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German submarine U-48 (1939)
Career (Germany)
Name: U-48
Ordered: 21 November 1936[1][2]
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Cost: 4,439,000 Reichsmark
Yard number: 583[1][2]
Laid down: 10 March 1937[1][2]
Launched: 8 March 1939[1][2]
Commissioned: 22 April 1939[1][2]
Decommissioned: October 1943
Fate: Scuttled, 3 May 1945 off Neustadt[1]
General characteristics
Class & type: Type VIIB U-boat
Displacement: 753 t (741 long tons) ↑
857 t (843 long tons) ↓
Length: 66.5 m (218 ft 2 in) o/a
48.8 m (160 ft 1 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.2 m (20 ft 4 in) overall
4.7 m (15 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Draught: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × supercharged Germaniawerft 6 cylinder, 4-stroke F46 diesel engines totalling 2,800–3,200 bhp (2,100–2,400 kW) Max rpm 470-490 ↑
2 × AEG GU 460/8-276 electric motors totalling 750 shp (560 kW) ↓
Speed: 17.9 kn (33.2 km/h)
8 kn (15 km/h)
Range: 8,700 nmi (16,112 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h)↑
90 nmi (170 km) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h)
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft). Calculated crush depth: 250–295 m (820–968 ft)
Complement: 44 to 48 officers and ratings
Service record
Part of: 7th U-boat Flotilla
21st U-boat Flotilla
26th U-boat Flotilla
Identification codes: M 27 354
Commanders: Kptlt. Herbert Schultze
(22 April 1939 – 20 May 1940)
Krvkpt. Hans-Rudolf Rösing
(21 May–3 September 1940)
Heinrich Bleichrodt
(4 September–16 December 1940)
Kptlt. Herbert Schultze
(17 December–27 July 1941)
Oblt.z.S. Siegfried Atzinger
(August 1941–September 1942)
Oblt.z.S. Diether Todenhagen
(26 September–October 1943)
Operations: Twelve:
1st patrol:
19 August–17 September 1939
2nd patrol:
4–25 October 1939
3rd patrol:
20 November–20 December 1939
4th patrol:
24 January–26 February 1940
5th patrol:
3–20 April 1940
6th patrol:
26 May–29 June 1940
7th patrol:
7–28 August 1940
8th patrol:
8–25 September 1940
9th patrol:
5–27 October 1940
10th patrol:
20 January–27 February 1941
11th patrol:
17 March–8 April
12th patrol:
a. 22 May–1 June 1941
b. 19 June–21 June 1941
Victories: 51 ships sunk for a total of 306,875 gross register tons (GRT)
one warship sunk for a total of 1,060 tons
three ships damaged for a total of 20,480 GRT

German submarine U-48 was a Type VIIB U-boat of the Nazi German Kriegsmarine during World War II, and the most successful that was commissioned. During her two years of active service, U-48 sank 55 ships for a total of 321,000 tons; she also damaged two more for a total of 12,000 tons over twelve war patrols conducted during the opening stages of the Battle of the Atlantic.

U-48 was built at the Germaniawerft in Kiel as Werk 583 during 1938 and 1939, being completed a few months before the outbreak of war in September 1939 and given to Kapitänleutnant (Kptlt.) Herbert Schultze. When war was declared, she was already in position in the North Atlantic, and received the news via radio, allowing her to operate immediately against Allied shipping.

She was a member of two wolf packs.

U-48 survived most of the war and was scuttled by her own crew on 3 May 1945 off Neustadt in order to keep the submarine out of the hands of the advancing allies.

