On January 31, 1917, at the height of World War I, Germany announced that they would renew the use of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. The German torpedo-armed submarines, known as U-Boats, prepared to attack any and all ships operating in the Atlantic, including civilian passenger carriers, which were said to have been sighted in war-zone waters. They were prepared to attack without a second thought, whether they were innocent civilians or not. Unleashing the U-Boats was almost like unleashing terrorists, because the U-Boats were an invisible enemy. Yes, the could be seen, but beneath the surface of the water, they could easily hide in the murky darkness, unleashing their torpedoes to go streaking through the water. The first sign of danger was when the doomed ship watchmen saw the dreaded white streak coming at them through the water. There was no time to take evasive action. The ship could not move that fast, and it could not turn on a dime. They were sitting ducks.
The vast majority of people of the United States favored neutrality when it came to World War I. So when the war erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged the stay neutral. The problem was that Britain was one of America’s closest trading partners. That created serious tension between the United States and Germany, when Germany attempted a blockade of the British isles. Several US ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines and, in February 1915, Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. One month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk the William P. Frye, a private American merchant vessel that was transporting grain to England when it disappeared. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized, calling the attack an unfortunate mistake. That didn’t stop their reign of terror, however. In November they sank an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. Public opinion concerning the war, and the stand of the United States in it began to change. It was time for the United States to get into World War I.
The Germans were far in advance of other nations when it came to submarines. The U-boat was 214 feet long, carried 35 men and 12 torpedoes, and could travel underwater for two hours at a time. In the first few years of World War I, the U-boats took a terrible toll on Allied shipping. In early May 1915, several New York newspapers had to publish a warning by the German embassy in Washington that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement was placed on the same page as an advertisement for the imminent sailing of the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner from New York to Liverpool. I’m sure they had hoped that people would heed the warning, but many people boarding the Lusitania either didn’t take notice of the warning or they didn’t see it. On May 7, the Lusitania was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans. The Germans had proven once again that they were ruthless and conniving. Following the sinking of the Lusitania The German government accused the Lusitania was carrying munitions. The US demanded an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships, and full repayment for the loss.
Following the sinking of the Lusitania the German government accused the Lusitania was carrying munitions. The US demanded an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships, and full repayment for the loss. Germany countered with a pledge to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels in August 1915. All that changed by January 1917, when Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare. Three days later, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, who, just hours later sunk the American liner Housatonic. None of the 25 Americans on board were killed and they were picked up by a British steamer.
On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms-appropriations bill intended to ready the United States for war. British authorities gave the US ambassador to Britain a copy of what has become known as the “Zimmermann Note,” a coded message from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to Mexico. In the telegram, intercepted and deciphered by British intelligence, Zimmermann stated that, in the event of war with the United States, Mexico should be asked to enter the conflict as a German ally. In return, Germany would promise to restore to Mexico the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. On March 1, the outraged US State Department published the note and America was galvanized against Germany once and for all. In late March, Germany sank four more US merchant ships. President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany on April 2nd. On April 4th, the Senate voted 82 to six to declare war against Germany. Two days later, the House of Representatives endorsed the declaration by a vote of 373 to 50 and America formally entered World War I. They were after that invisible enemy, and they were determined to find it and destroy it.
German submarine U-1206 was a Type VIIC U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. Construction started on June 12, 1943 at F. Schichau GmbH in Danzig. She was put into service on March 16, 1944 and a little over a year later, in April 14, 1945 she was at the bottom of the North Sea. The boat’s emblem was a white stork on a black shield with green beak and legs. U-1206 was one of the late-war boats that had been fitted with new deepwater high-pressure toilets, allowing their use while running at depth. These toilets were a rather complicated procedure, so special technicians were trained to operate them. Operating the toilets incorrectly…in the wrong sequence could result in waste or seawater flowing back into the hull. Not only would it have been a nasty mess, it could be dangerous.
