Military Wiki
German submarine U-559
Name: U-559
Ordered: 16 October 1939
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Yard number: 535
Laid down: 1 February 1940
Launched: 8 January 1941
Commissioned: 27 February 1941
Fate: Sunk by depth charges, 30 October 1942[1]
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[2][3]
Part of: 1st U-boat Flotilla
(27 February–31 October 1941)
23rd U-boat Flotilla
(1 November 1941–14 April 1942)
29th U-boat Flotilla
(15 April–30 October 1942)
Commanders: Kptlt. Hans Heidtmann
(February 1941–October 1942)
Operations: 1st patrol: 4 June–5 July 1941
2nd patrol: 26 July–22 August 1941
3rd patrol: 20 September–20 October 1941
4th patrol: 24 November–4 December 1941
5th patrol: 8–31 December 1941
6th patrol: 16–26 February 1942
7th patrol: 4–21 March 1942
8th patrol: 18 May–22 June 1942
9th patrol: 29 August–21 September 1942
10th patrol: 29 September–30 October 1942

Four commercial ships sunk (13,482 GRT)
one warship sunk

(1,060 GRT)
one commercial ship damaged (5,917 GRT)

German submarine U-559 was a Type VIIC U-boat built for the Nazi German Kriegsmarine for service during World War II.

Laid down on 1 February 1940 at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg as "Baunummer 535" ("Yard number 535"), she was launched on 8 January 1941 and commissioned on 27 February under Kapitänleutnant Hans Heidtmann.

She began her service career with the 1st U-boat Flotilla, undergoing training before being declared operational on 1 June 1941. She moved to the 29th U-boat Flotilla on 15 April 1942. She sank five ships but is perhaps best remembered for an incident during her sinking in the Mediterranean Sea in 1942, in which British sailors seized cryptographic material from U-559. This material was extremely valuable in breaking the U-boat Enigma cipher.

Operational career

U-559 was originally intended to serve as an Atlantic U-boat during the second Battle of the Atlantic against Allied convoys in the Western Approaches.

1st and 2nd patrols

Her first patrol took her from Kiel on 4 June 1941, across the North Sea and through the gap between Greenland and Iceland. She arrived at St. Nazaire in occupied France on 5 July.

Her second sortie met with success when she torpedoed and sank the Alva about 600 mi (970 km) west of Ushant. She returned to her French base on 22 August 1941.

3rd patrol

For her third patrol, beginning on 20 September, she was assigned to the 'Goeben' group, which were the first U-boats to enter the Mediterranean in World War II through the heavily defended Strait of Gibraltar. She reached Salamis in Greece, after having first investigated the Libyan/Egyptian border.

4th patrol

On her fourth patrol, she torpedoed and sank the Australian sloop HMAS Parramatta off the Libyan coast; although most survivors were picked up by other ships, three men managed to reach dry land where they were rescued by advancing British troops.[4]

5th, 6th and 7th patrols

On her fifth patrol, which began on 8 December 1941, the boat sank SS Shuntien on the 23rd. Shuntien carried 850 – 1,100 German and Italian prisoners of war. Between 800 and 1,000 people were killed, including at least 700 PoWs.[5]

Her sixth and seventh patrols were both from Salamis to the area of the Libyan coast. They were without success.

8th and 9th patrols

Having moved to Pula in Croatia in March 1942, she then sortied on 18 May, and damaged the oiler Brambleleaf on 10 June.

Her ninth patrol, however, was without success.


It was her own demise that made her most famous. At dawn on 30 October 1942, U-559 was spotted by a Royal Air Force Sunderland patrol aircraft from No. 47 Squadron[6] 70 miles north of the Nile Delta. The destroyer HMS Hero was alerted by radio and steamed to intercept her, while the destroyers HMS Petard, Pakenham, Dulverton and Hurworth sailed from Port Said. U-559 detected Hero's approach and dived. The destroyer group hunted for the U-boat for 16 hours, constantly depth charging. After dark, U-559, with a cracked pressure hull, unable to maintain level trim and four of her crew dead from explosions and flooding, was forced to the surface. She was close to Petard, which immediately opened fire with her 20 mm Oerlikons.[7][8]

