finally torpedoes.

The whole attack was carefully managed by trained naval officers. Nobody dared fire a gun at anything until assigned a specific target and given permission to fire. It wasn't like it was in the infantry where a company is in the field and armed men are spread out away from their officers. On a U-boat an officer was only a few feet away from the guns. Additionally German U-boat men were very well trained and very disciplined. The German military was not an organization to ignore a sailor's disobeying orders. Punishment for a member of a gun crew that did not follow orders was certain.

Typically the order would be given to man the guns. The gun crews would scramble up the ladder and out of the hatch and go to their guns. The guns would be made ready to fire. This entailed removing the plug from the barrel (to keep salt water out), attaching the optics used to aim the gun, and loading the gun from the ready ammo locker close to the gun while others formed a line so that additional ammo could be passed up from inside the U-boat if necessary. The gun would also be brought to bear on the merchant ship. When the gun was ready to fire, the gun crew reported that the gun was manned and ready. The officer would then identify the target and sometimes even announce the number of rounds that could be fired. The commander then gave the IIWO permission to fire and he ordered firing to commence. When the officers had determined firing was to be stopped they gave the order to cease-fire. Nobody dared to fire a round after the order to cease-fire was given and heard. No cowboys here, just professional military conduct. When the action was completed, the order to secure the gun was given. The plug was placed back in the barrel, the optics were removed, all of the empties (for the deck gun anyway) were passed back up the conning tower and into the boat, and the gun crews went below deck.

The point I am making here is that unlike the infantry, there was almost no chance for a member of the gun crew to fire on a target other than the one assigned. In the infantry a weapon like a machine gun was rarely commanded by an officer and that left the gunner with much more discretion than a gunner on a U-boat. Gunfire that came from a U-boat was directed by an officer who was right there and who in turn was under the command of the U-boat commander who was also right there. Accidents may have happened though and only the man aiming the gun knew for sure what he was actually aiming at.

U-boats were really pretty poor gun platforms. Unless the water was completely calm you had to fire at a target that was moving with the motion of the sea from a platform that was also moving but not in sync with the target. An automatic weapon is not a precision weapon. It is more like a fire hose and when you fire at a target at a distance some rounds are going to go over the target, and some are going to fall short. Add to this that most U-boat attacks occurred in poor light (mostly at night) and many times in poor weather and it's easy to see how gunfire ended up hitting something or someone or landing close to something or someone that wasn't targeted.

In one case that I researched, the men in the water found rounds hitting very close to them however the merchant marine officer in charge of them realized that they were just short rounds. They were in a shadow and the U-boat couldn't have seen them to target them. However, when you are in the water and rounds land close to you, especially automatic weapon fire, why wouldn't you think you were the target? Not only that but men may very well have been killed in the water by short rounds in other cases. This is certainly the source of some of the stories. In this particular case a reputable historian interpreted the sentence: "A machine gun sprayed the sea near us several times, but we were not hit." to mean that the lifeboat was being machine-gunned. It wasn't, they were just short rounds but he published his conclusion and it was picked up and repeated by other writers years later.

The deck guns were generally just used to fire at the ship to stop it (engine room) or to sink it (water line - bow or stern) or to set it on fire (deck cargo or tanks on a tanker, or bunkers). Sometimes it was fired at the bridge or the radio room. These were all legitimate military targets. Men anywhere in the vicinity of the target were frequently killed but were not the targets. Also rounds frequently missed the target they were aimed at and men were killed there too because of the visibility and weather conditions etc. cited above. This is very sad but wasn't intentional nor was it a war crime.

Also it should be noted that anyone still resisting on the merchant ship was a legitimate target. That means anyone fighting a fire, carrying ammunition, manning a gun, using the radio, manning the helm, attempting to set up an emergency radio transmitter, or any other activity contributing to further resistance to the sinking. Anyone in the vicinity of them might be hit as well.

War is a dangerous business. When the rounds start flying you are not safe anywhere and there are no foxholes on a merchant ship. When you were below deck you could be killed by rounds coming through the hull and if you were anywhere on deck you could be killed by shrapnel from anything from the 20mm AA guns on up. Not to mention by exploding cargo. Anyone in the water could be hit by short rounds or shrapnel from the side of the ship and some were. These were not atrocities they were just collateral damage. It sounds heartless but that's because war is heartless.

Also note that the lifeboats were almost completely unprotected while they were still onboard. Anything exploding close to them left them full of shrapnel holes that were sometimes reported as being machinegun holes. This just fueled the rumors that lifeboats were machine-gunned. On my father's ship only one lifeboat could be used when they abandoned ship. All of the others were shredded by shrapnel. My father's ship was unarmed and no machine gun of any kind was fired at it.

One exceptionally well documented case I researched where there were claims that the crew was machine-gunned while getting into the lifeboats illustrates this quite well. I was able to get my hands on the medical report of those injured. Every wound was attributed to shrapnel except two. One was a burn and the other was through and through and the medical report said so rather than call it a gunshot wound. That same man was seen by an eyewitness standing close to him to be hit by shrapnel from a 105mm round that killed the man next to him so that wound too was from shrapnel. They were all hit while the U-boat was too far away to use their light guns. Very few cases are documented that well though and that is a big part of the problem.

U-boats carried three types of automatic weapons, a roughly .30 cal light machine gun, one or more 20mm or greater AA guns, and a few machine pistols. Generally only the first two types were fired in combat. The machine pistols would sometimes be trained on lifeboats approaching the U-boat. All of the survivors I have found that actually approached a U-boat said that small arms were at least pointed in their direction. I think a U-boat commander would have been remiss to allow the enemy to approach his boat without covering them though and Allied submarines did the same thing. I know of two occasions where a handgun was taken onboard a lifeboat by a survivor and one occasion where a Lewis gun (a machine gun) was brought aboard a lifeboat by a member of the ship's gun crew.

There were a number of legitimate reasons for shooting at a merchant ship with an automatic weapon. First it was normal to fire on the radio room if the ship was using its radio. They sent "SSS" instead of "SOS" and gave their position. The "SSS" (later in the war "SSSS") indicated they were under attack by a U-boat. The radio had to be silenced and that made it a legitimate target and anything close to it was likely to get hit too. Many Allied radio operators displayed extreme heroism by staying at their post and continuing to transmit until they were killed. Some even went down with their ship still trying to transmit. The 20mm fully automatic (i.e., a machine gun) AA gun was frequently used to silence the radio. Sometimes it could be done by taking out the antenna and at first merchant ships didn't have emergency radios or a way to repair the antenna quickly. As the war went on it could take even more gunfire to stop the transmissions. In the case of my father's ship, the radio was silenced when the antenna was blown away by the 105mm deck gun.

Most merchant ships later in the war were armed and many British merchant ships were armed almost from the beginning. Their guns and gun crews were legitimate targets. It was customary to keep an enemy gun under fire to keep it from being manned and anyone close to it had to be considered fair game. Also note that they were almost always armed with more than one gun. It was customary to arm them with at least one big gun that was roughly equivalent to the main deck gun on a U-boat and some number of machine guns and AA guns. These guns were positioned in several places around the ship, not just at one place. The large gun was usually on the stern and there was sometimes another large gun on the bow. The machine guns and AA guns were usually amidships. All of them were legitimate targets and needed to be suppressed and the men manning them or close enough to man them were legitimate targets. This wasn't just true for the U-boats it was equally true for the submarines of all nations during the war.

U-boats were very vulnerable to enemy gunfire. Their hulls weren't armored and just one hole could keep them from being able to dive. A trip home on the surface was pretty much a death sentence for them. This made their commanders very leery of approaching too close and kept them very aware that they needed to suppress enemy guns to keep them from firing. It wasn't enough to just return fire. These factors combined to keep the U-boat at a distance thus making it even harder to accurately hit the merchant ship with their automatic weapons and even more difficult for the U-boat commander to see what was happening on the deck of the merchant ship.

If the merchant ship was in range of the U-boat's smaller machine guns then the U-boat was also in range of any machine guns on the merchant ship and the U-boat's gun crews were exposed to them with little to hide behind and to a lesser degree so were the men on the bridge. Getting that close was very dangerous and the U-boat commander was responsible for the lives of his men. The fact that a U-boat was a small, narrow target for the merchant ship is all that the U-boat gun crews had protecting them.

Trying to kill the crew while they were on the ship would have just been a waste of ammo if that had been the intention. They made way too small a target and they were prone to be moving as fast as they could or hiding behind something. If you intended to murder the crew it would be much easier to kill them in the water after the ship was sunk. That way there would be no danger from any guns that might be on the ship while you carried out your murders. However there is only one proven case of a U-boat doing that (U-852) and its commander (Eck) was caught, tried, and executed for it. Actually that commander was trying to sink the wreckage so allied planes would not know a U-boat was in the area. He went way too far though. He stayed in the area and used machine guns and hand grenades on the wreckage with men clinging to it. Of course the men were killed. He was given a trial though and that's more than the men in the water got. Ironically enough the crew of U-852 had to abandon their U-boat when it was attacked later and reported that they were fired on while in the water by the planes that attacked their boat. This may very well be a case of men being killed in the water (but this time it was the crew of the U-boat) by a plane that was shooting at the U-boat not the men. Shooting these U-boat men in the water could also have been an atrocity, but if you want to know which you will have to dig deep to find out. They call it the fog of war.

In cases like this we (the Allies) tend to give the plane the benefit of the doubt. After all the Allies didn't have a history of routinely shooting helpless men in the water. In the reverse case we didn't tend to give the U-boat the benefit of the doubt because the propaganda led us to believe (incorrectly) that U-boats did have a history of doing that. Just ask one of the U-boat men that were in the water if the plane committed an atrocity and you will begin to see how difficult it is to sort these things out. Keep in mind that wartime propaganda led the U-boat men to believe they might be machine-gunned in the water too and some may have been. My point here is that it is very easy to form the wrong opinion when you are on the wrong end of the gunfire and the fog of war makes it extremely difficult to get to the truth even when eyewitnesses are available.

Like the men that manned the U-boats, merchant seamen also had their assigned duty stations during an attack and like the U-boat men, many were not in a position to see what was happening. When it was time to abandon ship they frequently had been assigned a specific lifeboats to escape in. However when they got to the lifeboat they frequently found it had been rendered unusable during the attack. That usually left them scrambling for a raft or another lifeboat. With the U-boat firing on them the natural choice was to abandon ship in a lifeboat on the opposite side from the U-boat if there was a way to do it and to jump over that side if there wasn't. That made it very difficult for the U-boat commander to tell that the ship was being abandoned. The fire continued and men who were not targeted were killed. A lifeboat lowered on the other side of the ship could still be in real danger from the U-boat's main gun. Shells from the U-boat's main deck gun sometimes went all of the way through the ship and they were frequently aimed at the waterline. If your lifeboat was in the water on the other side of the ship it could be in real danger. That is exactly what happened in the case of my father's ship. A 105mm round went all of the way through the ship and went off just before the lifeboat hit the water. It hit a fuel tank on the way through and when it exploded it sprayed the men with flaming oil and turned the lifeboat over. The citation that went with the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal awarded to the captain of the ship included:

A highly respected historian picked it up and concluded that the lifeboat had been machine-gunned while being lowered. An obvious conclusion to reach from that one sentence if you are pre-disposed to think that the enemy would intentionally do something like that but it simply isn't true. The lifeboat was lowered on the opposite side of the ship and the U-boat commander didn't know it was there. The 105mm round was aimed at the waterline in order to sink the ship, not kill men on the other side they didn't even know were there. This is however a real example of how some of those stories got started. I know this because I have the KTB (Kriegstagebuch - war diary / logbook) for the U-boat and my father was in that lifeboat as was Captain Darnell the captain of the SS Cardonia. Captain Darnell also documented it in detail in a letter to his family that I have.

The book containing this mistake was copyrighted shortly after the war (1947) when few writers and historians were giving the enemy the benefit of the doubt and it has been available for people to read for over 50 years. It has since been included without challenge in three books that I know of. Some of these stories may be impossible to disprove this long after the event and it is sad that few if any have even tried. Once a story like that gets in print no matter where it comes from it is very difficult to disprove. Many writers are comfortable accepting a quote from a reputable source and it is hard to blame them because it is just not practical to research every single statement in a book but that doesn't help the families of these men. That includes the families that have to think that their loved ones were murdered when they weren't as well as those who have to live with a cloud over their loved one's conduct during the war. Writing about history is a very demanding profession and a lot of bad can be done along with the good. Sometimes the fog of war is so thick you can't see through it at all.

A lifeboat found drifting with a body or bodies with puncture wounds is easy to mistake for a lifeboat that had been machine-gunned and its men killed. You would have to at least remove whatever caused the puncture wounds to determine if they were caused by bullets or shrapnel and that wasn't necessarily done. The bodies were normally just buried at sea and those that were returned to land were rarely autopsied. It was easier to assume the worst.

