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Type XXI U-Boats

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The Battle of the Atlantic

kondor


The Kriegsmarine needed to vector the wolfpacks onto the convoys. To do this they needed to detect their course and speed. Focke-Wolfe 200 Kondor long range aircraft were developed for this role. Their potential was never fully realised and when used briefly as a bomber in the Atlantic, they sunk 30 Allied ships in two months.

To counter the U Boat threat, the Allies developed use of long range aircraft, the Leigh Light, acoustic air launched torpedoes, efficient radar and shallow set depth charges, filled with a more effective Torpex high explosive. U Boats could now be detected in the dark, out in the Atlantic, on the surface. U Boats retaliated with installation of four barreled quick firing anti aircraft guns on the "bandstand" abaft the conning tower, to down incoming aircraft. Also, they developed use of the "Biscay Cross" DF system, made of wires set on a crucifix wooden frame, to detect incoming aircraft at night, by picking up radar emissions. A change of radar frequency by the Allies denied them this advantage.

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Finally, development of a modern streamlined hull shape, adoption of modern cruciform control surfaces at the stern only and high speed propulsion as a result of the "Walther System" of volatile HTP peroxide fuel, led to developments that were at least ten years ahead of the Allied boats. These were true submarines that could remain submerged for long periods at high speed when required. Introduction of these boats could have changed the course of the war, but the end of hostilities prevented their effective use.
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U Boat 1407 -

This was a Type XVIIb powered by an experimental Walter peroxide engine with a top speed of 25 knots. THis was not a fleet speed and could only be used for a short period to escape detection and capture. Despite this limitation, the boat was a staggering advance on Allied designs and capabilities - and was ten years ahead of the Allied designs and performance.

This boat was recovered from the sea by the Royal Navy off Cuxhaven, where it had been scuttled. The Boat was refitted with the help of Dr Walter, at Vickers yard in Barrow in Furness Lancashire UK. The boat underwent trials between 1947 and 1949 achieving high speeds. It was regarded with great interest by the Royal Navy due to the high speed propulsion system, which was seem as a low cost alternative to nuclear propulsion.

Jack (Royal Navy Ratings) did not regard it in the same light and gave it a reputation as a dangerous and volatile piece of machinery - which it was. Control was difficult due to lack of forward hydroplanes and the aircraft type controls. Some of the advantages of this boat were incorporated into the "S" type RN boats in later years. U 1407 was scrapped in 1949.

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U Boats - The Aces and The Tally

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The losses suffered by the U Boat service were high and of 1158 Boats in service, 637 were lost and of those, 420 were lost in the Atlantic. There were 40,000 men who served in U Boats during the war and 20,000 of those did not return. Some 2000 Allied ships were sunk by U Boats, which probably equates to some 20,000,000 gross registered tonnage. On the other side, 20,000 allied merchant seaman lost their lives and 6,000 aircrew of Allied Coastal Command also.
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Gunther Prien


The best known of all U Boat captains was Gunther Prien. He carried out ten patrols and was sunk in U 47, but not before he had sunk 28 allied ships of 160,000 grt. He was feted a hero in Germany after the daring raid on Scapa Flow in the early months of WWII and the sinking of the RN Battleship HMS Royal Oak. Other famous German Navy aces included Joachim Sckepke, W Henke, Hans Trojer, Johann Mohr, Gunther Hessler, Otto Kretschmer, Erich Topp and Wolfgang Luth. The cost of success in sinking Allied ships became higher and higher as Allied ASW systems, enigma codebreaking, HuffDuff, radar and radio intercepts became more and more effective. Otto Kretschmer was one of the aces who survived the war - to head the German peacetime NATO navy after 1945.
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Overall view of the Bremerhaven harbour area where Wilhelm Bauer is displayed. Looking from the distance against the backdrop of a large office complex, the U-2540 looks small. This is deceptive - she ranks as the largest submarine in service with the post-war German Navy.

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Here she is in all her glory. Type XII introduced streamlining in U-Boat design, resulting in a quantum leap in underwater performance. All submarines before this one were basically designed to submerge and stay under the surface in one place (sans minor pedestrian manoeuvres using electric power). Type XXI could easily steam in circles around any Allied convoy - all under water. 

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