What the US Navy Learned from the Crew of U-128 – Not Much (Part 2 of 3)

The complement of U-128 on her last patrol was four officers, three midshipmen, 16 petty officers, and 31 enlisted men, a total of 54.

As mentioned, U-128 was a Type IX U-Boat, which was bigger than the more prevalent but smaller Type VII which had a displacement of 769 tons and a range of 8500 km. The workhorse of the U-Bootwaffe was the Type VIIC, 568 of which were built, the third ‘model’ so to speak of the Type VII. The U-Boat depicted in the book and movie, Das Boot, is a Type VIIC.

U-505, on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, is a Type IXC as was U-128. Fifty-four Type IXC boats were built. They had a displacement of 1120 tons and a range of 14,000 km.

(To tell you the God’s honest truth, I have never actually been sure of what “displacement” means when giving the measurements of a ship. I think it means that the ship displaces that much water but if someone knows more about this please make a comment.)

What is unusual about the crew complement on this boat is the presence of three midshipmen. While one sees midshipmen deployed early in the war it is surprising to see three of them on board a combat patrol when U-Boat losses were running so high. While aboard the boat, a midshipmen, or Fähnrich zur See, would have been treated as an enlisted man and not an officer. However, I need to make clear that the next rank, Oberfähnrich zur See, was a full fledged officer and would have been treated as such. The equivalent rank in the US Navy would be “Ensign”.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

2 thoughts on “What the US Navy Learned from the Crew of U-128 – Not Much (Part 2 of 3)”

  1. How does “mass” differ from “weight”? If it were somehow possible to lift a vessel out of the water and place it on a simple weight-measuring balance scale, how would it differ from its “mass”, or displacement? I’ve never fully understood this distinction, but then I never really understood Algebra, never mind physics — numbers and I just don’t get along.

  2. Your comment about displacement is correct — it really is the mass of water (not volume) displaced by the vessel. For submarines, there is both a surfaced and submerged displacement, since the ballast tanks are filled with water when a submarine is submerged.

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