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German submarine U-69 (1940)
Name: U-69
Ordered: 30 May 1938
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Cost: 4.439.000 Reichsmark
Yard number: 603
Laid down: 19 September 1939
Launched: 12 October 1940
Commissioned: 2 November 1940
Fate: Sunk, 17 February 1943 by a British warship
General characteristics
Type: Type VIIC submarine
Displacement: 769 tonnes (757 long tons) ↑
871 t (857 long tons) ↓
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 F46 diesel engines, totalling 2,800–3,200 bhp (2,100–2,400 kW). Max rpm: 470-490
2 × AEG 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: 8,500 nmi (15,700 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h) ↑
80 nmi (150 km) at 4 kn (7.4 km/h) ↓
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: 7th U-boat Flotilla
(2 November 1940–17 February 1943)
Commanders: Kptlt. Jost Metzler
(2 November 1940–28 August 1941)
Kptlt. Hans-Jürgen Auffermann
(24–28 August)
Kptlt. Wilhelm Zahn
(28August 1941–31 March 1942)
Kptlt. Ulrich Gräf
(31 March 1942–17 February 1943)
Operations: Ten:
1st patrol:
10 February–1 March 1941
2nd patrol:
18 March–11 April 1941
3rd patrol:
5 May–8 July 1941
4th patrol:
21–27 August 1941
5th patrol:
1 September–1 October 1941
6th patrol:
30 October–8 December 1941
7th patrol:
a. 18–26 January 1942
b. 31 January–17 March 1942
8th patrol:
12 April–25 June 1942
9th patrol:
15 August–5 November 1942
10th patrol:
2 January–17 February 1943
Victories: 17 ships sunk (69,515 GRT);
one ship damaged - 4,887 GRT;
one ship a total loss - 5,445 GRT

German submarine U-69 was the first Type VIIC U-boat of the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. This meant that in contrast to previous U-boats, she could travel further afield for longer, with a payload of eleven torpedoes, an 8.8 cm (3.5 in) deck gun for smaller vessels and a flak gun for aircraft. U-69 was very successful, sinking over 72,000 GRT of Allied shipping in a career lasting two years, making her one of the longest surviving, continuously serving, U-boats. Her most infamous attack was on the civilian ferry SS Caribou, which sank off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1942, killing 137 men, women and children.

She was built at the Germaniawerft in Kiel during 1940, and was ready for service in November. After her warm up in the Baltic Sea (designed to give her an opportunity to train and repair minor faults), she was deployed into the Atlantic Ocean in February, 1941 and achieved immediate success.

Operational career

1st patrol

U-69 departed Kiel for her first patrol on 10 February 1941. Her route took her across the North Sea, through the 'gap' between the Faroe and Shetland Islands and into the Atlantic Ocean.

She encountered the MV Siamese Prince[1] southwest of the Faroe Islands on 17 February and sank her. No survivors were picked up, even though the crew were seen to reach the lifeboats.

The boat was attacked twice by a Sunderland flying boat on the 22nd - no damage was sustained.

U-69's next victim was the Empire Blanda,[2] sunk on the 19th.

Four days later (on the 23rd), the SS Marslew[3] was similarly destroyed, 200 mi (320 km) north northwest of Rockall. 13 men died, there were 23 survivors.

The submarine was depth charged for three hours by the escorts of convoy OB-288 on 24 February. She escaped without any damage and docked at Lorient on the French Atlantic coast on 1 March.

2nd patrol

The boat's second foray was to mid-Atlantic. She sank the Coultarn southwest of Iceland on 30 March. She then attacked and damaged the Thirlby, which had been en route from St. Johns in Canada to Hull. The ship had also probably been hit by a torpedo fired by German submarine U-46. This weapon was a dud. (The ship was further damaged by a bomb from a German aircraft on 10 April).[4]

U-69 returned to Lorient on 11 April.

3rd patrol

The boat's next sortie was to the West African coast. She laid mines off Lagos and Takoradi and made full use of the failure of the allies to enforce convoy systems.

