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How to identify the German U-boat

Article about: For the Kriegsmarine addicted members! I was searching for Kriegsmarine helmet info when I came across this link to an article with highly useful and educational information. This info can b

  1. #1

    Default How to identify the German U-boat

    For the Kriegsmarine addicted members!
    I was searching for Kriegsmarine helmet info when I came across this link to an article with highly useful and educational information. This info can be downloaded directly from the browser, as the author wrote it into a Word or PDF document.

    This basically holds any kind of information a person interested in the identification of U-boots colourings would need.

    Last edited by Little Mermaid; 08-14-2013 at 06:36 PM.

  2. #2


    Last edited by youthcollector1; 08-14-2013 at 06:52 PM. Reason: Informative thread

  3. #3


    How to identify U-boots by insignia:

    Some of the more famous insignia, or those belonging to the most famous boats and/or commanders, are as follows -
    U 9 - Black Iron Cross with a crown, W and 1914 in white
    U 19 - Rat with umbrella riding on torpedo
    U 23 - Olympic rings denoting Naval Academy class 1936
    U 30 - Fox terrier called Schnurzl
    U 34 - Elephant stomping on Churchill’s head
    U 46 - White outline of snorting bull (U 46’s commander Engelbert Endrass had designed this insignia when serving as IWO on U47)
    U 47 - White outline of snorting bull (the Bull of Scapa Flow, became 7th U-Flottille insignia)
    U 48 - Black cat with 3X below
    U 57 - Red devil (Erich Topp)
    U 69 - Laughing cow with “La Vache Qui Rit” / Horridoh
    U 82 - Crest of Coburg – a sword on a shield divided into black and gold halves
    U 83 - Viking ship
    U 94 - Green creature tugging at roaring British bulldog
    U 96 - Laughing swordfish, created after 3rd patrol (became 9th U-Flottille insignia when U 96’s commander Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock tookover the flotilla)
    U 99 - Real bronze horseshoes welded onto either side of tower
    U 100 - Large panther
    U 107 - Four playing cards
    U 110 - Fox terrier called Schnurzl (Fritz-Julius Lemp had commanded U 30)
    U 123 - German helmet with swastika / kettledrum
    U 124 - Edelweiss
    U 141 - Devil riding on torpedo
    U 183 - Japanese rising sun flag and Kriegsmarine flag
    U 201 - Snowman (Schnee) / Crest of Remscheid (sponsoring
    U 203 - Red turtle / Crest of Essen (sponsoring city)
    U 253 - Blowing man
    U 333 - Three white fishes
    U 377 - Laughing swordfish (9thU-Flottille insignia)
    U 404 - Large stylised Viking ship prow (became basis of 6th U-Flottille and 23rd U-Flottille)
    U 441 - Ladybird
    U 505 - Scallop shell
    U 552 - Red devil (Erich Topp had commanded U 57)
    U 556 - Parzival towing battleship Bismarck which it “sponsored”
    U 564 - Black cat with 3X below (U 564’s commander Reinhard Suhren hadserved as IWO on U 48)
    U 995 - Two figures from Fang den Hut game
    One of the most famous insignia was the white outli
    ne of a snorting bull, which had been painted on U 47’s tower upon returning to Germany from its
    successful Scapa Flow mission. Following this, other U-boats belonging to the 7th U-Flottille (of which U 47 was a member) began to spo rt the snorting bull insignia. Thisidentification symbol received an official sanction, and from April 1941 onwards U-boats of the 7th U-Flottille were requested to paint Der Stier von Scapa Flow – “The Bull Of Scapa Flow” – on their towers. Later stencils were produced to aid the application of the bulls.
    Many of the U-boat flotillas developed their own insignias. Often a U-boat’s tower displayed both a personal insignia and a flotilla insignia. U 552, for example, had a red devil personal insignia next to the snorting bull insignia of the 7thU-Flottille.
    If a U-boat survived until it was relegated to training duties, the insignia would often remain in place. Sometimes this would be seen next to tactical markings. However, the flotilla insignia would be removed, since the U-boat was being transferred from an operational flotilla to a training flotilla. Sometimes insignia would be transferred from one boat to another.
    Last edited by Little Mermaid; 08-14-2013 at 06:45 PM.

