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German Submarines of World War II

The German Navy always prided itself in its submarine service. The Germans were the first ones to truly utilize mass attacks by undersea craft in World War I. There have been primitive forms of submarines around for a couple of hundred years and maybe longer, but the first subs that could be considered modern appeared in the Great War.

U-Boat being destroyed by depth charges.
Photo Source: US Navy

When it comes to statistics, they can vary by a huge amount from source to source. I have taken mine from sources that I consider to be the most reliable but I am sure you will see other figures that don't agree with them. There is just no way to reconcile all this different statistics.

In the beginning of World War II the German U-Boats had little to fear, but by the end of the war they were being sunk rapidly. In 1939 the Germans lost 9 U-Boats, in 1940 23 U-Boats, in 1941 35 U-Boats, in 1942 86 U-Boats, in 1943 236 U-Boats, in 1944 235 U-Boats and in 1945 122 U-Boats. This makes a grand total of 746 German U-Boats sunk during the war. Now that we know how many u-boats were sunk, lets look at the ships sunk by u-boats in the Atlantic.In 1939 U-Boats sunk 114 ships, in 1940 they sunk 471, in 1941 they sunk 432, in 1942 they sunk the gigantic total of 1,160, in 1943 they sunk 377, in 1944 they sunk 132 and in 1945 they sunk 56 for a total of 2,742 ships sunk.

The Germans had constructed 1,158 subs during World War II at a cost of 2.76 billion dollars. The most expensive sub that they built only cost 3.51 million dollars and they only built 10 of these. It was the Type XIV. The average cost of a U.S. submarine in 1943 was about 3 million dollars. The average cost of a German sub was in the area of about 2.5 million. The allies spent over 26.4 billion on submarines, which was almost ten times the amount the Germans spent but in all fairness we would also have to add the Italian and Japanese construction costs to the German ones to get a fair figure.

Attaching a line to the captured U-505
Photo Source: US Navy

A US Navy escort carrier had the good fortune to be the only US ship that captured a German U-Boat. The U-Boat was the U-505. It was captured on June 4, 1944 off the coast of West Africa. But the boat itself was not the most important prize. Two Enigma machines were on board and the boat was equipped with the new T5 acoustic torpedo. This torpedo would home in on a ships engine noise. The submarine weighs 700 tons and is 252 feet long. Today it is one of the main exhibits in a Chicago Museum.

The first US naval casualty of the war was caused by a German submarine. The sub had attacked the US destroyer Kearney, 11 men were killed when it torpedoed the destroyer. The first US navy ship lost was also sunk by a German sub, the ship was the destroyer Reuben James and it was sunk off the coast of Iceland. The first U-Boat sunk by the US Navy was the U-85 in 1942 on the night of April 13-14. It was sunk by the USS Roper. The German sub was sunk off the North Carolina Coast where u-boats were sinking our merchant ships at the rate of 1 per day. Sixty five u-boats had concentrated in the atlantic.

Not all ship sinkings by subs on both sides were accurate. The Germans had sunk a ship carrying Italian prisoners and we had sunk a Japanese ship carrying American prisoners. There were many more of these incidents for it was impossible to tell who was on the ship you were going to attack without some sort of advanced intelligence.

Sonar image of the wreck of U-166
Photo Source: NOAA

Submarine warfare is changing today. Many of the countries we consider a threat have hardly any submarines at all. There is also a new type of cheaply made submarine that will sit on the bottom of a shore line and wait for invading subs. It is said to be able to be constructed of a type of cement. Since it doesn't need much of a propulsion unit or expensive reactors, it is easily built and very quiet. Except for the missile platform subs, the day of the attack submarine may be limited. The Russian sub fleet is rusting and hardly any new subs are being built over there. In this country who is going to want to invest over a billion dollars in a sub that has no mission?

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