Those that had to abandon ship on the side of the ship where the U-boat was (perhaps because that's where their assigned lifeboat was or perhaps that's where the only usable lifeboat left was or perhaps the ship was listing too far to lower the boats on the safer side) were forced to abandon the ship right into the gunfire. If the U-boat commander or another officer saw that this was happening the order to stop firing was generally given very quickly. Again the available light, the weather, the amount of smoke, and the distance from the target all combined to make this easier said than done. However baring any other distractions like a destroyer bearing down on them or a plane attacking them the U-boat commander was generally looking to see if they were abandoning the ship so he could give the order to stop firing or so he could redirect the fire to a more urgent target like a radio that started transmitting or a gun that was being manned on the merchant ship.

In the case of my father's ship the signal to abandon ship was given by a certain number of blasts on the horn that could also be heard by the commander of the U-boat and as a result he stopped firing immediately even though he didn't see any lifeboats being lowered. In the case of other ships I have researched that wasn't what happened. The order was given verbally and there was no way for the U-boat commander to know to stop firing until he saw lifeboats being lowered. Given the conditions of visibility at the time, the distance between the ship and the U-boat and which side of the ship the lifeboats were lowered on, the U-boat commander many times could not tell that the ship was being abandoned. The fire continued and sometimes men were hit.

Just to confuse things a bit more, sometimes some men abandoned ship too early due to the general confusion, the fact that their officers were already dead, panic, or whatever. Some men jumped over the side prematurely and as a result, a few men jumping over the side didn't necessarily mean that the order to abandon ship had been given and that the ship was actually being abandoned. If the ship was still moving then that had to be interpreted as it was still trying to get away and that made it a legitimate target. A lifeboat full of men dropped over the side while the ship was still moving forward generally turned over upon hitting the water leaving the men in it in the water far behind the ship without a usable lifeboat and the officers on the merchant ships knew that and stopped the ship before giving the order to abandon it.

The standards for training and physical fitness within the Allied merchant services were nothing like those of their respective navies. There were many American merchant seamen that went right from being declared physically unfit for military service to join the merchant marine. Men served gallantly who were missing a limb or an eye, or were way too old to qualify for service in the other services. Many couldn't swim. Many were too young. Many merchant seamen during the war were not even from the country that they sailed for and didn't speak the language well and some didn't speak it at all. Most of the lowest ranking men learned their trade on the job without any significant formal training. Their discipline came from years at sea. However others were just getting started or had a language problem or were new to the ship and didn't know who to follow or had a physical problem or some other problem and just weren't up to keeping it all together when their ship was on fire and sinking and they were dodging bullets and shrapnel. The vast majority of these men performed admirably in the face of these extreme difficulties with only a very few being totally consumed with panic. There were also many, many cases of extreme heroism by these men.

These were brave men and when they had a ship torpedoed out from under them the ones who survived went right back to sea with very few exceptions. I am bringing this up because the confusion during battle was made even worse for men without the rigid training given to men in their countries' navies. It was easier for some of them to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and that accounted for a good number of injuries and deaths and contributed just that much more to the overall confusion and the fog of war.

These men knew that they might die by being burned alive or that they might die of thirst alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean or be eaten alive by sharks but their country needed them and to their everlasting honor they went to sea anyway and many of them didn't come back.

In my father's case they had an excellent captain (Gus Warren Darnell) and he saw to it that all manner of lifeboat drills were regularly carried out and that each man knew exactly what to do. Many on that ship had sailed with Captain Darnell in the past and knew they could trust his seamanship, his judgment and his leadership. When the time came his men were prepared and they remained calm and abandoning ship was carried out in an orderly manner. Afterwards his men praised Captain Darnell for it. However not all the other merchant ships were lucky enough to be commanded by an experienced man like Captain Darnell.

The gun crews on the armed merchant ships were military men with weapons and they tended to want to stay and fight as long as there was a chance to damage the enemy (many times the gun crews were supplemented by merchant seamen especially at the beginning of the war when there weren't enough trained gun crews to go around). That meant that they stayed at their guns until the very last minute making it more difficult for the U-boat commanders to order the firing to be stopped while the ship was being abandoned. They also sometimes hid out on the ship while the ship was being abandoned in the hope that the U-boat would come in close and they could get off a good shot before the ship sunk. The U-boat commanders knew this and sometimes started firing again after they thought the ship had been abandoned just in case. I have read of more than one case where a U-boat commander who had gotten close to a merchant ship that had been abandoned fired on it as he left with even his machine guns when he suddenly had to leave in a hurry.

Sometimes the guns of armed merchant ships kept firing while the ship was being abandoned perhaps with the thought of covering the abandon ship operation. When this happened the U-boat continued firing too and men were killed some of whom were just trying to abandon ship.

In one case a U-boat was criticized for "not giving the crew time to abandon ship". This case occurred long after the prize rules (rules America never followed) had been abandoned. It is one thing if the crew is seen to be abandoning the ship but it is quite another if the ship doesn't signal "abandon ship" so that the U-boat can hear it and it is not seen that the crew is abandoning ship. Some U-boat commanders may have occasionally paused their fire to see if the crew would abandon ship but there was no rule in any navy that required them to do so that I know of.

In addition to the above U-boats used their smaller guns to sink or start fires on merchant ships. The 20mm and .30 cal could be used to stop or sink sailing ships and other small vessels and were used to save torpedoes and ammo for the larger deck guns. Anyone in the vicinity while that was going on was likely to get hit but that is not the same as being targeted.

As I mentioned above there are a great many cases of U-boats helping the men in the water. Men were fished out of the water, questioned and placed in lifeboats or put on rafts. They were frequently told their position and given directions to shore sometimes they were given food, water, and even a compass. They frequently offered medical assistance and sometimes medical supplies were given. Cigarettes were sometimes handed out too.

A quick look through A Careless Word… A Needless Sinking by Captain Arthur R. Moore will yield dozens of cases of a U-boat commander aiding survivors in the water in some way and that just covers the cases of crews from American ships that the author (a merchant seaman himself) found. There is something else striking in that book too - the absence of any charges of U-boats machine-gunning men in the water. There are however cases of Japanese submarines machine-gunning men in the water in the book.

The job of the U-boats was to sink enemy ships and they did this with the minimum loss of life possible under the circumstances. The definition of a successful war patrol for a U-boat was measured in tonnage sunk by U-boat command, not the number of Allied merchant seamen killed. That number was not even reported (or even known) by the U-boat commanders.

The conduct of the U-boat war by Germany was one of the facets of the war carefully examined at Nuremburg. Dönitz was initially indicted on charges that included ordering the killing of survivors. When the evidence was presented and the defense was concluded, those charges against Dönitz were dropped.

Dönitz">Admiral Karl Dönitz appears to be one of the major factors in the decent treatment given to survivors by the U-boat service. Not only did he set high personal standards for his men, he was able to stand up to Hitler when faced with a direct order to kill survivors and get away with it. Hitler was absolutely convinced that he knew far more about running a war than his generals however he wasn't as sure of himself when it came to the navy but Dönitz still took a real risk opposing Hitler.

Thank God we will never know what would have happened to the U-boat service and our merchant seamen if Hitler had interfered with the U-boat service to the same extent he interfered with the other branches of the military. When he did interfere it was usually not to the advantage of the U-boat service. Unlike the other services, the German salute (hand held up and out accompanied by the words "Heil Hitler") was not even mandatory in the German navy until after the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler. After that Dönitz couldn't keep political officers off his U-boats either but he did see to it that they had no authority over any operational matters. The U-boat war was fought by the German navy, not the Nazi party.

Hitler made his desires concerning the killing of survivors clear on more than one occasion.

From Neither Sharks nor Wolves The Men of Nazi Germany's U-Boat Arm 1939-1945 by Timothy P. Mulligan:

On 3 January 1942 Adolf Hitler met with Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Oshima in Berlin to discuss the war situation in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. With regard to the Battle of the Atlantic, Hitler emphasized the importance of killing as many American merchant marine crewmen as possible to discourage enlistment: "I must give the order that since foreign seamen cannot be taken prisoner, and in most cases this is not possible on the open sea, the U-boats are to surface after torpedoing and shoot up the lifeboats." In fact no such order followed, but Hitler had revealed his own position in a characteristically ruthless manner.

The subject next arose in a joint discussion among Hitler, Raeder, and Dönitz on 14 May 1942 at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. There Hitler asked his submarine commander-in-chief if something might be done to reduce the number of survivors from sunken merchant ships Dönitz responded only that newer, more powerful torpedoes would increase personnel losses by sinking ships faster. Hitler accepted this answer, and the issue subsided. Possibly this conference prompted the SKL (Seekriegsleitung German Supreme Naval Command) directive the next month regarding the capture of ships' officers.

It is clear that Dönitz realized that the merchant crews needed to be killed in order to stop the flow of supplies to his enemy but he drew the line at murdering them. I am sure that if he had a weapon guaranteed to kill the entire crew and sink the ship at the same time he would have used it. So would we.

On 12 September 1942 the Laconia incident occurred. There is already a good description of it here on so I won't go into it in detail here (see The Laconia Incident). Basically an American bomber attacked U-156 with her deck covered in rescued survivors, a number of lifeboats full of survivors in tow and her guns covered with a white sheet containing a red cross. Dönitz had given his personal permission to conduct the rescue and was so furious at the Allies (Americans) that he issued what became known as the Laconia order. Here is a slightly different English translation of it (not different in substance though):

1. No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats, and handing out food and water. Rescue runs counter to the most primitive demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

2. Orders on taking prisoner captains and chief engineers remain in force.

3. Shipwrecked are only to be rescued in case their information is important to the boat.

4. Be hard, remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when he bombs German cities.

From Neither Sharks nor Wolves The Men of Nazi Germany's U-Boat Arm 1939-1945 by Timothy P. Mulligan:

Up to this point he had conceded discretionary powers for humanitarian measures to his commanders, who had reciprocated by not endangering their boats when they had aided survivors. Now as the increasing threat of Allied aircraft reduced a U-boat commander's ability to gauge the safety factor, Dönitz eliminated his discretionary powers altogether: "I did not want to give [a U-boat commander] a chance to act independently, to make his own decision," Dönitz later explained.

The Laconia order would later be interpreted by the Allies at Nuremburg as being an order to kill survivors. It is also another source of the rumors that U-boats machine-gunned survivors. However it wasn't interpreted by the U-boat service that way at all nor did Dönitz intend it to be. It means exactly what it says and it does not say to kill survivors. Eck's attorney even attempted to get him to say he interpreted it that way in order to save his life but to Eck's credit he refused.

From Neither Sharks nor Wolves The Men of Nazi Germany's U-Boat Arm 1939-1945 by Timothy P. Mulligan:

That Dönitz's message fell far short of an order to murder became a subject of discussion among Hitler, Raeder, and Dönitz in a conference at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin on 28 September (1942 KD). Hitler seized upon the Laconia incident to advocate the outright killing of survivors: "It is nonsense to offer provisions to survivors in their lifeboats, or provide sailing instructions for their return home. I hereby order that ships and their crews are to be destroyed, even if the crews are in lifeboats." An eyewitness recorded Dönitz's reaction as follows:

"No, mein Führer. It goes against the honor of a seaman to shoot at shipwrecked survivors. I cannot issue such an order. My U-boat men are volunteers, waging a costly struggle in the belief they are fighting honorably for a good cause. Their combat morale would be undermined by this order. I must request that you withdraw it."

Hitler, lapsing into a Viennese dialect, backed down: "Do what you want, but no more offering assistance and sailing instructions." Few stood up to Hitler in such a manner fewer still won their point. For this, Dönitz deserves due credit, but perhaps it is ultimately attributable to his understanding of what his submariners would and would not do (emphasis added by KD).

What's more, some in the U-boat service failed to follow the "no helping survivors" part of the order. The Laconia order had been transmitted to the U-boats at sea on September 17th and again on September 20th. It was also added to the operational orders of U-boats going out on patrol. Here are just a few of the cases of U-boat crews helping survivors after the order not to:

SS Benjamin Smith
U-175 Bruns Bruns
Offered medical attention, medical supplies, food, water, American cigarettes and course and distance to land. Bruns also told them that they were in the shipping lanes and should be picked up soon before wishing them "good luck" and departing.

MS East Indian
U-181 Lüth
Water & course to land.

SS Julia Ward Howe
U-442 Hesse
Course to land.

SS Richard Caswell
U-513 Guggenberger
Cigarettes & matches.

SS Richard D. Spaight
U-182 Clausen
Offered water, provisions, & medical treatment.

SS Robert Bacon
U-178 Dommes
Distance to land.

SS Roumanie
U-617 Brandi
Rescued survivor.

SV Star of Scotland
U-159 Witte
Took captain prisoner but set him free when he told Witte he was the only one that could navigate the lifeboat to land. U-boat gave them food, cigarettes and a bandage for an injured crewman.

