Nazi Saboteurs Landed In America by German U-boats

German uboats touched american soil three times during world war two


In reality, the leader of the group, George Dasch, turned all of them into the FBI. laimed all the credit but only when Dasch called the FBI did they have any idea German saboteurs were in the country.

In spite of many tall tales, German U-boats only touched American soil three times and they didn’t stay very long. Approaching an enemy coast to land agents was extremely dangerous since the boat had to go into shallow water and close an enemy coast with no intelligence.

Since the only real protection a U-Boat had was going deep underwater, being in shallow water made this impossible. Officers and crewmen intensely disliked missions such as this because it put them in such danger.

Over the years, dozens of people have told me how they had heard about German U-Boat coming ashore in the US to shop, go to the movies, have a beer, you name it. Absolutely none of these stories are true. A work colleague many years ago told me UBoat men used to come ashore for an evening of dinner, drinks, and dancing in Palm Beach. His grandfather met many of them. This is impossible but stories like this abound.

I have asked the two top U-Boat historians in the world Jak P Mallman-Showell and Dr. Timothy Mulligan if any of these stories are true and they both said, “no.” And gave me permission to quote them.


NEW YORK TIMES 10 December 1945

Aircraft and many other key armaments, relied on aluminum. As rugged as they seem, you could punch a sharpened pencil through the side of a B-17. Aluminum production in the US skyrocketed during the war.  Because it is difficult to make and requires huge amounts of electricity, there are many points in the production cycle which a saboteur could disrupt.

Whore’s Underwear Worn on U-Boats


Untrimmed beards were the mark of U-Boatmen who had been long at sea. 

Freshwater was rationed and while possible to shave in salt-water few men wanted to take the time to do that. U-Boats such as the Type VII depicted in Das Boot, were not designed for the long range operations they were compelled to undertake so there were few comforts for the men.

crew watching fellow sailor dancing in scene from director’s cut 1997 of Das Boot

Water for drinking was rationed. While the men were given one cup of fresh water every day for personal use such as brushing teeth or washing, most drank the water instead of using it for anything else since they barely received enough water as it was.

Men Wore Black Underwear: Whore’s Undies

Because storage space on a U-Boat was extremely limited, U-Boat crewmen could only bring aboard one change of clothes and two pairs of underwear for an entire war patrol which could last as long as two and occasionally three months. In order to make the dirt less obvious, the men wore black underwear which they referred to as “whore’s undies.”

US Navy fleet submarine USS Gato 1944. Fleet submarines were designed for the long range patrols required in the Pacific and had far more comforts for the men and necessities such as bathing facilities. Not washing for a long period of time is unhealthy for the skin. These boats could make 21 knots on the surface vs the German surface speed of 15/16 knots.

Unlike US Navy fleet submarines, German U-boats were not air conditioned nor did they have heat except for a handful of electric heaters. The boat took on the temperature of the water so if you were in very cold water the interior was very cold and if you were in the warm even the hot water of the tropics, the inside of the boat was hot and steamy.

It would have been like working in a steam room. Crewman often wore nothing but their underwear in conditions like this when the temperature in the boat could go above 100 degrees. (The warmth of the water combined with the heat generated by the diesel engines and other equipment in the boat).

The equipment and torpedoes were the priorities. Crewmen had to squeeze in wherever room could be found for a bunk. Except for the officers and senior petty officers, the crew “hot bunked” that is once a man woke up and went on duty an off-duty man climbed into that bunk and slept. 

No washing facilities

U-boats did not have facilities for the men to wash themselves or their clothing. The best that could be done was to wash yourself and/or your clothing in a bucket of seawater using special salt water soap issued by the UBoatwaffe.

In memoirs, veterans of the UBoatwaffe often mention that one thing they could never get used to was how badly the boat smelled. In fact, when boats came in from war patrols and docked, flotilla engineers who went aboard often threw up. That’s how bad the smell was.

These U-Boat crewmen are probably rendering honors to another ship as they come into port. Beginning in 1942, however, the crew were mustered on deck coming into port because more and more U-Boats were being sunk by striking magnetic mines.  Therefore, most of the crewmen would be saved if the boat sank. These magnetic mines were constantly being dropped into the approaches to German U-Boat ports on the French Channel coast such as Lorient by RAF Coastal Command. 

Armourers “bombing up” an RAF Coastal Command Liberator with 250-lb Mark VIII depth charges. 50% of German U-boats were actually sunk by aircraft, not by Allied escort ships.

U-boat kommandant (identified by his white cap cover) looking down through the main hatchway from the bridge into the conning tower where the helmsman sat, controlling the rudder with push buttons. In the conning tower, there was another watertight hatch.

