Category Archives: Posts

The Kreigsmarine / Das Boot

It has been many years since I first saw Das Boot.  As usual, the characters and incidents are fictitious, but this is not a Hollywood fiction; the types of events portrayed certainly occurred.  While I can’t speak for the makers of the film, it gives a gritty German perspective on the one thing that truly scared Winston Churchill – the U-boat peril.

I relied heavily on Wikipedia to provide accurate information on two U-boat types. Many good sources all have copyright material precluding sharing anything.

I posted this in large part because it seems that the true nature of these boats are still not understood.

In comparison to U.S. subs, U-boats were considerably smaller.  A plethora of types were planned, some  boats were short ranged and used close to British waters; others, far fewer in numbers could operate off the U.S. coast, and the rest operated in the mid Atlantic.  One design improvement (such as a single aft torpedo tube)  only increased their torpedo capacity to 14 total.

U-Boat type VIIC depth limits:  The theoretical crush depth of the Type VIIC was 280 – 375 meters, depending on which figures are used.  Design depths from 120 to 150 meters are published.  The Germans generally used a safety factor of 2.5 to get design depth and they tested the hull at a safety factor of 1.5.

The maximum safe depth for the VIIC was therefore between 185 and 250 meters. The problem is that most of numbers published do not specify the applicable safety factor, so it is difficult to come up with a precise number for theoretical crush depth. The actual crush depth varied from one boat to another anyway since the quality of the materials and the workmanship varied.  SOURCE

Contrast those figures with U.S. Gato class subs depth limits, from WIKI:

The Gato-class were a class of submarines built for the United States Navy and launched in 1941–1943; they were the first mass-production US submarine class of World War II.  Together with their near-sisters the andes, their design formed the majority of the United States Navy’s World War II submarine fleet.

The Gato-class design was a near-duplicate of the preceding Tambor and Gar-class boats.  The only significant differences were an increase in diving depth from 250 feet (76 m) to 300 feet (91 m), and an extra five feet in length to allow the addition of a watertight bulkhead dividing the one large engine room in two, with two diesel generators in each room.  Operational experience with earlier boats led the naval architects and engineers at the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair to believe that they had been unduly conservative in their estimates of hull strength. Without changing the construction or thickness of the pressure hull steel, they decided that the Gato-class boats would be fully capable of routinely operating at 300 feet, a 50-foot (15 m) increase in test depth over the preceding classes.[14]

This will help to understand how deep they might go to escape depth charges:

100 Meters (m) = 328.08399 Feet (ft)

160 Meters (m) = 524.93438 Feet (ft)

220 Meters (m) = 721.78478 Feet (ft)


The larger types, ones that wreaked havoc off U.S. coastal waters early in the war, could carry twenty-two torpedoes;  we were woefully unprepared, and hadn’t even a system of protecting ships operating  close to the Eastern seaboard.  Most were designed for mid Atlantic operations, and until the impact of improved detection methods turned the tide in the latter half of 1942, they were the ones which almost accomplished Donitz’s plan to starve Britain of needed war materials.

Ironically, there were some factors which helped keep the Germans from destroying our efforts outright; Donitz had wanted 300 U-boats to start wartime operation, but had less than 40 immediately available at the outbreak of hostilities.  Hitler was not favorable to the Navy; original plans included not starting the war til 1945, and included plans for a Naval fleet which staggers the imagination, had they followed that course.

Seventy-five percent of all German sailors operating U-boats perished by wars end.

Courtesy of Wikipedia –


The VIIA had limited fuel capacity, so 24 Type VIIB boats were built between 1936 and 1940 with an additional 33 tonnes of fuel in external saddle tanks which added another 2,500 nautical miles (4,600 km; 2,900 mi) of range at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced.[28] More powerful engines made them slightly faster than the VIIA. They had two rudders for greater agility. The torpedo armament was improved by moving the aft tube to the inside of the boat. Now an additional aft torpedo could be carried below the deck plating of the aft torpedo room (which also served as the electric motor room) and two watertight compartments under the upper deck could hold two additional torpedoes giving it a total of 14 torpedoes. The only exception was U-83, which lacked a stern tube and carried only 12 torpedoes.[28]

Prien’s VIIB U-47 (model)

Prien’s U-47 (model)

Type VIIBs included many of the most famous U-boats of World War II, including U-48 (the most successful), Prien‘s U-47, Kretschmer‘s U-99, and Schepke‘s U-100.[28]

A note about Prien’s U-47:  On October 14th,1939, The HMS Royal Oak was anchored at Scapa Flow. She was a British Battleship, nicknamed “The Mighty Oak”, a veteran of World War I and the mighty pride of Royal Navy. The base at Scapa Flow, was near-ideal anchorage and many considered it impenetrable.
In the darkness of the night, on the 13th of October 1939, German submarine U-47 surfaced in Scapa Flow and crept slowly towards HMS Royal Oak.  When the submarine was close enough, the commander of the U-boat, Günther Prien, had given orders to fire torpedoes. The battleship had no chance in this duel and very quickly started to sink. 833 men, including Rear-Admiral Henry Blagrove, died on board HMS Royal Oak.
U-47 had crept out of Scapa Flow unnoticed. VIDEO


A cross-section of a Type VIIC U-boat.

