Military Wiki
German submarine U-557
Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-557
Operator: Kriegsmarine
Ordered: 25 September 1939
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: 6 January 1940
Launched: 22 December 1940
Commissioned: 13 February 1941
Fate: Rammed and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Orione west of Crete on 16 December 1941
General characteristics
Type: Type VIIC submarine
Displacement: 769 tonnes (757 long tons) surfaced
871 t (857 long tons) submerged
Length: 67.1 m (220 ft 2 in) o/a
50.5 m (165 ft 8 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.2 m (20 ft 4 in) o/a
4.7 m (15 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Draft: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × supercharged Germaniawerft 6-cylinder 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesel engines, totalling 2,800–3,200 bhp (2,100–2,400 kW). Max rpm: 470-490
2 × electric motors, totalling 750 shp (560 kW) and max rpm: 296
Speed: 17.7 knots (20.4 mph; 32.8 km/h) surfaced
7.6 knots (8.7 mph; 14.1 km/h) submerged
Range: 15,170 km (8,190 nmi) at 10 kn (19 km/h) surfaced
150 km (81 nmi) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Crush depth: 250–295 m (820–968 ft)
Complement: 44–52 officers and ratings
Armament: • 5 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes (four bow, one stern)
• 14 × G7e torpedoes or 26 TMA mines
• 1 × 8.8 cm (3.46 in) deck gun (220 rounds)
• Various AA guns
Service record
Part of: Kriegsmarine
Commanders: Oberleutnant Ottokar Paulssen

U-557 was a Type VIIC U-boat built for the Nazi German Kriegsmarine for service during World War II. She was laid down on 6 January 1940, launched on 22 December 1940 and commissioned on 13 February 1941. Oberleutnant Ottokar Paulssen was in command throughout her career. For her first three war patrols her 2nd Watch Officer was Herbert Werner, who later wrote the memoir of U-boat service, "Iron Coffins". She sank six merchant ships and one warship, a total of almost 37,000 gross register tons (GRT) over four patrols.[1]

She was rammed and sunk by mistake by an Italian torpedo boat on 16 December 1941 west of Crete.


Emergency in the Baltic

U-557's career began in Königsberg, from where she departed en route for Kiel.[2] A routine dive in the Baltic turned into an emergency when the boat sank out of control. She hit the bottom stern-first with a thump. The depth gauge read 142 m (466 ft); the submarine was in severe difficulty, having taken on tons of water, poisonous chlorine gas was leaking from the batteries and there was the danger of an explosion. U-557 had also suffered her first death; a mechanic had sustained fatal head injuries in the after torpedo room. A human chain of sailors was formed, passing buckets of sea-water to each other, in an attempt to shift some of the weight from the stern to the bow. After many hour's toil, the boat pivoted so that the bow hit the bottom. But the sheer weight of water (about 40 tons), prevented U-557 from reaching the surface. The boat, having exhausted its supply of compressed air, stayed on the sea-bed. The crew, under the direction of the Chief Engineer, rocked the boat by moving rapidly from stern to bow and back again. The submarine eventually worked herself free. After 20 hours, U-557 surfaced and sailed on to Kiel.[3]

First patrol

U-557 spent a week in dry-dock; emerging on 5 May, she "looked and smelled newly commissioned". Leaving Kiel for her first patrol on 13 May, her route took her through the Kiel Canal, across the North Sea, passing southeast of Iceland and into the Atlantic. Her first kill was the sinking of the British ship Empire Storm south of Greenland on 19 May 1941.[4][5] On 25 May, a convoy was spotted and stalked for some hours. U-557 fired five torpedoes and scored three hits; she then received instructions from U-boat Headquarters to "transmit beacon signals", (for other U-boats to home-in on). By now she was being chased by escort ships, so Paulssen ordered the boat to dive deep; a pattern of depth charges soon followed. The submarine eluded her pursuers, who dropped more depth charges, by using 'silent routine' and her electric motors to get away. When it was judged safe, the boat surfaced.[6]

Two days later she received a signal that ordered "all U-boats with torpedoes" to go to the assistance of the battleship Bismarck, then being hunted by the Royal Navy. Later that day, another message was received which stated that all "U-boats in [the] vicinity [were] to search for survivors". U-557 arrived in the area on 29 May; none were found.[7] In early June, following fruitless searches for two separate convoys, a solitary ship was sighted, this vessel was hit by two torpedoes but stubbornly refused to sink. Having sailed his boat among the amazed survivors, Paulssen sank the ship with a third 'eel'.[8]

On their way to a refueling rendezvous with the tanker Belchen, the boat encountered three warships; evasive action was taken, but positive identification was delayed by the large number of icebergs in the region. The trio, which steamed away at a speed far in excess of U-557's best, were London-class cruisers. The submarine met the tanker about 80 mi (130 km) south of Greenland. A second U-boat joined the pair of German vessels, then a third. That evening three explosions were heard from the tanker's position. It seemed the cruisers had found what they were looking for.

Steaming in the relatively calm waters between the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John's, Newfoundland, U-557 had a lucky escape when three torpedoes, fired by a Thames-class submarine passed under or astern of the boat. Using its superior speed, the British vessel escaped a counterattack.[9] It was not until 24 June that U-557 made contact with another convoy and that was only after an arduous hunt. Three torpedoes were fired, scoring two hits. But U-557 was trapped on the surface by the swift response of the escorts who converged on the U-boat from all directions. The only means of escape lay in diving, which she did. The inevitable barrage of depth charges followed the rapidly sinking boat. The submarine surfaced two hours after the last detonation. The crew took stock of the damage which was serious enough to curtail the patrol, and forced her passage to Lorient in France, where she arrived on 10 July 1941.

