Military Review

How the German fleet went to the Indian Ocean

How the German fleet went to the Indian OceanThe operations of the German submarines (PL) during the Second World War are closely associated with the name of Karl Doenitz. In the First World War he served on the cruiser and participated in the battles, then was transferred to the submarine fleet. In 1918, he commanded the submarine UB-68 operating in the Mediterranean, but was captured in October of the same year when his boat sank when attacking an enemy convoy. When Hitler, who came to power, began to revive the submarine fleet in 1935, Doenitz became the commander of the submarine forces. In October 1939, he was given the rank of Rear Admiral. At the beginning of 1943, with the resignation of the German Navy Commander, Admiral Raeder, Doenitz succeeded him, but retained the post of submarine commander and even transferred the submarine headquarters to Berlin in order to personally supervise the submarine operations.

Doenitz was convinced that the “Battle for the Atlantic” was vital for the victory of Germany in the world war, and he was always against the use of German boats in those areas that he considered of little value to victory on the Atlantic. And only when the Germans had boats with a long range, and their losses in the boats on the Atlantic became unacceptably high, Doenitz agreed to the operations of German submarines in the Indian Ocean. This chapter stories underwater war of the Second World War and this material is devoted, information for which the author has gathered from a number of sources, including the work of M. Wilson “War of Submariners. Indian Ocean - 1939 – 1945 years. At the same time are geographical names that were in use in the described period of time.


The idea of ​​operating German submarines far in Asia was first considered in November 1939. Since the German boats of that time did not have a range that allowed them to operate even near the Cape of Good Hope, Admiral Raeder offered Hitler to appeal to Japan with a request to provide the Germans with several Japanese boats to wage war against England in the Far East. After a brief reflection, the Japanese answered this sentence simply: “There will be no boat.”

In mid-December, 1941, shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, in Berlin they discussed the issue of delimiting the areas of operation of the German and Japanese Navy in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese wanted the border to pass along the eastern longitude of 70 degrees, the Germans, who were suspicious of Japan’s ambitious territorial plans in Asia, proposed to make the diagonal line across the ocean from the Gulf of Aden to North Australia. In the end, the 18 agreement of January 1942 of the year between Germany, Italy and Japan fixed the line in east longitude 70 degrees - with the proviso that "fighting in the Indian Ocean can be carried out - if the situation requires - and beyond the agreed border."


By the end of 1942, the anti-submarine activities of the Anglo-American allies made patrolling German boats off the coast of the United States and in the Central Atlantic very dangerous, and little by little the Germans began to send large submarines to patrol in the Freetown area, then to the Congo region and then to the Dobroe Nadezhda Cape.

The first four boats (U-68, U-156, U-172 and U-504, all are type IXC), sent to the Cape of Good Hope, were known as the Polar Bear group. When the boats were still on their way to the patrol area, the U-156 sank the English liner Laconia, which included more than 2700 passengers and 1800 Italian prisoners of war and their Polish guards. The commander of the German submarine organized a rescue operation, which attracted and patrolled off the Congo Italian submarine Capitano Alfredo Cappellini, but this was prevented by an American aircraft, which dropped several bombs on U-156, towing four lifeboats and hung a big red cross. The German boat was partially damaged and she had to return to France, and her place in the group was taken by U-159.

This U-156 case occurred in the Atlantic Ocean, and it gives an idea of ​​the problems faced by German boats cut off from their bases. In addition, it was after the unsuccessful operation of U-156 to rescue the surviving passengers of the English liner that Admiral Doenitz issued an order forbidding submariners to pick up the surviving sailors and passengers from the German ships and ships of the enemy. Already after the war, at the Nuremberg process, this order was put to blame for Admiral Doenitz.

The boats of the Polar Bear group began their attacks in the Cape Town area and in three days sank 13 enemy ships, but later strong storms and poor visibility prevented them from hunting for new targets. In this regard, two submarines, not having spent a set of torpedoes, began to return to their base in France, and the U-504 and U-159 headed east to Durban, sank several ships there and also returned to France. These actions of the Polar Bear Group were one of the most successful operations of German submariners in World War II: four boats sank a total of 23 vessels off the coast of South Africa and another 11 vessels on their way to the combat area and back. Three vessels, sunk by U-156, which could not complete the task, should be added to this figure.


