Predators of the Seas: Life Inside a U-Boat – In 41 Images

U 995. Photo: Matthias Süßen / CC BY-SA 4.0
U 995. Photo: Matthias Süßen / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Treaty of Versailles had a number of clauses that were designed to tamp down on Germany’s desires to keep advancing military technology after World War I. In particular, it insisted that there be no more development in submarine technology, but that clause did little to deter the Germans.

They went ahead anyway, they just did it quietly, by setting up numbered companies in the Netherlands. Consequently, their submarines were one of the most formidable parts of the country’s armament when World War II began.

The Type VII U Boat was the deadliest of the bunch. As the most frequently used submarine in Germany’s fleet, it caused the Allies a lot of problems at sea, problems even Great Britain’s enormous Royal Navy had difficulty combating.

Officers on the bridge of a destroyer, escorting a large convoy of ships keep a sharp look out for attacking enemy submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic.
Officers on the bridge of a destroyer, escorting a large convoy of ships keep a sharp look out for attacking enemy submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic was a crucial campaign and lasted the entire war, from September 1939 until the war’s end, in 1945. Both sides did well and terribly, depending on the day. It was as though a new development at sea happened every 24 hours. One day, the Germans would sink an important Allied vessel, and the next, the Allies would sink a Nazi ship like they did the Bismark, in 1941. The battle went back and forth constantly.

Submarine attack: Battle of the Atlantic.
Submarine attack: Battle of the Atlantic.

A key ingredient of the battle had nothing to do with strategy and everything to do with human weakness. The men in charge of the seafaring campaign for Germany believed they knew how it should unfold, and this human frailty led to some poor decision making.

The overall Commander In Chief of the German Navy, Admiral Raeder, thought surface ships were crucial, as they could disrupt British shipping. But his underling, Admiral Donitz, Commander In Chief of U Boats, felt submarines were more important. And both men were competing for funding and attention with the much heralded Luftwaffe Air Service. Hence, Donitz’s fleet of subs came up short.

Erich Raeder as Grand Admiral. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Erich Raeder as Grand Admiral. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Winston Churchill, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, knew the damage subs had done in the First World War and were determined to avoid it during this one. He quickly designed a system of “companion” boats for Britain; when one ship was at sea, another was nearby, looking out for it. Furthermore, the Royal Navy went looking for U Boats, intent on destroying them. But the subs were difficult to find with the radar of the day, and the plan proved almost useless.

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When the Germans captured Western France, they suddenly had direct access to the Atlantic, no longer dependant on a route through the Baltic Sea and the waters above Scotland. The U Boats slid silently, almost, straight into the Atlantic. But once again, pride factored into the failure of some submarines’ missions. Donitz insisted they be run from a central command over which he had authority.

German U-boat. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
German U-boat. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Initially, the system worked well, and he knew the location of every U Boat almost every day. Since these locations were in code, Allied attempts to find them were severely hampered. But once the Enigma Cipher was decoded by the British, the war’s balance began to shift in the Allies’ favor.

The Germans had no idea its signals were being “translated,” so to speak, by the British Navy. It didn’t always work though, sometimes it took months to decode them. But in the meantime, Britain chose to simply avoid the U Boats wherever and whenever possible, rather than engaging in flat out fights.

Enigma radioman aboard U-124 March 1941. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Enigma radioman aboard U-124 March 1941. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

However, Britain made its share of mistakes during the Battle of the Atlantic. Initially, the RAF chose to bomb German businesses and industries, rather than using its aircraft to protect its ships. In hindsight, military experts agree that strategy was a mistake. More focus should have gone to the Atlantic conflict. The victory was not guaranteed for a very long time even at the war’s end, the opposing forces seesawed between victory and defeat.

Seamen raise the White Ensign over a captured German U-boat in World War II.
Seamen raise the White Ensign over a captured German U-boat in World War II.

The German subs were a profound part of its military might, and the Third Reich made the most of their advanced technology, willing crews and access to the Atlantic. But Great Britain had been through a war with Germany before, and though another began in 1939, it was not about to lose this time, either.

Many thanks to foto6x7.livejournal.com for this awesome gallery.

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995: the massive diesel engines. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995: the massive diesel engines. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995: Close up of the torpedo loading mechanism. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995: Close up of the torpedo loading mechanism. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995 Torpedo launch tubes. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995 Torpedo launch tubes. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995 Crew Quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995 Crew Quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U-995: Door to the toilets. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U-995: Door to the toilets. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

There wasn’t much space for the crew! Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
There wasn’t much space for the crew! Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Radio and map room. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Radio and map room. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Radios. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Radios. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Captains cabin? Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Captains cabin? Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Looking toward the radio room. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Looking toward the radio room. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

 

Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Engine control. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Engine control. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Engine control. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Engine control. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

 

Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

The galley. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
The galley. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Massive diesel engine. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Massive diesel engine. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Main control area. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Main control area. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Crew quarters. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Map table. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Map table. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

U995 main control area. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
U995 main control area. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Steering the U-Boat. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Steering the U-Boat. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

I’m pretty sure that is not the coffee machine. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
I’m pretty sure that is not the coffee machine. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Lot’s of valves. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Lot’s of valves. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

 

Persiscope. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Persiscope. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com

Read another story from us: Spanish Divers Find Lost “Gut Holz” U-Boat off Galician Coast

Looking up in the conning tower. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com
Looking up in the conning tower. Photo:foto6x7.livejournal.com