Numerous other U-boat commanders would continue to assist survivors whenever they could for the rest of the war just as they always had. In my opinion, Dönitz had to know survivors were still being helped and he turned a blind eye to it. However as the war progressed helping survivors became almost impossible. More and more ships were traveling in escorted convoys and the Allies controlled the air. It was too dangerous for a U-boat to surface anywhere around a targeted ship for any length of time. At the end of the war it was frequently even too dangerous to come to periscope depth after an attack. They dived immediately after firing their torpedoes, took evasive action, and hoped they would hear the sound of their torpedoes hitting their targets before they heard the sound of depth charges hitting the water over them. Needless to say they didn't surface, and hang around and machinegun the survivors either.

War is a bloody business. It always has been and it always will be. The U-boat men's restraint is particularly amazing when you consider that those merchant ships were carrying the men and weapons that were being used to kill their families back home.

Sadly the U-boat men are easy targets for this kind of rumor. Just one rumor or just one guy saying that he was shot at because a round came close to him and you have an almost impossible job to prove it wasn't an atrocity. Especially with so many willing to accept it as fact without question. It is easy to determine what was hit but much more difficult to determine what was aimed at. The only way I know to get a handle on it is to look at the bigger picture. If the U-boat service had wanted to kill the crews they would have. Few would have survived. It is that simple. There was no mass killing of merchant crews. Exactly the opposite happened. There were a great many cases of U-boat crews helping the men in the water and I have personally researched a number of them. What's more if you study the men that served in the U-boat service you will find that they were decent, honorable men that served their country with distinction, just like Allied submarine men and the merchant seamen that they all attacked.

Could there have been a case or two where something like that happened and they got away with it? For it to have been ordered by an officer that officer would have had to be certain it could be hidden from Dönitz because Dönitz had no desire to see his men murder helpless men in the water. He had probably put his life on the line when he stood up to Hitler on that issue. That means every man on deck at the time would have to be agreeable to covering it up and that simply wasn't the kind of thing those men would have done. On top of that it would have been reported by the Allied media and the families of the men on that U-boat would have known what they did. Most importantly though is the character of the officers and their men themselves. These were professional soldiers that were well trained. They had a very high standard of honor and killing men in the water was not part of it. It was very difficult to become a naval officer and it took a lot of training and discipline. These men were not just men off the street that could easily allow their hatred for an enemy that was killing their families back home to cause them to commit murder. They were also held strictly accountable by U-boat command.

Could a member of one of the gun crews have fired on someone in the water or in a lifeboat? I think anyone that ever served in the military of any country would have to honestly answer that with "well, perhaps". Give a young man a gun and put him in harm's way and anyone that thinks they can predict the outcome with 100% certainly 100% of the time is a fool. Did it happen? The only case proven against the U-boat service was the Eck case and that wasn't just one man that aimed low or snuck in a few rounds a little off his assigned target. It was deliberate.

Given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the fact that other than the Eck case none of the U-boat men were ever charged with any wrongdoing, I think we have to give these men the benefit of the doubt and assume the stories are incorrect. As I mentioned, if they had wanted to kill merchant seamen they would have killed a very large number of them and that just didn't happen.

Hollywood has made millions keeping those stories alive. If you pay attention to much of the media even now there were no Germans in WWII, only Nazis. There wasn't a German army, just a Nazi army. No German U-boats either, just Nazi U-boats, etc. This level of propaganda was necessary at the time and it was rendered easy to believe by crimes committed by the Nazi government and some other branches of the German military. You almost have to demonize the enemy during a war. How else are you going to get an otherwise decent 19-year old kid to hack someone to death with an entrenching tool? But that war is long over.

It is time to look at each reported incident very carefully and report what is found instead of just assuming the worst. What was the visibility? What were the sea conditions? What was the weather? How far away from the ship was the U-boat? Was the ship armed? Were the guns manned? If so, was it firing its guns? Was anyone attempting to man them? Was it using its radio? Was the ship attempting to escape? What side of the ship were the lifeboats lowered on relative to the U-boat? Was it possible for the U-boat to determine that the ship was being abandoned? Which guns were actually used against the ship? Were the lifeboats lowered into the gunfire before the gunfire could be stopped? In short, what were the circumstances? Where did the story of the atrocity come from (a crewman or somebody who heard it from somebody else etc.)? Did the source describe the circumstances? Is the story actually in the official records? This later question is perhaps the most telling. If it had actually happened, it would have been reported and included in the official records. That's not to say that anything in the official records is therefore true. It just says that the men making the report thought it was true.

I also found two cases of very sloppy reporting by (probably a research assistant of) a very reputable writer. There was a lot of creative reporting too. If there were holes in a lifeboat they had to be machine gun holes even if the U-boat never came close enough to fire its machine guns. In one case a U-boat was accused by one writer of firing at the lifeboats as they were being lowered and another writer described the same incident as the crew being machine-gunned in the water. It seems the crime got worse as it went from writer to writer. Additionally when you track these stories down you invariably find the U-boat commanders reported to have been involved had an absolutely clean record for all of the other ships they attacked. Some even had proven track records of helping men in the water.

Out of the thousands of ships attacked only a very tiny number actually reported any wrongdoing and I am certain most all of them could be explained if the circumstances were known. I can't say with 100% certainty that the Eck case was the only case but if there was another one it was definitely an aberration. Anyone that has ever seen a military brig (jail) knows that sometimes an individual breaks the rules but the act of a single individual can't be attributed to all of the men in a whole service.

Many writers today (and there are many of them on the forum here from time-to-time) are doing what they can to tell it like it really happened but we still have to deal with garbage like the recent U-571 movie from other writers and I guess we will have to keep on dealing with stuff like that for a long time to come. It makes money for someone at the expense of men and their families that have no way to defend themselves. Now that's an atrocity we can all work on. Men that fight wars have to live with what they did do and that is tough enough. It is obscene to make them and their families have to live with something they didn't do.

From The Trial of the Germans by Eugene Davidson:

The testimony that undoubtedly saved Dönitz's life at Nuremberg came from Admiral Nimitz and from the British Admiralty. Both sources admitted that from the beginning of the war they (the United States in the Pacific and the British in the Skagerrak) had ordered their submarines to sink any ship on sight without regard to visit and search (The British orders were to sink any German ship by day and any ship by night sailing in the Skagerrak). The lawyers representing Raeder and Dönitz sent a questionnaire to Admiral Nimitz, and in his answers Nirnitz affirmed that the entire Pacific Ocean had been declared a theater of operations where American submarines were ordered to attack without warning - an order that went far beyond the German one that at the start of the war limited such attacks to the so-called immediate blockade zone about the British Isles.

In the American orders the only exceptions to the unrestricted submarine war were hospital ships and vessels that had been provided with a safe conduct. Furthermore, these orders had gone into effect on the first day of the war, December 7, 1941 they did not arise, as did the German measures, as a result of developments of the war.

Nimitz also testified that it was not the practice of American submarines to rescue survivors if such a rescue would be an undue or additional hazard to the submarine, which was limited both by its small passenger-carrying facilities and by the suicidal and homicidal tendencies of Japanese who were taken prisoner. It was, Nimitz testified, unsafe to rescue many survivors, although they were frequently given rubber boats and provisions. Almost invariably, Nimitz wrote, any prisoners had to be brought aboard a submarine by force.

None of the American practices, he said, was based on reprisals against Japanese submarine warfare. He had thought the unrestricted submarine warfare fully justified by the tactics of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"We are a respectable firm," Dönitz had said at the start of the war, and he considered himself and Raeder the respectable heads of it.

The overall operation of the U-boat service was exonerated at the war crimes trials after the war. Dönitz was cleared of any wrongdoing by the U-boat service during the war. While it was highly controversial for Dönitz to have been indicted at all he was sent to prison as a result of an even more controversial decision but not for anything to do with the treatment of merchant ship survivors or the manner in which the U-boat war was conducted. Not even all of the judges agreed that Dönitz should have been sent to prison.

Other than the Eck case there is no proven intentional machine-gunning of survivors by a U-boat during the entire war and there was also at least one somewhat similar American case (Wahoo / Buyo Maru ­ a Japanese troop transport filled with Japanese solders ­ January 26, 1943).


Alleyne, Warren. Barbados At War 1939-1945. Barbados: Warren Alleyne, 1999. ISBN: 9-7680-7720-4. Copyright: Warren Alleyne, 1999.

Bennett, G.H & R. Survivors - British Merchant Seamen in the Second World War. London: The Hambledon Press, 1999. ISBN: 1-85285-182-1. Copyright: G.H. and R. Bennett, 1999.

Blair, Clay Jr. Silent Victory The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1975. ISBN: 0-397-01089-3. Copyright: Clay Blair Jr., 1975.

Browning, Robert M. Jr. U.S. Merchant Vessel War Casualties of World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. ISBN 1-55750-087-8. Copyright: Robert M. Browning Jr., 1996.

Bunker, John. Heroes in Dungarees - The Story of the American Merchant Marine in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. ISBN: 1-55750-093-2. Copyright: John Bunker, 1995.

Davidson, Eugene. The Trial of the Germans. New York: Collier Books, 1966. First Collier Book Club edition, 1972. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 66-27009. Copyright: Eugene Davidson, 1966.

Doenitz, Karl. Memoirs Ten Years and Twenty Days. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990. ISBN: 0-306-80764-5.

Dupra, Lyle E. We Delivered - The U.S. Nayv Armed Guard in World War II. Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1997. ISBN: 0-89745-212-7. Copyright: Lyle E. Dupra, 1997.

Elphick, Peter. Liberty - The Ships That Won the War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55750-535-7. Copyright: Peter Elphick, 2001.

Gibbs, Archie. U-Boat Prisoner The Life Story of a Texas Sailor. New York: Literary Classics, Inc., 1943. Copyright: King Features Syndicate, Inc., 1943

Gibson, Charles Dana. Merchantman? Or Ship of War. Camden, ME: Ensign Press, 1986. ISBN: 0-9608996-1-8. Copyright: Charles Dana Gibson, 1986.

High Command of the German Navy. The U-boat Commanders Handbook. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1998. ISBN: 0-939631-21-0.

Hirschfeld, Wolfgang and Brooks, Geoffrey. The Secret Diary of a U-boat. London: Orion Books Ltd., 1997. ISBN: 0-75281-116-9. Copyright: Geoffrey Brooks, 1996.

Horwood, Andrew. Captain Harry Thomasen - Forty Years at Sea. St. John's: Andrew Horwood (self published), 1973. Copyright: Andrew Horwood, 1973.

Moore, Captain Arthur R. A Careless Word… a Needless Sinking. Kings Point, NY: The American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point NY, 1988. Copyright: Captain Arthur R. Moore, 1983.

Morison, Samuel E. The Battle of the Atlantic, September 1939 - May 1943. Volume I of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1961. ISBN: 0-31658-301-4. Copyright: Samuel E. Morison, 1947.

Morison, Samuel E. The Atlantic Battle Won. May 1943 - May 1945. Volume X of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1975. ISBN: 0-31658-310-3. Copyright: Samuel E. Morison, 1956.

Mulligan, Timothy P. Neither Sharks nor Wolves The Men of Nazi Germany's U-Boat Arm 1939-1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999. ISBN: 1-55750-594-2. Copyright: Timothy P. Mulligan, 1999.

Padfield, Peter. War Beneath The Sea. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998. ISBN: 0-471-24945-9. Copyright: Peter Padfield, 1995.

Rust, Eric C. Naval Officers Under Hitler - The Story of Crew 34. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991. ISBN: 0-275-93709-7. Copyright: Eric C. Rust, 1991.

Savas, Theodore P. Silent Hunters - German U-boat Commanders of World War II. Campbell, California: Savas Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN: 1-882810-17-1. Copyright: Theodore P. Savas, 1997.

Slader, John. The Fourth Service - Merchantmen at War 1939-45. Wimborne Minster, Dorset: New Era Writer's Guild (UK) Ltd., 1995. ISBN: 1-899694-45-5.

Standard Oil Company (New Jersey). Ships of the Esso Fleet in World War II. New Jersey: Standard Oil Company, 1946. Copyright: Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), 1946.

Taylor, Telford. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992. ISBN: 0-316-83400-9. Copyright: Telford Taylor, 1992.

Tennent, Alan J. British and Commonwealth Merchant Ship Losses to Axis Submarines 1939-1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2001. ISBN: 0-7509-2760-7. Copyright: Alan J. Tennent, 2001.