In the second half of October 1942, four new German boats (U-177, U-178, U-179 and U-181, all of the type IXD2) came to the coast of South Africa, all of which had a greater length, displacement and cruising range. Formally, these boats were not part of the Polar Bear group, and their task was to go around the Cape of Good Hope and act east in the Indian Ocean, putting continuous pressure on the enemy’s limited anti-submarine resources in the area.

The first in the designated area appeared U-179, which on the same day in 80 miles south of Cape Town sank the English ship, but was also attacked by an English destroyer who arrived in the area to assist the crew members in the water and died. The luckiest of these four boats was the U-181 under the command of V. Lut. When the 18 boat of January 1943 returned to Bordeaux, a stingy entry appeared in its logbook: “The boat was in the sea 129 days and passed 21 369 miles. In the area of ​​Cape Town – Lawrence – Markis, 12 ships were sunk by a total displacement of 57 000 t. ”

It should be said a few words about the base of German submarines in Bordeaux, which, along with other bases on the Atlantic coast of France, went to the winners after the defeat of the latter in 1940. The base was located 60 miles from the sea up the Gironde River and was located along one of the tidal ponds; the entrance to the reservoir from the river was through two parallel locks, which were the most vulnerable element of the system. There were 11 shelters at the base, where 15 closed berths were equipped (including three dry docks) for submarines. The size of the structures can be judged by the fact that the bombproof roof had a thickness of more than 3 m. German 12th flotilla submarines in Bordeaux shared its base with Italian submariners commanded by Admiral A. Paron.

At the beginning of 1943, five boats of the Seal group left France for the Indian Ocean, which returned to base in early May, reporting on the sinking of 20 ships and damage to two more - in general, about half as many as the Polar Bear group.

When the Seal group left the designated area, the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci arrived there from France, which torpedoed the Empress of Canada military transport at the crossing and then added five more vessels to it on patrol. 23 May 1943, the boat returning to Bordeaux at the entrance to the Bay of Biscay was sunk by the British.

By June 1943, there were six German submarines on patrols in the Indian Ocean, including U-181, which carried out its second patrol in the area. In late June, the German boats were refueled from the Charlotte Schlieman; it happened 600 miles south of Mauritius, in an area remote from traditional shipping lanes and hardly visited by enemy aircraft. Receiving additional fuel and supplies from the tanker, the boats now had to be at sea not for 18 weeks, as planned when they left Bordeaux, but for six months, 26 weeks. After restocking, U-178 and U-196 went hunting in the Mozambique Channel, and U-197 and U-198 went to the area between Lawrence-Markish and Durban. V. Lut, who had become a corvette captain and Knight's Cross holder with oak leaves and swords by this time, led his U-181 to Mauritius.

U-177 was assigned to the area south of Madagascar, where, as the Germans suggested, activity aviation the enemy was minimal, which facilitated the U-177 using a small single-seat helicopter Fa-330, known as Bachstelze. To be precise, the Bachstelze was a gyroplane that rose into the air due to a three-blade rotor rotating under the pressure of air and the forward movement of the boat. The apparatus was attached to the rear of the boat’s cabin with a cable about 150 m long and rose to a height of about 120 m. An observer who was in his place surveyed the horizon at a much greater range — about 25 miles — when compared with about 5 miles when observed from a boat’s cabin , and reported on the phone about everything that was noticed. Under normal conditions, the apparatus was lowered down, disassembled and hidden in two waterproof containers located behind the wheelhouse; it was a difficult job, which took about 20 minutes. On August 23, 1943 he was spotted with Bachstelze, after which a Greek steamboat was attacked and sunk by a submarine, which was the only known case of the successful use of this unusual machine. The British did not know about the existence of this new product for another 9 months, until in May 1944 the German U-852 submarine was thrown out on the Horn of Africa, and then they were able to examine the remains of the damaged case with the gyroplane hidden in it.

