Friday, June 18, 2010

Fullbore Friday

Speaking of oil in the water off Louisiana.
U-Boats in the Gulf you ask? Oh, yea.

Now and then, I have to tip my hat to the men of the German U-boat fleet. They didn't have the great submarines like we did - no, not even close. But what they did with them ... it is still amazing.
In the summer of 1942, U-166 patrolled the Gulf of Mexico in searches for a new victim. Steamer Robert E. Lee appeared 70 kilometers from the Mississippi mouth on July 30. The passenger carrier of 5184 tons displacement was going from Trinidad escorted with a PC-566 cruiser. There were over 400 passengers on board the vessel, mostly technical specialists and seamen rescued from sunk ships. The cruiser contacted with the coast station over the air and reported its coordinate position; it was a fatal mistake as the negotiations were intercepted by the German submarine.

The U-166 captain Kullmann ordered to immediately open fire against the ship. People on board the passenger carrier saw a white foamy trace on the sea surface and then a torpedo explosion followed. Marshal Charlton, who was a sailor on Robert E. Lee steamer tells: ?We felt a quick bump, as if the ship ran against a stone wall. The torpedo got into the engine-room and smashed it to pieces.¦ The steamer got a serious breach and sank very quickly; passengers on Robert E. Lee were rather lucky v only 25 people sank.

German submariners were eager to find out whether the hunting was a success. They got so used to remain unpunished for their doings in the Gulf of Mexico that U-166 surfaced without any cautiousness. PC-566 seamen rescued passengers from the steamer, then they noticed the hostile submarine and showered it with depth-bombs. One of them hit the fore body. A catastrophe was inevitable, and the submarine broke into two pieces just in few minutes and sank. The debris went down at a depth of about 1.500 meters in Mississippi-s underwater canyon. Not far from the dilapidated submarine hull, was lying an awkward carcass of the steamer that it torpedoed.

Germany waited for any information from U-166 in vain. No information about the submarine appeared after July 30, 1942, that is why U-166 and its crew of 52 seamen were considered missing.

In almost 60 years, at the beginning of 2001, researches were held at the sea bottom for further laying of oil pipelines there. By that time, the place where Robert E. Lee steamer sank was known, as its framework was found in 1986 already. However, when measurement was done, underwater robots detected strange anomalies of the sea bottom near the place where the steamer was lying. Maritime archeologists joined the researches and determined that wreckage of a submarine of the IX-C class were quite close to the steamer.

But what was the submarine that American pilots bombed not fat from the Mississippi delta? On July 24-25, 1942, U-166 executed a secret mission in the Gulf of Mexico near the Mississippi mouth and laid mined there. In that very place U-166 came across U-171, a giant submarine of the same class. In several days, an American plane noticed U-171.

The pilots decided to attack the submarine. Submarine specialist Krist says that the pilots had one depth-bomb weighing 120 kilograms. ?It would have been an exceptional case if the pilots had managed to sink a submarine of the IX-C class. But no miracle happened.¦

The American pilots remained above the place where they dropped the bomb for an hour. They even saw an oil spot spreading on the sea surface, that is the reason why they were sure that they managed to sank a submarine. But out of the whole number of
German submarines that furrowed the Gulf of Mexico, only U-166 didn-t get back home from there. But it is unlikely that U-171 submarine seriously suffered from the dropped bomb, as the submarine moved away from the American shores. But the days of U-171 were also numbered: it was blown up when it approached the base in Lorient, near the French shores. Some members of the U-171 crew were saved, but 22 men were killed.

U-166 suffered the same fate that majority of the Nazi Germany-s submarines did. Within ten years, 1935-1945, over a half of submarines out of the whole number of 1167 didn-t get back from their combat missions. German historians sum up losses of the enemy: 2900 vessels and 33 thousand seamen at the cost of the life of 30 thousand German submariners.

Underwater pictures of the U-166 framework and wreckage of the steamer that it sank lying side by side produce a painful impression: the hunter and the pray, the killer and the victim are lying together in one underwater grave, covered with sand and silt, almost forgotten. This is just another reminder of the war horrors.