Admiral Graf Spee was 186 meters (610 ft) long overall and had a beam of 21.65 m (71 ft) and a maximum draft of 7.34 m (24 ft 1 in). The ship had a design displacement of 14,890 t (14,650 long tons) and a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons (16,280 t), [2] though the ship was officially stated to be within the 10,000-long-ton (10,160 t) limit of the Treaty of Versailles. [3] Admiral Graf Spee was powered by four sets of MAN 9-cylinder double-acting two-stroke diesel engines. [2] The ship's top speed was 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h 32.8 mph), at 54,000 PS (53,260 shp 39,720 kW). At a cruising speed of 18.69 knots (34.61 km/h 21.51 mph), the ship had a range of 16,300 nautical miles (30,200 km 18,800 mi). [4] As designed, her standard complement consisted of 33 officers and 586 enlisted men, though after 1935 this was significantly increased to 30 officers and 921–1,040 sailors. [2]

Admiral Graf Spee ' s primary armament was six 28 cm (11 in) SK C/28 guns mounted in two triple gun turrets, one forward and one aft of the superstructure. The ship carried a secondary battery of eight 15 cm (5.9 in) SK C/28 guns in single turrets grouped amidships. Her anti-aircraft battery originally consisted of three 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/45 guns, though in 1935 these were replaced with six 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/78 guns. In 1938, the 8.8 cm guns were removed, and six 10.5 cm (4.1 in) L/65 guns, four 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 guns, and ten 2 cm (0.79 in) C/30 guns were installed in their place. [2] The ship also carried a pair of quadruple 53.3 cm (21 in) deck-mounted torpedo tubes placed on her stern. [2]

Admiral Graf Spee ' s armored belt was 100 mm (3.9 in) thick her upper deck was 17 mm (0.67 in) thick while the main armored deck was 45 to 70 mm (1.8 to 2.8 in) thick. The main battery turrets had 140 mm (5.5 in) thick faces and 80 mm thick sides. The ship was equipped with two Arado Ar 196 seaplanes and one catapult. [2] Radar consisted of a FMG G(gO) "Seetakt" set [5] [a] Admiral Graf Spee was the first German warship to be equipped with radar equipment. [6]

Admiral Graf Spee was ordered by the Reichsmarine from the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven. [2] Ordered as Ersatz Braunschweig, Admiral Graf Spee replaced the old pre-dreadnought battleship Braunschweig. Her keel was laid on 1 October 1932, [7] under construction number 125. [2] The ship was launched on 30 June 1934 at her launching, she was christened by the daughter of Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the ship's namesake. [8] She was completed slightly over a year and a half later on 6 January 1936, the day she was commissioned into the German fleet. [9]

Admiral Graf Spee spent the first three months of her career conducting extensive sea trials to ready the ship for service. The ship's first commander was Kapitän zur See (KzS) Conrad Patzig he was replaced in 1937 by KzS Walter Warzecha. [8] After joining the fleet, Admiral Graf Spee became the flagship of the German Navy. [10] In the summer of 1936, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she deployed to the Atlantic to participate in non-intervention patrols off the Republican-held coast of Spain. Between August 1936 and May 1937, the ship conducted three patrols off Spain. [11] On the return voyage from Spain, Admiral Graf Spee stopped in Great Britain to represent Germany in the Coronation Review at Spithead for King George VI on 20 May. [10]

After the conclusion of the Review, Admiral Graf Spee returned to Spain for a fourth non-intervention patrol. Following fleet maneuvers and a brief visit to Sweden, the ship conducted a fifth and final patrol in February 1938. [11] In 1938, KzS Hans Langsdorff took command of the vessel [8] she conducted a series of goodwill visits to various foreign ports throughout the year. [11] These included cruises into the Atlantic, where she stopped in Tangier and Vigo. [12] She also participated in extensive fleet maneuvers in German waters. She was part of the celebrations for the reintegration of the port of Memel into Germany, [11] and a fleet review in honor of Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary. Between 18 April and 17 May 1939, she conducted another cruise into the Atlantic, stopping in the ports of Ceuta and Lisbon. [12] On 21 August 1939, Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven, bound for the South Atlantic. [10]

World War II Edit

Following the outbreak of war between Germany and the Allies in September 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Navy to begin commerce raiding against Allied merchant traffic. Hitler nevertheless delayed issuing the order until it became clear that Britain would not countenance a peace treaty following the conquest of Poland. The Admiral Graf Spee was instructed to strictly adhere to prize rules, which required raiders to stop and search ships for contraband before sinking them, and to ensure that their crews are safely evacuated. Langsdorff was ordered to avoid combat, even with inferior opponents, and to frequently change position. [13] On 1 September, the cruiser rendezvoused with her supply ship Altmark southwest of the Canary Islands. While replenishing his fuel supplies, Langsdorff ordered superfluous equipment transferred to the Altmark this included several of the ship's boats, flammable paint, and two of her ten 2 cm anti-aircraft guns, which were installed on the tanker. [14]

On 11 September, while still transferring supplies from Altmark, Admiral Graf Spee ' s Arado floatplane spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland approaching the two German ships. Langsdorff ordered both vessels to depart at high speed, successfully evading the British cruiser. [14] On 26 September, the ship finally received orders authorizing attacks on Allied merchant shipping. Four days later Admiral Graf Spee ' s Arado located Booth Steam Ship Co's cargo ship Clement off the coast of Brazil. The cargo ship transmitted an "RRR" signal ("I am under attack by a raider") before the cruiser ordered her to stop. Admiral Graf Spee took Clement ' s captain and chief engineer prisoner but left the rest of her crew to abandon ship in the lifeboats. [15] The cruiser then fired 30 rounds from her 28 cm and 15 cm guns and two torpedoes at the cargo ship, which broke up and sank. [16] Langsdorff ordered a distress signal sent to the naval station in Pernambuco to ensure the rescue of the ship's crew. The British Admiralty immediately issued a warning to merchant shipping that a German surface raider was in the area. [17] The British crew later reached the Brazilian coast in their lifeboats. [15]

On 5 October, the British and French navies formed eight groups to hunt down Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. The British aircraft carriers HMS Hermes, Eagle, and Ark Royal, the French aircraft carrier Béarn, the British battlecruiser Renown, and French battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, and 16 cruisers were committed to the hunt. [18] Force G, commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood and assigned to the east coast of South America, comprised the cruisers Cumberland and Exeter. Force G was reinforced by the light cruisers Ajax and Achilles Harwood detached Cumberland to patrol the area off the Falkland Islands while his other three cruisers patrolled off the River Plate. [19]

On the same day as the formation of the Anglo-French hunter groups, Admiral Graf Spee captured the steamer Newton Beech. Two days later, she encountered and sank the merchant ship Ashlea. On 8 October, the following day, she sank Newton Beech, [20] which Langsdorff had been using to house prisoners. [21] Newton Beech was too slow to keep up with Admiral Graf Spee, and so the prisoners were transferred to the cruiser. On 10 October, she captured the steamer Huntsman, the captain of which had not sent a distress signal until the last minute, as he had mistakenly identified Admiral Graf Spee as a French warship. Unable to accommodate the crew from Huntsman, Admiral Graf Spee sent the ship to a rendezvous location with a prize crew. On 15 October, Admiral Graf Spee rendezvoused with Altmark to refuel and transfer prisoners the following morning, the prize Huntsman joined the two ships. The prisoners aboard Huntsman were transferred to Altmark and Langsdorff then sank Huntsman on the night of 17 October. [22]

On 22 October, Admiral Graf Spee encountered and sank the steamer Trevanion. [23] At the end of October, Langsdorff sailed his ship into the Indian Ocean south of Madagascar. The purpose of that foray was to divert Allied warships away from the South Atlantic, and to confuse the Allies about his intentions. By this time, Admiral Graf Spee had cruised for almost 30,000 nautical miles (56,000 km 35,000 mi) and needed an engine overhaul. [24] On 15 November, the ship sank the tanker MV Africa Shell, and the following day, she stopped an unidentified Dutch steamer, though did not sink her. Admiral Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic between 17 and 26 November to refuel from Altmark. [25] While replenishing supplies, the crew of Admiral Graf Spee built a dummy gun turret on her bridge and erected a dummy second funnel behind the aircraft catapult to alter her silhouette significantly in a bid to confuse allied shipping as to her true identity. [26]

Admiral Graf Spee ' s Arado floatplane located the merchant ship Doric Star: Langsdorff fired a shot across her bow to stop the ship. [27] Doric Star was able to send out a distress signal before she was sunk, which prompted Harwood to take his three cruisers to the mouth of the River Plate, which he suspected might be Langsdorff's next target. On the night of 5 December, Admiral Graf Spee sank the steamer Tairoa. The next day, she met with Altmark and transferred 140 prisoners from Doric Star and Tairoa. Admiral Graf Spee encountered her last victim on the evening of 7 December: the freighter Streonshalh. The prize crew recovered secret documents containing shipping route information. [28] Based on that information, Langsdorff decided to head for the seas off Montevideo. On 12 December, the ship's Arado 196 broke down and could not be repaired, depriving Graf Spee of her aerial reconnaissance. [29] The ship's disguise was removed, so it would not hinder the ship in battle. [30]

Battle of the River Plate Edit

At 05:30 on the morning of 13 December 1939, lookouts spotted a pair of masts off the ship's starboard bow. Langsdorff assumed this to be the escort for a convoy mentioned in the documents recovered from Tairoa. At 05:52, however, the ship was identified as HMS Exeter she was accompanied by a pair of smaller warships, initially thought to be destroyers but quickly identified as Leander-class cruisers. Langsdorff decided not to flee from the British ships, and ordered his ship to battle stations and to close at maximum speed. [30] At 06:08, the British spotted Admiral Graf Spee Harwood divided his ships to split the gunfire of Admiral Graf Spee ' s 28 cm guns. [31] The German ship opened fire with her main battery at Exeter and her secondary guns at the flagship Ajax at 06:17. At 06:20, Exeter returned fire, followed by Ajax at 06:21 and Achilles at 06:24. In the span of thirty minutes, Admiral Graf Spee had hit Exeter three times, disabling her two forward turrets, destroying her bridge and her aircraft catapult, and starting major fires. Ajax and Achilles moved closer to Admiral Graf Spee to relieve the pressure on Exeter. [32]

Langsdorff thought the two light cruisers were making a torpedo attack, and turned away under a smokescreen. [32] The respite allowed Exeter to withdraw from the action by now, only one of her gun turrets was still in action, and she had suffered 61 dead and 23 wounded crew members. [31] At around 07:00, Exeter returned to the engagement, firing from her stern turret. Admiral Graf Spee fired on her again, scored more hits, and forced Exeter to withdraw again, this time with a list to port. At 07:25, Admiral Graf Spee scored a hit on Ajax that disabled her aft turrets. [32] Both sides broke off the action, Admiral Graf Spee retreating into the River Plate estuary, while Harwood's battered cruisers remained outside to observe any possible breakout attempts. In the course of the engagement, Admiral Graf Spee had been hit approximately 70 times 36 men were killed and 60 more were wounded, [33] including Langsdorff, who had been wounded twice by splinters while standing on the open bridge. [32]

Scuttling Edit

As a result of battle damage and casualties, Langsdorff decided to put into Montevideo, where repairs could be effected and the wounded men could be evacuated from the ship. [33] Most of the hits scored by the British cruisers caused only minor structural and superficial damage but the oil purification plant, which was required to prepare the diesel fuel for the engines, was destroyed. Her desalination plant and galley were also destroyed, which would have increased the difficulty of a return to Germany. A hit in the bow would also have negatively affected her seaworthiness in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic. Admiral Graf Spee had fired much of her ammunition in the engagement with Harwood's cruisers. [34]

After arriving in port, the wounded crewmen were taken to local hospitals and the dead were buried with full military honors. Captive Allied seamen still aboard the ship were released. Repairs necessary to make the ship seaworthy were expected to take up to two weeks. [35] British naval intelligence worked to convince Langsdorff that vastly superior forces were concentrating to destroy his ship, if he attempted to break out of the harbor. The Admiralty broadcast a series of signals, on frequencies known to be intercepted by German intelligence. The closest heavy units—the carrier Ark Royal and battlecruiser Renown—were some 2,500 nmi (4,600 km 2,900 mi) away, much too far to intervene in the situation. Believing the British reports, Langsdorff discussed his options with commanders in Berlin. These were either to break out and seek refuge in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government would intern the ship, or to scuttle the ship in the Plate estuary. [33]

Langsdorff was unwilling to risk the lives of his crew, so he decided to scuttle the ship. He knew that although Uruguay was neutral, the government was on friendly terms with Britain and if he allowed his ship to be interned, the Uruguayan Navy would allow British intelligence officers access to the ship. [34] Under Article 17 of the Hague Convention of 1907, neutrality restrictions limited Admiral Graf Spee to a period of 72 hours for repairs in Montevideo, before she would be interned for the duration of the war. [36] [37] On 17 December 1939, Langsdorff ordered the destruction of all important equipment aboard the ship. The ship's remaining ammunition supply was dispersed throughout the ship, in preparation for scuttling. On 18 December, the ship, with only Langsdorff and 40 other men aboard, moved into the outer roadstead to be scuttled. [38] A crowd of 20,000 watched as the scuttling charges were set the crew was taken off by an Argentine tug and the ship was scuttled at 20:55. [37] [39] The multiple explosions from the munitions sent jets of flame high into the air and created a large cloud of smoke that obscured the ship which burned in the shallow water for the next two days. [38]

