Military Wiki
German submarine U-81 (1941)
Career (Germany)
Name: U-81
Ordered: 25 January 1939
Builder: Bremer Vulkan, Bremen-Vegesack
Laid down: 11 May 1940
Launched: 22 February 1941
Commissioned: 26 April 1941
Fate: Sunk on 9 January 1944
Wreck raised on 22 April 1944 and scrapped[1]
General characteristics
Class & type: Type VIIC U-boat
Displacement: 769 tonnes (757 long tons) surfaced
871 t (857 long tons) submerged
Length: Overall 67.1 m (220 ft 2 in)
pressure hull 50.5 m (165 ft 8 in)
Beam: Overall 6.2 m (20 ft 4 in)
pressure hull 4.7 m (15 ft 5 in)
Draught: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: Surfaced: two supercharged MAN, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesels totalling 2,800 – 3,200bhp(2,400 kW). Max rpm: 470–490.
Speed: Surfaced 17.7 knots (20.4 mph; 32.8 km/h)
submerged 7.6 knots (8.7 mph; 14.1 km/h)
Range: Surfaced: 8,190 nmi (15,170 km; 9,420 mi)
Submerged: 81 nmi (150 km; 93 mi)
Test depth: 230 m (754 ft). Calculated crush depth: 250–295 m (820–967 ft)
Complement: 44 to 52 officers and ratings
  • 5 x 53.3 cm (21 in) Torpedo tubes: four bow, one stern (14 torpedoes or 26 TMA or 39 TMB mines)
  • 1 x C35 88 mm gun/L45 deck gun with 220 rounds
  • C30 20 mm flak guns
Service record
Part of: Kriegsmarine:
1st U-boat Flotilla
29th U-boat Flotilla
Commanders: Friedrich Guggenberger
Johann-Otto Krieg
Operations: 17
Victories: 24 ships sunk; 41,784 gross register tons (GRT)
One warship sunk 22,600 Long ton displacement

German submarine U-81 was a Type VIIC U-boat of the German Navy during World War II.

Building and commissioning

She was ordered on 25 January 1939 and laid down on 11 May 1940 at Bremer Vulkan, Bremen-Vegesack, becoming 'Werk 9'. She was launched on 22 February 1941 and commissioned under her first commander, Oberleutnant (Oblt.) Friedrich Guggenberger, on 26 April of that year. Guggenberger commanded her for her work-ups with the 1st U-boat Flotilla between 26 April and 31 July 1941. She then became a front (operational) boat of the 1st U-boat Flotilla, and set out on a number of training patrols.[2]


Early patrols

Her first successes came on her second patrol, which took her from Trondheim into the North Sea and the North Atlantic, before putting into the French port of Brest. During the patrol she attacked Convoy SC-42. She sank the cargo ship Empire Springbuck on 9 September, followed by the motor ship Sally Maersk on 10 September, for a combined total of 8,843 tons.

U-81 was one of the U-boats ordered into the Mediterranean. Her first attempt to break into the 'Italian Lake' ended in disaster, when on 30 October she was attacked and severely damaged by a British Catalina of No. 209 Squadron RAF, as she attempted to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. The Catalina was joined by a Lockheed Hudson, which dropped depth charges onto U-81. She was severely damaged and had to return to Brest. There she was repaired to return to the Mediterranean.[2]

Sinking the Ark Royal

On 4 November U-81 left Brest bound for La Spezia in Italy. Whilst sailing off Gibraltar on 13 November, she encountered the inbound ships of Force H. She fired a single torpedo into the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, and then avoided depth charge attacks from the escorts. Despite efforts to salvage her, the Ark Royal had to be abandoned some 12 hours after the attack and capsized some two hours later and sank. Only one life had been lost due to the torpedo explosion.[3] U-81 reached La Spezia on 1 December, where she joined the 29th U-boat Flotilla.

Patrols in the Mediterranean

Her next patrol was uneventful and resulted in no ships attacked. She sailed again on 4 April 1942 and headed into the eastern Mediterranean. On 16 April she sank the Egyptian sailing ships Bab el Farag and Fatouh el Kher, as well as the British Caspia and the Free French anti-submarine naval trawler Vikings. U-81 sank a further two Egyptian sailing ships, Hefz el Rahman on 19 April and the El Saadiah on 22 April. The U-boat put into port at Salamis in Greece on 25 April, having spent 22 days at sea and sunk 7,582 tons of shipping. A further patrol from Salamis was uneventful and she returned to La Spezia on another patrol, which saw the sinking of the British Havre on 10 June. U-81's next patrol was into the western Mediterranean. She sank the British Garlinge on 10 November and went on to intercept one of the convoys of Operation Torch (the invasion of French North Africa), sinking the Maron on 13 November.