The U-boat fleet suffered extremely heavy casualties, losing 743 U-boats.
From one of my favorite books of all time, Gaylord Kelshall's The U-Boat War in the Caribbean, the story is told in much greater detail.

U-166 was a Type IXC U-boat commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-G√ľnther Kuhlmann, 28 years old.

He made
three patrols - but his third, 44 days, is the one he is remembered for.

Displacement: (tons) 1,120 (sf); 1,232 (sm); 1,540 (total)
Length: (m) 76,76 oa; 58,75 ph
Beam: (m) 6,76 oa; 4,40 ph
Draught: (draft) 4,70 m
Height: 9,40 m
Power: (hp) 4400 (sf); 1000 (sm)
Speed: (knots) 18,3; (sf) 7,3 (sm)
Range:(miles/knots) 13450/10 (sf); 63/4 (sm)
Torpedoes: 22; 4/2 (bow/stern tubes)
Mines: 44 TMA
Deck gun: 105/45, 110 rounds
Crew: 48-56 men
Max depth: ca. 230m (755 feet)


Old Salt said...

PC 566 was most assuredly not a cruiser. A PC was an escort vessel, and, at 178 feet long, a very small one.

The passenger carrier of 5184 tons displacement was going from Trinidad escorted with a PC-566 cruiser.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


Magnificent post.  No matter the uniform, one has to admire the audacity and skill of the U-boat captains and crews. 

The scenario that must have haunted the US Navy was, looking back from 1945, having those captains and crews in ten dozen or so Type XXI boats.  Of all of Hitler's "wonder weapons" that are discussed since the war, (ME-262, V-2, Glider Bombs, etc.) it was the Type XXI U-boat that had the potential to change the war completely and possibly irrevocably.

The ME-262 would soon have had to face the Gloster Meteor and F-80 in overwhelming numbers, the V-2 was too expensive and not sufficiently accurate to be anything but a terror weapon and could not reverse the battlefield situation.  We had all but to find the frequency of the radio controls of the glider bombs.  But the Type XXI?  We were YEARS away from being able to effectively counter that technology.  That boat in widespread service in 1943-44 would have made the "Happy Time" seem like child's play.

Outlaw Mike said...

URR, but then the Germans had a whole range of competing designs for jets in the scaffolds., far more advanced than the Me262, which, IIRC, DID outperform both the Meteor and the P80.

I am only mentioning the Me P1101 e.g.:

The Bell X-5 was based on it.

You are certainly correct about the Type XXI U boats though. There was also the smaller Type XXIII, of which one sank two merchant vessels as late as May 7.

But it's all academic. Because even if they had had XXI's and sufficient Me's and what not, all that it would have resulted in was an A-bomb on Berlin.

Be all that as it may - one of the great enigmas of my life is how a people like the germans, that has produced (and is producing) exemplary scientists, technicians, engineers... besides host of other men who excel in a plethora of disciplines, could ever have followed the bunch of brutal near illiterate crooks that were the nazis. Hitler made Himmler CO of an army group (even twice, in 44 AND 45)... and that murderer couldn't even interpret the scale on a map!

UltimaRatioRegis said...


You are correct about the quality of the German jet aircraft, but could a thousand 262s stand up to five thousand F-80s?

Another interesting thing to ponder.  As good as German intelligence was, and with the extend of damage to Berlin and all major German cities, would the A-bomb have had the same effect as it did in Japan?

ewok40k said...

As good as type XXI was, USN and RN by the 1943 were mastering the ASW with even first homing torps used. And radar was capable of detecting snorchels too, so with air control it would be possible (though costly)  to stop larger numbers of Type XXI.
Last but not least, even at the "happy time" of early 1942 US shipyards outproduced losses...
Hitler was doomed the day he challenged both US and Soviet Union at the same time. Heck, Soviet Union itself was too big to swallow, try conquering eleven time zones of space! And US was virtually unreachable beyond Atlantic.
Combined manpower and industrial output potential was too great.
One little hope was to finish things fast by concentrating ont he UK, the weakest link of the coalition. Going on the deffensive in Russia in 1942, taking Malta, sending Tigers to Rommel and taking Suez. Then convince Japan to ignore Midway and send the Kido Butai via Suez and Med to the UK. Get Italian fleet gathered enroute and force RN into decisive battle, preferably in the Biscay wit all Luftwaffe support you can bring. Axis battleships bombarding the UK soil would be possibly enough to force peace. With that Germany could hope to confront Stalin on roughly equal footing and bleed his armies dry using Mansteins mobile defence.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