Ventilating the Boat

Ventilating the boat to replace the foul air was difficult. On occasion, the kommandant would allow the two hatches in the conning tower to be opened and all the interior hatches–which were watertight as well— to be opened and the outboard air intakes in the diesel compartment closed. This would cause the diesel engines to start drawing air from through the open hatches and ventilate the boat. This wasn’t highly effective but it did change the air within the boat.

When proceeding on the surface in an area where they could be attacked, most of the interior hatchways would be closed or a sailor stationed close by would have the duty of immediately closing the hatch. Normally, the hatch to the engine room and beyond that the hatch E-motor compartment would be closed and dogged shut, that is they would be sealed and waterproof.

Theoretically, everyone who served in the UBootwaffe was a volunteer but we know from memoirs, post-war interviews, and wartime interrogation reports that this was not the case.


M3 Submarine with 12 inch Deck Gun

Fascinating article from “War History Online” about Royal Navy M Class submarines with 12 inch deck guns. Three were built between 1917 and 1918. The design was not effective.

Thanks to my special correspondent in New Orleans, Bob Warren, for sourcing this blog post.


M1 Submarine Monitor lost with all hands on 12 November 1925 

“M1 was the only one to enter service before the end of World War I but did not see action. She was captained during her sea trials by experienced submariner Commander Max Horton after his return from the Baltic.”

(comments Charles McCain: Max Horton was one of the great fighting admirals of the Royal Navy. For most of World War Two he held the critical position of Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches. This command controlled all convoy escorts in the North Atlantic and was the largest operational command in the Royal Navy in World War Two–eventually comprising more than 300 warships). You can read my detailed article about Admiral Sir Max Horton here:


From “War History Online”

“During the last months of the first world war, the Royal Navy built the M-Class submarines. These were diesel-electric submarines with a rather unique feature; they had a 12-inch gun mounted in a turret forward of the conning tower and the M-class submarines are sometimes called submarine monitors.

They were initially intended to bombardment the enemies coast, but their role had been changed before detailed design begun. The new idea was that the submarine could engage merchant ships with the gun while remaining at periscope depth. Alternatively, it could surface and fire the gun, rather than with the use of torpedoes. At that time, torpedoes were considered ineffective against moving warships at more than 1,000 yards distance.”

Comments Charles McCain: “Monitors usually refer to surface ships built with one large gun and used to bombard enemy coast. The Royal Navy built a number of monitors in World War One. They would anchor in the English Channel off the coast of France or Belgium and fire on pre-designated targets. These monitors had large ballast tanks on both side of the hull under the waterline. Once anchored, the ships would flood the opposite ballast tanks from the direction of fire which had the effect of tilting the ship five or six degrees which gave the guns a longer range.

The generic name for monitors, comes from the USS Monitor of American Civil War fame.”

Germans fired first rocket from submerged submarine



Experimental Antisubmarine Rocket Launcher, firing all eight rockets during tests at Key West Naval Station, Florida, 14 August 1942. This appears to be a prototype for the later “Mousetrap” Anti-Submarine Warfare weapon.


In an experiment on 4 June 1942, U-511 went to a depth of fifteen meters, about fifty feet, and fired rockets. This was the first time this was done from a submerged submarine.

Below courtesy of Uboat net: 551 Rocket experiment

General notes on this boat

31 May 1942. During the summer of 1942, when under the command of Kptlt. Friedrich Steinhoff, U-511 took part in one of the most interesting experiments of the entire war. Steinhoff’s brother, Dr. Erich Steinhoff, was working at Peenemünde on the rocket program, and between them they arranged for U-511 to be used for rocket trials.

A rack for six 30 cm rockets was installed and extensive tests carried out. These concluded with the successful launch of rockets from a depth of 12m (40ft). These amazing tests failed to convince Dönitz’s staff of the merit of this innovatory weapon system, and it was not put into service. The rocket in question, the 30cm Wurfkörper 42 Spreng, was not advanced enough to target ships, but it might have been used to bombard shore installations such as oil refineries in the Caribbean. This idea was developed in late 1944 with a proposal for Type XXI electro boats to tow V-2 launchers which would attack shore bases. Neither the launchers nor the Type XXI boats became available before the war ended.”

Nonetheless, from the later summer of 1944 through the end of the war, Admiral King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief US Fleet (the only man ever to hold both offices. Commander-in-Chief US Fleet was abolished after WW Two came to an end) and his staff were very concerned German Uboats might try and make rocket attacks on east coast cities in the US. We knew they had been experimenting with firing rockets from uboats. Certainly we and the British had been experimenting with this. But the Germans were far behind which was a relief.



Prien Killed When U-47 Sunk by Own Torpedo

Kapitänleutnant Prien 6534-40
Kapitänleutnant Gunther Prien photo taken September 1939 German National Archive


According to Harry Harry Cooper, owner of CEO of the U-Boat research organization Sharkhunters, some years ago a special panel of Bundesmarine officers headed by Flotillenadmiral Otto Kretschmer  (who belonged to Sharkhunters) evaluated all the data from not only the German side, but also the data from the Royal Navy side that was not available during the war.

