Predators and Workhorses: The U-Boat Type VIIc


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When it comes to World War II and the ships of the German Kriegsmarine many Naval history buffs focus on the mighty battleships Bismarck and Tirptiz, sometimes the other major surface warships, or the massive battleships that never left the drawing board. However, for me it is the U-Boats, the German submarine fleet, which came very close to winning the war for Germany.  So for the next few nights I am going to be posting about some of the types of German submarines, or Unterseebooten, U-Boats. 

The signature warship of the German Kreigsmarine of the Second World War has to be the U-Boat Type VIIC, the most numerous type of submarine ever produced by any Navy.  568 of these U-Boats would be commissioned between 1940 and 1945 as well as 91 of the Type VIIC/41.  The Type VIIC was developed from the prewar Type I and Type VIIA and VIIB classes.

Compared to contemporary American submarines of the Gato class they were smaller, mounted fewer torpedo tubes and had a shorter range. However the American boats were designed for the vast expanse of the Pacific while the German boats for the most part were operated in the smaller confines of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.


They displaced a mere 769 tons on the surface and 871 tons submerged and were 67.1 meters (220.14 feet) long. The boats had a single pressure hull and the VIIC could dive to a maximum depth of 230 meters (754 feet) and had a crush depth of 250-295 meters (820-967 feet).  The VIIC/41 could dive to 250 meters or 820 feet and a crush depth of 275-325 meters (902-1066 feet).  This was deeper than any allied submarines of the period and a testament to their sound construction.

Admiral Dönitz greeting U-94 in 1941

The Type VIICs were armed with a C35 88 mm/L45 gun with 220 rounds for surface actions and various types and numbers of anti-aircraft guns. The standard configuration for torpedo tubes was 4 bow mounted tubes and 1 stern mounted tube although a small number only carried 2 forward and none aft. They carried a maximum of 14 torpedoes and could carry 26 TMA Mines which would be laid at approaches to various ports.

U-966 under air attack

The Type VIIC was powered by two supercharged Germaniawerft, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesel engines on the surface producing between 2,800 to 3,200 horsepower which gave the boats a 17.7 knot maximum speed on surface. For submerged operations the boats were powered by one of a number of different electric motors whose batteries were charged by the diesels. The electric motors produced 750 horsepower (560 kW) and could drive the boats a maximum of 7.6 knots. In 1944 many of the surviving boats were equipped with the schnorkel apparatus which allowed them to use their diesel engines underwater at shallow depths.  The had a range of 8190 miles at 10 knots surfaced which gave them a decent amount of operational flexibility for their Atlantic operations.

The last Type VII- U-995 (Type VIIC/41) German U-Boat Memorial Laboe Germany

During the war the German U-Boat force suffered grievous losses many of which were Type VIICs. The VIICs performed excellently in combat and many survived engagements that would have sunk less tough boats. The most famous of the Type VIICs of all variants is probably the U-96 which was featured in the epic submarine film Das Boot. A number had post war careers in several navies and the last active VIIC the U-573 which served in the Spanish Navy as the G-7 was decommissioned in 1970 and sold for scrap over the objections of those that wanted to purchase her as a memorial.  The only surviving Type VIIC is the U-995at Laboe Germany where she is a memorial to all the U-Boat Sailors of the Second World War.  Two full sized mock ups one for exterior scenes and one for interior scenes were constructed for Das Boot and the exterior mock up was also used in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

                                                 The Death of HMS Barham  
During the war U-Boats of all types sank nearly 3000 Allied ships including 175 warships among which were the carriers HMS Glorious, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle and the Battleships HMS Barham and HMS Royal Oak. The Germans lost nearly 800 U-Boats of all types and over 28,000 U-Boat Sailors, about 75% of the force.

The films Das Boot and The Enemy Below are excellent reminders of the courage of the men that operated these submarines during the war. Though the Nazi Regime was evil the men of the U-Boat Service often displayed courage and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds and they nearly won the war for the Germans.


Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under germany, History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

One response to “Predators and Workhorses: The U-Boat Type VIIc

  1. Steven

    Hey Padre,

    As usual, your knack for combining technical detail with accessible story-telling shines in this piece.

    A long argument for naval geeks like us…

    I’m not sure that the U-Boot campaigns “came close” to winning the war in WWII. They undeniably did so in WWI, but their operational and strategic focus was entirely different.

    The German submarine campaign against the British Isles during the Second World War—which is the campaign you are referring to—was a “Tonnage War”. The campaigns in the Great War were blockades enforced by unrestricted submarine warfare.

    They achieved demonstrably different results. The tightly-focused and well-supported campaign of the Great War was only barely defeated, by the Royal Navy, at severe cost. Great Britain was nearly knocked out of the war.

    The campaign of the Second World War was poorly-supported, lacked critical focus on British vulnerabilities, and was never in any danger of “winning the war” for the Axis Powers (the RMI also deployed boats to the Atlantic out of Bordeaux).

    Prior to the American entry into the European War, the USN was actively engaged in hostilities with the Axis submarine force and Axis supply ships. The US War Department supplied vital intelligence to the British. The Roosevelt Administration leveraged the concept of the Monroe Doctrine to create a “Hemisphere Defence” which greatly aided the Allies and hampered the Axis. All these actions countered the operational effects of the U-Boat War, prior to American active entry.

    Moreover, as Clay Blair makes clear—however one feels about his conclusions—the tonnage statistics, which are the only ones that matter in a tonnage war, only **rarely** favoured the Axis in the period where they had **any** hope of winning at sea—which is not the same as winning a war.

    The only actual danger to Great Britain’s war waging potential came from losses among Tankers, essential for bringing in fuels. But this danger arose as a side-effect of the campaign, not its intent. Tankers were simply tonnage. This also led to Ubooten focusing on Outbound Americas (OA) convoys, because they were less well-escorted and had an early dispersal point.

    Tonnage-wise, the number of operational boats was never sufficient to effect the decisive outcome needed, even had the USA not entered the war. The Roosevelt Administration—in stark contrast to Wilson—actively supported the Allies, and had undertaken a sustained merchant ship building programme. Once the Japanese ensured the USA was an active participant, the Axis effort at Tonnage War was doomed.

    This is not to argue that the German Ubooten did not have significant successes, because you listed a whole host of them—all warship sinkings, you might note. Where the Axis deployed its submarines to attack Allied Capital Ship deployments, they met with some success, but never enough to effect Allied deployments or goals—operational or strategic. Tactical victories are wasted without a successful operational concept and a realistic strategic goal (re; the Japanese and the Pacific War).

    To “win” the Second World War required one of two things from the German point of view—defeat the Western Allies; defeat the USSR. Trying to do both at once turned out to be an absolute solid strategy for defeat; it permitted BOTH opponents to deploy their primary strengths against the German’s primary weaknesses in divergent theatres of war.

    The Soviet Union’s land forces combined with a vast landmass to give them operational and strategic depth the German “way of war” was ill-suited to address. The Western Allies’ naval forces and mastery of the sea approaches to the Axis powers combined to bring the most plentiful Allied resource—American manufacturing capacity—against the single weakest aspect of German military power, their Navy.

    At no time did the German or Italian armed forces attempt to deploy their Air Forces in a sustained effort to achieve a strategic goal. The Luftwaffe remained an operational force ill-suited to operations beyond battlefield dominance and mobile fire-support. The RAI was an non-factor in the Second World War. The Germans had major problems with sustaining even the limited air campaigns they did execute—the neutralisation of Malta, for example, or the the invasion of South Eastern Europe; never mind the air assault on Southern England.

    To “win” the war, the Germans ought not to have started it. Let us be thankful that they blundered, and that tens of millions of Soviet citizens, and millions of Allied citizens, were willing to give their lives to drag the Swastika down.

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