In August 1943, five of the six German submarines operating in the Indian Ocean, began to return to France, and the sixth (U-178) headed for Penang. The U-181 and U-196 submarines arrived in Bordeaux in mid-October 1943 of the year, having spent at sea 29 and a half weeks and 31 and a half weeks, respectively. These two patrols demonstrated the high fighting spirit of the crews of both boats and the outstanding leadership of their commanders. The commander of U-181, V. Lut, based on his own experience, even prepared a small report in which he revealed his methods of maintaining the crew’s morale. In addition to the usual contests and tournaments for the crews of the crews, he, in particular, promoted the idea of ​​“firing on board”, in which a member of the boat’s crew was relieved of all duties, with the exception of alarm actions.

Meanwhile, off the coast of South Africa, the Italian submarine Ammiraglio Cagni was carrying out her second patrol in the area; she was at sea already 84 of the day and managed to attack and severely damage the English cruiser, but then came news about the surrender of Italy, and the boat headed for Durban, where its crew was interned.


Back in December 1942, the Japanese offered their own Penang base to base the German submarines, with which they could operate in the Indian Ocean. In the spring of 1943, the Japanese again raised this issue and additionally asked to give them two German boats with a view to their subsequent copying. Hitler agreed to the transfer of boats in exchange for the supply of rubber. Admiral Doenitz, in turn, understood that it was time to expand the geography of German submarine operations, and the best result could be achieved by a sudden attack in the northern Indian Ocean, which became a new battlefield for the Germans, where the Japanese boats performed only a few patrols. Such an attack could not be carried out until the end of September, that is, until the end of the southeast monsoon; it was planned that for this purpose from six to nine boats would be sent from Europe.

Nine IXS submarines of the Musson group left their bases in Europe in late June - early July 1943 of the year and headed for the Indian Ocean. During the transition in the Atlantic, three of them were sunk by enemy aircraft, and the fourth due to technical problems had to return to Bordeaux. One of the sunk boats was U-200, and there were several commandos from the Brandenburg division on board that were to be landed in South Africa, where they were supposed to incite the Boers to speak out against the British. The remaining five boats of the group proceeded to the south, circled the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean, where in the area south of Mauritius they made refueling from a German tanker sent from Penang, and divided, descending to designated areas.

U-168 initially went to the area of ​​Bombay, torpedoed and launched an English steamer and destroyed six sailing ships with artillery fire, after which she left for the Gulf of Oman, but did not succeed there and 11 in November came to Penang. U-183 unsuccessfully patrolled the area between the Seychelles and the coast of Africa and came to Penang in late October. At the end of September, U-188 operated at the Horn of Africa and destroyed the American ship with torpedoes. A few days later she made an unsuccessful attempt to attack a convoy leaving the Gulf of Oman. And the failure of the attack, according to the Germans, happened because of the deterioration due to the tropical heat of the state of the batteries on torpedoes, which had an electric course. U-188 then walked past the west coast of India and arrived in Penang on October 30. As a result, the submarine U-532 for that period of time was the most successful boat of the group "Monsoon", sinking four enemy vessels off the west coast of India and damaging another one. At the same time, fate was not favorable to the U-533, which, after refueling, left the Bay of Omania in Mauritius, where it was destroyed by an English plane that dropped four depth charges on a boat.

As M. Wilson writes, “the results of the actions of the Monsoon group were disappointing. Nine boats and one PL-tanker were sent to the march, four of which were sunk, and the fifth returned to the base ... The PL-tanker was damaged and returned to the base, the substitute boat was sunk. After four months at sea, only four boats came to Penang, which together sank eight ships and six small sailboats. It was not a promising start. ” In addition, the Germans faced the need to maintain and supply their boats in Penang and to strengthen their new fleet.


