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A Word about U-Boat Strategies

June 2, 2014

In reading “Night of the U-Boats” by Paul Lund and Harry Ludlam published in Great Britain in 1973 by W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd I learned about the fate of an allied convoy, SC-7 that lost more than 20 ships on Oct. 18, 1940 to submarine attacks.  Of interest to me was the attack method.  In the movie “Das Boot” the submariners moved silently at moderate depth, then rose to just below the surface in daylight to attack ships with torpedoes, using their periscope for aim.  Then to escape depth charges they ran deeply, rivets popping from their hull from extreme water pressure.

This book debunked parts of that scenario.  The German submarine captains in 1940 soon discovered the more effective way to destroy allied ships was attacking at night on the ocean’s surface, free from detection by asdic sonar.  Because the U-boats were quite streamlined and speedy on the water surface, and if they struck on moonless or cloudy night, they were difficult for ships to see in the gloom.  Moreover when the subs were bearing down on the ships the former presented a small silhouette.

Another effective tactic was for U-boats to cut engines and wait silently underwater; this was the method employed by captain Gerhard Meyer of U-486, the one that sunk the SS Leopoldville Christmas Eve, 1944.

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