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ANTONY PRESTON, JOHN BATCHELOR
German "Biber" Type Midget. Another one-man type, but armed with two torpedoes. Over 300 were completed. Like Marder, Biber was intended for use against invasion fleets, and could be moved by road or rail to their area of operations
The Army had taken the largest amount of manpower since April 1942, when Hitler had been preparing for his ill-conceived invasion of Russia. At the 1943 rate of U-Boat production (25-30 boats per month) this left the Navy short of 200,000 men. The officer candidates who had entered in the autumn of 1939 had all become commanders by the summer of 1943, and it would be necessary to transfer some officers from the Army and Air Force to make up numbers. This was finally done, and many of the "expatriate" submariners proved successful, but it is easy to see why the sledgehammer blows of the Allies in the spring of 1943 were able to bring about the collapse of morale in the U-Boat Arm. All had given of their best, and continued to do so, but there was no way of wringing greater effort out of them.
Although the U-Boats continued to be dangerous, throughout the rest of 1943 and 1944 they lacked the ferocious determination that had characterised their earlier efforts. The schnorchel was partly to blame, for its value was negative rather than positive; while using it a U-Boat was relatively safe, but she did not have that freedom of movement which she had once enjoyed on the surface. Even her dangerous acoustic torpedoes were rendered harmless by noise-makers towed astern of escorts, known as "Foxers", and the schnorchel could be detected by radar in smooth conditions. The invasion of Normandy in 1944 meant the end of the Biscay and Brittany bases, and the loss of Italy closed the Mediterranean to U-Boats. The only area in which U-Boats still enjoyed any measure of success was in Northern Norway and the Arctic, against Allied convoys to Russia.
The emphasis switched to midget submarines and special assault craft known generically as "K-craft", to hold up invasion fleets. Many different types were built, but they scored very few successes, even against the vast D-Day Invasion fleet of 5,000 ships. The best-known were the "Molch" (Salamander), "Hecht" (Pike), "Seehund" (Seal), "Biber" (Beaver), "Marder" (Marten) and "Neger" (Negro) of which the Seehund type proved the most successful. Like all midgets they were only effective in fairly sheltered waters, and Allied counter-measures were sufficient to avoid serious losses. However they did prove one interesting point: they were so light that the blast from a depth-charge merely swept them aside without sinking them. The effect on the crew is not recorded.
Finally the first Type XXI U-Boats were finished, and four were commissioned early in 1945. But it is not possible to put a revolutionary type of submarine straight into service, and U2511 did not leave for her first operational patrol until a week before the German surrender. A smaller, cruder coastal version, known as the Type XXIII, had come into service a little earlier, and although the handful completed had a few successes they were also too late.
The end came on 7 May 1945, when Dönitz, by now Hitler's successor and also head of the German Navy, broadcast instructions to all U-Boats to cease hostilities and to comply with the Allies' conditions. They were told to surface, and to fly a black flag while making their way to the nearest warship to make a formal surrender. In this way hundreds of U-Boats made their way to Lisahally in Northern Ireland. There they lay in their melancholy lines, just as they had at Harwich in 1919. Twice in a generation U-Boats had taken on the world, twice they had nearly won a great victory, and now they had failed once again.
British "Chariot" Human Torpedo. Copied from the Italian Pigs which attacked Alexandria in 1941, the Chariot was not a torpedo but a two-man midget with a warhead which could be detached and either left under an enemy ship or clamped to her bilge-keel. Because the operators were exposed, the Chariot proved most useful in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean
Although the last in the field, the British made the most impressive use of midget submarines. They copied the Italian "pigs", calling them "Chariots", and then designed a range of battery-driven midgets to penetrate the Norwegian anchorages which were sheltering German heavy units. In 1941/42 ships like the Bismarck and Tirpitz were beyond the range of heavy bombers, and there was no other way to penetrate a Norwegian fiord.
One of the leading advocates of midget submarines was Commander Varley, who had served in submarines in the First World War. His firm built the prototype X3, while Portsmouth Dockyard built X4. Six production models were begun in December 1942, and by September 1943 they and their hand-picked crews were ready to attack the battleship Tirpitz in Altenfiord. Unlike the Italian and Japanese midgets, these "X-craft" did not have torpedoes, but carried side-charges, containing a half ton of explosive each, which were dropped underneath the target. Although fitted with a diesel engine as well as an electric motor, they were too small to undertake long passages and were always towed to their target area by full-sized submarines.