War patrols

1st patrol (19 August - 17 September 1939)

U-48 left her home port of Kiel on 19 August 1939, before World War II began,[3] for a period of 30 days. The submarine travelled north of the British Isles, into the North Atlantic and eventually into the Bay of Biscay. She then proceeded to cruise to the west of the Western Approaches, two days after Britain and France declared war on Germany. It was here that she spotted her first target, the 5,000 ton SS Royal Sceptre. U-48 attacked the merchant ship with her deck gun on 5 September 1939.[4] All of the crew took to the lifeboats except the Radio Officer who remained transmitting "SOS". He was taken prisoner by U-48, but then released to the lifeboats as Schultze praised his courage. He verified that the lifeboats were provisioned with food and water. U-48 then stopped the SS Browning. The crew abandoned their vessel, but Schultze told them to return to their ship and pick up the crew of Royal Sceptre. However Browning was en route to Brazil, so it was not immediately realised that they had survived. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of The Admiralty, assumed the worst, that the crew and sixty passengers were lost.[5] He declared the sinking to be

an odious act of bestial piracy on the high seas[6]

U-48 stopped, searched and released several neutral ships before encountering and sinking Winkleigh on 8 September 1939 after her crew had taken to the lifeboats.[7]

On 11 September U-48 sank the Firby. Some of the crew required medical attention following the sinking. U-48 provisioned the lifeboats, gave medical assistance and radioed:

Transmit to Mr Churchill. I have sunk the British steamer Firby. Posit 59°40'N 13°50'W. Save the crew if you please. German submarine[8]

Churchill, wrongly, told the House of Commons that the U-boat captain who had sent the message had been captured.[5] After 30 days at sea, U-48 returned to Kiel on 17 September 1939. During her first war patrol, she sank three ships for a total of 14,777 tons.[3]

2nd patrol (4–25 October 1939)

U-48's second patrol was even more successful. Having left Kiel on 4 October, she proceeded to follow the same course as her previous voyage. During her second patrol, U-48 sank a total of five enemy ships, including the large French tanker SS Emile Miguet on 12 October, Heronspool and Louisiane on 13 October, Sneaton on 14 October and Clan Chisholm on 17 October. Following the sinking of the Clan Chisholm, U-48 attacked the British steamer Rockpool with fire from her deck gun on 19 October at 1:32 pm. However, the steamer returned fire. In order to avoid being hit, U-48 crash-dived. She subsequently re-surfaced and attempted to sink the steamer again when an Allied destroyer came upon the engagement. U-48 then broke off the fight with the Rockpool and submerged once more to leave the area. Following the sinking of five enemy merchant ships for a total of 37,153 tons as well as the engagement with the Rockpool, U-48 returned to the safety of Kiel on 25 October 1939 after spending 22 days at sea.[9]

3rd patrol (20 November - 20 December 1939)

U-48 left Kiel for her third patrol on 20 November 1939. During this voyage, she sank a total of four vessels including two merchant ships from neutral nations. The first ship to fall victim to the U-boat was the 6,336-ton neutral Swedish motor tanker MT Gustaf E. Reuter. She was attacked by U-48 on 27 November 14 miles (23 km) west-northwest of Fair Isle. The wreck was later sunk by an escort vessel. One person died, 33 of her crew survived. The tug HMS St. Mellons attempted to salvage her, however the Gustaf E. Reuter eventually had to be sent to the bottom by HMS Kingston Beryl on 28 November. Following the sinking of the Gustaf E. Reuter, U-48 sank the British freighter Brandon on 8 December off the southern coast of Ireland. The next day, she attacked the British tanker San Alberto. The ship was so badly damaged that she had to be sunk by HMS Mackay.[10] Finally on 15 December 1939 U-48 stopped the neutral Greek freighter Germaine which had been chartered by Ireland and was also neutral, to carry maize to Cork. Schultze maintained that she was going to England, so he sank her. U-48 returned to Kiel on 20 December 1939 after sinking a total of 25,618 tons and spent a total of 31 days at sea.

4th patrol (24 January - 26 February 1940)

After a break over the Christmas period, the boat put to sea again, sinking the British Blue Star Line liner SS Sultan Star in the Western Approaches, it was only carrying freight.[11] She laid a string of mines off St Abb's Head which failed to have any effect, but two neutral Dutch ships were added to her tally shortly afterwards, as well as a Finnish ship, all of them operating in the North Atlantic in cooperation with the Allied convoy system.