<span>"<span>USN and RN by the 1943 were mastering the ASW with even first homing torps used. And radar was capable of detecting snorchels too, so with air control it would be possible (though costly)  to stop larger numbers of Type XXI."</span> 
I would challenge all of that assumption.  Allied SONAR could not detect the hull form of the XXIs, and in postwar experiments with the captured boats, aircraft could not spot the submerged boats except in the shallowest of calm waters.  It was several years after the war that ASW detection was sensitive enough to find such hulls.  Which is why the Soviets immediately built several classes of submarines based almost entirely on the XXIs.
Putting two hundred or three hundred of those boats at Lorient or the Bay of Biscay could have choked strategic logistics that was supporting a massive Allied effort on the continent.</span>

sid said...

Wonder how many tons of oil in various forms was spilled during the Battle of the Atlantic?

And the World As We Know It is still here...

Curtis said...

I so dearly wish we had exterminated every single one of these boats and sailors on their first patrol.  While they were doing their thing others behind them were doing their thing.  Waging evil at a distance is still waging evil no matter how remote.  My 2 pence.

Outlaw Mike said...

' and with the extend of damage to Berlin and all major German cities, would the A-bomb have had the same effect as it did in Japan?'

Oh, I absolutely think so. Absolutely. You wouldn't even have "needed" two.

I remember a saying from a German officer once. He said something to the extent of: "Westerners fear death. The further east you go, the less people fear death. Russians are almost without fear. Japanese have no fear at all. We Germans lie somewhere in between".

So if a government like Japan's saw fit to put the interest of the ordinary people ABOVE any imperial dreams they still fostered, ABOVE any lofty concept of nationwide harakiri and/or fight to death, then I am sure the Germans would have negociated for surrender after the use of one A-bomb on Berlin.

What I mean to say URR - it's not that I want to sound like a know-it-all but I happen to be a WWII buffoon - Germans, MANY of them, showed willingness to fight for the Third Reich at terrible odds. But until total destruction of Germany? Don't believe it.

There were many signs that Germans, even as they CONTINUED to fight, were thinking of rebuilding Germany postwar. E.g. top ranking officials and Generals - prominent among them Speer and Heinrici - defied and sabotaged Hitler's scorched earth directives.

Fight a bloody fight with conventional weapons? That they were still willing to do as late as May 45. But confronted with the A-bomb I'm sure they would immediately have deposed Hitler and asked for surrender. After all, Germans are a sensible lot. It's just that once they embark on a task, they are so goddam effective in doing it. Be it invading a country, inventing stuff, or, alas, exterminating Jews.

Outlaw Mike said...

'Soviet Union itself was too big to swallow, try conquering eleven time zones of space!'

Ewok, i would be willing to challenge that. If Germany had had to fight "only" the USSR, they would have won. Remember, even with the majority of their resources on the other fronts, they were still inflicting losses at 7 to 1.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

But Curtis,

Among warriors, there is room for admiration and respect for skilled enemies fighting bravely in a bad, even evil, cause. 

It is what allows us to admire Oates' 15th Alabama as well as Chamberlain's 20th Maine, or the Japanese defenders of Tarawa and Iwo.  Or the U-boat crews, or the Wehrmacht on the Seelowe Heights.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

My point on German intelligence was that, had they seen Hiroshima, they might have completely evacuated Berlin ahead of a strike.  Agents in Britain and later France knew the Allied air targets sometimes before the bomber crews did.