  4. #4


    I will try and update this post with info on every known German U-boot class as I get time to sort my info out via books and online sources. But so far goes:

    The Atlantic Boats:
    Construction history of type VIIA
    These boats, designed in 1933-1934, were the first of a new generation of German attack U-boats known, as Type VII, they were popular with their crews and very agile on the surface. They also had a much more powerful striking power than the smaller Type II's. They had 5 torpedo tubes (4 at the bow) and would carry 11 torpedoes onboard or 22 TMA (=33 TMB) mines. They also had the effective 88mm fast-firing deck gun with about 160 rounds of ammunition.
    Type VIIB was an improvement on this design with substantially increased range.
    All but two (U-29 and U-30, both scuttled in Kupfermühlen Bay on May 4, 1945) Type VIIA U-boats were sunk during World War Two.
    Soon it was discovered that the only real drawback of the VIIA was the small fuel storage for the role intended. This was mostly fixed in the VIIB which had additional 33 tons of fuel in external saddle tanks which gave them additional range of about 2500nm at 10 knots. They were also considerably more powerful and slightly faster than the VIIA was. These boats (and all following the design) had two rudders instead of the one found on the VIIA. This gave them even more agility.

    Construction history of type VIIB
    These boats had the same armament as the VIIA, 4 bow torpedo tubes and one tube at the stern. U-83 was the only type VIIB without the stern torpedo tube. The only major armament difference was that 3 additional torpedoes could be stored for a total of 14. The next development of these series was the mass produced type VIIC with several improvements.
    Type VIIB included many of the most famous U-boats during World War 2, including Kretschmer's U-99, U-48 which was the most successful U-boat, Prien's U-47 and Schepke's U-100.

    Construction history of type VIIC, also known as the workhorse
    Type VIIC was a slightly modified version of the successful VIIB. They had basically the same engine layout and power, but were slightly larger and heavier which made them not quite as fast as the VIIB. 5 torpedo tubes (4 at the bow and one at the stern) were installed in all but the following boats; only two bow tubes (U-72, U-78, U-80, U-554 and U-555) and no stern tube (U-203, U-331, U-351, U-401, U-431 and U-651).
    The VIIC was the workhorse of the German U-boat force in World War Two from 1941 onwards and boats of this type were being built throughout the war. The first VIIC boat being commissioned was the U-69 in 1940. The VIIC was an effective fighting machine and was seen in almost all areas where the U-boat force operated although their range was not as great as the one of the larger IX types.
    The VIIC came into service as the "Happy Days" were almost over and it was this boat that faced the final defeat to the Allied anti-submarine campaign in late 1943 and 1944.
    Perhaps the most famous VIIC boat was the U-96 which is featured in the movie Das Boot, other noticeable boats were the U-flak boats. Many of these boats were fitted with the Schnorkel in 1944-1945. This design saw one more improvement in the type VIIC/41 boat. The larger mine-laying type VIID was a direct variant of the VIIC.

    Construction history of type VIIC/41
    Type VIIC/41 was a slightly modified version of the successful VIIC and had basically the same engine layout and power. Armament was the same with 5 torpedo tubes (4 at the bow and one at the stern). The biggest difference was that these boats had a stronger pressure hull giving them more depth to evade attack under (operational 120m and crush depth at 250m against VIIC's 100/200). They also had lighter machinery to compensate for the added steel in the hull making them actually slightly lighter than the VIIC. All the type VIIC/41 boats from U-1271 onwards had the mine fittings deleted.
    This design saw one further change in the much improved type VIIC/42 but none of those was ever completed, being phased out for the even more formidable XXI Elektro boat in late 1943.
    The VIIC/41 obviously didnt have an 88 mm deck gun, which I find a bit odd comparing it to the official info pages as well as earlier models. The deck shows no sign that there was ever an 88 mm gun present. But the only difference between the regular VIIC and the modified VIIC/41 was that the ´41 had a much thicker pressure hull.
    But from June 1943 and onwards no German VIIC and VIIC/41 submarine were fitted with the 88 mmdeck gun, and those that already had them, they had them removed.
    Today one type VIIC/41 still exists in the form of U-995 which is now on display at Laboe (north of Kiel) in Germany. She is also the only surviving type VII in the world.