5th and 6th patrols (April 1940 and June 1940)

Her fifth patrol, in June 1940 was one of her most successful, making full use of the situation in Europe following the Fall of France. U-48 was commanded by Hans Rudolf Rösing, as Herbert Schultze was hospitalised with a kidney and stomach complaint.[12] She attacked three ships off the Donegal coast; the Stancor carrying fish from Iceland, the Eros carrying 200 tons of small arms from America and the Frances Massey with iron ore. 34 sailors lost their lives on the Frances Massey. The cargo on the Eros was particularly important following the losses at Dunkirk. The badly damaged Eros was taken in tow by HMS Berkley, assisted by HMS Bandit and Volunteer and headed to the Irish coast, where the Muirchú and Fort Rannoch were waiting for them. The Eros was beached on Errarooey strand. While she was being repaired, Irish troops guarded the site.[13] Germany learned that a troop convoy, including RMS Queen Mary and Mauretania were bringing 25,000 Australian soldiers to Britain. U-48 was ordered to Cape Finisterre where a U-boat 'wolf pack' was being assembled to intercept the convoy. However the U-boats attacked other ships in the vicinity, alerting the convoy to their presence, so they altered direction, avoiding the 'wolf pack'.[14] On 19 June 1940, convoy HG-34 was attacked. U-48 sank Baron Loudoun (three died), British Monarch (all 40 on board died) and Tudor (one death). Convoy HX-49 dispersed; U-48 sank Moordrecht which had been in that convoy; 25 died. Ireland had chartered neutral Greek ships; U-48 sank Violando N. Goulandris (six died) while U-28 sank Adamandios Georgandis (one death). Ireland sought an explanation from Germany "... steamships, the entire cargoes of which comprised grain for exclusive consumption in Éire were sunk by unidentified submarines ..."[15] U-48 was enjoying an extended patrol, thanks to the newly established refuelling facilities available at Trondheim in Norway. In all, she claimed eight ships from the convoys in the Eastern Atlantic on this cruise and bagged five more on her sixth patrol in August, which finished with her stationed at Lorient on the French Atlantic coast, greatly extending her raiding abilities.

7th and 8th patrols (August 1940 and September 1940)

In September, on her seventh patrol she shocked the world by sinking the SS City of Benares, one of eight ships in six days from Convoys SC-3 and OB-213. Benares was a refugee ship, carrying children from Britain to Canada to keep them safe from the 'Blitz' on Britain's cities. 258 people, including 77 children, died. Among the other sinkings was the British frigate HMS Dundee. The U-boat's eighth patrol was also highly successful, sinking seven ships out of Atlantic convoys, including one from SC-7. The operating zone for both these patrols was far to the north of her previous areas, being south of Greenland.

9th, 10th, 11th and 12th patrols (October 1940, February 1941, March 1941 and June 1941)

On her ninth and tenth patrols, U-48 claimed two and five victims respectively, but she was clearly becoming obsolete in the face of improving technology on both sides, despite a winter refit. Her range and torpedo capacity were too small for the widening nature of the sea war, and she would be a risk to her crew and other U-boats if she continued much longer in the main battlefield of the North Atlantic. On her final patrol she sank five more ships, the boat was also boosted by the award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross to Erich Zürn, the boat's executive officer, for his success and judgement during the ship's career.

Retirement and fate

U-48 returned to Kiel on 22 June 1941, where her crew disembarked and she was transferred to a training flotilla operating exclusively in the Baltic Sea. Unlike many of her contemporaries, U-48 never sailed on patrols against Soviet targets following Operation Barbarossa the following month. In 1943 she was deemed unfit even for this reduced service, being laid up at Neustadt in Holstein with only a skeleton crew performing minor maintenance. It was there that she remained for the next two years, until the maintenance crew, realising that the war was ending and the boat would be captured, scuttled her in the Bay of Lübeck on 3 May 1945, where she remains.

