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GORDON WILLIAMSON, illustrated by IAN PALMER
The 'core' of any submarine is, of course, its pressure hull. In the case of the Type VII this was of circular section, tubular in the centre section, and then tapering slightly towards the bow and stern. The pressure hull was made from welded rolled steel up to 2.2 cm thick. The whole consisted of six sections, plus a bow and stern end cap. Around this pressure hull was built the external casing, an area which was free flooding and was used to accommodate ventilation trunking and for storage.
The two early Type VIIC boats shown here both have the basic conning tower configuration known as 'Turm 0', with a single circular platform for the 2 cm flak gun. Note the heavy staining around the exhaust outlet on the outer boat whilst the inner boat's hull paintwork still appears to be in pristine condition suggesting a newly commissioned boat or recent overhaul. The bollards to which the mooring ropes are attached were retractable when the boat was travelling underwater to reduce drag.
Staring from the bow, the first compartment was the forward torpedo room, into which the four bow torpedo tubes penetrated by some four metres. To the ceiling was attached a hoist used for manoeuvring the torpedoes into the tubes, and the angled torpedo loading hatch. To the rear of the compartment were located three sets of two-tier bunks on each side. Compressed air cylinders were located below the bottom bunk, as were collapsible tables for the use of the junior ratings who occupied this compartment. Under the decking there was storage space for two additional torpedoes and under these, the bow trim tanks.
A type VIID minelayer is identifiable by the raised casing abaft the conning tower.
After passing through the first bulkhead, the next compartment in line was the senior non-commissioned ranks' accommodation, comprising two sets of two-tier bunks each side.
A further bulkhead followed before reaching the officer accommodation. Again, two sets of two-tier bunks were provided but as only three officers were normally carried, one of these was usually stowed. A small table was provided on the port side.
Looking towards the stern from the upper tower flak platform on a late-war Type VIIC. Clearly visible is the four-barrel led 2 cm Flakvierling, a weapon only fitted to a limited number of U-boats.
Then came the commander's bunk. He was the only man on board afforded a modicum of privacy, provided by a simple curtain at the entry to his 'quarters'. Directly across the walkway were located the radio room and sound detector room, giving the operators of these essential pieces of equipment instant access to the commanding officer. Under the decking of this area were stored the forward batteries as well as ammunition for the deck gun.
Reaching the central portion of the boat, the hub of activity was the control room, or Zentral, with a heavy pressurised bulkhead at either end. On the starboard side from the bow end, were located the boat's main helm, the diving planes, the navigator's table and the auxiliary bilge pumps. On the port side were the periscope motor, the main vent controls, the main bilge pump and a drinking water tank. In the centre of the compartment were the periscope tubes, the main optics for the sky, or navigation, periscope being located in the control room.
Above the control room was the conning tower. In it was a tiny space, the commander's attack station. Within this tiny compartment were the optics for the attack periscope, the attack computer, the compass and the exit hatch to the exterior of the conning tower. Under the decking of the Zentral were fitted ballast tanks and fuel bunkers.
Passing through the rear control room bulkhead, the next compartment was the junior non-commissioned ranks' accommodation, consisting of two pairs of twin bunks each side. Towards the rear of this compartment, on one side was the boat's tiny galley and on the other the aft w.c. and food storage pantry. The aft batteries were stored under the deck plates of this area.
The next bulkhead led through to the engine room. Within this small space were located the boat's two diesel engines on their massive founds, with only a narrow passageway in between. A further bulkhead allowed passage into the motor room in which were located the boat's two electric motors, coupled to the same shafts as the diesels. Also contained in this compartment were a compressor for the boat's modest refrigerated storage, the main electrical control panels and the stern torpedo tube, which fired out between the boat's twin rudders. Beneath the deck plating in this area were the stern trim tanks.
The U-boat's external decking was covered in wood planking, with a 1 cm gap between planks to allow for drainage. Wood was used co avoid the degree of icing up in winter conditions that would have been encountered with metal decking.
U-995, currently the only complete, restored Type VIIC extant, is mounted on concrete pedestals on the beach at Laboe adjacent to the German Naval Memorial and is open to visitors. This boat features a 'textbook' Turm 4 arrangement with two twin 2 cm flak guns on the upper platform, and a 3.7 cm flak gun on the lower.
A view inside the bow compartment shows just how cramped living conditions were on an operational U-boat. The chains hanging down in the foreground are part of the torpedo hoist.
The area between the outer casing and pressure hull was free flooding, and along the side of the outer casing of any Type VII will be seen numerous draining slots. The exact number and positioning of these varied from manufacturer to manufacturer. In the area between pressure hull and outer casing, in the forward portion of the boat, was located a storage tube for a spare torpedo. On some boats this was replaced by a series of watertight containers for life rafts.