    Construction history of type VIIC/42 (none built)
    The VIIC/42 was designed 1942-1943 and was intended to replace the then retreating VIIC, she had a much stronger pressure hull (with plating thickness up to 28mm) and a bit better offensive punch (16 torpedoes against VIIC's 14). Her diving depth was designed to be 200 meters with 400 meters as crushing depth (VIIC figures: 100/200 meters).
    These boats would have been very similar in external appearance to the VIIC/41 but with two periscopes in the tower as type IX.
    All contracts for the VIIC/42 U-boats were cancelled on 30 September 1943 in favour of the new Elektro Boat XXI.
    Last edited by Little Mermaid; 08-14-2013 at 07:03 PM.

  5. #5


    The Long Range Boats:
    Construction history of type IX
    Designed in 1935-1936 as large ocean-going U-boats, they were derived from type IA. Diving depth designed as 100m operational and 200m crush depth (many boats went much deeper and survived). Fitted with 6 torpedo tubes below the waterline (4 at the bow and 2 at the stern) they carried 22 torpedoes. They had the same hydroplane and rudder layout as the VIIC. One periscope in the control room (deleted from types IXC onwards) and two in the tower.
    Type IX had 5 external torpedo containers (3 at the stern and 2 at the bow) which stored 10 additional torpedoes. As mine-layers they could carry 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines. Many of the IXC boats were not fitted for mine operations. Secondary armament was provided by one large Utof 105/45 gun with about 110 rounds. AA armament differed throughout the war. Type IXB was an improved version with increased range and slightly heavier.

    Construction history of type IXB
    Type IXB was an improved version of type IX with increased range of 1500 nautical miles and slightly heavier. The designed was improved again in the IXC type.
    This type was the most successful overall with each boat averaging over 100,000 tons of sinking. They had 22 torpedoes stored which gave a determined U-boat commander a serious striking power which could be used night after night against the same convoy, as was often the case.
    Perhaps the most famous IXB boat was the U-123 under the command of Kptlt. Hardegen which opened up the attack in the US waters in early 1942 known as Operation Drumbeat.
    U-107, under the command of Hessler, made the most successful convoy mission of the war over with close to 100,000 tons sunk out of Freetown, Africa.

    Construction history of type IXC
    A further development of type IXB with storage for additional 43 tons of fuel which gave them increased range up to 13400 nautical miles at 10 knots. These series omitted the control room periscope leaving the boats with two tower scopes. As mine-layers they could carry 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines. Many of the IXC boats, U-162 through 170 and U-505 through 550 (35 boats), were not fitted for mine operations. A close sibling of the IXC was the IXC/40 boat.

    Construction history of type IXC/40
    These boats were a slight modification of the type IXC boats. They had a slightly increased range, somewhat higher surface speed and were a bit heavier at 1545 tons fully loaded and submerged. As for most U-boat types the deck gun was deleted from most IXC/40 boats from 1943 onwards.

    Construction history of type IXD
    These boats, designed in 1939-40, have been called IXD/41, IXD and my main source gives them as IX D1 and IX D2. The difference between D1 and D2 was mostly in engine layout and power. The D1 had teething troubles and the D2 boats had a more proven layout.
    These were more than 500 tons heavier and almost 10 meters longer than the IXC/40. They were armed with 24 torpedoes in 6 tubes (4 at the bow and 2 at the stern) and had the secondary armament in the form of the Utof 105mm/45 deck gun with roughly 150 rounds of ammunition.
    In 1943-44 the torpedo tubes were removed from the D1 boats (U-180 and U-195) and they converted for transport use. In their new role they could transport 252 tons of freight.