On April 14, 1945, just 24 days before the end of World War II in Europe, U-1206 was cruising at a depth of 200 feet, eight nautical miles off Peterhead, Scotland. A sailor decided that he knew the procedure for flushing the toilet, and after performing the procedure wrong, caused large amounts of seawater to flood the boat. According to the Commander’s official report, while in the engine room helping to repair one of the diesel engines, he was informed that a malfunction involving the toilet caused a leak in the forward section. The leak flooded the submarine’s batteries, which were located directly beneath toilet, causing them to generate chlorine gas. The Commander had no alternative but to surface. Immediately upon surfacing, basically right in the middle of several British patrol boats, U-1206 was torpedoed, forcing Schlitt to scuttle the submarine. One man died in the attack, three men drowned in the heavy seas after abandoning the vessel and 46 were captured.
I can’t imagine the frustration the Commander must have felt. Prior to the stupidity of one sailor, the submarine had been cruising along in relative safety. A forced surfacing was sure to put them in harms way, but the gas in the submarine would most certainly kill them too. He did the only thing he could do, and U-1206 was at the bottom of the North Sea less than an hour later, where it would remain, hidden During survey work for the BP Forties Field oil pipeline to Cruden Bay in the mid 1970s, the remains of U-1206 were found at 57°21’N 01°39’W in approximately 230 feet of water.
World War II brought with it necessary changes to war ships. Suddenly, the world had planes that could fly greater distances, and even had the ability to land on a ship, provided the ship was big enough to have a relatively short runway. I say relatively short, because the runways on ships seemed like they would be too short to safely land a plane, but they did. One such ship was the HMS Ark Royal.
The Ark Royal was an English ship designed in 1934 to fit the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. The ship was built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead, England, and was completed in November 1938. The design of this ship differed from previous aircraft carriers, in that Ark Royal was the first ship on which the hangars and flight deck were an integral part of the hull, instead of an add-on or part of the superstructure. This ship was designed to carry a large number of aircraft. There were two hangar deck levels. HMS Ark Royal served during a period of time during which we first saw the extensive use of naval air power. The Ark Royal played an integral part in developing and refining several carrier tactics.
HNS Ark Royal served in some of the most active naval theatres of the World War II. The ship was involved in the first aerial and U-boat kills of the war, operations off Norway, the search for the German battleship Bismarck, and the Malta Convoys. After Ark Royal survived several near misses, she became known as a “lucky ship” and the reputation stuck…at least until November 13, 1941, when the German submarine U-81 torpedoed her and she sank the following day. Nevertheless, only one of her 1,488 crew members was killed. Her sinking was the subject of several inquiries. While only one man was killed, investigators still couldn’t figure out how the carrier was lost…in spite of efforts to tow her to the naval base at Gibraltar. In the end, they found that several design flaws contributed to the loss. These flaws were rectified in subsequent British carriers. There was, of course, no time to look for the ship then. The war was still going on.
The wreck was discovered in December 2002 by an American underwater survey company using sonar mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle. The company was under contract from the BBC for the filming of a documentary about the HMS Ark Royal. The ship was at a depth of about 3,300 feet and approximately 30 nautical miles from Gibraltar. So close, and yet so far away.
Anytime a soldier goes to war, there is a possibility of that soldier not returning, but some MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) categories were more dangerous than others. The life expectancy of a ball turret gunner in World War II, for instance, was just 12 minutes…yes, that’s right…12 minutes. And these guys didn’t always have a choice as to what job they did. If they were the shortest, they were most likely going to be a ball turret gunner, because of limited space in the ball. Still, while I don’t know the exact number who died, I know it was quite a few. Of course, soldiers on the ground are more at risk than other occupations too. There were the suicide bombers from Japan, who chose to fly their plane right into a ship too, but I think that few occupations were as deadly as that of the U-Boat crew. It wasn’t so much that the occupation was deadly, but rather that every country in the world was after the German U-Boat.