Miniature model of a Type VIIC.

The Type VIIC was the workhorse of the German U-boat force, with 568 commissioned from 1940 to 1945.[76] The first VIIC boat commissioned was the U-69 in 1940. The Type VIIC was an effective fighting machine and was seen almost everywhere U-boats operated, although its range of only 8,500 nautical miles was not as great as that of the larger Type IX (11,000 nautical miles), severely limiting the time it could spend in the far reaches of the western and southern Atlantic without refueling from a tender or U-boat tanker.[76] The VIIC came into service toward the end of the “First Happy Time[Note 6] near the beginning of the war and was still the most numerous type in service when Allied anti-submarine efforts finally defeated the U-boat campaign in late 1943 and 1944.[76]

Type VIIC differed from the VIIB only in the addition of an active sonar and a few minor mechanical improvements, making it 2 feet longer and 8 tons heavier. Speed and range were essentially the same. Many of these boats were fitted with snorkels in 1944 and 1945.[76]

They had the same torpedo tube arrangement as their predecessors, except for U-72, U-78, U-80, U-554, and U-555, which had only two bow tubes, and for U-203, U-331, U-351, U-401, U-431, and U-651, which had no stern tube.[76]

Perhaps the most famous VIIC boat was U-96, featured in the movie Das Boot.[76]


Jimmy Stewart – He wasn’t play acting

I spent some 45 minutes “websurfing” for more background info on James Stewart, having read Pacific Paratrooper’s post.  He, like many others carried with them the horrors of total war; kept their feelings bottled up, and never discussed their experiences.

Stewart commanded a squadron of B-24’s; although the B-24 has been in the shadow of the more famous B-17, they bore the vicious onslaught of the Luftwaffe just as much, and suffered grievous losses.

From the 458th Bombardment Group:

“Often compared with the better-known Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load; it was also more difficult to fly, with heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics. Popular opinion among aircrews and general staffs tended to favor the B-17’s rugged qualities above all other considerations in the European Theater. The placement of the B-24’s fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage and its lightweight construction, designed to increase range and optimize assembly line production, made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage. The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire. Its high fuselage-mounted “Davis wing” also meant it was dangerous to ditch or belly land, since the fuselage tended to break apart.”

Stewart with his crew by the B-24 “Lady Shamrock”

Below address contains the only photo I could locate of this B-24; their copyright prevents copying this image.  Use the menu:  Hover the cursor over “Photographs”, then Aircraft, finally 445th Aircraft, then click on it.

It is number 51 in a series of 171 images.

More here:  Jimmie Tramel: Jimmy Stewart earned wings before ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

The History of No. 264 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Many thanks to Pierre Lagacé.

His blog:

This story sparked my interest in part due to the obscure aircraft they used; the Boulton Paul Defiant.  This was an interesting, but badly flawed design, hearkening back to WW I tactics. More on this aircraft HERE

The History of No. 264 Night Fighter Squadron of the Royal Air Force

This is the story you will find on the RAF 264 Website. There are three versions.

Geoff Faulkner wrote version 3 in July 2004.

This is the original that I will use as a template for my ongoing research on unsung heroes, correcting typos along the way and adding photos.

“Whenever mention is made of No. 264 (N/F) Squadron the talk invariably turns to the Squadron’s claim of 37 enemy aircraft destroyed on the afternoon of May 29th, 1940, and though the survivors of this famous action KNOW that the figure is correct, there is no corroboration of their claim in the “Royal Air Force 1939/45”, Vol.1.”

There is nothing strange about this however.  For since the end of the war, we have witnessed a continual reduction in the claims of the “Fighter types” until by now, the absolute minimum must have been reached.  Any further reduction and, on some days, it could only mean that our chaps shot each other down.  And the proof that our figures are up the creek is, we are assured, to be found in German Records.  The Nazis, it seems, never lost any records when they were on the run, except those at Belsen, Dachau, etc.  Had none destroyed by bombs, and never stooped so low as to “cook the books” when it suited their purpose.  Strange, too, that all, those gallant lads who failed to return from Ops. and bomber escorts across the Channel went down empty-handed.  However, to get back to the point, if you believe those things then you accept the fact that “264” did not destroy 37 enemy aircraft on May 29th.