The sinking of the City of Benares

In the late hours of the 17 September 1940, U-48, commanded by Kptlt. Heinrich Bleichrodt, put a single torpedo into the 11,000 ton liner SS City of Benares, flagship of Convoy OB-213, as she was silhouetted against the moonlight in mid-Atlantic. On board the liner were 90 children being evacuated to Canada under the Children's Overseas Reception Board's initiative.

The sinking ship took on an immediate list, thus preventing the launching of many of the life-rafts and trapping numerous crew and passengers below decks. As a result, many of the 400 people on board were unable to escape. As hundreds of survivors struggled in the water, the U-boat's powerful searchlight swept once over the chaotic scene, before she left the area. The survivors in the boats were not rescued for nearly 24 hours. In that time dozens of children and adults died from exposure or drowned, leaving only 148 survivors. One boat was not recovered for a further eight days. In total 258 people,[16] including 77 of the evacuees, died in the disaster, which effectively ended the overseas evacuation programme.[16]

The controversy of the City of Benares disaster has been debated ever since. It has been suggested that had the British openly declared that the ship was carrying evacuees, then the Germans would have taken pains not to sink it, recognising the potential for a propaganda crisis, which indeed occurred. However, the ship was not only travelling unlit at night in an allied convoy, but it was also the flagship of Rear-Admiral Edmund Mackinnon, the convoy commander.[17] Other historians have argued that the Germans would have attacked any large liners at the time, no matter what cargo was being carried or who was on the passenger list.

German submarine U-48 (1939) is located in North Atlantic
Locations of the 55 ships sunk by U-48 during her career

