by: Darren Baker [ ]
When it comes to submarine warfare in World War Two most of us I suspect think of the U-boat fleets and wolf packs attacking Allied shipping. I also suspect that unless you have a keen interest in the subject no thought is given to how these vessels were resupplied. If you are of the same age group as myself you most likely saw a particularly good and well made film called ‘Das Boot’. For me this film made me realise that regardless of the side you are on the men who crewed submarines are a special breed.
Luftfahrtverlag-Start has recently released a book that tells the story of the men and machines that kept the wolf packs supplied and enabled them to perform their function as part of the German war machine in World War Two.
Here is the introduction for this book supplied by Luftfahrtverlag-Start on their website;
To the Allies they were target number one - the German submarine tankers.
The Allied hunter-killer groups had express orders to sink the tankers first.
The enemy knew that the German submarine tankers made it possible for
U-boats to operate off the east coast of the United States, South Africa,
the west coast of Africa and the Caribbean. Unlike conventional tankers,
these large Type XIV submarines, also known as “milk cows”, could reach
their areas of operation without being discovered. The submarine tankers
carried sufficient fuel, provisions, torpedoes and spare parts for up to 24
U-boats, doubling or tripling their normal endurance. The “milk cows” also
carried a doctor who could treat sick or injured crewmen.
In 1942 the submarine tankers were able to rendezvous with the combat
submarines at prearranged locations largely undisturbed. In 1943, however,
all this changed. From the beginning of the year, the Allies succeeded in
decoding German radio transmissions and from these intercepts learned
where the tankers and operational boats would be meeting. From then on
the tankers were hunted down relentlessly. Wherever the “milk cows” surfaced,
Allied anti-submarine groups were waiting. Rapid transfer of supplies, often in
bad weather, rendezvous points changed at the last minute, and attacks by
Allied ASW aircraft became a part of everyday life for the “milk cow” crews.
They often worked to the limits of their physical and mental endurance to
complete their mission. In the end, all of the submarine tankers were sunk
by the Allies, the last in the summer of 1944. Hundreds of men went down
with the submarines.
The story of the ten German submarine tankers in the Second World War
has never been thoroughly documented in words and pictures. This book
describes the difficult submarine tanker operations and the war waged by
the crews against the power of the sea and the Allied anti-submarine forces
and thus fills a significant gap in the history of the German submarine arm.
Large format 23.5 x 28 cm (9.25 x 11 inches) – 336 pages –
305 photos including 5 in colour – 33 colour maps - 9 colour profiles - Data CD with detailed supply data and a total index for the book
I had up until reading this book never given any thought to how the German U-Boats were kept supplied and this book opened my eyes. The book looks at the submarines and their crews who were doing a job that was most likely only really appreciated by the men on the fighting vessels a long way from home and in most cases land. Initially the U-Boats were supplied from surface vessels but that all changed very rapidly after the Royal Navy captured an Enigma machine from U101 on the 9th of May 1941. The capture of the Enigma saw nine surface tankers sunk or captured between the 3rd and 23rd of June 1941 with only two of the entire fleet surviving. The situation for the German U-boat fleet did not improve with the British putting pressure on the neutral Spanish to stop supplying the boats and the Royal Navy taking a heavy toll on all other methods of supply and the submarines themselves. Enter the submarine tankers or Milk Cows as they become known to the U-boat fleets. The first of the dedicated submarine tankers U-459 was completed in March 1942.
The book goes into surprising depth on each of the U-Boat tankers, showing the operational area and routes taken. The various tours each sub went on is covered is fair depth and should be of interest due to the long voyages they were sent on. The big surprise for me is how many photographs Luftfahrtverlag-Start has managed to find of a suitable quality for publication, the photographs show many activities the boats and crew took part in; these pictures cover day to day activities such as eating and like the refuelling of a submarine. They show the crews relaxing and even having a smoke break, the tension in the faces of the crew in some pictures helps bring this time home and lastly there are also photographs of the ultimate cost of war, which is something none of us should forget. The captains of the boats are of course covered the most thoroughly, with a lot of details taken from the boats logs.
The U-Boat tankers are each covered with some great photographs and graphics, in particular the boats emblems which show that the crews applied some thought and also had a good sense of humour. The graphics covering the conning towers also offer some interesting possibilities for portions to be built and some figures added. Some scenes depicted in the book may appeal to the figure modeller as there is a selection showing the new crew members who had not crossed the equator before getting their equator baptism; who said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour.
The life and death of these boats is covered in this book to great effect and shows how death can come on swift wings.
This title is really for those members with an interest in the submarines history rather than for the modellers. The pictures will be of great help to modellers but to get the most from it you need to want to know what the submarine war was all about. I did enjoy the historical aspect and images in the book as it provided me with knowledge and experience of a type of warfare I knew little about; perhaps remembering that 3 out of 4 U-Boat sailors did not survive the war make this book a must read.