  6. #6


    Excellent article

  7. #7


    The special boats:
    Construction history of type XB
    These boats were laid down as ocean-going submersibles, designed in 1938.
    They could carry up to 66 SMA mines in 30 mine shafts and up to 15 torpedoes. The XB class was special for that they only had two torpedo tubes at the stern. As transport boats they carried freight containers in the mine shafts (or had the freight containers welded on top of the lateral shafts, preventing their use for mines).
    At 2710 tons submerged and fully loaded they were the largest German U-boats ever built and they paid a penalty in diving speed and agility. 6 of the 8 boats built were sunk during the war (5 with all hands) but two survived the war.

    Construction history of type XIV
    These vessels were a development from the IXD with the length reduced to that of the VIIC boat. The size of these boats and their intended purpose resulted in the nickname 'Milch Cow'. They were built to resupply the fighting U-boats in the Atlantic and thus had no offensive power, only anti-aircraft weapons for defence.

    Construction history of type XXI
    This was the boat that perhaps could have won the war in the Atlantic for the Germans had she been in the water maybe 2 years earlier. She was the first real combat submarine that was meant to dwell in the deep and not just retreat to it once in danger.
    These boats had much better crew facilities than previous classes, much more silent underwater, freezer for foodstuffs, a shower and a basin and little things like that. Also they had hydraulic torpedo reload system that enabled the commander to reload all 6 tubes in something like 10 minutes which was even less than it took to reload one tube on the VIIC normally.
    3-times the electrical power of the VIIC gave the boat enormous underwater range compared to the older types and this boat could submerge far beyond the Bay of Biscay from the French bases so the Valley of Death was a thing of the past for them really. It took the boat 3-5 hours to re-charge the batteries with the Schnorchel once every 2-3 days if travelling at moderate 4-8 knots and was thus much less in danger from aircraft which sank about 56% of all U-boats lost in the war. If the boat carried TMC mines she could also carry 14 torpedoes.

    Construction history of type XXIII
    The first XXIII, U-2321, was launched from Deutsche Werft in Hamburg on 17 April, 1944, she was one of the 6 XXIII's that went on operational patrol around the British Isles in early 1945. U-4712 was the last one launched, on April 19, 1945. The first XXIII to go out on patrol was U-2324 on 29 Jan 1945. The U-2336 under the command of Kptlt. Klusmeier sank the last ships sunk in WWII on May 7 when he sank two British freighters inside the Firth of Forth. None of the 6 operational XXIII's (U-2321, U-2322, U-2324, U-2326, U-2329 and U-2336) was sunk by the allies during Jan - May 1945. 3 of these boats sank 4 ships for a total of 7,392 tons.
    The following 7 boats were lost to various causes;
    U-2323 (mined on 26 July 1944), U-2331 (training accident on 10 Oct 1944), U-2338 (sunk by British aircraft east-northeast of Frederika on May 4, 1945, the only XXIII to be sunk by the enemy, 12 dead) U-2342 (mined on 26 Dec 1944), U-2344 (rammed by U-2336 on 18 Feb 1945), U-2351 (paid off in April 1945 after bomb damages) and U-2367 (rammed by U-boat on 5 May 1945).
    31 of the remaining XXIII's were scuttled in early May 1945 and 20 more surrendered to the allies and ended their careers in Operation Deadlight. Only U-2326 (later UK sub N 35), U-2353 (later the UK sub N 37) and U-4706 (later the Norwegian Knerten) survived the war. The XXIII was so crammed internally that she only carried two torpedoes and those had to be loaded externally in harbour, thus they lacked the offensive punch of their larger sister, the XXI Elektro boat.

    Construction history of type VIID
    These boats, designed in 1939-1940, were basically a longer version of the type VIIC with additional SMA mine shafts just aft of the conning tower. They were armed with 12 torpedoes or 26 TMA mines (39 TMB) and had the 88mm deck gun with 220 rounds. They can be considered the forefathers of the big ballistic submarines of today. Another variant of the VII attack U-boats was the large type VIIF torpedo transports.
    These boats did not fare very well with only 1 (U-218) out of 6 surviving the war and the other 5 all went down with all hands of a total of 241 men dead.