In the end, Germany was overrun by conventional combat power.  But had wolfpacks in Type XXI boats choked the massive US supply effort (a good deal of which went to the Russians) and that combat power been unavailable, there would have been many issues with using the Bomb in Germany, not least of which was proximity to Russian forces in Poland, or, if a city in Western Germany, proximity to France and Belgium. 

But further discourse on that is for another post, methinks.  My point being, the Type XXI boats in the hands of veteran U-boat crews in 43 and 44 owould have presented a terrible dilemma to the Allies.

sid said...

Like Curtis, I would have wished them dead if I had been around at the time....

But its hubris to not recognize the skill and nerve of the U boat sailors.

Heck, a movie was made on just his topic.

DeltaBravo said...

Mike, since I exist to bring up the most important parts of all discussions (hee hee)

"What I mean to say URR - it's not that I want to sound like a know-it-all but I happen to be a WWII buffoon"

Can we tweak that?  Maybe you meant to say "WWII buff" which in American English means an enthusiast or fan.  "Buffoon" means a clownish person.  Too many important lessons from WWII to imply that those who study it now are anything close to clownish.


Okay... as you were.... 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

No, DB, you may NOT tweak!

I think OM was tongue in cheek.  But as I am sure he gets, I have done some academic and practical examination of the Second World War myself. 

And I don't just mean Hogan's Heroes or McHale's Navy.  Not exclusively, anyway.  :-P

DeltaBravo said...

Haha.  McHale's Navy... that's a blast from the past!  (BTW what's the car photo in your avatar?)

ewok40k said...

Ask AW1 Tim, he is the sub hunter, he knows about the odds better than me, but was positively sure on his blog that allies were capable of handling Type XXIs.
As for "vs Russia only" Hitler could have bled Stalin dry but at the cost of bleeding himself dry. Stalin was fine as long as there was himself left and maybe a few bodyguards. He could afford 5-1 kill ratio.Remember, at the time of D-Day 80% of German army was hopelessly tied up in the East, and about to be smashed by Bagration. I might not like Russians, but certainly they do learn, resulting in 1944 being almost direct reversal of Barbarossa from Smolensk to the Warsaw.
Re: nukes on Germany. It would suffice one on the place where Hitler was at the moment. Best bets are Berchtesgaden and Rastenburg. With both sites bombed simultaneously i'd give 80% chance of nailing him. Whoever succeeded him would be happy to end the war, even Himmler was by 1945 trying to negotiate...

ewok40k said...

Ask the fishermen of the Ironbottom sound area if there is really something bad about fishes there :P

sid said...

Don't hear about them dying in droves from tainted fish...

As a matter of fact, that area -once so ravaged- seems to be doing right well hosting eco-tourism.

But anyway, don't want to veer to far away from the FbF topic at hand...

BostonMaggie said...

DB - that is URR's one true love!  A 1964 Buick LeSabre.

sid said...

More here...

<p><span>But on Grand Isle, there was no hiding the German attacks.  It was near midnight when two torpedoes ripped through the hull of the Benjamin Brewster, a Standard Oil Co. tanker loaded with more than 70,000 barrels of aviation gasoline and oil. The ship was anchored 2 1/2 miles off the beach.</span>
</p><p><span>Its not the first time Grand Isle has seen its share of oil spills....</span>
</p><p><span>(And we won't even talk about the lack of care about incidental spills after the war until the '70s when the environmental laws took hold)</span></p>

El Gordo said...

Interestingly, by focusing on a number of basic weapons at the expense of everything else, the Russian outproduced Germany in the area of tanks and artillery pieces in every single year of the war. At least Overy´s book "Why the allies won" says so - worth reading. It seems Germans just didn´t use their industrial capacity well. Lucky us! The most impressive Tiger tank isn´t worth much if you have to ship it back to the Reich to change the gearbox - then find out you haven´t produced enough spares. What good is a jet fighter if it gets shot down during takeoff by Mustangs and if you cannot train pilots for lack of fuel? 5,000 FW-190s with trained pilots in 1943 would have done a lot more for the German effort than 5,000 Me-262s in 1945.

ShawnP said...

