Type XIV U-Boat
German strategic naval planners knew that in order to sustain any U-boat offense in distant shores, the operational boats would need to re-supplied and replenished. Except for a handful of friendly ports, the Axis powers did not share the privilege as the Allied forces in having friendly foreign bases in which they could re-supply and replenish. As a result, a supply U-tanker design was proposed in 1934, which role was to conduct U-boat replenishment at sea. This led to the Type IV design, a 2,500 ton supply U-boat, but tonnage restrictions of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement restricted Germany’s submarine tonnage to 45 percent of the Royal Navy. Since operational U-boats were the priority, the Type IV design was dropped.
It was not until September 8 1939 that the project was revived when Donitz raised a request to construct three supply U-boats with a tonnage of 2,000 tons each. The supply boat was required to have good storage capacity and a suitable upper deck for the transfer of stores.
The engineers based their design on the existing much larger Type IXD, but shortened it and gave it a much wider upper deck. The hull was also deeper and constructed of thicker pressure hull, giving it deeper diving capabilities than the Type VII and IX. To maximize storage capacity, it had no torpedo attack capability but was fitted with anti-aircraft weapons for self-defense. Two 37mm cannons were fitted, one forward and one aft of the bridge and a single 20mm on a platform aft. The Type XIV shared many components with the Type VIIC and the bridge was identical to the Type IX.
Because of their role as supply U-Boats, the Type XIV was nicknamed "milk-cows" (milchkuh). They acted as force multipliers wherein a network of supply U-Boats would replenish operational boats with the much needed torpedoes, food, fuel, and other provisions. They also carried a doctor onboard and a bakery which could provide freshly baked bread. In effect, the Type XIVs enabled operational boats to remain much longer in their patrol zones, significantly increasing their presence.
A total of ten Type XIVs were built from an original order of 24 boats. Eleven were cancelled and a further three were nearly complete when their orders too were cancelled in mid-1944. The Allies knew the threat posed by these supply boats and made a determined effort to wipe them out. All ten boats were sunk. By necessity, the large Type IX was pressed into service as supply boats.
Replenishment at sea suffered from two major shortcomings. First, a great deal of radio traffic was required to set up a rendezvous. These messages were frequently intercepted using either HFDF or by decrypting their communications. By mid 1943, virtually all planned rendezvous were known well in advance by the Allies. Second, the replenishment exercise was time consuming and had to be done on the surface. The replenishing boats were especially vulnerable as it could not dive to evade enemy attacks. The Allies, particularly the Americans used this to their fullest advantage which resulted in the complete destruction of the supply boats.
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Of the 24 boats ordered, ten Type XIVs entered operational service. Seven had conducted successful re-supply missions while three were sunk on their first mission. The first Type XIV was U-459 (Georg von Wilamovitz-Moellendorff), commissioned in November 1941 and made her first patrol in April 1942. The last Type XIV was U-490 (Wilhelm Gerlach), commissioned on March 1943 and sunk on June 12 1944 during her first sortie. The supply boats paid a high price with none surviving the war.
Operational summary of the ten boats :-
After having carry out five successful re-supply missions, she was on her way for her sixth mission when British aircraft found and attacked her in the Bay of Biscay. The British Wellington was shot down, but it crash landed on the U-boat’s deck. The crew cleared the wreckage which included unexploded depth charges. The depth charges had shallow settings and exploded beneath the boat, seriously damaging it. Unable to dive, a second attack from a Wellington sealed her fate. Scuttling charges were set and the captain saluted his crew and went down with his boat. 19 dead and 41 survivors.
U-460 – Commissioned: Dec 24 1941 Fate: Sunk Date: Oct 4 1943
(Kptlt. Ebe Schnoor)
She had carried out five successful re-supply missions. During her sixth re-supply mission North of the Azores, the U-460 was surprised by aircraft from the USS Card along with three other boats; the U-264 which had just taken on fuel, the U-422 and U-455 awaiting its turn.