On 20 December, in his room in a Buenos Aires hotel, Langsdorff shot himself in full dress uniform while lying on the ship's battle ensign. [38] In late January 1940, the neutral American cruiser USS Helena arrived in Montevideo and the crew was permitted to visit the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee. The Americans met the German crewmen, who were still in Montevideo. [37] In the aftermath of the scuttling, the ship's crew were taken to Argentina, where they were interned for the remainder of the war. [38]

Wreck Edit

The wreck was partially broken up in situ in 1942–1943, though parts of the ship were visible for some time after the wreck lies at a depth of only 11 m (36 ft). [9] The salvage rights were purchased from the German Government by the British, for £14,000, using a Montevideo engineering company as a front. The British had been surprised by the accuracy of the gunnery and expected to find a radar range finder, which they did. They used the knowledge thus acquired to try to develop countermeasures, under the leadership of Fred Hoyle at the British radar project. The Admiralty complained about the large sum paid for the salvage rights. [40]

In February 2004, a salvage team began work raising the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee. The operation was in part being funded by the government of Uruguay, in part by the private sector as the wreck was a hazard to navigation. The first major section—a 27 metric tons (27 long tons 30 short tons) gunnery rangefinding telemeter—was raised on 25 February. [41] On 10 February 2006, the 2 m (6 ft 7 in), 400 kilograms (880 lb) eagle and swastika crest of Admiral Graf Spee was recovered from the stern of the ship [42] it was stored in a Uruguayan naval warehouse following German complaints about exhibiting "Nazi paraphernalia". [43]


The signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, at Compiègne, France, effectively ended the First World War. The Allied powers agreed that Germany's U-boat fleet should be surrendered without the possibility of return, but were unable to agree upon a course of action regarding the German surface fleet. The Americans suggested that the ships be interned in a neutral port until a final decision was reached, but the two countries that were approached – Norway and Spain – both refused. Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss suggested that the fleet be interned at Scapa Flow with a skeleton crew of German sailors, and guarded in the interim by the Grand Fleet. [3]

The terms were transmitted to Germany on 12 November 1918, instructing them to make the High Seas Fleet ready to sail by 18 November, or the Allies would occupy Heligoland. [3]

On the night of 15 November, Rear-Admiral Hugo Meurer, the representative of Admiral Franz von Hipper, met Admiral David Beatty aboard Beatty's flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth. Beatty presented Meurer with the terms, which were expanded at a second meeting the following day. The U-boats were to surrender to Rear-Admiral Reginald Tyrwhitt at Harwich, under the supervision of the Harwich Force. The surface fleet was to sail to the Firth of Forth and surrender to Beatty. They would then be led to Scapa Flow and interned, pending the outcome of the peace negotiations. Meurer asked for an extension to the deadline, aware that the sailors were still in a mutinous mood (which earlier had led to the Wilhelmshaven mutiny), and that the officers might have difficulty in getting them to obey orders. Meurer eventually signed the terms after midnight. [3]

The first craft to be surrendered were the U-boats, which began to arrive at Harwich on 20 November 1918 176 were eventually handed over. Hipper refused to lead his fleet to the surrender, delegating the task to Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. [3] The German fleet was met by the light cruiser Cardiff on the morning of 21 November, and led to the rendezvous with over 370 ships of the Grand Fleet and other allied navies. There were 70 German ships in total the battleship König and the light cruiser Dresden had engine trouble and had to be left behind. The destroyer V30 struck a mine while crossing, and sank. [3]

The German ships were escorted into the Firth of Forth, where they anchored. Beatty signalled them:

The German flag will be hauled down at sunset today and will not be hoisted again without permission. [3] [4]

The fleet was then moved between 25 and 27 November to Scapa Flow the destroyers to Gutter Sound and the battleships and cruisers to the north and west of the island of Cava. [5] Eventually, a total of 74 ships were interned there, König and Dresden having arrived on 6 December accompanied by the destroyer V129, which replaced the sunken V30. The last ship to arrive was the battleship Baden on 9 January 1919. [6] Initially, the interned ships were guarded by the Battle Cruiser Force (later reduced to the Battle Cruiser Squadron), commanded in succession by Vice-Admiral William Pakenham, Rear-Admiral Henry Oliver and Rear-Admiral Roger Keyes. On 1 May 1919, Vice-Admiral Leveson and the Second Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet took over guard duties, and were succeeded on 18 May by Vice-Admiral Sir Sydney Fremantle and the First Battle Squadron. [7]

The naval historian Arthur Marder described the state of affairs on board the German ships during the internment as "one of complete demoralization". He identified four reasons that exacerbated the situation: lack of discipline, poor food, lack of recreation and slow postal service. The cumulative result of these problems created "indescribable filth in some of the ships". [8] On 29 November the Second-in-Command of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir Charles Madden, wrote to his brother-in-law and former superior Lord Jellicoe that, "All proposed orders are considered and counter-signed by the men's committee before they are executed and then they are carried out as convenient". When visiting an interned ship the German officers were reported to have been "dumb with shame". [9] Food was sent from Germany twice a month but was monotonous and not of good quality. Catching fish and seagulls provided a dietary supplement and some recreation. A large amount of brandy was also sent over. Recreation for the men was limited to their ships, as the British refused to allow any of the interned sailors to go ashore or visit any other German ships. British officers and men were only allowed to visit on official business. [10] Outgoing post to Germany was censored from the beginning, and later incoming post also. German seamen were granted 300 cigarettes a month or 75 cigars. There were German doctors in the interned fleet but no dentists, and the British refused to provide dental care. [11] [12]

Command of the interned ships was exercised through Reuter, flying his flag in the battleship Friedrich der Grosse. He had a British drifter at his disposal for visiting ships and issuing written orders on urgent business, and his staff was occasionally allowed to visit other ships to arrange repatriation of officers and men. [13] Reuter, whose health was poor, requested that his flag be transferred to the light cruiser Emden on 25 March after he was repeatedly prevented from sleeping by the stomping on his cabin roof by a group of revolutionary sailors called the "Red Guard". [7] [11] Over seven months the number of men in his command was continually reduced from the 20,000 men who had sailed the ships over in November. 4,000 returned to Germany on 3 December, 6,000 on 6 December and 5,000 on 12 December, leaving 4,815, of whom approximately 100 were repatriated a month. [14]

Negotiations over the fate of the ships were under way at the Paris Peace Conference. The French and Italians each wanted a quarter of the ships. The British wanted them destroyed, since they knew that any redistribution would be detrimental to the proportional advantage in numbers they had compared to other navies. [11] Under Article XXXI of the Armistice the Germans were not permitted to destroy their ships. Both Admirals Beatty and Madden had approved plans to seize the German ships in case scuttling was attempted Admirals Keyes and Leveson recommended that the ships be seized anyway and the crews interned ashore at Nigg Island, but their suggestions were not taken up. [15] Their concern was not without justification, for as early as January 1919, Reuter mentioned the possibility of scuttling the fleet to his chief of staff. [16] Having learned of the possible terms of the Treaty of Versailles in May 1919, he began to prepare detailed plans to scuttle his ships. [17] Admiral Erich Raeder later wrote that Reuter was informed that the fleet was to be scuttled at all costs. [18] A further reduction of crews with the departure of two transports to Germany on 18 June 1919 meant that Reuter was left with reliable men to carry out preparations. [19] On that day he sent out orders, paragraph 11 of which stated: "It is my intention to sink the ships only if the enemy should attempt to obtain possession of them without the assent of our government. Should our government agree in the peace to terms to the surrender of the ships, then the ships will be handed over, to the lasting disgrace of those who have placed us in this position." [19] His orders were sent to the interned ships on 18 June. [19]

In the meantime the signing of the Treaty of Versailles was scheduled for noon on 21 June 1919. [20] The First Battle Squadron prepared to board the German ships in force to check for signs that the fleet was preparing to scuttle. On 13 June Admiral Madden requested in person at the Admiralty a daily political appreciation from 17 June onwards so as to be prepared to take action, but as Madden related to Beatty shortly afterwards, "they had no reliable indication of the German attitude towards the peace terms". Admiral Fremantle submitted to Madden on 16 June a scheme for seizing the German ships at midnight of 21/22 June, after the treaty was meant to be signed. Madden approved the plan on 19 June, but only after he was informed that the deadline for signing the treaty was extended to 19:00 on 23 June and he neglected to officially inform Fremantle. [21] News of the extension was seen by Fremantle in a newspaper on the same day and he assumed it to be true. [21] He had been under orders from Madden for some time to exercise his battleships against torpedo attacks, which required good weather in order to recover the torpedoes. The weather on the night of 20 June was favourable so Fremantle ordered the First Battle Squadron to sea at 09:00 the next day, 21 June. [21] The operation to seize the German ships was postponed until the night of his squadron's return to Scapa Flow on 23 June, after the deadline to sign the treaty had expired. [22] Fremantle later claimed that before he left Scapa he had unofficially informed Reuter that the armistice was still in effect. [23]

Around 10:00 a.m. on 21 June 1919, Reuter sent a flag signal ordering the fleet to stand by for the signal to scuttle. At about 11:20 the flag signal was sent: "To all Commanding Officers and the Leader of the Torpedo Boats. Paragraph Eleven of to-day's date. Acknowledge. Chief of the Interned Squadron." [24] The signal was repeated by semaphore and searchlights. [25] Scuttling began immediately: seacocks and flood valves were opened, internal water pipes smashed and drain valves on sewage tanks opened. [26] Portholes had already been loosened, watertight doors and condenser covers left open, and in some ships holes had been bored through bulkheads, all to facilitate the spread of water once scuttling began. [26] One German ship commander recorded that before 21 June, seacocks had been set on a hair turning and heavily lubricated, while large hammers had been placed besides valves. [27]

There was no noticeable effect until noon, when Friedrich der Grosse began to list heavily to starboard and all the ships hoisted the Imperial German Ensign at their mainmasts. The crews then began to abandon ship. [28] The British naval forces left at Scapa Flow comprised three destroyers, one of which was under repair, seven trawlers and a number of drifters. [24] [25] Fremantle started receiving news of the scuttling at 12:20 and cancelled his squadron's exercise at 12:35, steaming at full speed back to Scapa Flow. He and a division of ships arrived at 14:30 in time to see only the large ships still afloat. He had radioed ahead to order all available craft to prevent the German ships sinking or beach them. [29] The last German ship to sink was the battlecruiser Hindenburg at 17:00, [25] by which time 15 capital ships were sunk, and only Baden survived. Four light cruisers and 32 destroyers were also sunk. Nine Germans were shot and killed and about 16 wounded aboard their lifeboats rowing towards land. [30]

During the afternoon, 1,774 Germans were picked up and transported by battleships of the First Battle Squadron to Invergordon. [31] Fremantle had sent out a general order declaring that the Germans were to be treated as prisoners-of-war for having broken the armistice and they were destined for the prisoner-of-war camps at Nigg. Reuter and several of his officers were brought onto the quarterdeck of HMS Revenge, where Fremantle – through an interpreter – denounced their actions as dishonourable while Reuter and his men looked on "with expressionless faces". [32] Admiral Fremantle subsequently remarked privately, "I could not resist feeling some sympathy for von Reuter, who had preserved his dignity when placed against his will in a highly unpleasant and invidious position." [33]

The boarding of U-559 changed the war – now both sides tell their story

T he top-secret breaking of the German Enigma code by Alan Turing, and the codebreakers working with him at Bletchley Park, was one of the greatest British coups of the second world war. It helped ships delivering vital supplies to the UK during the darkest days of the war to evade the packs of German U-boats trying to hunt them down, and enabled Britain to rebuild its strength and re-equip its armies in preparation for its bid to expel the Nazi armies from Europe.

Now extraordinary fresh details can be told of how the Royal Navy seized vital cipher information from captured German boats to make the work of the codebreakers possible.

The Enigma machine did not actually send the messages. It was used to transform normal German into gibberish which was then transmitted using morse code over the airwaves. British intercept stations could listen in to these signals, but because they were encoded, they could not understand what was being said.

The British capture of a string of German vessels – and their Enigma machines and codebooks – during the first seven months of 1941 changed all that. Using the items seized, Alan Turing and his fellow codebreakers were at long last able to work out how to read Germany’s naval Enigma messages. But there was a glitch. Every now and then the Germans, suspecting that their code might have been compromised, altered it, blacking out the codebreaking effort. The longest blackout occurred following the German order that vessels operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean after 1 February 1942 should insert a fourth rotor into their machines. Previously they had only used three.

