German Type 212A U-Boat

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Continuing from before…

The technological prowess of the Type 212A U-Boat can be directly traced back to research made in the latter half of World War Two with the development of the Type XXI U-Boat. Designed as a true submarine rather than as a surface ship that could submerge for short periods of time, the Type XXI was technically and technologically more sophisticated than the Type VII U-Boat.

Many of the advances incorporated into its design included: a substantial increase in battery capacity and recharging ability; a more streamlined and hydro-dynamically clean hull design; faster speed; better facilities for crew members including a freezer, a shower, a washbasin, working toilets, and a fresh water distiller; an advanced torpedo reloading system; an advanced sonar system; and a pre-fabricated construction method. Taken together, these elements changed the U-Boat from a technologically obsolete fighting machine (which it was by 1943) into an efficient and effective stealth weapon.

U-3008 (German Type XXI submarine, later USS U-3008) At Wilhelmshaven, Germany, between 2 and 21 June 1945. The two Type IX submarines with her are U-806 (far left) and U-155. The light cruiser Nürnberg is in the far left center.

The Ubootwaffe began construction of these remarkable submersibles in 1943. But as with many of the ‘miracle weapons’ the Germans were working on, and many were miracle weapons, they were too late. Logistical problems due to the constant bombing of both the Reichsbahn and inland waterways, along with a chronic shortage of skilled labor, ensured this deadly weapon of the future would continue to be just that: a deadly weapon of the future.

Only two of the modern U-Boats went on war patrol. While one of them penetrated the escort screen of a Royal Navy battle group, and did so without being detected, and even maneuvered into position to fire a torpedo that would have sunk a British cruiser, it was 7 May 1945 and the Kommandant of the boat wisely did not fire.

But make no mistake, the design of the modern day submarine, including American nuclear submarines, is German in origin. The Allies immediately saw the potential in the Type XXI and the knowledge they gained from the Type XXI influenced many of the post-war submarines including submarines for the Americans, British, French, and Russians. All four nations took charge of Type XXI U-Boats and had them serve in their own navies through the 1950’s and 60’s. It is worth noting that the United States and less so the British, had large numbers of special units composed of scientists and other skilled people, who came into industrial areas of Germany immediately behind the combat troops. Their task was to evaluate and then seize any German technology we thought would be useful. We did this quite successfully.

The Germans themselves were able to reacquire a Type XXI in 1957 when they raised the U-2540 and converted it to the research vessel Wilhelm Bauer. Not surprisingly, the overhaul of U-2540 was completed by Howaldtswerke who went on to design and build the Type 201 U-Boat in 1962. The Type 201 was the first ‘modern’ U-Boat the Germans had after World War Two and is the basis for every U-Boat they’ve had since.

Wilhelm Bauer (formerly U-2540) is now located in Bremerhaven, Germany as a museum ship in 2002.

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command and Wikimedia.]

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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:

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