U-81's next patrol was uneventful and saw her briefly shift operations to Pola (now Pula, Croatia). On 25 December Oblt. Johann-Otto Krieg took command of U-81 from Guggenberger. She sailed from Pola on 30 January 1943 on her next patrol. On 10 February she damaged the Dutch Saroena and on 11 February she sank four sailing vessels, the Egyptian Al Kasbanah and Sabah el Kheir, the Lebanese Husni and the Palestinian Dolphin. U-81 put into Salamis on 19 February after 21 days at sea, 388 tons of shipping sunk and 6,671 tons damaged. Her next patrol sank three more Egyptian sailing vessels, the Bourghieh, the Mawahab Allah and the Rousdi. Her next patrol brought more substantial results, insking the British troopship Yoma on 17 June killing 484 people, followed by the Egyptian sailing vessel Nisr on 25 June and the Syrian sailing vessels Nelly and Toufic Allah on 26 June. On 27 June she sank the Greek Michalios, but was engaged by shore-based guns off Latakia. Her next patrol saw only the Empire Moon hit on 22 July, but she was declared a total loss and spent the rest of the war under repair. The U-boat's next three patrols were uneventful but on 18 November she sank the cargo ship Empire Dunstan.


U-81 was attacked by US bombers whilst in Pola, at 1130hrs on 9 January 1944.[1] She sank with two of her crew dead and an unknown number of survivors. The wreck was raised on 22 April 1944 and broken up.[2] She had conducted 17 patrols, sinking 23 ships totalling 63,289 tons and damaging two others totalling 14,143 tons.[2]

Raiding history

HMS Legion moves alongside the damaged and listing HMS Ark Royal to take off survivors

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate
9 September 1941 Empire Springbuck  UK 5,591 Sunk
10 September 1941 Sally Mærsk  UK 3,252 Sunk
13 November 1941 HMS Ark Royal  UK 22,600 Sunk
16 April 1942 Bab el Farag*  Egypt 105 Sunk
16 April 1942 Caspia  UK 6,018 Sunk
16 April 1942 Fatouhel el Rahman*  Egypt 97 Sunk
16 April 1942 FFL Vikings  France 1,150 Sunk
19 April 1942 Hefz el Rahman*  Egypt 90 Sunk
22 April 1942 Aziza*  Egypt 100 Sunk
22 April 1942 Havre  UK 2,073 Sunk
10 November 1942 Garlinge  UK 2,012 Sunk
13 November 1942 Maron  UK 6,487 Sunk
10 February 1943 Saroena  UK 6,671 Damaged
11 February 1943 Al Kasbanah*  Egypt 110 Sunk
11 February 1943 Dolphin*  Mandatory Palestine 135 Sunk
11 February 1943 Husni* Lebanese French flag.svg Lebanon 107 Sunk
11 February 1943 Sabah al Kheir*  Egypt 36 Sunk
20 March 1943 Bourgheih*  Egypt 244 Sunk
20 March 1943 Mawahab Allah* Syria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg Syria 77 Sunk
28 March 1943 Rouisdi*  Egypt 133 Sunk
17 June 1943 Yoma  UK 8,131 Sunk
25 June 1943 Nisr*  Egypt 80 Sunk
26 June 1943 Nelly* Syria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg Syria 80 Sunk
26 June 1943 Toufic Allah* Syria-flag 1932-58 1961-63.svg Syria 75 Sunk
27 June 1943 Michalios  Greece 3,742 Sunk
22 July 1943 Empire Moon  UK 7,472 Total loss
18 November 1943 Empire Dunstan  UK 2,887 Sunk

* Sailing vessel


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kemp 1997, p. 163.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Career
  3. Rossiter 2007, p. 329.
  • U-81 at
  • Jameson, William (2004). Ark Royal: The Life of an Aircraft Carrier at War 1939–41. Periscope Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-904381-27-8. 
  • Kemp, Paul (1997). U-Boats Destroyed, German Submarine Losses in the World Wars. Arms and Armour. p. 163. ISBN 1-85409-515-3. 
  • Rossiter, Mike (2007). Ark Royal: the life, death and rediscovery of the legendary Second World War aircraft carrier. London: Corgi Books. ISBN 978-0-552-15369-0. 

See also

Coordinates: 44°52′N 13°51′E / 44.867°N 13.85°E / 44.867; 13.85

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