This had disastrous consequences for Britain and her allies. While the naval Enigma messages were being read, convoys could be routed clear of the Nazi wolf packs lying in wait in the Atlantic. At a stroke this safety net had disappeared. From February to October 1942 hundreds of thousands of tons of allied shipping was sunk each month. There was a growing fear that Britain might eventually be starved into submission.

The gloom was only lifted after the seizing of a U-boat, U-559, with her codebooks on 30 October 1942, 75 years ago, enabled Bletchley Park to break the code once again. It is this game-changing capture whose anniversary will be celebrated at the end of this month.

The machine room in hut 6 at Bletchley Park. Photograph: Bletchley Park Trust/Getty Images

When I did the original research for my Enigma book, the available evidence suggested that the seizing of the codebooks was all down to a lucky break. Documents declassified more recently reveal that in fact a conscious effort was made to train British destroyer commanders so that they could extract as much cipher material as possible from captured vessels.

The only luck involved on the British side when a U-boat was finally cornered was the identity of the commander of the destroyer on the spot. It was Mark Thornton, a 35-year-old lieutenant commander, who had become obsessed not only with making his ship, HMS Petard, one of the best run in the Navy, but also with the desire to capture a U-boat and its codebooks.

A thickset, stocky man with a huge head set on powerful shoulders and the features of a boxer, the seeds of his fearsome reputation were sown on his very first day as the commander on the Petard. He told his assembled crew that his war experience to date had proved that his methods made him indestructible, and that while he was their leader they must adopt them too.

He backed up his promise to protect them by introducing training methods which, while effective, might have been described today as abusive. It was perfectly reasonable for him to insist that his crew should always be on the lookout for submarines. However to ensure they complied, he would climb up into the ship’s crow’s nest and pelt those he saw slacking on the deck below with pebbles, pieces of chalk and sometimes even with teacups.

On one occasion he let off a firecracker in the men’s sleeping quarters and then had a fire hose trained on his men as they rushed from their hammocks to their action stations. On another occasion he ordered his officers to climb out of a wardroom porthole during a gale so that they could swim around the stern of the ship and climb in through a porthole on the other side of the room. His order was only countermanded after a senior officer refused to obey his instructions on the ground that compliance would be tantamount to committing suicide.

The wardroom chef collapsed and died during one simulated exercise. His corpse was thrown into the sea. It was a miracle other men were not washed overboard whenever Petard left harbour. Thornton would turn the ship into the waves with such ferocity that they would completely cover the men dealing with securing the anchor, who had to hang on for dear life.

Such behaviour led some to wonder whether Thornton was mad, a view which was strengthened by his habit of getting up during meals and pummelling the bulkhead with his fists, shouting: “I must have action with the enemy now!” He was certainly eccentric. When he was seen firing a Lewis gun at a flock of gannets, he yelled at his men that he could not bear the sight of the murderous birds who were robbing the sea of its fish.

An Enigma machine in Bletchley Park Museum. Photograph: Alessia Pierdomenico/Reuters

It is no surprise to find that, drilled as they were by such bullying tactics within the suffocating confines of a ship from which there was no escape, the officers and crew would go to almost any lengths to please him, or to get him off their backs.

But Thornton’s striving for perfect efficiency would not have been enough on its own. There would have been no dividend had it not been for systemic German inefficiency on their U-boats. According to Hermann Dethlefs, a 19-year-old trainee officer serving on U-559, his German commander was not paying attention shortly after midday on 30 October 1942 when the U-boat, which was searching for convoys in the Mediterranean between Port Said, Egypt and Haifa, Palestine, was spotted near the surface from a British plane.

The U-boat commander gave the order to dive, but from that moment on, British planes and the five destroyers including Petard summoned to the spot never lost touch with the German submarine for long.

The many depth charges dropped did not hit the U-boat, but the water that as a result of the explosions leaked in, led to the stern of the U-boat sinking lower than her bow.

In an attempt to rebalance the vessel, all those who could were ordered to go to the front. “I went too,” Dethlefs remembered. “We were all very scared. Two of the youngest crew members could not stop trembling. They were crying. The older men tried to calm them down, but it is hard to reassure someone when everybody realises that the next bomb might blow up the boat.”

Eventually, at around 10pm, the leading engineer said he could no longer balance the U-boat, and the captain ordered that it should go up to the surface. Then, as the surrounding destroyers fired at them, everyone was told to evacuate.

Last out were the engineer and his assistants. Dethlefs only found out later that they had botched the sinking of the U-boat. They had damaged the levers that would have flooded the ballast tanks by snatching at them before the pins holding them in place were removed. No one had thought to have a bucket of water handy in which the codebooks, whose text was printed in water soluble ink, could have been immersed, thereby causing them to become unreadable.

Codebreaker Alan Turing. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Thornton barked out the order that the U-boat was to be boarded, and his men, by now “brainwashed” into obeying his every command whatever the risks, complied. There is a dispute over how Tony Fasson, his 29-year-old 1st lieutenant, and 22-year-old Able Seaman Colin Grazier made it to the abandoned U-boat. Romantics say that they, followed by the 16-year-old canteen assistant Tommy Brown, stripped off their clothes and swam over to her. Thornton’s official report states more prosaically that they “jumped over from the bows” as Petard’s bow floated alongside the U-boat’s stern.

What is certain is that all three climbed down into the conning tower to retrieve the codebooks. According to Brown: “The lights were out. The 1st lieutenant had a torch. The water was not very high, but rising gradually. 1st lieutenant was down there with a machine gun which he was using to smash open cabinets in the commanding officer’s cabin. He then tried some keys that were hanging behind the door and opened a drawer, taking out some confidential books which he gave me. I placed them at the bottom of the hatch. After finding more books in cabinets and drawers I took another lot up.”

When he went down again, as he testified: “the water was getting deeper and I told 1st lieutenant that they were all shouting on deck”. Fasson’s response was to hand him more books to take up the conning tower.

The books were placed in one of the destroyer’s rowing boats, just a short distance in front of Dethlefs, who along with a wounded comrade had been rescued from the sea. He remembers thinking: “I am an honourable ‘soldier’. I would do anything to help Germany. I was tempted to reach out and grab the captured papers so I could throw them into the sea. But because I was holding my wounded comrade and because there was a British sailor in front of me holding a gun, I quickly realised that was impossible. I couldn’t do anything.”

Brown’s testimony records what happened on his return to the conning tower: “I shouted, ‘You better come up!’ twice, and they had just started up when the submarine started to sink very quickly.” U559 sank beneath the waves.

Another witness reported: “We yelled and called the names of our shipmates. Only Tommy responded, his head bobbing up almost alongside the sea-boat.”

When he was asked whether there was any possibility of finding the others, he replied: “No chance. They were still down below when I dived off.” It was a tragic end to a heroic action.


  • 119 m (390 ft 5 in) o/a
  • 114 m (374 ft) w/l
  • 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 70,000 PS (51,000 kW 69,000 shp)
  • 2 shafts
  • 5 × 12.7 cm (5 in) guns
  • 4 × 3.7 cm guns
  • 6 × 2 cm guns
  • 8 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 60 mines

This class of four ships was the first German destroyer class. It was designed around a new type of engine, using high pressure steam. This should have allowed higher speed, while saving space and crewmembers. The engine was however so complicated and prone to breakdown, that it forced the navy to assign even more very highly qualified personnel on board to operate and service them. As a result of stability problems, the range of the ships had to be restricted by navy regulations, allowing them to use only half of the fuel carried, to prevent the ships from becoming too light. The bow proved to be of faulty design, resulting in the ships being rather wet in heavy seas. This was fixed by rebuilding all four ship of the class before 1939. [4] Four destroyers were laid down between October 1934 and January 1935. Only one ship survived the war. The ships were named after German navy personnel killed in World War I.

Launched: 18 August 1935
Commissioned: 14 January 1937
Fate: sunk after friendly fire bomb hits on 22 February 1940, during Operation Wikinger
Named after Leberecht Maass [5]

Launched: 18 August 1935
Commissioned: 27 February 1937
Fate: beached on 13 April 1940, after suffering serious damage during the Battles of Narvik
Named after Georg Thiele

Launched: 30 November 1935
Commissioned: 8 April 1937
Fate: sunk as a result of friendly fire bomb hits and striking mines on 22 February 1940, during Operation Wikinger [5]
Named after Max Schultz

Launched: 30 November 1935
Commissioned: 13 May 1937
Fate: scrapped 1947
Named after Richard Beitzen

    (Deschimag), Bremen , Kiel , Hamburg
  • 119 m (390 ft 5 in) o/a
  • 114 m (374 ft) w/l
  • 2 shafts, 2 × Wagner geared steam turbines
  • 6 × water-tube boilers
  • 5 × 12.7 cm (5 in) guns
  • 4 (later 14) × 3.7 cm guns
  • 6 (later 10) × 2 cm guns
  • 8 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 60 mines

Twelve destroyers laid down between July and November 1935. They were only slightly modified from the design of the preceding 1934 class and continued their predecessors' limited endurance and magazine capacity – factors which contributed to the heavy German losses in the Second Battle of Narvik. Five survived the war.

Launched: 24 March 1936
Commissioned: 29 June 1937
Fate: Transferred to France as war reparation Desaix, scrapped 1958
Named after Paul Jacobi

Launched: 22 April 1936
Commissioned: 2 July 1937
Fate: Transferred to France as the Kleber, scrapped 1958
Named after Theodor Riedel

Launched: 16 July 1936
Commissioned: 9 September 1937
Fate: sunk 2 May 1942 by the British cruiser Edinburgh
Named after Hermann Schoemann

Launched: 15 September 1936
Commissioned: 8 January 1938
Fate: sunk 25 January 1942 by a mine near Calais
Named after Bruno Heinemann, killed during the Wilhelmshaven mutiny

Launched: 27 March 1936
Commissioned: 2 July 1938
Fate: scuttled on 13 April 1940
Named after Wolfgang Zenker, killed during the Wilhelmshaven mutiny

Launched: 14 May 1936
Commissioned: 13 September 1938
Fate: Taken over by Great Britain after the war and used as a trials ship, scrapped 1946–1949
Named after Carl Hans Lody, unusually not a captain of a vessel but had been spying in Britain.

Launched: 8 July 1936
Commissioned: 6 December 1938
Fate: scuttled on 13 April 1940
Named after Bernd von Arnim

Launched: 12 March 1937
Commissioned: 4 March 1939
Fate: sunk 13 April 1940
Named after Erich Giese

Launched: 18 March 1937
Commissioned: 28 March 1939
Fate: sunk 13 April 1940
Named after Erich Koellner

Launched: 5 November 1935
Commissioned: 6 April 1938
Fate: Transferred to the Soviet Union, served in the Baltic Fleet as the Prytkiy (Прыткий) scrapped 1952
Named after Friedrich Ihn

Launched: 24 September 1936
Commissioned: 31 May 1938
Fate: Transferred to the Soviet Union, served in the Baltic Fleet as the Pylkiy (Пылкий) scrapped 1958
Named after Erich Steinbrinck

Launched: 21 March 1937
Commissioned: 28 July 1938
Fate: sunk 31 December 1942 by HMS Sheffield during battle of the Barents Sea
Named after Friedrich Eckoldt

  • Kriegsmarine
  • Soviet Navy
  • 2 shafts
  • 2 × Wagner geared steam turbine sets
  • 6 × Wagner water-tube boilers
  • 5 × 1 – 12.7 cm (5.0 in) guns
  • 2 × 2 – 3.7 cm guns
  • 7 × 1 – 2 cm guns
  • 2 × 4 – 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 60 mines

These 6 ships (of 26 planned) ordered under the 1935 Program were improved and enlarged versions of the 1934 and 1934A classes. Most of the serious faults of the earlier ships had been resolved: engine reliability and the structural integrity was much improved and they were much better seagoing ships, shipping less water through an improvement in the design of the bows. Despite this, five of this newer type were also lost at Narvik in April 1940.

Launched: 19 August 1937
Commissioned: 29 August 1938
Fate: sunk 13 April 1940 (Narvik)
Named after Diether von Roeder

Launched: 1 December 1937
Commissioned: 8 October 1938
Fate: scuttled on 13 April 1940
Named after Hans Lüdemann

Launched: 22 December 1937
Commissioned: 12 January 1939
Fate: beached on 13 April 1940
Named after Hermann Künne

Launched: 15 June 1938
Commissioned: 21 March 1939
Fate: Transferred to the Soviet Union, served in the Baltic Fleet as the Prochnyi (Прочный) scrapped 1956
Named after Karl Galster

Launched: 20 August 1938
Commissioned: 10 June 1939
Fate: sunk on 10 April 1940
Named after Wilhelm Heidkamp

Launched: 20 September 1938
Commissioned: 24 September 1939
Fate: sunk on 10 April 1940
Named after Anton Schmitt

  • 127 m (416 ft 8 in) o/a
  • 121.90 m (399 ft 11 in) w/l
  • 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 70,000 shp
  • 2 shafts
  • 4 or 5 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns
  • 4 (later 10) × 3.7 cm guns
  • 8 (later 20) × 2 cm guns
  • 8 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 60 mines
  • 4 × depth charge launchers

Eight destroyers intended to carry new 150 mm (5.9 inch) guns in single turrets with a twin turret at the bow. The twin mountings were not ready in time and so singles were first used, and the twins fitted later. Anti-aircraft armament was substantially improved.