The German crew hurriedly scrambled overboard without destroying their codebooks or Enigma machine and, crucially, having failed to open sea-water vents to properly scuttle the U-boat. Three British sailors, Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, Able Seaman Colin Grazier and NAAFI canteen assistant Tommy Brown, then boarded the abandoned submarine. There are differing reports as to how the three British men boarded the U-boat. Some accounts say that they "swam naked" (such as that of Kahn),[9] to U-559 but Sebag-Montefiore states that they either leapt from Petard or, in Brown's case, from a whaler, which was sinking, but slowly. They retrieved the U-boat's Enigma machine[citation needed] and the codebooks with all current settings for the U-boat Enigma key. Two German crew members, rescued from the sea, watched this material being loaded into Petard's whaler but were dissuaded from interfering by an armed guard. Grazier and Fasson were inside the boat, attempting to get out, when the U-boat foundered; both were drowned.[10]


Grazier and Fasson were awarded the George Cross posthumously, Brown was awarded the George Medal. The Victoria Cross was considered but not awarded, for the ostensible reason that their bravery was not "in the face of the enemy".[11] Another consideration may have been that a Victoria Cross would have drawn unwanted attention to the U-boat capture from German Intelligence. It was also discovered that Brown had lied about his age in order to enlist, and was only 16 years old, making him the youngest recipient of the George Medal. He was discharged and returned home to North Shields, only to die two years later attempting to rescue his younger sister from a house fire.[12]

The Enigma material they retrieved was immensely valuable to the code-breakers at Bletchley Park, who had been unable to read U-boat Enigma for nine months. The captured material allowed them to read the cyphers for several weeks, and to break U-boat Enigma thereafter.

The recovery was one of several such events (e.g., the earlier sinking of U-110), that inspired the fictional account of the submarine capture in the 2000 film U-571.

Raiding career

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate
19 August 1941 SS Aguila  UK 3,255 Sunk
27 November 1941 HMAS Parramatta  Australia 1,060 Sunk
23 December 1941 SS Shuntien  UK 3,059 Sunk
26 December 1941 SS Warszawa  Poland 2,487 Sunk
10 June 1942 MV Athene  Norway 4,681 Sunk
10 June 1942 SS Brambleleaf  UK 5,917 Damaged

See also



  1. Kemp, Paul: U-Boats Destroyed - German Submarine Losses in the World Wars, 1997, Arms & Armour, ISBN 1-85409-515-3, p. 94.
  2. "The Type VIIC boat U-559 - German U-boats of WWII -". Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  3. "War Patrols by German U-boat U-559 - Boats -". Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  4. Paterson, Lawrence - U-Boats in the Mediterranean 1941-1944, 2007, Chatham Publishing, ISBN 13: 9781861762900, p. 43.
  5. "Ships hit by U-55 - U-boat Successes - German U-boats". Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  7. West, Nigel (1986). GCHQ : The Secret Wireless War 1900-1986 (1987 ed.). Coronet. pp. 270–271. ISBN 0-340-41197-X. 
  8. Kemp, Paul: U-Boats Destroyed, German submarine Losses in the World Wars, 1997. p. 94. Arms and Armour. ISBN 1-85409-515-3
  9. Kahn, David Seizing The Enigma: The Race to Break The German U-boat Codes, 1939-1943. 1991. p. 224. Souvenir Press ISBN 0-285-63066-0
  10. Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh (2001). Enigma; the battle for the Code. London: Phoenix. pp. 259–262. ISBN 0-7538-1130-8. 
  11. Kahn, p. 226.
  12. West, Nigel (1986). GCHQ : The Secret Wireless War 1900-1986 (1987 ed.). Coronet. p. 272. ISBN 0-340-41197-X. 


  • Sharpe, Peter, U-Boat Fact File, Midland Publishing, Great Britain: 1998. ISBN 1-85780-072-9.
  • Kahn, David; Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939-1943, (1991)

External links

Coordinates: 32°30′N 33°0′E / 32.5°N 33°E / 32.5; 33

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