It was proven absolutely that U-47 sank herself with a circular running torpedo. According to logbooks, position reports and individual memories of veterans who participated in that convoy action, U-47 was on the opposite side of the battlefield from HMS Wolverine, making it impossible for HMS Wolverine to have sunk U-47.

This panel concluded that U-47 was sunk by a circular run of her own torpedo. So what was HMS Wolverine doing at this time? According to the findings of the group headed by Kretschmer, it was determined that HMS Wolverine was attacking *U-A commanded by Eckermann, whose KTB (logbook) recorded the beating they received in that area at that time, making it obvious that it was U-A and not U-47 under attack from HMS Wolverine.

This all happened in the North Atlantic seventy-five years ago.


Official Worldwide Publication of U-Boat History

*UA was a type VII U-boat being built for Turkey hence the designation U (unterseeboot) A (Ausland) or “foreign country.” The Germans kept it since war broke out but being Germans they had already named it so they didn’t change the very odd name.

German Uboat Torpedoes


German Navy torpedo type G7A at the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum in Oslo

(photo by MoRsE)

U-Boats carried two different types of torpedoes.

  1. G7a:  powered by compressed air, which left the trail of bubbles, a popular scene in movies. The torpedo could be set to various distances and various speeds depending on the target. This was done by the First Watch Officer during a surface attack using an aiming device which resembled a pair of binoculars.
  2. the G7a had a speed of 44 knots for distances of 6,000 meters or less. 40 knots for 8,000 meters and a speed of 30 knots for its maximum distance of  14,000 meters. If a torpedo ran out of compressed air before hitting something it just sank.



  1. G7e:  electrically powered torpedoes, which didn’t leave a trail of bubbles.

Improved versions of these torpedoes were issued to the U-Boat fleet in mid-1942.

Subsequently, a torpedo which homed in on the sounds made by a ship’s propellers was introduced. This acoustic torpedo was a variation of the G7


The Allies quickly came up with counter measures.

A variation of the G7 which became famous for being the first acoustic homing torpedo he German Uboatwaffe also used (GNAT=German Navy Acoustic Torpedo, also known as the G7s, T5 and code named Zaunkönig) it had a sinking success rate of about 19%.

Allies immediately introduced effective countermeasures the most successful being “the foxer.”

You can read extensive details here:


U-Boat Aces: Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock



Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (December 11, 1911—April 18, 1986) was the sixth highest scoring U-boat ace in World War Two and is probably the most famous because he is the model for the Kommandant in the novel and the movie, Das Boot. (Boot in German is pronounced “boat.”).

War correspondent and later artist and writer Lothar-Gunther Bucheim sailed aboard U-96, under the command of Kplt. Lehmann-Willenbrock, on two separate war patrols and his novel, Das Boot, is based on those experiences. His portrayal of the Kommandant in the novel is based so closely on Lehmann-Willenbrock, the IMDB (International Movie Data Base), lists Jürgen Prochnow as playing not the “old man,” but Lehmann-Willenbrock. In what must have been a surreal experience, Lehmann-Willenbrock, served as technical advisor during the filming of Das Boot, thirty-five years after the war was over.


Like most of the early U-Boat Kommandants, Lehmann-Willenbrock was a professional naval officer having joined the German Navy as an officer cadet in 1931. He survived ten war patrols, itself a feat, during which he sank over 170,000 tons of Allied merchant shipping. In March 1942 he was ordered ashore and served in various higher echelon command positions. By the time of Germany’s surrender, he had reached the rank of Fregattenkapitän, or Commander in the US Navy, and held the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, one of only 53 men of the Kriegsmarine to hold the award.

On 25 February 1942 Lehmann-Willenbrock was mentioned in the official daily Wehrmacht communique or, in German: Wehrmachtsbericht. This was considered a high honor.

“Kapitänleutnant Lehmann-Willenbrock’s boat has contributed to the great success of the U-boat force with 55,600 tons sunk. Kapitänleutnant Lehmann-Willenbrock within a short span of time has sunk a total of 125,580 tons of enemy shipping.”

After Germany’s surrender and a year in Allied captivity, he returned to his original occupation as a merchant sailor and followed that for the rest of his life. In 1969 he became captain of the German nuclear research ship Otto Hahn, a post which he held for more than ten years.


Curiously, I’ve never been able to discover any personal information on Lehmann-Willenbrock such as was he married? Did he have children? Did he ever write or comment on his experiences during the war? I’ve looked though my extensive collection of U-Boat books and have found nothing. He died in Bremen in 1986 at age 74.

One of my readers emailed me a number of years ago with this information:

H. Lehmann-Willenbrock was married with 2 children (sons). His wife was the daughter of a german shipping company owner. She accompanied him from time to time on his ships, especially during his service on the Otto Hahn.