Despite reusing earlier ship designs as a basis, with modifications to improve seaworthiness, the ships were wet in heavy seas, especially fitted with heavy turrets. After much effort, the problem was traced to a newly designed stern. However, this problem was somewhat offset by the fact that the twin mount was fully enclosed and had a high maximum elevation, allowing limited use against aircraft.

These ships reverted to the traditional German practice of giving torpedo ships numbers rather than names. Four survived the war.

Launched: 15 December 1939
Commissioned: 15 September 1940
Fate: scrapped after 1951

Launched: 7 March 1940
Commissioned: 26 October 1940
Fate: sunk 25 August 1944

Launched: 16 March 1940
Commissioned: 30 November 1940
Fate: scrapped 1958

Launched: 2 April 1940
Commissioned: 11 January 1941
Fate: sunk 29 March 1942 by British cruiser Trinidad and destroyers Eclipse and Fury

Launched: 1 August 1940
Commissioned: 26 February 1941
Fate: sunk 28 December 1943

Launched: 20 August 1940
Commissioned: 9 August 1941
Fate: sunk 6 March 1945

Launched: 15 October 1940
Commissioned: 25 June 1941
Fate: scuttled 16 December 1946

Launched: 8 December 1940
Commissioned: 15 November 1941
Fate: scrapped 1949

  • 127 m (416 ft 8 in) o/a
  • 121.90 m (399 ft 11 in) w/l
  • 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 70,000 shp
  • 2 shafts
  • 5 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns
  • 4 (later 14) × 3.7 cm guns
  • 12 (later 18) × 2 cm guns
  • 8 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 60 mines
  • 4 × depth charge launchers

When war broke out in 1939, planned new destroyer classes were cancelled and twelve additional 1936A vessels (Z.31 to Z.42, although the last three were to be cancelled) were ordered with slight modifications to speed construction and save materials. "Mob" stands for "Mobilmachung" (Mobilisation). The 150 mm twin turrets had been manufactured for planned, but never built, "O" class battlecruisers. In war service, the engines were more reliable than in earlier ships but at the end of the war, heavy corrosion was discovered.

Seven of this sub-class were built: one was sunk, another two were severely damaged and not repaired. The remaining four were war booty allocated to the Allies.

Launched: 15 April 1941
Commissioned: 11 April 1942
Fate: scrapped 1958

Launched: 15 August 1941
Commissioned: 15 September 1942
Fate: sunk 9 June 1944 (wrecked while pursued by Canadian destroyers Haida and Huron)

Launched: 15 September 1941
Commissioned: 6 February 1943
Fate: Transferred to the Soviet Union, served in the Baltic Fleet as the Provornyi (Проворный), sunk as target ship 1961

Launched: 5 May 1942
Commissioned: 5 June 1943
Fate: scuttled 26 March 1946

Launched: 24 February 1941
Commissioned: 16 July 1942
Fate: scrapped 1949

Launched: 5 August 1941
Commissioned: 20 March 1943
Fate: transferred to Britain at the end of the war renamed HMS Nonsuch scrapped 1949

Launched: 5 August 1941
Commissioned: 21 August 1943
Fate: transferred to the US Navy at the end of the war and designated DD-939 transferred to France 1947, scrapped 1953

  • 127 m (416 ft 8 in) o/a
  • 121.50 m (398 ft 7 in) w/l
  • 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 70,000 shp
  • 2 shafts
  • 5 × 12.7 cm (5 in) guns
  • 4 (later 10) × 3.7 cm guns
  • 16 × 2 cm guns
  • 8 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 76 mines
  • 4 × depth charge launchers

The main armament of this class reduced back to single mounted 128 mm guns and the anti-aircraft armament was increased. The efficacy of this change was not proven in high seas as this sub-class only operated in the Baltic and coastal waters.

Eight ships to this design were ordered, but the orders for Z.40, Z.41 and Z.42 (all three ordered from Germaniawerft at Kiel) were replaced by orders for three Spähkreuzer ("scout cruisers"), to be numbered Sp.1, Sp.2 and Sp.3 respectively. Two ships (Z.44 and Z.45) were never completed, being suspended in 1944 and scuttled incomplete after the war. The three that were commissioned were all lost.

Launched: 2 October 1942
Commissioned: 22 September 1943
Fate: sunk 12 December 1944
mine, Gulf of Finland

Launched: 15 May 1943
Commissioned: 19 February 1944
Fate: sunk 12 December 1944
mine, Gulf of Finland

Launched: 22 September 1943
Commissioned: 24 March 1944
Fate: scuttled 3 May 1945

Launched: 20 January 1944
Fate: scuttled incomplete 20 July 1946

Launched: 15 April 1944
Fate: scuttled incomplete 20 July 1946

Five ships of this class were ordered in 1942 and 1943 (Z.46Z.50), all from A.G. Weser at Bremen none were launched, just two were started – Z.46 and Z.47 – and both were bombed by Allied aircraft while under construction and were scrapped on the slipways in 1945. This design was a response to the vulnerability to air attack of early German destroyers and would have used six new 128 mm Flak 40 guns (originally designed for the Luftwaffe) as dual purpose weapons in twin mountings. The number of smaller calibre anti-aircraft guns would have also been increased. [6] [7]

In order to provide support for larger German warships operating far from their bases, the development of large ocean-going destroyers started in the late 1930s. They would have had dual power systems to enable long endurance cruises. Twenty-four of these were planned under Plan Z but were not actually ordered – the concept was developed further into the Spähkreuzer (see Type 1936B above).

Ships of this class would have been small destroyers designed to patrol and operate in Baltic and coastal waters, but would have had quite big operational range for such purpose, and could have also been used in high seas. Twelve ships were ordered in the summer of 1939, but after the start of World War II, all were cancelled.

  • 114.30 m (375.0 ft) o/a
  • 108 m (354 ft 4 in) w/l
  • 6 × 24 cylinder MAN diesel engines, 5,700 PS (4,200 kW 5,600 bhp)
  • 3 shafts (4 diesels on centre shaft, 1 on each wing shaft)
  • 4 × 12.7 cm (5 in) guns
  • 8 × 3.7 cm guns
  • 12 × 2 cm guns
  • 6 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 50 mines

Experimental testbed destroyer powered by diesel engines for long-range operations. Based on design of unbuilt Type 1938B destroyer, with six diesels driving three shafts, with an estimated speed of 36 knots (67 km/h 41 mph) and an operating radius of 5,500 nautical miles (10,200 km 6,300 mi). [8] One example (Z.51) was laid down in 1943 and launched in 1944, but was sunk by Allied bombers on 21 March 1945 while fitting out. [7]

While Z.51 was a testbed for diesel propulsion, the Type 1944 destroyer was a production class of large, diesel powered destroyers. They were planned to have a revised armament, with six 128 mm Flak 40 dual purpose main guns, and an all-new anti-aircraft armament, with three 5.5 cm Gerät 58 intermediate calibre anti-aircraft guns and a close-in armament of 14 30 mm guns in seven twin mounts, with eight torpedo tubes. [9] [10]

Five of these ships (Z.52Z.56) were ordered from A.G. Weser at Bremen and were laid down in 1943, but none were completed, being cancelled in July 1944 and broken up on the slips. [9] A further two ships (Z.57 and Z.58) were ordered from Germaniawerft at Kiel, but were cancelled before construction started. [10]

Project for high-speed design reverting to steam-turbine propulsion. Unbuilt. [11]

A project for a high-speed design with a long range. [12]

  • 102.50 m (336 ft 3 in) o/a
  • 97 m (318 ft 3 in) w/l
  • 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 32,560 shp
  • 2 shafts
  • 4 × 10.5 cm (4 in) guns
  • 4 × 3.7 cm guns
  • 9 × 2 cm guns
  • 6 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
  • 50 mines

The Kriegsmarine had several torpedo boat classes with displacements between 1,000 and 1,300 tons (for example the Möwe-class Fleet Torpedo boats and Torpedo boat type 35). They sat in size between torpedo-equipped fast attack boats (known to the Allies as E-boats) and the destroyers. In 1939, the Germans started work on new designs that were a response to the weaknesses of earlier designs. These "Fleet Torpedo Boats" (Flottentorpedoboot) were large, 1,755 tons, and more able as escorts and for anti-aircraft defence as well as torpedo attacks and they were comparable in most respects to some of the British destroyer classes. They were all laid down during the war.

Flottentorpedoboot 1939 (Elbing-class) Edit

The first of the fleet vessels, they were comparable in most respects – size, armament, and use – to standard British destroyer types. Fifteen were laid down between 1940 and 1942, in the Schichau shipyard in Elbing (now Elbląg) and from that the Allies referred to them as the Elbing-class.

The last was commissioned at the end of 1944 three survived the war and served in Allied navies. The ships were numbered T22 to T36.

Flottentorpedoboot 1940 Edit

Following the capitulation of the Netherlands, Dutch shipyards were contracted to build 24 boats based on a Dutch design. Only three of these 2,600 ton vessels were launched. These three were moved to the Baltic in 1944 for work, but none were completed.

Flottentorpedoboot 1941 Edit

This was a development of the 1939 class, with bigger engines and more anti-aircraft weapons. Fifteen were laid down or launched from 1942 but, by the end of the war, none had been completed.

Flottentorpedoboot 1944 Edit

These were to have been ocean-going vessels, as opposed to North Sea or coastal vessels, capable of operating with the fleet, with greater range and an emphasis on anti-aircraft weaponry. Nine were ordered in March 1944 however, the order was subsequently cancelled without any building having started.

Torpedoboot Ausland Edit

Several destroyer-sized ships were captured by the Germans and put into service as Torpedoboot Ausland.

Flottenbegleiter Edit

These 10 fleet escort vessels of the F class were the German equivalent to the Allied destroyer escorts and frigates.

Some destroyers were captured and used by the Germans for full list see Torpedoboot Ausland.

ZH1 Edit

The Dutch destroyer Hr.Ms. Gerard Callenburgh was built by RDM Rotterdam and launched on 12 October 1939. The Dutch attempted to scuttle this ship during the German invasion, but the destroyer was salvaged and completed under German control with technical guidance from Blohm & Voss. She was commissioned as the ZH1 on 11 October 1942. The Germans retained most of the Dutch armament and equipment. The ZH1 spent most of her life on trials in the Baltic, but transferred to Western France via the English Channel in November 1943. When the western allies invaded Normandy in 1944, the German destroyers based in western France attempted to interdict the invasion armada. The German squadron was intercepted by an Allied force – the 10th Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Tartar, Ashanti, Eskimo, Javelin, HMCS Haida, Huron, and ORP Błyskawica, Piorun). In the night action, ZH1 was torpedoed and sunk by Ashanti on 9 June 1944 33 men were lost.

ZF2 Edit

The hull of the French Le Hardi-class destroyer L'Opiniatre was captured intact and 16% complete in Bordeaux. The Kriegsmarine intended to complete her for service. Since French armament was not available, and for standardisation with the rest of the German Navy, 127 mm guns and German pattern torpedo tubes were ordered. Work proceeded tardily until all progress was abandoned in July 1943. The hull was eventually broken up on the slip [13]

ZG3 (Hermes) Edit

The Greek destroyer Vasilefs Georgios was captured in damaged condition after the fall of Greece, then repaired in Greece with assistance from the Germaniawerft and commissioned by the Kriegsmarine as the ZG3 or the Hermes. She was the only major Kriegsmarine surface ship in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II, and she was involved in escorting convoys to North Africa and the Aegean Islands.

Hermes detected and depth charged the Royal Navy submarine HMS Splendid off Capri, Italy, on 21 April 1943, forcing it to surrender Splendid was scuttled by her crew. Hermes was damaged by air attacks off Tunisia. Hermes had to be scuttled in La Goulette, Tunis, on 7 May 1943.

The Sleipner-class Destroyers Edit

Four out of six of Norway's Sleipner-class destroyers were captured following Germany's conquest of Norway. HNoMS Gyller (1938) , renamed Löwe & HNoMS Odin (1939) , renamed Panther were captured at Kristiansand. HNoMS Tor (1939) , renamed Tiger & HNoMS Balder (1939) , renamed Leopard were captured while still under construction, but completed by the Germans. While in Kriegsmarine service, they were reclassified as torpedo boats. Löwe was one of the escorts for the MV Wilhelm Gustloff on her last voyage. When Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed and sunk, she stood alongside and rescued 427 of her passengers and crew. After the war, the ships were returned to Norway and given back their original names, and remained in service until the late 1950s.