The U-Boat was a German submarine, and they were the best sumbarine the Germans had. There were 40,000 men who were assigned to the German U-Boats during World War II. Of those assigned to the U-Boats, only 10,000 returned. That is a shocking number!! I would never have wanted the Germans to win World War II, but when I think of the soldiers who fought, I’m sure that there were many who disagreed with Hitler, and others who were brainwashed into following him, but they were still soldiers, and people, and they had been given an assignment that was going to most likely get them killed. You see, the German U-Boat was the most feared of all the ships or submarines during World War II. They had a code system that was hard to crack, and they were sinking the Allies ships. They had to go. Once the Allies figured out their code, they could no longer hide. The U-Boats began dropping like flies, and with them…their crews, of course.
The U-Boats ran on battery power when they were submerged, and that didn’t last very long. So they were required to be a surface vessel most of the time, operating on their diesel engines. I don’t think that contributed to the U-Boat becoming a target, because as long as their whereabouts was coded, they were relatively safe. Once that safety net was gone, they were in a lot of trouble, as has been proven by the number of casualties. The fate of the crews of the U-Boats was not a good one, and those 30,000 men paid the final price, once that safety net was gone.
Submarines have been around a long time, but during the world wars, Germany built a submarine that was superior to any other submarine of the time. Called the U-Boat, the name was short for Unterseeboot, or under sea boat. Winston Churchill said, “the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” Churchill identified the threat that the U-Boats posed. The Atlantic Lifeline was vital to Britain’s survival. If Germany had been able to prevent merchant ships from carrying food, raw materials, troops and their equipment from North America to Britain, the outcome of World War II could have been very different. Britain might have been starved into submission, and her armies would not have been equipped with American built tanks and vehicles. The U-Boats were a serious threat. The Battle of the Atlantic was a must win situation. If Germany won that battle, Britain would likely have lost the war.
From 1918 on, Germany was not supposed to have submarines or submarine crews. However, no checks were in place to stop any research into submarines in Germany and it became clear that during the 1930’s, Germany had been investing time and men into submarine research. Their research and subsequent development of the U-Boat made it a submarine that was very difficult to locate and that made it extremely dangerous. They developed the Enigma machine, which was a series of electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines developed and used in the early to early-mid twentieth century for commercial and military usage. Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I. The codes it could provide were difficult to decipher. German military messages enciphered on the Enigma machine were first broken by the Polish Cipher Bureau, in December 1932. This success was a result of efforts by three Polish cryptologists, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rózycki and Henryk Zygalski, working for Polish military intelligence. Rejewski reverse-engineered the device, using theoretical mathematics and material supplied by French military intelligence. Then, the three mathematicians designed mechanical devices for breaking Enigma ciphers, including the cryptologic bomb. In 1938, the Germans made the machine more complex, and increased complexity was repeatedly added to the Enigma machines, making decryption more difficult and requiring further equipment and personnel. It was more than the Poles could readily produce.
Finally there was a breakthrough. The astonishing achievements of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park saved countless lives. At their peak, there were 12,000 codebreakers at Bletchley Park, 8,000 of them women. The codebreakers helped bring victory in North Africa by giving British commander General Montgomery details of Erwin Rommel’s battle plans and providing the routes of the Nazi supply convoys. This allowed the Royal Navy the opportunity to sink them. Prior to the codebreakers, the U-Boats were only sunk after damage or near damage was done to other ships. Such was the case with the first sinking of a U-Boat. German submarine U-39 was a Type IXA U-boat of the Kriegsmarine that operated from 1938 to the first few days of World War II. On 14 September 1939, just 27 days after she began her first patrol, U-39 attempted to sink the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal by firing two torpedoes at her. The torpedoes malfunctioned and exploded just short of the carrier. In retaliation, U-39 was immediately hunted down by three British destroyers. She was disabled with depth charges, and subsequently sunk. All crew members survived and were captured.