Tag Archives: u-boat

U -boats WWII

WWI saw u-boats come up, but in WWII they ruled. Before I get into WWII u-boat action, lets take a look at the boats themselves. Specifically, how they worked at this point….

Enlarge this pic and you can make out most of the details. Basically, There is an inner and outer hull -picture a tube inside a tube. The space between the two can be flooded with water to make the ship sink. The amount of water in this space (called the ballast tanks), either makes the ship lighter, neutrally buoyant, or heavier than sea water allowing it to dive. Also, there are fins called “dive plains” that help to steer the ship up or down when submerged. There is also the rudder, which acts the same as a conventional ships rudder- controlling left and right movement. Compressed air is used to force the sea water out of the ballast tanks when they want to surface.

         The inner hull, called the “pressure hull”, is where the crew operates. It is much smaller than the actual outside diameter of the ship because of the space taken up by the ballast tanks. It is also the wall that must withstand the pressure of the sea water trying to crush it in. In the front (called the bow), you can see the torpedo room, where 1 to 4 torpedo tubes were located. To fire a torpedo, the torpedo crew would load one into the tube, then shut a water-tight hatch on the back end of the tube. Then the tube would be flooded with water and compressed air, pressurizing it. When the captain had the ship in firing position, he would radio the torpedo crew telling them to fire. They would then throw a lever opening the outer tube hatch, releasing the pressure and shooting the torpedo out. It then was powered by its own electric engine turning a small propeller.

 Most WWII German u-boats used a combination of diesel and electric engines for propulsion. Diesel for surface power and electric for submerged. Contrary to what is usually depicted in movies, the u-boat was primarily a surface vessel; it only dived when it was stalking its prey. It could cruise faster surfaced, and use conventional navigation techniques. However, when an enemy ship was spotted, they would dive and use the electric motor. This was for two reasons- they did not have access to air for the diesel to consume, and the electric motor was very quiet, making it harder for surface ships’ sonar to hear them. Unfortunately, the electric motors used a ton of juice so they couldn’t do it for long. They were forced to eventually surface to run the diesel, which charged the batteries.

Besides for the propulsion, armament, and dive components they were just like any other ship. They had a kitchen (galley), bathroom (head), sleeping area (berths), control room (conning tower), fuel tanks, fresh water storage, armory, etc.

U boats part 3

Moving along with my U-boat obsession. Before moving on to WWII, there are a few more highlights from the first war. As an example of how effective this new type of ship was becoming, one u-boat, U-35, sank 223 ships. Now we are not talking about boston whalers here, these were huge cargo and war ships. The total amount of weight that reigning champ U-35 (just 1 u-boat mind you) sent to the bottom of the atlantic was 539,699 tons!  To give you an idea of how much shit this boat sank, One world trade center tower weighed exactly 500,000 tons!

    I also researched the details regarding u-boat losses in WWI- they were also substantial and horrifying. I couldn’t add them all up by believe me hundreds of these boats never made it home. The reasons listed are varied, a surprising amount were rammed by warships, some caught in nets (WTF?) and forced to the surface, then shelled, some shot up by aircraft, some mined, some are just listed as “unknown cause”…wow, scary shit. And when these things went down, they usually did so with the entire 20-30 man crew inside. More coming…

U- boats continued

I am starting from the beginning. Here we have the first german U-boat, the SM U-1, built in 1906. There were a few war subs built before this, but this is the first official U. It was 238 tons, 139 ft long, and powered by twin kerosene engines. Max surfaced speed was 10 knots (about 12 mph), submerged was 8 knots. They used kerosene because it was less likely to blow up, however, the engines could only run wide open. This meant that the props had to have a variable pitch to control speed, since the engine couldnt slow down. It must have been a kerosene thing, because the next generation of u-boats used diesel, and could run at variable speed. The ship was deemed obsolete by WWI and used for training, until it was hit by another ship in 1919, at which point it was sold to a museum. It never saw active duty. There were several more of this type of U-boat built before and during WWI, going all the way up to U-17, all kerosene powered.

There are so many variants of WWI U-boats it will blow your mind, so I wont attempt to cover them all. I will give out a few highlights though. This next picture is of U-20, a diesel powered boat that scored the first WWI kill. It famously sank the Lusitania, a beautiful ocean liner based out of Liverpool. It was on its way from New York to Liverpool.

Here the Lusitania in NYC. The captain of the U-20 had a target book that classified the ship as an acceptable target, even though it was not an official war ship. This was because it was capable of carrying troops to england, which some of the actual passengers were. However, it was such a horrific sinking that both sides considered it a bad move.  Anyway, more subs next post.

German U boats, intro

I am going to do a few posts about U-Boats. I grew up on the water and have always been into ships and subs. Submarines have always struck me as particularly scary, which is part of what attracts me to them. Modern subs are insane. They are nuclear powered, can dive to over 1000 feet, and stay submerged for months. However, I am going to start with u-boats because they were basically the first truly functional modern war subs. These pics are just a few random ones, but I’ll try to break down the different types in the next post, as well as the actual mechanics of them. The men who crewed these machines were hardcore, to say the least. These things were DANGEROUS! They were cold, leaky, mechanically complex, cheaply built, subjected to freezing conditions and huge seas, and, oh yeah, getting shot at and depth charged by the allies whenever they were spotted. Before my next post, you all need to go rent Das Boot, Run Silent Run Deep, and U-571. Consider this homework.


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