One of her victims was the neutral American ship SS Robin Moor[5] operating 750 miles off the British port of Freetown, Sierra Leone. The sinking of the Robin Moor caused President Roosevelt to brand Germany an "international outlaw" and to require Germany and Italy to close all of their consulates in America except for their embassies.[6] After the Robin Moor's sinking, passengers and crew were allowed thirty minutes to board lifeboats, the submarine torpedoed, shelled and sank the ship. The survivors then drifted without rescue or detection for up to eighteen days. When news of the sinking reached the US, few shipping companies felt truly safe anywhere. As Time Magazine noted in June 1941, "if such sinkings continue, US ships bound for other places remote from fighting fronts, will be in danger. Henceforth the US would either have to recall its ships from the ocean or enforce its right to the free use of the seas."[7] In October 1941, federal prosecutors in the espionage case against a group of 33 defendants known as the "Duquesne Spy Ring" adduced testimony that Leo Waalen had submitted the sailing date of the SS Robin Moor for radio transmission to Germany, five days before the ship began her final voyage. Waalen was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison for espionage and a concurrent 2-year term for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

U-69 also sank the Tewkesbury about 540 nmi (1,000 km) south of the Cape Verde Islands on the same date (21 May). Her master was awarded the OBE for his actions, but never knew about it; he was lost when the Newbury went to the bottom on 15 September.

She then sank the Sangara in Accra harbour on 31 May 1941. The ship went down in 33 ft (10 m) of water, her bow was still visible. (The vessel was salvaged in 1943 and her cargo sold, she was broken up in 1947).

The Robert Hughes was lost to a mine on 4 June.

The submarine sank the River Lugar 200 mi (320 km) southeast of the Azores and the Empire Ability, both on 27 June 1941.

On the return journey, U-69 was engaged in what was an ultimately successful gun-duel with the Robert L. Holt southwest of the Canary Islands on 3 July 1941. She fired 102 HE and 34 incendiary rounds from her deck gun, 220 rounds from her 20mm anti-aircraft weapon and 400 rounds from her MG 34 machine gun at the merchantman.

The boat returned to France, to St. Nazaire on 8 July.

Unfortunately for the crew of U-69, it was nearly a year before they were able to paint another mark on their conning tower, as the tightening of convoys in the second half of 1941 combined with some frustratingly short patrols, called off because of mechanical failure, or sickness on the boat.

4th and 5th patrols

Patrol number four was relatively short, lasting barely a week and hardly leaving the Bay of Biscay.

U-69's fifth patrol took her northwest of St. Nazaire towards Greenland; although longer, it was also unsuccessful.

6th and 7th patrols

The boat's sixth patrol was uneventful.

During her seventh outing, she was depth charged for several hours by escorts of a convoy on 21 March, west of Ireland. She escaped without any damage.

8th patrol

U-69 added to her tally when she sank the tiny four-masted sailing vessel James E. Newson off the United States' seaboard with her guns. This seemed to reverse the boat's run of bad luck, as she sank a further three ships that month, making use of the "Second Happy Time" to add to her score.

On one of them, the Lise, the first mate, the Norwegian Hangar Lyngås, survived a total of four torpedoings.

In June 1942, the boat's captain, Ulrich Gräf, reported sinking a large ship somewhere off the coast of Surinam, as U-69's patrol entered the Caribbean Sea; but allied researchers after the war have failed to identity this vessel, and it is likely to be an error on the part of the captain.

9th patrol

In October in the Cabot Strait, U-69 sank her most controversial victim, when she torpedoed the unlit Newfoundland ferry SS Caribou, killing 137 people. Time was running out for the boat however, the boat was destroyed in February 1943.

10th patrol and loss

On 17 February 1943, while operating with wolf-pack Haudegen, U-69 was involved in an attack on convoy ONS 165 in the middle of the North Atlantic. Identified on HF/DF radar, she was forced to the surface by depth charges and then rammed by the destroyer HMS Fame. None of her 46 crew survived the sinking.