But do we believe them ?……..

Do we hell!

The R.A.F. historians approach the problem from the other end. They quote their own pilots first, and in some cases, add what was witnessed from the ground and then follow up with the enemy records.  The beginnings of history for No.264 Squadron can be traced back to a time when it is admitted that our own record keeping was not too good, to 1918, and, as a result, knowledge of its work is limited, to coastal and sea patrols in the Mediterranean. That it did serve for a few months is well-known, but it appears to have been disbanded by the end of the year.

Gone and forgotten, the Squadron remained off the active list until war came again, and towards the end of 1939 it began to re-form at Sutton Bridge — a well-known Armament Training Camp before the lights went out.

It was here in December, that Cpl. C.S. Bourne, of Kinestanding, Birmingham joined them, and they were then employed in a training role and had 3 Magisters on strength.

“From Sutton Bridge” continues Cpl. Bourne, “We moved to Martlesham Heath to crack on with our training, Fairey Battles were added to our strength early in 1940, then Defiants, and it was here that S/Ldr. P. Hunter took over. My promotion to Sgt. came through before we became operational and moved to Duxford to work alongside No.25 Squadron.

The war moved from Norway to the Low Countries and France, and I remember only too well the early hour in the morning, it was around 5.00 hrs. And we were waiting for the dawn patrol to return, when the C.O. informed me that I was to be ready to fly to Manston in an hour’s time with 2 fitters, 2 riggers, some armourers and a few ACH/GDs, to set up an advanced base for the squadron.  Lobbing in at Manston we were soon caught up in the organised chaos and to try and describe just the difficulties caused by the shortage of petrol bowsers would take pages.  From here our crews were doing 3 sorties a day and then returning to Duxford at night.  Always raring to go, I can well remember the day when they shot down 37 enemy aircraft – and the day when practically the whole of “B” Flight failed to return, I remained at Manston until the evacuation of Dunkirk was complete, then left the squadron on posting to Kirton Lindsey around September, 1940.”

Much more at SOURCE

The War’s Oddest Dogfight

Courtesy of  Air&Space Smithsonian

Over the Atlantic in 1943, it was a battle of the bombers.

Pilot Hugh Maxwell (with his crew, standing, far left). (State Archives of North Carolina)

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One of the strangest dogfights—involving three four-engine bombers—occurred in World War II. It happened the morning of August 17, 1943, when an American B-24D Liberator encountered a pair of German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors over the Atlantic Ocean, about 300 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. The Condors were flying from Bordeaux in occupied France to attack a British convoy sailing from Gibraltar to Scotland. The Liberator, attached to the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 480th Antisubmarine Group, was on the way from its base in French Morocco to protect those British ships.

The 480th had been flying from Port Lyautey in Morocco against German U-boats for several months. Big, boxy, and all-business, the Liberator had the long range required for anti-submarine missions. Modified from its original heavy bombing role, it became an Allied favorite for sub-hunting. These missions were vital to the Allied cause of blunting U-boat attacks on convoys shuttling between Britain and Gibraltar.

The 480th fought the submarine war along with the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command and U.S. Navy patrol squadrons. When these air arms and the Royal Navy started sinking more U-boats in the Bay of Biscay, between Spain and France, Berlin transferred some of the anti-convoy work from U-boats to the Luftwaffe, increasing the chances that Allied airplanes would encounter German ones.

A B-24 bomber, engine smoking, flies through flak. The Liberator also flew U-boat patrols and convoy escorts. (USAF)

Pilot Hugh Maxwell named the B-24 The Ark because “it had a lot of strange animals aboard and I hoped it would bring us through the deluge.” (State Archives of North Carolina)

The Liberators had their share of run-ins with German airplanes. From March through October 1943, they shot down nine German aircraft, including five Condors, three Dornier flying boats, and one Junkers Ju 88 multi-role combat airplane; the 480th’s two squadrons lost three Liberators. The Liberator pilot, Hugh Maxwell Jr., now 98 and living in Altamonte Springs, Florida, had been with the 480th since early March, and had fought another Condor about a month before the August dogfight. Flying parallel courses, the two bombers fired at each other, and Maxwell’s gunners scored hits. The Condor was last seen diving into the clouds with one engine out.

