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U-boat Weapons

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Throughout World War II, weapons such as torpedoes, mines and depth charges were used, here's a close examination of how they worked.


-Torpedoes Los!

The torpedo is considered the main weapon of a submarine.  Earlier during WWI, U-boats were fitted with torps that could travel only a limited distance and had problems detonating their targets. However, throughout both World Wars, torpedoes still proved to be probably one of the best weapons U-boats had.  Later in the war, German scientists and engineers concentrated on the creation of better torps for the war.


Two types of torpedo propulsion were created: compressed air, and electric. Compressed air  


The torpedo detonate by using a winding mechanism located in the front of the warhead. Once launched, the detonating mechanism began to unwind, and slowly activating the warhead.


There were two types of torps created, magnetic and contact. Magnetic torpedoes work by detecting the magnetic field of their targets, and in turn activating a coil which detonated the warhead. However, this system proved to be unreliable because some torpedoes simply passed under their targets, didn’t detonate at all or simply detonated before it was hit, due to the different magnetic distractions under the sea. Contact torpedoes on the other hand, simply use a trigger to detonate the war head once the torpedo has hit the target, they were usually used against merchant ships. Although both torpedoes systems still proved effective, the submarine faces a danger form them themselves, for example, if the torpedo fails to leave the launch tube with its detonator mechanism starting to unwind, the submarine can face the danger of “being sunk by its own torpedo”. Below is a diagram of an early torpedo system used:


-Make ready the Guns!!

Apart from the use of torpedoes, the u-boat crews also had an excellent weapon on board, it was called the deck gun. Most u-boats, such as the type VIIs, and IXs, had a deck gun in front of the conning tower, some boats were also fitted with another deck gun behind the conning tower. Deck guns were often used to attack small enemy boats in sight and also to finish off merchant ships, they had special waterproof ammunition storage spaces on deck so the crew can use the gun almost immediately when on surface. There were also cases when u-boat crews used their deck guns to hit small radio stations near the shore, some crews also succeeded in hitting aircrafts with their gun! This was a very rare situation because deck guns could only elevate for a certain amount of degrees. Some successful type of deck guns were the 8.8cm gun (fitted on type VII u-boats) and the 10.5cm gun (on most Type IX boats). Deck guns became a thing of the past for the crews of u-boats when the massive Allied campaign of convoys struck the Atlantic.

It's Mine!!!
Mines also played an important role in naval warfare, various types of mines were layed along coast line, harbour and important fleet bases.  U-boats, along with minelayers have done their job in the process, the type VII variant VIID, was a specially designed minelayer u-boat, although many were lost in action.  Some types of mines were floating mines that detonated upon contact, and some were special mines that were layed on the seabed with detonated when ships passed above.  Tthe mines can become really effective weapons if used strategically. 

Anti-Aircraft weapons-  Flaks
Since most u-boats were victims of aircraft bombing, anti-aircraft weapons were an important development.  The simgle 20mm gun was the usual weapon against aircraft at the beginning of the war, but later in the conflict, the Wintergarden was developed.  The wintergarden is an extra railling space added aft of the conning tower to house bigger aircraft guns.  Later in the war, an extra wintergarden was added aft to the conning tower to maximize the firing power (evident in the later VII boats). Special U-boats known as the U-Flak boats, were "aircraft traps", these boat are equipped with another wintergarden in front of the coning tower to accomodate an extra gun, the result is an oddly looking submarine that served as a sea platform for anti aircraft operations.  However, the U-Flak boats proved to be clumsy and unsuccessful to handle.

U-boat weapons today
As you can see, some weapons used back in WWII/WWI are still in service today.  Today's torpedoes are much more advanced in terms of technology, they are equipped with sound-detecting somputers and homing devices.  As for deck guns, they have practically vanished since the nuclear revolution.  Weapons such as mines are still in use, although some mines dating back to WWII are still laying in the water, unfound, undetected...waiting for their prey... 

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