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Hitler's Lost Sub
Map of Lost U-Boats.
U-869, the submarine profiled in the NOVA program "Hitler's Lost Sub," was just one of the more than 1,100 Unterseeboote, or U-boats, sunk, scuttled, captured, or otherwise lost to German forces during World War II. Here, naval historian Timothy Mulligan describes 25 of the most historically significant U-boats. Click on the map labels and plunge into the fascinating and often tragic histories of some of Germany's most notorious "sea wolves."

KzS = Kapitän zur See (Captain)
KK = Korvettenkapitän (Lt. Commander)
KL = Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant)
OL = Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant, j.g.)
Lt.z.S.d.R. = Leutnant zur See der Reserve (Ensign in the Reserves)
Admiral Karl Dönitz was head of Germany's U-boat service
A snorkel is a tube that houses air intake and exhaust pipes for use with a submarine's diesel engine while the sub is submerged

Timothy Mulligan is a German naval historian and archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration. His most recent book is Neither Sharks Nor Wolves: The Men of Nazi Germany's U-Boat Arm 1939-1945 (Naval Institute Press, 1999).

Map of Lost U-Boats

U-47 | U-48 | U-96 | U-99 | U-107 | U-110 | U-156 | U-181 | U-234 | U-405 | U-459 | U-505 | U-515 | U-534 | U-552 | U-559 | U-570 | U-721 | U-852 | U-861 | U-869 | U-995 | U-997 | U-2336 | U-2540

Probably the best known U-boat of World War II because of her commander, KK Günther Prien, who penetrated the British fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow in October 1939 and sank the battleship Royal Oak at her berth there. Overnight sensations in Germany, Prien and his crew established the submariners' heroic public image in Germany for the rest of the war. U-47 also sank 30 merchant vessels totaling 164,953 tons.

Type: VII B
Built: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Keel laid: 1 April 1937
Launched: 29 October 1938
Commissioned: 17 December 1938
Commander: KK Günther Prien
Fate: Originally believed lost in action with all 45 crewmen against British destroyer HMS Wolverine south of Iceland on 7 March 1941. Subsequent research, however, suggests the boat may have been lost in a diving accident while in combat on that date.
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Most successful U-boat of World War II. Sank 54 Allied merchant ships totaling 324,131 gross registered tons, plus one British warship (sloop), during 12 patrols under three different captains, all during the period September 1939-June 1941.

Type: VII B
Built: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Keel laid: 5 March 1938
Launched: 5 March 1939
Commissioned: 22 April 1939
KL Herbert Schulze, April 1939-May 1940 and December 1940-July 1941
KK Hans Rösing, May-August 1940
KL Heinrich Bleichrodt, August-December 1940
Fate: Scuttled 3 May 1945 at Neustadt
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A successful U-boat whose exploits during one particular patrol in October-December of 1941 provided the historical basis for the novel and film Das Boot. Altogether sank 28 merchant ships totaling 190,181 tons before being retired to training duties in 1944.

Type: VII C
Built: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Keel laid: 16 September 1939
Launched: 1 August 1940
Commissioned: 14 September 1940
KL Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, September 1940-March 1940
OL Hans-Jürgen Hellriegel, April 1942-March 1943
OL Wilhelm Peters, March-October 1943
Fate: Sunk at dock by U.S. air attack, 30 March 1945, Wilhelmshaven
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Commanded by the most successful U-boat ace of World War II, KK Otto Kretschmer, who sank most of his 41 Allied merchantmen totaling 238,768 tons while in command of this submarine from April 1940 to March 1941. After the war Kretschmer rose to a senior position in the Bundesmarine.

Type: VII B
Built: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Keel laid: 31 March 1939
Launched: 12 March 1940
Commissioned: 18 April 1940
Commander: KK Otto Kretschmer
Fate: Sunk 17 March 1941 in a convoy action north of the Hebrides by destroyer HMS Walker. Most of the crew survived as prisoners of war.
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The U-boat with the longest operational service in World War II, spending 750 days at sea during 13 patrols from January 1941 to August 1944. She sank 38 ships totaling 217,751 tons, including 14 vessels on one patrol, the most by any World War II U-boat during a single war cruise.