On August 17, the Liberator’s base at Port Lyautey had broken radio silence to warn of the Condors’ approach. Maxwell’s radar operator reported a pair of contacts 15 miles away, and his navigator calculated they would arrive over the convoy at about the same time as the Liberator. That left Maxwell no choice but to engage.

The battle was spectacular. He had never flown fighters—his experience had been in B-18 and B-25 bombers—and he had never been in a dogfight, so the combat that day was the ultimate on-the-job training. He initiated the fight by diving his 28-ton bomber out of the clouds at 1,000 feet on the tail of the lead Condor. He told his gunners to hold fire until they got within range. But the Condor “fired a sighting burst and started hitting me,” he says. “I shoved the throttles and prop pitch forward and closed as fast as I could, and I opened fire. They never came out of their diving turn, and went in on fire. But boy, they had done us damage.”

The second Condor, meanwhile, was firing at Maxwell from behind, and Maxwell’s gunners were returning fire. But the Liberator had lost its number-three and -four engines, and the right wing was full of holes and in flames. The bomber was especially vulnerable to attack because modifications for anti-submarine work (enabling the aircraft to carry more fuel and a maximum load of depth charges) had required removing all the armor plating that protected the crew. So when the Condor’s bullets struck, “all of us got hit by shrapnel and our hydraulic system was knocked out, our intercom radio system was knocked out, the whole instrument panel was knocked out,” Maxwell recalls. Fortunately, one of the crewmen was able to jettison the depth charges.

“As I realized that our right wing would no longer fly and I couldn’t raise it, and was trying to hold left rudder and aileron, my left foot kept slipping off the rudder pedal,” says Maxwell. “I looked down and said, ‘Oh my God.’ My whole left leg and foot were covered with blood, and there was a pool of blood and it was all over that rudder pedal. And I knew I’d been hit in the left side with shrapnel. But then I realized: It ain’t blood, it’s hydraulic fluid.

“At no time did I feel heroic or any of that kind of stuff,” he says. “Hell, I was scared. I didn’t want to die, but I had to do whatever I needed to do. The thing that sticks out in my mind the most was when I realized we were going to be crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, and I thought we were goners. But in a last-minute desperate effort to avoid catastrophe, I kicked in full right rudder and threw the plane into a skid, and sure enough, instead of our cartwheeling and breaking up and exploding, the water put the fire out, and the airplane broke in three pieces, but it didn’t explode or burn.” Seven of the 10 crew members survived.

The second Condor was seen mushing over the waves at low altitude with its number-three engine out. The pilot was able to stay in the air; he made it back to Bordeaux, but his airplane crashed and burned on landing, according to one source. All crew members reportedly survived.

Maxwell’s crew was quickly picked up by one of the convoy’s escorts, the British destroyer Highlander. It also picked up “four survivors from that lead Focke-Wulf 200, two of whom died that night because they were so badly burned,” Maxwell says. The events of the day amounted to “probably my worst experience.”

In a 1989 interview with the Imperial War Museum in London, the Highlander’s captain, Colin William McMullen, described the dogfight as “really like a sort of Jules Verne scene, with these two enormous aircraft weaving about, shooting at one another.” After rescuing the Liberator crew, “who were extremely angry at being shot down,” McMullen said the ship “dashed off and found where the Focke-Wulf had gone into the sea. And there were three Germans swimming for Portugal, which was rather a long way away, and we picked up the Focke-Wulf crew. And as they came on the upper deck up the ladder, [they] came face to face with the American crew. And it was only by great tact that we managed to prevent them continuing the engagement on our upper deck.”

But, Maxwell says in an email, “There was no confrontation, other than what was done by tail gunner Milton Brown. I would never have condoned it, but Brownie snatched the epaulet off the shoulder of the [German] pilot’s uniform and later gave it to me.”

For his actions that day, Maxwell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the 480th ultimately won a Presidential Unit Citation. Maxwell went on to become a B-29 instructor pilot and finished his career in Air Force intelligence, retiring in 1969.


Anzio 1968

Had to hunt before finding a safe, free source to post this old WW II account.  Anzio was an example of terrible leadership; had we taken the initiative, we’d have caught the Germans flatfooted.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t Patton in charge.  A failure to recognize that we had complete surprise allowed the Germans to rush troops into the area, resulting in needless casualties.

The Battle for Anzio (1968). One of WWIIs bloodiest battles as the Allies smash through the German lines which have enclosed the Anzio beachhead. Four months and 30,000 casualties before the Allies finally march to Rome.
Directors: Edward Dmytryk, Duilio Coletti
Writers: H.A.L. Craig (screenplay) (as Harry Craig), Wynford Vaughan-Thomas (book)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Peter Falk, Robert Ryan