Troll Edit

The Norwegian Draug-class destroyer, HNoMS Troll was captured by the Germans in Florø on 18 May 1940. Following Norway's surrender, she had been ordered to sail to the UK with her sister, HNoMS Draug, but due to lack of crew and coal, she was unable to do so. Once placed under the German flag, she was considered too old and obsolete for military service, and was converted into a distillation and steam supply ship, having her whole superstructure removed, and was stationed at Bergen. She retained her name throughout the war. She survived the war and was returned to Norway, but her condition and age made her unfit for future service and was sold for scrap in 1949.

TA32 Edit

The Royal Yugoslav Navy destroyer leader, KB Dubrovnik, was captured by Italy in the Bay of Kotor on 17 April 1941. She was recommissioned in the Regia Marina as Premuda, and served in the Mediterranean Sea until 1943. She was undergoing repairs in Genoa when Italy surrendered and joined the Allies. With this, she was seized by the Germans and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine as TA32. In 1944, her repairs were completed with German modifications and soon saw action shelling Allied positions along the Italian coast. While on minelaying duty off Genoa, she engaged the American destroyer, USS Gleaves (DD-423) , but escaped undamaged. On 18 March 1945, while on minelaying duty off Corsica, she was engaged by 2 British destroyers in what became the Battle of the Ligurian Sea. While both her escorts were sunk, she escaped with a damaged rudder. With the Allies advancing further into Northern Italy, she was scuttled in Genoa on 24 April 1945, and her crew retreated. She was raised and broken up in 1950.

TA43 Edit

The Royal Yugoslav Navy Beograd-class destroyer, KB Beograd, was captured by Italy in the Bay of Kotor on 17 April 1941. She was recommissioned in the Regia Marina as Sebenico, and served in the Mediterranean Sea until 1943. Following Italy's surrender and joining the Allies, she was captured by the Germans in Venice on 9 September 1943. She was then recommissioned into the Kriegsmarine as TA43. However, at the time of her capture she was damaged and not operational. While being repaired, her anti-aircraft armament was improved and reentered active service in February 1945. She operated in the northern Adriatic Sea, but saw little action other than escort work and minelaying. Sources differ on her fate. One claim is that while docked in Trieste, she was sunk by artillery fire of Yugoslav forces on 30 April 1945. Another is that she was scuttled by her crew in Trieste on 1 May 1945. She remained sunk in Trieste until 1947 when she was raised and broken up.

TA14 Edit

The Regia Marina Turbine-class destroyer, Turbine, was captured by the Germans in Piraeus on 8 September 1943, following Italy's Armistice with the Allies. She was recommissioned as TA14 and operated in the Aegean Sea. Her anti-aircraft armament was upgraded during her time in German service. She operated as an escort ship off the Greek coast. On 19 June 1944, she was badly damaged by an explosion and sent to Salamis for repairs. While docked in Salamis, on 16 September 1944, she was sunk by American aircraft rockets before repairs were completed.

The Discovery of U-86 (WWI)

In May 2006 Wessex Archaeology, an archaeological diving contractor in the UK, conducted Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys on deepwater wrecks off the English South Coast.

The surveys were part of the “Wrecks on the Seabed” project, which is funded by the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) and administered by English Heritage. The project aims to develop and improve methods for the archaeological survey of wreck sites.

All wrecks chosen for the survey were listed as unknown at the start of the project. To prepare the ROV surveys, sidescan and multibeam sonar data was acquired for all study sites. This data gave an impression of the size of the wreck sites and helped to plan the survey.

Wrecksite 1003 was listed in the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) wreck database as an unknown vessel, possibly a sailing ship. Due to the depth on site the geophysical data lacked detail and the site was approached with an open mind.

It was a surprise for the survey team when a deck gun appeared on the camera monitor.

Although the visibility was very low, sometimes below 1m, it quickly became clear that site 1003 was the wreck of a previously unknown U-boat, possibly of WW1 origin. The Wessex Archaeology survey team then conducted a detailed ROV investigation of the wreck with the aim of identifying the u-boat.

A plan of the German Ms-type u-boat series U 63 - 65, which had been downloaded from Tony Lovell’s great webpage and was used as a wallpaper on one of the survey computers, provided the first clues towards an identification.

Most of the features observed on the wreck could be identified immediately on the plan.

Further research after the survey allowed the identification of the u-boat as a U 81 type MS boat. Using, most of the boats built of this type could be eliminated with U 86 left as the most likely candidate. Information in the National Archives confirmed that U 86 was scuttled in the English Channel, in a location very close to the survey position.

Once the identity of the “mystery” u-boat had been established the history and fate of U 86 could be reconstructed in more detail:

U 86 (Construction No 256) was ordered at the Germania shipyard in Kiel on the 23 June 1915. The keel was laid on 5 November 1915. The boat was launched on 7 November 1916. (Rößler 1997).

U 86 was commissioned on 30 November, 1916. Its first commander was Kapitänleutnant Friedrich Crüsemann, who was in charge of the boat until 22 June, 1917. On 23 June, 1917 Kapitänleutnant Alfred Götze took over as commander. Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Patzig was the last commander of U 86. He was appointed on 26 January, 1918 and served on the boat until it was surrendered at the end of the war on 11 November, 1918.

In 1917 and 1918 U 86 was assigned to the 4th U-Flotilla. Altogether the boat conducted 12 patrols (Helgason 2006) and sank a total of 33 ships (125,580 tons), warships excluded.

As an example for the general activity of U 86, information for the year 1918 has been extracted from the German naval war diary. During that year U 86 conducted operations in the Skagerrak, the Irish Sea, the North Sea and the Bristol Channel. The following ships were sunk:

  • Kafue (6044grt), British steamer, on 1 May
  • Medora (5135grt), British steamer, on 3 May
  • Leeds City (4298grt), British steamer, on 7 May
  • San Andres (1656grt), Norwegian steamer on 12 May
  • Atlantian (9399grt), British steamer, on 26 June and
  • Covington (16,339grt), US troop transport, on 1 July.
    (Admiralstab der Marine: Abteilung A, 1917-1918).

Llandovery Castle

In 1918 U 86 was involved in one of the worst war crimes committed by a u-boat commander during the First World War, the sinking of the British hospital ship Llandovery Castle and the subsequent murder of surviving crew members in the water.

Detailed information on the sinking of the Llandovery Castle and the subsequent trial of U 86’s officers in 1920 has been extracted from the book The Leipzig Trials (Mullins, 1921).

The Llandovery Castle, clearly marked as a hospital ship and known to the German government as such, was en route from England to Halifax with nurses, officers and men of the Canadian Medical Corps on board when she was torpedoed by U 86 in the evening of June 27 1918, about 116nm south-west of Fastnet. Of the 258 persons on board only 24 survived.

According to witness statements at the Leipzig war crime trial the commander of U 86, Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Patzig, gave the order to torpedo the Llandovery Castle even though he knew that she was a hospital ship, the sinking of which was illegal under international law and the Hague convention.

After the war Patzig fled the country and only the first and second officer of U 86, Dithmar and Boldt could be arrested and tried for their action in the incident.

Even though the Llandovery Castle sank within ten minutes, a number of boats were lowered successfully and the ship was abandoned in a calm and efficient manner. Three boats ultimately survived the sinking of the vessel undamaged and proceeded to rescue survivors from the water. They were interrupted by Patzig, who intercepted the boats and started interrogating crew members to obtain proof of the misuse of the hospital ship as an ammunition carrier. When no proof could be obtained, Patzig gave the command “Klarmachen zum Tauchen” and ordered the crew below deck.

Only himself, the two accused officers and the boatswain’s mate Meissner stayed on deck. However the U-boat did not dive, but started firing at and sinking the life boats to kill all witnesses and cover up what had happened. To conceal this event, Patzig extracted promises of secrecy from the crew, and faked the course of U 86 in the logbook so that nothing would connect U 86 with the sinking of the Llandovery Castle. As a result of the Leipzig trial, both Dithmar and Boldt were sentenced to four years of hard labour. Patzig, with whom the responsibility for the incident rested, was never found and prosecuted. Dithmar and Boldt were both released from prison after a few months due to the political changes in Germany.

U 86 was in the first group of U-boats that were handed over to the allies as part of the armistice treaty at the end of the war. She was taken from Brunsbüttel to Harwich on November 20, 1918 (Rößler 1997). From September 1919 to March 1920, U 86 was commissioned into the Royal Navy to test her design and make comparisons with other classes and later designs (McCartney 2003). After decommissioning, U 86 was dumped at sea at the end of June 1921. The damage at bow and stern of the U-boat suggests that in addition to flooding the tanks, charges were used to blow off the bow and stern sections.

The following description of the wreck of U 86 is compiled using archaeological survey data as well as information from secondary sources. As the ROV was equipped with a laser measuring system, objects on the seabed could be measured to millimetric accuracy.

The vessel is lying on even keel with a slight list to port on the fairly flat seabed in NNW-SSE orientation with the bow in the SSE. Dimensions taken off the sidescan data suggest a length of 66m, a breadth of 6.5m and a height off the seabed of 3.5m for the wreck.

The outer hull of the vessel has largely disappeared, but the internal pressure hull is fairly intact. Bow and stern are heavily damaged and broken up from the bow bulkhead forward and the stern bulkhead aft. While the bow has collapsed and is lying partly buried in line with the vessel, the stern section has broken off and is lying at a 90 degree angle to the main hull, pointing westwards.

The wreck shows the twin hull construction typical of a U-boat: a pressure resistant inner hull and free flooding outer casing. Documentary sources indicate that the cylindrical pressure hull is built from riveted 12mm nickel-steel plates with external steel frames. According to the same sources the inside of the pressure hull is separated into compartments by a number of bulkheads made from 16-21mm thick steel. The forward and aft collision bulkheads are visible where bow and stern are damaged.

The pressure hull would have been enclosed within a steel outer casing which would have protected it. The rigid connection of outer casing and pressure hull enhances the strength of the pressure hull. On the wreck the outer casing is only partially preserved and the pressure hull is generally well-preserved and clearly visible in the upper deck area.

The conning tower is riveted onto the pressure hull and is fully preserved with only the protective casing and armour missing. Recesses for the navigation lights and maintenance access hatches were observed on both sides of the tower. The main conning tower hatch is situated aft of the periscope mountings and was found slightly ajar

Two torpedo loading hatches were observed at bow and stern, aft and forward of the torpedo rooms. At the stern of the vessel, the engine room escape hatch is wide open. The forward escape hatch is sealed

At the bow of the U-boat, the two bow torpedo tubes are split at the forward collision bulkhead. The scaling camera recorded an internal diameter of approx. 58cm for these tubes. The tube construction with outer reinforcement rings and bolted segments is clearly visible.

The two stern tubes are heavily damaged and lie at a 90 degree angle to the hull within the stern wreckage.

Most of the fittings that were originally located on the upper deck of the U-boat are preserved. The patent anchor is secured in the hawsehole in a recess on the side of the damaged bow section.

A number of compressed air cylinders were observed on top of the pressure hull along the length of the upper deck. These formed part of the U-boat’s compressed air system which was used to blow air into the dive- and ballast tanks. All cylinders were connected to a compressor in the control room and could be centrally recharged when the U-boat was on the surface. The width of individual air cylinders was measured as 46cm.

The U-boat was armed with two upper deck guns forward and aft of the conning tower. The forward gun is still attached to its mounting and trained upward. It is well preserved with a small amount of fishing gear snagged around the barrel. It appears that the calibre of the gun is larger than 10cm. The gun is fitted with a horizontally sliding breech block and top-mounted recoil cylinders. A comparison with all small calibre naval guns in use during WWI shows that it might be a German 10.5 cm/45 (4.1") Ubts L/45. This gun was in service from 1907.

The aft gun is also attached to its mounting but has fallen over to the port side. This gun appears to be the standard German U-boat gun of WWI, the 8.8 cm/30 (3.46") Ubts L/30. The gun is attached to a circular mounting rather than the collapsible mounting used on some U-boats. The 8.8cm L/30 Schnelladekanone was originally developed for river and coastal gunboats by Krupp in 1898. During WWI it became the standard U-boat armament.

On the conning tower, the mountings for three periscopes are visible. The two main periscope mountings are situated on top of the conning tower, forward of the escape hatch. Both periscopes were operated from the conning tower. The mountings seem to be empty and the periscopes could not be seen. The mounting for the emergency periscope is situated just forward of the conning tower. The emergency periscope was operated from the control room.

The column for the bridge steering wheel is situated forward of the two main periscopes. The main steering controls were located in the conning tower, but additional steering wheels were situated on the bridge, in the control room and aft in the torpedo room.

The U-boat’s ventilation system has collapsed onto the upper deck and is lying across the hull aft of the conning tower. At the stern the two propellers are still attached to the shafts. The port propeller is missing one of its blades.