Type: IX B
Built: AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 6 December 1939
Launched: 2 July 1940
Commissioned: 8 October 1940
KK Günther Hessler, October 1940-November 1941
KL Harald Gelhaus, December 1941-May 1943
KL Volker Simmermacher, June 1943-August 1944
Lt.z.S.d.R. Karl-Heinz Fritz, August 1944
Fate: Sunk by British air attack 18 August 1944 while in passage from Lorient to La Pallice with a load of snorkels for the U-boats based there. All 59 crewmen lost.
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The U-boat from which the British recovered a vital Enigma encryption device and accompanying documentation in May 1941, allowing the first critical Allied breakthrough in reading U-boat radio communications during World War II. (For more on the breaking of the Enigma, see Decoding Nazi Secrets.) U-110's captain, KL Fritz-Julius Lemp, had sunk the first Allied merchant ship of the war, the British liner Athenia, while in command of U-30.

Type: IX B
Built: AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 1 February 1940
Launched: 25 August 1940
Commissioned: 21 November 1940
Commander: KL Fritz-Julius Lemp
Fate: Badly damaged in a convoy action 9 May 1941 by depth charges from corvette HMS Aubretia and forced to the surface. The crew abandoned ship, but before she could sink, a boarding party from destroyer HMS Bulldog went aboard, recovered the Enigma machine and other materials, and set up a towline to tow her into captivity. U-110 foundered the next day while still in tow.
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U-boat that initiated an international rescue operation after sinking the liner-transport Laconia in the South Atlantic, September 1942. U-156 and three other submarines—two German and one Italian—rescued roughly 1,500 people from the Laconia. After an American bomber attacked the subs, they broke off the rescue operation. Karl Dönitz thereafter ordered his commanders to no longer offer assistance to shipwrecked survivors (the "Laconia Order"), which led to Dönitz's indictment as a war criminal at Nuremberg.

Type: IX C
Built: AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 4 October 1940
Launched: 21 May 1941
Commissioned: 4 September 1941
Commander: KK Werner Hartenstein
Fate: Lost with all 53 hands to air attack by a U.S. Navy Catalina in the Caribbean, 8 March 1943.
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Under Wolfgang Lüth, the second-highest U-boat ace of the war, this U-boat carried out a patrol that lasted 205 days, a record exceeded only by the U-boats that transferred to the Far East. Altogether, sank 27 ships totaling 138,779 tons.

Type: IX D2
Built: AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 15 March 1941
Launched: 30 December 1941
Commissioned: 9 May 1942
KK Wolfgang Lüth, May 1942-October 1943
KzS Kurt Freiwald, November 1943-May 1945
Fate: Undergoing repairs at Singapore when Germany surrendered, U-181 was taken over by the Japanese Navy and became submarine I-501. Surrendered to the British at Singapore 15 August 1945 and scuttled there 16 February 1946.
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Cargo U-boat bound for Japan when war ended, surrendered to U.S. authorities at sea carrying a total cargo of 260 tons, including uranium oxide ore, mercury, and the component parts for an Me 262 jet fighter.

Type: X B
Built: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Keel laid: 1 October 1941
Launched: 23 December 1943
Commissioned: 2 March 1944
Commander: KL Johann-Heinrich Fehler
Fate: Surrendered to destroyer escort USS Sutton east of the Flemish Cap, 14 May 1945, after two Japanese passengers committed suicide. Other passengers bound for Japan included several Luftwaffe officers and technical specialists intended to improve Japanese aircraft defenses. The U.S. Navy used U-234 for experimental trials and then sank her off Cape Cod, November 1946.
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Engaged in a death duel with an American destroyer, each vessel sinking the other in a battle later fictionalized in the novel and film The Enemy Below.