This brings to mind.............could the Navy save money and increase some submarine coverage by building some new diesels? Would have to compete with the Nuclear bubba's about their rice bowl. However new diesels would really help in the PG and other shallow water littorals.

sobersubmrnr said...

The Type XXI boats were not the solution. The advantage of those boats was their submerged performance. That performance allowed them to better evade Allied ASW, but they never would have done much to restore the Unterseebootwaffe as an offensive force, tearing the hearts out of convoys like they did earlier in the war. To do that required sustained submerged speed, something they didn't have and something that no diesel boat has today. It took the development of nuclear propulsion to turn the submarine back into an effective offensive weapon.

ewok40k said...

Russians had concentrated basically on one tank type, the T-34, US ahs done similarly with Sherman - and Germans tried to simultaneously produce PZ IV, Panther (Pz V) and Tiger (PZ VI).  Result - 60000 allied tanks vs some 1300 Tigers, 6000 Panthers and maybe 10000 PZ IV.
As Stalin is quoted, quantity has a quality of its own. Thing to ponder for US procurement too, but its another story altogether...

Outlaw Mike said...

Heh. DeltaBravo, yeah, WWII buff is what I meant. No, it wasn't 'tongue in cheek' as URR suggests. Well, English is not my native tongue and sometimes I use words and expressions that 'sound' like ordinary parlance to me.

DeltaBravo said...

Mike, your English is pretty near flawless.  Just helping where I can.  (We can save the real buffoonery for Diversity Thursdays... )


UltimaRatioRegis said...

Holy moley.  English is NOT your native tongue?  Wow.  You write it superbly.  Better than me. 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>quantity has a quality of its own. Thing to ponder for US procurement too, but its another story altogether..."</span>

Ewok, you said a mouthful.  Enough Tiffany ships.

ewok40k said...

SS(K) is a the heart a defensive weapon, a classic ambush platform especially effective in chokepoints (US have done that spledid vs Japan in WW2), thats why so many smaller navies look to them as sea denial weapons vs major blue water OPFOR.

ShawnP said...

Not trying to delve into politics here but the U-Boat's were not a hot bed for Nazi activity. One does have to admire the skill and daring of many U-Boat skippers who went to sea knowing full well they would die in the end. Of all the branches of the German War Machine the U-Boats had the highest rate of death and it wasn't even close.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

What's it to ya?

xformed said...

KInda like overwhelming the Tigers with lots and lots and lots of M-4 Shermans....not the same capability,,,,attrition:  We did it.

AW1 Tim said...


  Additionally, the Germans had developed what we know today as an anechoic coating, a rubber-type coating that helped to absorb active sonar "pings" and thus throw off the detection accuracy of active sonar. Think of it as a sort of early stealth material. It also worked.

  The TypeXXI and XXIII possessed some other design attributes that made them head and shoulders above the former Type VII & IX boats. Shnorkels, better and longer last batteries, more smoother hull shapes, etc. However, they still couldn't raise the speed limits. Batteries ccan only do so much.

  Still, between the heavy losses suffered by the U-Boat fleet, and the mass construction of US Small boys and the combined actions of dedicated ASW hunter-killer groups, the days of U-Boat domination were over by 1944.

  Even had the war continued and newer boats been brought on line, the US & British Navies in the Atlantic and Mediterranean were more than a match for the subs.

  As you say, until the advent of the Nuke boats mated with the Albecore Hull, the ASW groups would have the upper hand. Once the Nukes came online, it was a paradigm shift in tech, tactics, and threats.

FOD said...

<span>"The cruiser contacted with the coast station over the air and reported its coordinate position; it was a fatal mistake as the negotiations were intercepted by the German submarine."  </span>
<span>While DF was a common targeting tool, that statement, if true, sounds more like a German operator copied the position.   That was rare, but in either case, their radio intercept/DF operators (CTs) certainly worthy of full bore. </span>

Anonymous said...

Make no mistake.  I have tremendous respect for the bravery and devotion of the U-boat men.  They gave the last full measure but for a cause that was utterly rotten and despicable, and, ultimately evil.  I would again say that I wish that each had died on his first war patrol or in a bombing attack at the U-boat bases.