The Sinking of the Caribou

Easily the most controversial action by U-69 was the destruction of the civilian ferry SS Caribou in the Cabot Strait at 3:21 a.m. Atlantic Summer Time, on 14 October 1942.[8] The submarine had been in the area for a few days, and sank the SS Carolus the day before, with the loss of eleven lives. Early that morning, the Caribou was spotted, primarily because her coal-fired steam boilers emitted a long solid black smoke trail, and was silhouetted against the phosphorescent sky. While sitting in wait on the surface, Gräf launched one torpedo. The stricken vessel's boilers exploded soon after being hit, and the ship sank in approximately five-minutes, trapping most of the crew and passengers in the ship.[8]

The Caribou departed North Sydney, Nova Scotia, on 13 October 1942, heading for its home port Port aux Basques in Newfoundland. It made this trip three times a week as part of the HMCS Protector organized SPAB convoy series (SPAB for Sydney-Port aux Basques). The one-ship coastal convoy was escorted by the HMCS Grandmère, a Bangor.[8]

Controversy surrounded HMCS Grandmère's actions immediately after the sinking in the local Cape Breton Island media.[9] Instead of searching for the survivors right away, it engaged the U-boat in combat, almost ramming her, and firing off six depth charges. Grandmère pursued U-69 for close to two hours, then turned back to look for survivors.[8] During this time, some would-be survivors died from exposure in the cold Atlantic. As noted in a dispatch a few weeks later by the Flag Officer of the Newfoundland Force, Commodore H. E. Reid, the Grandmère was following normal operational doctrine by going after the submarine, and not stopping to pick up survivors.[9] If it had stopped, it would likely have been sunk as well by U-69.[9]

In all 57 military personnel, 31 merchant seamen and 49 civilians — including many women and children — were killed in the sinking, totalling 137 persons lost (most were trapped in the ship, and drowned).[10] The sinking was also one of the few times that military censorship was immediately lifted, in an attempt to prevent rumours and speculation. The sinking made news across North America that week and was used effectively as a rallying cry for Victory Bond campaigns.[8] The sinking was possibly the most significant in Canadian waters, not because of the Caribou's tactical importance; but rather, the U-boat war's barbarity was on display to Canadians and Newfoundlanders on their home front.[8]


U-69 was unusual in having two ships' emblems. The first, adopted on commissioning, was chosen by her first commander, Metzler. This consisted of the word Horrido (Tally-Ho) and the three two-flag signal groups for the letters L M A, a reference to Gotz von Berlichingen’s famous scatological retort.[11] The second came about when the 7th flotilla adopted Prien’s bull emblem as its flotilla insignia. U-69's new first officer, who had not seen the insignia before, found a picture of a cow on a French cheese box, and had that painted on the conning tower, complete with the motto on the box "la vache qui rit" (the cow that laughed). When Metzler saw it, he decided to keep it, as it raised a laugh with all who saw it, and the crew adopted the slogan as a war-cry; U-69 became known as the laughing cow thereafter.[12]

Summary of raiding career

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate[13]
17 February 1941 MV Siamese Prince  Great Britain 8,456 Sunk
19 February 1941 SS Empire Blanda  Great Britain 5,693 Sunk
23 February 1941 SS Marslew  Great Britain 4,542 Sunk
30 March 1941 SS Coultarn  Great Britain 3,759 Sunk
3 April 1941 Thirlby  Great Britain 4,877 Damaged
21 May 1941 SS Robin Moor  USA 4,999 Sunk
21 May 1941 SS Tewkesbury  Great Britain 4,601 Sunk
31 May 1941 MV Sangara  Great Britain 5,445 Total loss
3 June 1941 barge Robert Hughes  Great Britain 2,879 Sunk (mine)
27 June 1941 SS Empire Ability  Great Britain 7,603 Sunk
27 June 1941 SS River Lugar  Great Britain 5,423 Sunk
3 July 1941 SS Robert L. Holt  Great Britain 2,918 Sunk
1 May 1942 sv James E Newson  Canada 671 Sunk
12 May 1942 MV Lise  Norway 6,826 Sunk
13 May 1942 SS Norlantic  USA 2,606 Sunk
21 May 1942 SS Torondoc  Canada 1,927 Sunk
5 June 1942 tugboat Lelita Porter  Netherlands 15 Sunk
9 October 1942 SS Carolus  Canada 2,375 Sunk
14 October 1942 SS Caribou  Newfoundland 2,222 Sunk



See also

Coordinates: 50°36′N 41°07′W / 50.6°N 41.117°W / 50.6; -41.117

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