Type: VII C
Built: Danziger Werft, Danzig
Keel laid: 8 July 1940
Launched: 4 June 1941
Commissioned: 17 September 1941
Commander: KK Rolf-Heinrich Hopmann
Fate: Sank after the destroyer USS Borie depth-charged, rammed, and struck her by gunfire north of the Azores, 1 November 1943. Following ramming, both warships remained temporarily locked together, and some fighting took place at close quarters before the U-boat broke away and sank with all 49 hands. USS Borie succumbed the next day from damage suffered, with the loss of 27 officers and seamen.
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First and most productive of the Type XIV supply tanker or "milch-cow" U-boats, which resupplied front-line U-boats with fuel, torpedoes, and provisions at sea, thus considerably extending the U-boats' effectiveness and range. Resupplied a total of 65 U-boats in her first five patrols, March 1942-June 1943.

Type: XIV
Built: Deutsche Werke, Kiel
Keel laid: 23 November 1940
Launched: 13 September 1941
Commissioned: 15 November 1941
Commander: KK Georg von Wilamovitz-Moellendorf
Fate: Sunk by British air attack in the Bay of Biscay 24 July 1943, with the loss of her captain (a former U-boat commander in World War I) and 18 men. The remaining 41 crewmen were recovered as prisoners of war.
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Only U-boat captured in action during World War II and the first enemy warship boarded and captured by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812. The captured Enigma encryption machine and accompanying documentation in June 1944 greatly facilitated subsequent Allied decryption efforts for the remainder of the war. (For more on the breaking of the Enigma, see Decoding Nazi Secrets.) Her second commanding officer, KL Peter Zschech, committed suicide on board during a depth-charge attack 24 October 1943.
Type: IX C
Built: Deutsche Werft, Hamburg
Keel laid: 12 June 1940
Launched: 24 May 1941
Commissioned: 26 August 1941
KK Axel-Olaf Loewe, August 1941-September 1942
KL Peter Zschech, September 1942-October 1943
OL Paul Meyer (temporary), October-November 1943
OL Harald Lange, November 1943-June 1944
Fate: Captured at sea 4 June 1944 west of the Azores by U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3, after being forced to the surface by depth-charge attack. Boarding parties from destroyer USS Pillsbury and later the light aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal kept the U-boat afloat, and it was eventually towed to Bermuda. In 1954, U-505 was awarded to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where it remains today as the best preserved and most originally furnished of the four museum U-boats, the others being U-534, U-995, and U-2540. (For more about U-505, see Resources.)
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A highly successful late-war U-boat that, from September 1942 to April 1944, sank 24 merchantmen, totaling 144,864 tons, and two warships. The same task group that captured U-505 sank U-515.

Type: IX C
Keel laid: 7 May 1941
Launched: 2 December 1941
Commissioned: 21 February 1942
Commander: KK Werner Henke
Fate: Sunk following attacks by naval aircraft from carrier USS Guadalcanal and depth charges and gunfire from destroyer escorts USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, and USS Chatelain southeast of the Azores, 9 April 1944. Sixteen crewmen were lost in the sinking; the remaining 44 were rescued and made prisoners of war. Commander Henke was killed 15 June 1944 in a suicidal escape attempt at Ft. Hunt, Virginia.
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Most recently salvaged U-boat, now on display in Liverpool, England.

Type: IX C/40
Built: Deutsche Werft, Hamburg
Keel laid: 20 February 1942
Launched: 23 September 1942
Commissioned: 23 December 1942
Commander: KL Herbert Nollau
Fate: After an undistinguished career in training and weather-reporting duties, U-534 departed Copenhagen on 5 May 1945 bound for Norway but was sunk by British aircraft in the Kattegat with the loss of three crewmen. In 1986 the U-boat was located near the Danish island of Anholt and brought to the surface by a consortium of Dutch and Danish salvagers on 23 August 1993. In 1996 the British Warship Preservation Trust acquired the boat and brought her to Liverpool, where she is now part of the Historic Warships Museum at Birkenhead Docks. (For more on U-534, see Resources.)
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The "Red Devil" boat captained by Erich Topp, third-highest U-boat ace, under whose command the U-boat sank 26 merchantmen totaling 141,058 tons. Also sank the first American warship lost in the war, the destroyer USS Reuben James.