Summary of Raiding Career

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate Location Deaths
5 September 1939 SS Royal Sceptre  United Kingdom 4,853 Sunk 46°23′N 14°59′W / 46.383°N 14.983°W / 46.383; -14.983
8 September 1939 SS Winkleigh  United Kingdom 5,055 Sunk 48°06′N 18°12′W / 48.1°N 18.2°W / 48.1; -18.2
11 September 1939 SS Firby  Canada 4,869 Sunk 59°40′N 13°50′W / 59.667°N 13.833°W / 59.667; -13.833
12 October 1939 MV Emile Miguet  France 14,115 Sunk 50°15′N 14°50′W / 50.25°N 14.833°W / 50.25; -14.833
12 October 1939 SS Heronspool  United Kingdom 5,202 Sunk 50°13′N 14°48′W / 50.217°N 14.8°W / 50.217; -14.8
13 October 1939 SS Louisiane  France 6,903 Sunk 50°14′N 15°20′W / 50.233°N 15.333°W / 50.233; -15.333
14 October 1939 SS Sneaton  United Kingdom 3,677 Sunk 49°05′N 13°05′W / 49.083°N 13.083°W / 49.083; -13.083
17 October 1939 SS Clan Chisholm  United Kingdom 7,256 Sunk 44°57′N 13°40′W / 44.95°N 13.667°W / 44.95; -13.667
26 November 1939 MT Gustaf E. Reuter  Sweden 6,336 Sunk 59°38′N 02°03′W / 59.633°N 2.05°W / 59.633; -2.05
8 December 1939 SS Brandon  United Kingdom 6,668 Sunk 50°28′N 08°28′W / 50.467°N 8.467°W / 50.467; -8.467
9 December 1939 MV San Alberto  United Kingdom 7,397 Damaged, scuttled by HMS Mackay 49°20′N 09°45′W / 49.333°N 9.75°W / 49.333; -9.75
15 December 1939 SS Germaine  Greece 5,217 Sunk 51°00′N 12°18′W / 51°N 12.3°W / 51; -12.3
10 February 1940 SS Burgerdijk  Netherlands 6,853 Sunk 49°45′N 06°30′W / 49.75°N 6.5°W / 49.75; -6.5
14 February 1940 SS Sultan Star  United Kingdom 12,306 Sunk 48°54′N 10°03′W / 48.9°N 10.05°W / 48.9; -10.05
15 February 1940 MV Den Haag  Netherlands 8,971 Sunk 48°02′N 08°26′W / 48.033°N 8.433°W / 48.033; -8.433
17 February 1940 SS Wilja  Finland 3,392 Sunk 49°00′N 06°33′W / 49°N 6.55°W / 49; -6.55
6 June 1940 SS Stancor  United Kingdom 798 Sunk 58°48′N 08°45′W / 58.8°N 8.75°W / 58.8; -8.75
6 June 1940 SS Frances Massey  United Kingdom 4,212 Sunk 55°33′N 08°26′W / 55.55°N 8.433°W / 55.55; -8.433
7 June 1940 SS Eros  United Kingdom 5,888 Damaged 55°33′N 08°26′W / 55.55°N 8.433°W / 55.55; -8.433
11 June 1940 SS Violando N Goulandris  Greece 2,375 Sunk 44°04′N 12°30′W / 44.067°N 12.5°W / 44.067; -12.5
19 June 1940 MV Tudor  Norway 6,607 Sunk 45°10′N 11°50′W / 45.167°N 11.833°W / 45.167; -11.833
19 June 1940 SS Baron Loudoun  United Kingdom 3,164 Sunk 45°00′N 11°21′W / 45°N 11.35°W / 45; -11.35
19 June 1940 SS British Monarch  United Kingdom 5,661 Sunk 45°00′N 11°21′W / 45°N 11.35°W / 45; -11.35
20 June 1940 MV Moerdrecht  Netherlands 7,493 Sunk 43°34′N 14°20′W / 43.567°N 14.333°W / 43.567; -14.333
16 August 1940 SS Hedrun  Sweden 2,325 Sunk 57°10′N 16°37′W / 57.167°N 16.617°W / 57.167; -16.617
19 August 1940 SS Ville de Gand  Belgium 7,590 Sunk 55°28′N 15°10′W / 55.467°N 15.167°W / 55.467; -15.167
24 August 1940 SS La Brea  United Kingdom 6,666 Sunk 57°24′N 11°21′W / 57.4°N 11.35°W / 57.4; -11.35
25 August 1940 SS Empire Merlin  United Kingdom 5,763 Sunk 58°30′N 10°15′W / 58.5°N 10.25°W / 58.5; -10.25
25 August 1940 MV Athelcrest  United Kingdom 6,825 Sunk 58°24′N 11°25′W / 58.4°N 11.417°W / 58.4; -11.417
15 September 1940 SS Alexandros  Greece 4,343 Sunk 56°30′N 16°30′W / 56.5°N 16.5°W / 56.5; -16.5
15 September 1940 HMS Dundee  United Kingdom 1,060 Sunk 56°45′N 14°14′W / 56.75°N 14.233°W / 56.75; -14.233
15 September 1940 SS Empire Volunteer  United Kingdom 5,319 Sunk 56°43′N 15°17′W / 56.717°N 15.283°W / 56.717; -15.283
18 September 1940 SS City of Benares  United Kingdom 11,081 Sunk 56°43′N 21°15′W / 56.717°N 21.25°W / 56.717; -21.25
18 September 1940 SS Marina  United Kingdom 5,088 Sunk 56°46′N 21°15′W / 56.767°N 21.25°W / 56.767; -21.25
18 September 1940 SS Magdalena  United Kingdom 3,118 Sunk 57°20′N 20°16′W / 57.333°N 20.267°W / 57.333; -20.267
21 September 1940 SS Blairangus  United Kingdom 4,409 Sunk 55°18′N 22°21′W / 55.3°N 22.35°W / 55.3; -22.35
21 September 1940 SS Broompark  United Kingdom 5,136 Damaged 49°02′N 40°26′W / 49.033°N 40.433°W / 49.033; -40.433
11 October 1940 MV Brandanger  Norway 4,624 Sunk 57°10′N 17°42′W / 57.167°N 17.7°W / 57.167; -17.7
11 October 1940 SS Port Gisborne  United Kingdom 8,390 Sunk 56°38′N 16°40′W / 56.633°N 16.667°W / 56.633; -16.667
12 October 1940 MV Davanger  Norway 7,102 Sunk 57°00′N 19°10′W / 57°N 19.167°W / 57; -19.167
17 October 1940 MV Languedoc  United Kingdom 9,512 Sunk 59°14′N 17°51′W / 59.233°N 17.85°W / 59.233; -17.85
17 October 1940 SS Scoresby  United Kingdom 3,843 Sunk 59°14′N 17°51′W / 59.233°N 17.85°W / 59.233; -17.85
18 October 1940 SS Sandend  United Kingdom 3,612 Sunk 58°12′N 21°29′W / 58.2°N 21.483°W / 58.2; -21.483
20 October 1940 MV Shirak  United Kingdom 6,023 Damaged by U-47, Sunk by U-48 57°00′N 16°53′W / 57°N 16.883°W / 57; -16.883
1 February 1941 SS Nicolaos Angelos  Greece 4,351 Sunk 59°00′N 17°00′W / 59°N 17°W / 59; -17
24 February 1941 SS Nailsea Lass  United Kingdom 4,289 Sunk 50°06′N 10°23′W / 50.1°N 10.383°W / 50.1; -10.383
29 March 1941 SS Germanic  United Kingdom 5,352 Sunk 61°18′N 22°05′W / 61.3°N 22.083°W / 61.3; -22.083
29 March 1941 SS Limbourg  Belgium 2,483 Sunk 61°18′N 22°05′W / 61.3°N 22.083°W / 61.3; -22.083
29 March 1941 SS Hylton  United Kingdom 5,197 Sunk 60°20′N 18°10′W / 60.333°N 18.167°W / 60.333; -18.167
2 April 1941 SS Beaverdale  United Kingdom 9,957 Sunk 60°50′N 29°19′W / 60.833°N 29.317°W / 60.833; -29.317
3 June 1941 SS Inversuir  United Kingdom 9,456 Damaged by U-48, sunk by U-75 48°30′N 28°30′W / 48.5°N 28.5°W / 48.5; -28.5
5 June 1941 MV Wellfield  United Kingdom 6,054 Sunk 48°34′N 31°34′W / 48.567°N 31.567°W / 48.567; -31.567
6 June 1941 SS Tregathen  United Kingdom 5,201 Sunk 46°17′N 36°20′W / 46.283°N 36.333°W / 46.283; -36.333
8 June 1941 MV Pendrecht  Netherlands 10,746 Sunk 45°18′N 36°40′W / 45.3°N 36.667°W / 45.3; -36.667
12 June 1941 SS Empire Dew  United Kingdom 7,005 Sunk 51°09′N 30°16′W / 51.15°N 30.267°W / 51.15; -30.267

