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GORDON WILLIAMSON, illustrated by IAN PALMER
Shown here are the early Kriegsmarine U-boats, most of which played little part in the Second World War beyond training duties.
1) Type IA. This U-boat, of which only two were built, did in fact see combat service, with both examples of the type, U-25 and U-26, being sunk in the summer of 1940. U-25 is shown here in the livery in which she undertook her first war cruise. After this first cruise, the shark's teeth on the conning tower were painted out. The two- tone grey camouflage was use fairly widely on other boats, particularly the Type VIIC.
2) Type IIA. The first of the Type II boats, U-1 as shown here is in its pre-war livery of pale grey with the boat's number painted on the side of the tower. The number was also carried on a small plaque at either side of the bows. Both were removed on the outbreak of war. In reality, the 2 cm gun it was capable of carrying seems rarely to have been mounted on Type IIAs.
3) Type IIB. Shown here is U-9, the 'Iron Cross Boat'. Very similar in appearance to the Type IIA, it was marginally longer to accommodate more fuel bunkerage. Later examples of the IIB had a flush rather than stepped front to the tower. Carrying the traditions of the famed U-9 of the First World War, this boat carried a large metal Iron Cross emblem on the side of her tower. This was removed on the outbreak of war.
4) Type IIC. Again, very similar in appearance to its predecessors, the 'C' variant was slightly longer but was easily identifiable by the additional draining ports for the free-flooding area between the outer hull and pressure hull. These are visible along the centre of the boat just below the tower. The Type 110 is usually found in period photos with the 2 cm deck gun mounted.
A close-up of the flak armament on U-377 after her bridge conversion. The upper platform is home to two twin 2 cm flak guns, whilst a four-barrelled Flakvierling is mounted on the lower platform. Unusually, no gun shields have been fitted to the Flakvierling in this case. (Jak P. Mallmann-Showell)
5) Type IID. The Type IID is easily identified by its very distinctive conning tower shape. Shown here on U-143 is the early tower shape with its large, curved railings to the rear. Later towers were very similar to those on the Type VII, with a flak gun platform to the rear. Shown here in light grey livery, this boat is known to have used a two-tone grey camouflage pattern, similar to that shown for U-25, during her combat service in the Second World War.
During the early part of the Second World War, many merchant ships still travelled alone. Escorts were in short supply and air cover was restricted, so several U-boats took the time to question the survivors in an attempt to confirm the identity of the sunken ship, knowing that the chance of the enemy appearing was slight.
Here, a Type VIIA has just sunk a merchantman and the crew watch as survivors are beckoned over by the captain. Space on a Type VII U-boat was extremely restricted, so the taking on board of survivors was a rarity. In several recorded cases, U-boat captains would check to ascertain if any of the survivors were wounded or needed medical attention, and were known to provide the survivors with the odd bottle of brandy and a course for the nearest safe landfall before disappearing under the surface again.
As the war progressed and anti-submarine measures grew in their effectiveness, few opportunities for such niceties would occur, as any boat coming to the surface put itself in the greatest danger. After the Laconia incident, when U-506 was bombed despite clearly having a number of survivors, including women and children, on her decks and towing a number of lifeboats, Grossadmiral Dönitz as Commander in Chief U-boats ordered that no U-boat commander should put his boat and its crew at risk by attempting to rescue survivors. This order, however, was occasionally disobeyed.