Type: VII C
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 1 December 1939
Launched: 14 September 1940
Commissioned: 4 December 1940
KK Erich Topp, December 1940-August 1942
KL Klaus Popp, September 1942-July 1944
OL Günther Lube, July 1944-May 1945
Fate: Retired to training duties April 1944. Scuttled at Wilhelmshaven 2 May 1945.
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U-boat from which codebooks and valuable cryptographic materials were recovered before sinking, facilitating, in late 1942, the second major Allied breakthrough in reading German U-boat communications. (For more on the breaking of the Enigma, see Decoding Nazi Secrets.)

Type: VII C
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 1 February 1940
Launched: 8 January 1941
Commissioned: 27 February 1941
Commander: KL Hans Heidtmann
Fate: While operating in the eastern Mediterranean, U-559 came under attack by several British warships and an aircraft on 30 October 1942. Fatally damaged and forced to the surface, the sub was abandoned. A British boarding party from destroyer HMS Petard recovered the cryptographic materials, but the vessel sank before the cipher machine could be brought out. Eight German crewmen and two British seamen were lost, and 37 German survivors were taken prisoner.
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U-boat with the dubious distinction as the only one to surrender in action during the war.

Type: VII C
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 21 May 1940
Launched: 20 March 1941
Commissioned: 15 May 1941
Commander: KL Hans-Joachim Rahmlow
Fate: With many of her green crew seasick from heavy seas during her maiden voyage, U-570 was damaged by air attack south of Iceland on 27 August 1941. She surfaced and surrendered to the circling British Hudson aircraft. British vessels eventually arrived to take her in tow to Iceland and later recommissioning in the Royal Navy as HMS Graph. The capture provided the Allies invaluable technical intelligence on U-boat capabilities. Submarine scrapped 1947.
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A training boat that never entered operational service but that, with other training and advanced-model submarines that never saw action, played a role in evacuating German civilians as the Red Army entered Germany. In late February 1945, U-721, by using every inch of available space on board, successfully evacuated about 100 civilian refugees and wounded soldiers from the port of Hela (now Hel, Poland).

Type: VII C
Built: H.C. Stülcken & Sohn, Hamburg
Keel laid: 16 November 1942
Launched: 23 July 1943
Commissioned: 8 November 1943
OL Otto Wollschläger, November 1943-December 1944
OL Ludwig Fabricius, December 1944-May 1945
Fate: Scuttled by her own crew 5 May 1945.
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The only U-boat in World War II whose crew is known to have killed shipwrecked Allied survivors.

Type: IX D2
Built: A.G. Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 15 April 1942
Launched: 28 January 1943
Commissioned: 15 June 1943
Commander: KL Heinz-Wilhelm Eck
Fate: On her only patrol, U-852 sank the Greek steamer Peleus, 13 March 1944, and her crew attempted to kill the survivors to conceal her presence. After she proceeded into the Indian Ocean, British aircraft fatally damaged her off the Somali coast on 2-3 May 1944, and she beached herself near Ras Mabber, Somaliland. British forces captured her crew, and in October 1945, a British court in Hamburg subsequently tried, condemned, and executed the captain and two of his officers for war crimes. The court also convicted two other crewmen and sentenced them to prison terms.
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The last U-boat to travel to the Far East and return safely more than a year after her departure.