    Construction history of type VIIF
    These boats, designed in 1941, were primarily built as torpedo transports and were never fitted with the typical 88mm deck guns found on other VII type boats. They had 5 torpedo tubes (4 at the bow and 1 at the stern) and as attack boats they would carry 14 torpedoes but in their transport role they would have up to 39 torpedoes onboard. Two of them, U-1062 and U-1059, were sent to support the Monsun boats in the far East waters. They were the largest and heaviest type VII boats built.

    Construction history of U-flak boats
    The U-flak boats were 4 VIIC boats (U-441, U-256, U-621 and U-953) that were modified to act as surface escorts for the incoming/outgoing attack u-boats operating from the French Atlantic bases. They had greatly increased anti-aircraft fire-power and were intended as aircraft traps.
    3 more U-boats were taken aside as additional U-flak boats (U-211, U-263 and U-271) but none of them was completed as Flak boats although conversion did certainly start on all of them. They were eventually returned to duty as traditional VIIC attack boats.
    U-Flak 1:
    The feared quadruple 2.2cm fast firing anti-aircraft gun. The modifications took place in 1943 and the boats became operational in June 1943 and had excellent successes against the surprised RAF aircraft. Dönitz realized their potential and ordered the boats to cross the Bay of Biscay in groups at max speed. The effort gave the Germans only about 2 months of still-limited freedom though until the RAF developed counter-measures where they called in surface hunters to assist the aircraft and the U-flak boats were withdrawn and converted back into fighting vessels.
    U-flak - the origins of the idea:
    On 31/08/42 U-256 (on her first cruise sailing from Kiel on 28/07/42 to proceed to Lorient via the North Atlantic) was seriously damaged by Whitley 'B' of Sq 502. The boat was nearly scrapped but it was decided to adapt her into a U-flak - a heavily AA armed boat intended to lure unsuspecting aircraft to a deadly trap. It was expected to stop heavy losses in the Bay of Biscay inflicted by Allied aircraft by deploying a number of U-flaks.
    Although U-256 was the first boat to be converted into a U-flak, the reconstruction was delayed. In the meantime, on 16/04/43, it was decided to convert U-441 in the same way. The third and fourth Flakvierling mounts available (20mm quadruple sets) and the first experimental 37mm automatic gun were installed on U-441. Also, a battery of 86mm line-carrying AA rockets was installed (but this idea proved unworkable).
    It is sometimes indicated that two additional single 20mm guns were also carried. The fuel capacity was limited to Bay of Biscay operations only. Only 5 torpedoes were carried - in the tubes - for self-defence (room was needed for additional gunners taken aboard).
    First operations:
    Flak-U1 or U-441 sailed on 22/05/43 from Brest on her 5th patrol commanded by KL Goetz von Hartman. On 24/05/43 U-441 was attacked by Sunderland 'L' of Sq 228, shot the aircraft down but got seriously damaged by aerial depth-charges and was forced to return arriving on 26/05/43.
    The effectiveness of improved AA weaponry was overestimated and resulted in ordering U-boats to pass the Bay of Biscay on the surface in groups. This in turn resulted in heavy losses due to the group tactics adopted by the Allied aircraft.
    Further actions:
    U-441 as U-flak again sailed from Brest on 8/07/43. On 12/07/43 she was attacked by Beaufighters 'A', 'B' and 'V' of Sq 248 and ended up badly damaged with heavy casualties (10 men dead, 13 wounded) in spite of the initial heavy AA fire. U-441 returned on 13/07/43.
    U-621 was converted into U-flak in June 43, after being damaged on her 4th cruise, by Liberator 'Q' of Sq 224 on 31/05/43. U-621 as U-flak sailed on 29/08/43 and scored no success on her 5th one month patrol. After being reverted to a normal flak armament she was damaged by aircraft on 6th cruise, by Liberator 'A' of Sq 59 on 13/01/44.

  8. #8


    Very well done, Christina, and a fine piece of analysis from one of our best members. Weitermachen!
    damit, basta.

  9. #9


    Thank you. I still need to sort the info on the remaining 3 classes, but that will take some time.

  10. #10


    Time is what makes the study of the past both agony and ecstasy, and you show us knowledge versus images of fake cap badges, and dumbo fako hats, which are a drain on human kind.
    damit, basta.

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