Second patrol

U-557's second patrol began in early August 1941. Her crew had been increased by including Kapitänleutenant Kelbing, who had joined the boat to gain experience before getting his own command. The submarine, with orders to attack shipping in the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, carried out her first trim-dive in an unusually quiet Bay of Biscay. She was allocated a new patrol zone due to the paucity of targets in her original area. It was not long before a convoy was sighted and stalked. Five torpedoes were fired from the submerged boat, resulting in three hits. The escorts responded, but U-557 was untroubled; so much so that coffee and sandwiches were distributed. The submarine surfaced and pursued the convoy, but had to dive again to get a hydrophone fix on her quarry. The escorts dropped several depth charges, forcing the boat to crash-dive, only levelling off at 200 metres (660 ft). More than 14 hours passed before it was deemed safe enough to surface.

U-557 moved further west. After many days of fruitless searching, a destroyer was sighted; the boat had brushed the side of an unknown convoy. Having dived to avoid the warship, the submarine now surfaced and attempted to shadow the convoy. She soon dived once more to verify the convoy's position. She continued the pursuit on the surface (the boat's speed there was far better than that when she was submerged). Her tenacity was rewarded when she "pushed into the herd from astern". Eluding the escorts, all torpedo tubes were fired; three explosions quickly followed. There was no serious escort reaction. U-557 risked re-loading her last two torpedoes on the surface. These were soon fired, without result. She then acted as a signal-beacon, attracting other U-boats to the convoy. Once this was accomplished, she set course for the Bay of Biscay, Lorient and a re-fit.[10]

Third patrol

Her third patrol commenced on 8 October, again in the North Atlantic. After six days steaming in worsening weather, U-557 was about 300 mi (480 km) west-southwest of the North Channel. Once again, initial contact with a convoy was made when an escort ship was sighted, but it was disregarded as a potential target. The U-boat was after the merchant ships, not the escorts. Many hours of observation followed until the faint beam of a searchlight was seen. At least 17 ships were counted as the U-boat moved into an attack position. Torpedoes were fired and three explosions were heard. However, contact with the convoy was lost and not re-established until another U-boat attacked. U-557 fired a single torpedo at a freighter but it missed.

Another attack was almost immediately carried out. Two ships were sunk, but in the excitement U-557 sailed too close to an armed merchantman which fired several shells at the U-boat; no hits were inflicted. The boat withdrew to re-load her torpedo tubes and returned to the convoy. Two ships were singled out, but this time the submarine was unsuccessful. She was chased between other ships by a destroyer. At one time only 200 m (220 yd) of ocean separated the two vessels, but the U-boat escaped. Another convoy was sighted and tracked; two torpedoes were fired, both hit their targets. Two more ships were sunk. The boat then fell astern of the convoy to re-load her tubes with the last of her torpedoes. Sighting a destroyer, she cautiously followed the escort until the convoy was spotted once again. One more freighter was sent to the bottom, the U-boat was close enough to see the stricken ship's propeller still rotating as she slipped below the waves.

Her last (stern) torpedo was fired at a "10,000 ton monster", but missed. On this patrol, U-557 had sunk six ships and "possibly destroyed" two more. She returned to Lorient on 27 October.[11]

Fourth patrol

Her fourth and last patrol began with her departure from Lorient on 19 November 1941; her destination: the Mediterranean. She managed to slip past the heavily fortified British base at Gibraltar and reached Messina in Sicily on 7 December. On the way, she sank the Norwegian ship Fjord on 2 December. Two days later she left Messina bound for Alexandria. She sank the British light cruiser HMS Galatea west of the city on 15 December 1941. News of this sinking even reached the Submarine Tracking Room in London.[12]


At 1806hrs on 16 December, U-557 sent a short radio signal indicating that she was 18 hours from port. At 1800hrs on the same day, the Italian torpedo boat Orione left the Cretan port of Suda. The commander had no knowledge that a German U-boat was in the area of Crete.

When the Italian commander saw a submarine at 2144hrs, heading in a northerly direction, he decided to ram it, supposing it to be British. U-557 sank immediately with all hands; the damaged Italian torpedo boat headed back to base. The position of the incident was given by the Italian commander as 35°18′36″N 23°11′24″E / 35.31°N 23.19°E / 35.31; 23.19Coordinates: 35°18′36″N 23°11′24″E / 35.31°N 23.19°E / 35.31; 23.19.[1]


Raiding history

Date Name Nationality Tonnage
29 May 1941 Empire Storm  United Kingdom 7,290 Sunk
27 August 1941 Embassage  United Kingdom 4,954 Sunk
27 August 1941 Saugor  United Kingdom 6,303 Sunk
27 August 1941 Segundo  Norway 4,414 Sunk
27 August 1941 Tremoda  United Kingdom 4,736 Sunk
2 December 1941 Fjord  Norway 4,032 Sunk
15 December 1941 HMS Galatea  United Kingdom 5,220 Sunk


  1. 1.0 1.1 U-557 at retrieved 22 December 2011
  2. Herbert A. Werner (1969). Iron Coffins p.14; Cassel & Co. ISBN 0-304-35330-2
  3. Werner pp. 16-19
  4. Werner p. 27
  6. Werner pp. 28-33
  7. Werner pp.33-34
  8. Werner pp.35-38
  9. Werner pp. 40-42
  10. Werner pp. 51-61
  11. Werner p. 67
  12. Gannon, Michael - Operation Drumbeat - the dramatic true story of Germany's first U-boat attacks along the American coast in World War II, 1990, Harper and Row publishers, ISBN 0-060161155-8, p. 200.

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