Sinking of the Athenia
On the day of September 3rd 1939, the British passenger ship Athenia was torpedoed without warning by the U-30.
U-30's captain had mistaken the the ship for an armed merchant cruiser, 1306 people survived the attack while 112 others fell
casualty to the attack. The Athenia was the first ship to be sunk by a U-boat in WWII.
Attack on Scapa Flow
Captain Gunther Prien was one of the youngest and most determined sailors of the Kriegsmarine, when Grossadimral Karl
Donitz asked him to attempt an attack on Scapa Flow, the British naval base near Scotland, Gunther Prien
accepted the mission with enthousiasm. With his boat the U-47 (type VIIB), he slipped past the obstacles layed by the
Allies in the treatcherous passages of the Orkney Islands and entered Scapa. There, he sank the HMS
Royal Oak and damaged the Pegasus. This was one of the most daring U-boat attempts made in the
On September 14th, 1939, the type IX U-boat U-39 under command of Gerhard Glattes sighted the British aircraft carrier
HMS Ark Royal. Glattes ordered a series of 3 torpedoes to be fired. Unfortunately, all the torpedoes
failed to score a hit. The Ark Royal counter attacked by dropping depth charges into the water. Moments
later, the U-39, severely stricken under the force of the charges, surfaced and its crews were taken captive.
This was the first U-boat loss of the war. After this incident, the problems caused by faulty torpedoes became
As mentionned above, Gunther Prien's U-47 was one boat that knew enormous success after its raid on the English port
in Scapa Flow. However, all successes can come to an end. On March 7th 1941, two years after its successful raid,
the U-47 along with its captain and crew, left port hoping for another successful patrol.... the boat never returned.
Grossadmiral Donitz, shocked at the fact that one of his best boats is lost, was afraid to deliver the news to other U-boat
crews, fearing that their morale might become worn down. It was later believed that the U-47 was sunk by depth charges
by British Destroyer HMS Wolverine, but the theory was proven wrong when the Wolverine was actually
attacking another U-boat. So what has come of the U-47? Some possible theories include the boat being sunk
by its own torpedo, or depth charges from other Allied vessels. Who knows, the boat's hull might still be lying somewhere
on the sea floor today...
Paukenschlag, the sound of Drumbeats.
Before the month of December 1941, U-boats were not allowed to attack American ships to avoid tensions between the two
sides. After the Japanese struck on Pearl Harbor, the Germans themselves were surprised about the attack, this all changed
after Germany declared war on the US on December 11th. Admiral Donitz asked Hitler if he could retrieve several U-boats
in the Mediterranean to form an assault on the west, his permission was not consented however, as the Furher would not allow
any dimunition of the forces in the Mediterranean and Gilbatar area. Due to these restrictions, the admiral only had xis
U-boats that were able to carry out this operation, since many of the Type VII U-boats could not carry enough fuel storage
to make it to the American coast and come back, the view was turned over to the new Type IX U-boats that were now ready to
launch. Since the Americans were mostly occupied with the war in the Pacific, not much attention were given to the attacks
on the eastern seaboard. Thus, as one can imagine, poor defense method resulted in numerous sinkings of merchant ships
along the coast. For new U-boat commanders who wanted to score a hit against merchant shipping, they wished
to engage in battles on the American coast where defenses were poor and minimal and where almost every U-boat
commander had a chance at enemy shipping without being chased back.
As the U-boat war against America continued, the British were persevering the Amercians to use the convoy system for
their outbound ships instead of using patrols along the coast, which were unsuccessful against the U-boats. The convoy
system eventually proved to be successful even though some American destroyers and frigates were aging and not really technologically
advanced as many British escorts at the time. Another change was the nights of blackouts along eastern coastal cities,
as bright city lights actually helped U-boat commanders in identifying and attacking merchant shipping in good visibility.
With the help of additional escorts promised by president Roosevelt, U-boat sinkings eventually began to increase and merchant
sinkings were decreased. Forced by the uneventful circumstances, Donitz eventually withdrew the rest of his Paukenshlag
U-boats from AMerican waters.
This success over the U-boats is one of the facts that contributed to the Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.
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