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U-Boat Crew

The crew numbers aboard a U-boat varied greatly between different U-boat types and the mission it was undertaking. A Type II U-boat comprised of 25 officers and seamen, while a Type VII housed approximately 45. A Type IX had about 50 and Type XXI had a 57 man crew. Sometimes U-boats carried specialist crews on special missions, such as scientists, spies or commandos.

Regardless of crew numbers, the typical U-boat crew was generally organized into Officers, Chief Petty Officers, Petty Officers and Seamen. They can also be viewed from a different perspective; the technicians and the seamen.

U-boat officers Radioman tunes in A crew on watch duty
U-boat officers. Donitz on far right, Admiral Raeder third from right. A radioman tunes in to his listening apparatus. A crew on watch duty.


The helm of a U-boat comprised of four officers, who had the overall responsibility of maintaining trim and balance throughout the boat.

Title Rank Responsibities
Captain Kapitanleutnant or Oberleutnant zur See Commanding Officer.
Of all, the captain has the highest responsibility as he routinely made life or death decisions affecting the fate of the entire crew. It was not surprising therefore that the crew identified closely with their captain, and were especially proud if he had been awarded a medal.
First Watch Officer (1WO) Oberleutnant zur See or Leutnant zur See Executive Officer. The second in command.
He shadowed the CO closely so that he could take command if the CO fell ill or was killed in battle. His other responsibilities included the boat’s weapons systems and conducting torpedo aiming during surface attacks.
Second Watch Officer (2WO) Leutnant zur See Watch Officer.
He was responsible for the watchcrew on deck, the Flak gun and the deck gun. He also oversaw the radio room crew.
Engineer (LI) Leitender Ingenieur Leading Engineer.
A highly experienced officer, he was responsible for the maintenance of the U-boat’s mechanics, which included the engines, motors, batteries, and other mechanical systems. The LI also set the demolition charges in the event the boat had to be scuttled. This also meant that many LIs went down with the boat, some of them deliberately.

Chief Petty Officers (Noncommissioned Officers)

The enlisted crew was led by four chief petty officers.

Chief Petty Officers
Title Rank Responsibities
Navigator Obersteuermann Navigation and provisioning of supplies.
Bosun Oberbootsmann Crew discipline.
Diesel Officer Diesel Obermaschinist Subordinate to the LI, he was responsible for the diesels.
Motor Officer Electro Obermaschinist Subordinate to the LI, he was responsible for the Electric motors and batteries.

Petty Officers (Unteroffiziere)

The number of petty officers varied, but generally there were two for every three seamen. Petty officers comprised of various types of specialists :-

  • Steuermann (helmsman) – steering
  • Mechaniker (torpedomen) – care and maintenance of torpedoes
  • Maschinisten (motormen) – running of the engines
  • Funkmaat (radiomen) – communications and sound equipment
  • Bootsmanner (bosuns) – crew supervision, discipline

Seamen (Matrosen)

Every member of a U-boat crew was important to the operation of the boat. The seamen acted as the watch crew on deck, they manned the guns, loaded the torpedoes, prepared food from the galley and took care of daily operations aboard the boat.

Note: Petty officers also took turns to stand watch on the bridge.

U-995 German Type VIIC U-Boat

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