The first attack damaged U-460 hampering her ability to dive. Anticipating more aircraft attack, the U-264 and U-422 stayed on the surface to defend the tanker. The ensuing duel saw twelve aircraft pitted against three boats. The U-460 and U-422 was sunk while the U-264 got away. 62 dead and 2 survivors.
U-461 – Commissioned: Jan 30 1942 Fate: Sunk Date: Jul 30 1943
(Oblnt. Hinrich-Oscar Bernbeck)
She had carried out five successful re-supply missions. On her sixth mission, a group of four U-boats the U-461, U-462, U-504 and U-550 were crossing the Bay of Biscay in an attempt to break through into the Atlantic. The pack was attacked by a task force which sank three of the four boats. Only the U-550 escaped. The U-461 was sank by Australian aircraft. 53 dead and 15 survivors.
U-462 – Commissioned: Mar 5 1942 Fate: Sunk Date: Jul 30 1943
(Oblt. Bruno Vowe)
The U-462 was part of the Gruppe Monsun Pack. She had carried out two successful re-supply missions and on her outbound journey to refuel the Gruppe Monsun boats, she was surprised and attacked by aircraft along with U-461 (see above), U-504 and U-550.
The aircraft attack had left her unable to dive, while the warships of the 2nd Escort Group closed in for the kill. The captain ordered for the boat to be scuttled. 1 dead and 64 survivors.
U-463 – Commissioned: Apr 2 1942 Fate: Sunk Date: May 16 1943
(KrvKpt. Leo Wolfbauer)
She had carried out four successful re-supply missions but was sunk on the fifth in the Bay of Biscay. A single British Halifax attacked with depth charges with the loss of all hands onboard. 57 dead.
U-464 – Commissioned: Apr 30 1942 Fate: Sunk Date: Aug 20 1942
(Kptlt. Otto Harms)
The U-464 was sunk on her first patrol by US Navy Catalina aircraft off Newfoundland, southeast of Iceland. She was scuttled with 2 dead and 52 survivors.
U-487 – Commissioned: Dec 21 1942 Fate: Sunk Date: Jul 13 1943
(Oblt. Helmut Metz)
U-487 had conducted two very successful re-supply missions when it needed to replenish her own stores. U-160, a large outbound Type IXC was ordered to rendezvous with U-487 and transfer to her all the fuel and provisions she could spare and then return to base.
The Allies intercepted the radio messages and sent five Avenger and several Wildcat aircraft from the USS Core. Allied pilots reported seeing the crew sunbathing on deck when the surprise attack began. One Wildcat was shot down but the U-487 ultimately lost the battle. 31 dead and 33 survivors.
U-488 – Commissioned: Feb 1 1943 Fate: Sunk Date: Apr 26 1943
(Ltnt. Erwin Bartke)
The U-488 carried out two very successful re-supply missions. During its third mission in the mid-Atlantic, after having re-supplied five boats, it was found and sunk by depth charges from four US destroyer escorts. All hands were lost. 64 dead.
U-489 – Commissioned: Mar 8 1943 Fate: Sunk Date: Aug 4 1943
(Ltnt. Adalbert Schmandt)
During her first patrol, the U-489 successfully fended off an attack by a RAF Hudson on August 3 1943. But on the following day, she was attacked by a Canadian Sunderland aircraft. The aircraft was shot down with six survivors fished out of the sea. But the U-boat had sustained serious damage herself and had to be scuttled. 1 dead and 58 survivors.
U-490 – Commissioned: Mar 27 1943 Fate: Sunk Date: Jun 12 1944
(Oblt. Wilhelm Gerlach)
U-490 was the last of the supply U-boats and after the appalling loses of this class, a new approach was taken to refuel while submerged. The U-490 was fitted with special underwater refueling equipment and after testing for a year, she finally sailed to take up station at the Indian Ocean. On Jun 12 1944, during the outbound journey, she was detected and attacked by a US escort carrier and three of her destroyer escorts. She was sunk southwest of the Azores, but all 60 of her crew survived.
A further three nearing completion were cancelled in mid-1944 with the remaining eleven never launched.
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