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Helgason, Guðmundur. "U-48". U-Boat War in World War II. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "U-48 Type VIIB". Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Helgason, Guðmundur. "Patrol info for U-48 (First patrol)". U-boat patrols. Retrieved 2 September 2010. 
  4. Helgason, Guðmundur. "Royal Sceptre (British Steam merchant)". Allied Ships hit by U-boats. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Helgason, Guðmundur. "Korvettenkapitän Herbert Schultze". German U-boat Commanders of WWII. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  6. Tildesley, Kate. "Voices from the Battle of the Atlantic". THE SECOND WORLD WAR EXPERIENCE CENTRE. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  7. Blair, page 80
  8. Blair, page 85
  9. Helgason, Guðmundur. "Patrol info for U-48 (Second patrol)". U-boat patrols. Retrieved 3 September 2010. 
  10. Blair, page 120
  12. Blair, page 161
  13. Kennedy, Michael (2008). "G2, the Coastwatching Service and the Battle of the Atlantic". Maritime Institute of Ireland. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  14. Blair, page 169
  15. Duggan page 111
  16. 16.0 16.1 Helgason, Guðmundur. "City of Benares (Steam passenger ship)". Allied Ships hit by U-boats. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  17. Mackinnon did not evacuate the sinking ship, he drowned on board.

External links

Coordinates: 54°07′N 10°50′E / 54.117°N 10.833°E / 54.117; 10.833

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