Type: IX D2
Built: AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 15 July 1942
Launched: 29 April 1943
Commissioned: 2 September 1943
Commander: KK Jürgen Osten
Fate: U-861 departed Kiel on 20 April 1944 bound for the U-boat base at Penang on the Malayan peninsula, carrying supplies for the base and tin for the Japanese. She arrived at Penang 23 September 1944 after sinking en route four Allied merchantmen (over 22,000 tons). On 15 January 1945 she began the return trip with a load of rubber. Despite the lack of a snorkel, she eluded Allied patrols and arrived in Trondheim on 24 April 1945. U-861 was then turned over to British control and scuttled north of Ireland on 8 December 1945.
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Most recent discovery of a U-boat, whose actual location and fate underscore the uncertainties of World War II submarine warfare.

Type: IX C/40
Built: Deschimag AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid: 5 April 1943
Launched: 5 October 1943
Commissioned: 26 January 1944
Commander: KL Hellmut Neuerburg
Fate: Originally believed to have been lost off Casablanca on 28 February 1945 by depth-charge attacks by the destroyer USS Fowler and the French sub-chaser L'Indiscret. The positive identification of her remains about 60 miles east of the New Jersey coast indicates she never received the change in orders diverting her to the Gibraltar approaches and was possibly sunk by one of her own acoustic torpedoes.
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Preserved today as a memorial on the beach at Laboe outside Kiel. During the war she operated entirely in Arctic waters against Allied and Russian forces, sinking two merchantmen and several light craft.

Type: VII C/41
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 25 November 1942
Launched: 22 July 1943
Commissioned: 16 September 1943
KL Walter Köhntopp, September 1943-October 1944
OL Hans-Georg Hess, October 1944-May 1945
Fate: Surrendered at Trondheim 9 May 1945. Later given to Norway and commissioned into the Norwegian Navy as the Kaura, December 1952. In 1965 offered for return by Norway to the Federal Republic of Germany, where she was placed before the German Navy Memorial at Laboe and opened to the public in March 1972. (For more on U-995, see Resources.)
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U-boat whose captain and crew disobeyed the order of Karl Dönitz to surrender in May 1945 and instead proceeded to Argentina (as did U-530), arriving August 1945.

Type: VII C
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 24 July 1942
Launched: 31 March 1943
Commissioned: 6 May 1943
KL Hans Leilach, May 1943-March 1945
OL Heinz Schäffer, March-August 1945
Fate: Served primarily as a training boat until April 1945, when she departed home waters for Norway and operations off the British coast. On news of the surrender, most of the crew voted to try for Argentina, which they reached on 17 August 1945 after 105 days at sea, the last 66 entirely submerged with the aid of a snorkel. The crew and boat were interned and turned over to U.S. authorities, who sank U-997 off the American east coast 13 November 1946.
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Advanced-model (Type XXIII) U-boat that sank the last vessels of the U-boat campaign in the Firth of Forth in Scotland on 7 May 1945. Type XXIII boats later served in the Bundesmarine.

Built: Deutsche Werft, Hamburg
Keel laid: 27 July 1944
Launched: 10 September 1944
Commissioned: 30 September 1944
OL Jürgen Vockel, September 1944-March 1945
KL Emil Klusmeier, April-May 1945
Fate: Surrendered at Kiel 14 May 1945. Sunk north of Ireland 2 January 1946.
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A salvaged and restored advanced-model U-boat, open to the public in Bremerhaven.

Type: XXI
Built: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Keel laid: 29 October 1944
Launched: 13 January 1945
Commissioned: 24 February 1945
Commander: OL Rudolf Schultze
Fate: As with virtually all of the advanced Type XXI U-boats, U-2540 did not make an operational patrol before war's end. Scuttled 4 May 1945 off Flensburg, Germany, the boat was raised in 1957 and recommissioned into the Bundesmarine as experimental U-boat Wilhelm Bauer. Since 1983 she has been a floating museum associated with the Deutsche Schiffahrtsmuseum at Bremerhaven. (For more on the museum, see Resources.)
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