At the beginning of 1943, the Air Force and Navy of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition in the Atlantic increasingly hampered the actions of German ships and ships trying to break through the blockade and get with their strategic cargo to the French ports on the Atlantic. The campaign of the Japanese submarine I-30 to Europe and back with a valuable cargo pushed the Germans to consider the use of submarines as cargo carriers. Since the quick commissioning of special transport boats was impossible, Admiral Doenitz proposed to re-equip large Italian submarines in Bordeaux and use them to transport goods to the Far East and back.

Another possibility was also considered: boats with cargoes from Germany secretly reach Madagascar, where a merchant ship is waiting for them, transfer all cargoes to this ship, and it goes to Japan; with cargoes from Japan it was supposed to arrive in reverse order. These desperate proposals clearly illustrate the dire need of the German industry for strategic materials that the Germans wanted to get from Japan. The Italians eventually agreed to use their 10 boats in Bordeaux as transports for flights to the Far East and back, but two of these dozens of boats were lost before the start of work on their re-equipment. It was assumed that, using the space where the stock of torpedoes was located, the boat could carry up to 60 tons of cargo, but in reality it was twice as large. During the conversion, the opportunity was found to take on an additional 150 ton of fuel on board the boat. Part of the equipment, in particular, the combat periscope, was dismantled on the bridge and on the wheelhouse. Instead, they installed equipment that signals the irradiation of the enemy's radar boat.

After refitting and taking the cargo, the first two Italian boats went to the Far East in May 1943, but were soon lost. The following three boats were more successful and by the end of August reached Singapore. First there appeared the Commandante Alfredo Cappelini submarine - after the 59-day stay at sea there were almost no supplies left, the superstructure and hull were damaged by bad weather in the area south of the African continent, and there were a lot of problems with the equipment of the boat. After completing the repair work, the submarine went to Batavia, where 150 tons of rubber and 50 tons of tungsten, opium and hina were to load it. Two other boats were supposed to transport the same cargo. By this time, there were already doubts about Italy’s ability to continue the war, and the Japanese were in every way delaying the departure of boats to Europe. As soon as it became known about the capitulation of Italy, the crews of all three boats were captured by the Japanese and sent to camps, where thousands of British and Australian prisoners of war were already stationed. The Italians received the same meager rations and suffered the same mistreatment as their recent opponents.

After lengthy negotiations between the Germans and the Japanese, these Italian boats were taken by the Germans; the same end was comprehended by the rest of the Italian submarines still in Bordeaux. One of them, Alpino Attilio Bagnolini, became UIT-22 and went out to sea with a German crew only in January 1944. The British aircraft sunk it 600 miles south of Cape Town.


It was already mentioned above that the remaining submarines from the first wave of the “Monsoon” in the fall of 1943 came to Penang, where Germans began to communicate closely, sometimes in English only. Of great interest to the German crews were almost unnatural relations between the Japanese navy and ground forces.

Once, when several German submarines were in the port, a strong explosion occurred in the bay - a ship with ammunition flew into the air. Involuntarily, the Germans rushed to pull the wounded Japanese sailors out of the water and prepare medicines to help. The Germans were shocked by the demand of angry Japanese naval officers to leave the scene. No less astonishing was the fact that the rest of the Japanese officers and sailors stood indifferently on the shore and looked at the burning remains of the ship. One of the Japanese officers literally became enraged because the German sailors ignored the order and continued to pull the heavily burned Japanese out of the water. The senior German officer was summoned to the office of the Japanese admiral, who explained to him that the incident had happened to a ship belonging to the ground forces, therefore the ground forces were obliged to take care of the wounded and bury the dead. The Navy has no reason to interfere in this matter until their colleagues from the ground forces specifically ask for it.

In another case, the German U-196 submarine arrived in Penang, who, after leaving Bordeaux, performed patrols in the Arabian Sea and ended the march after spending almost five months at sea. The boat was awaited by the Japanese admiral and its headquarters, as well as members of the crews of German boats stationed in the bay. It poured rain, a strong wind was blowing towards the sea, which, in combination with the current, caused the boat to drift away from the pier. Finally, from the submarine, one of the German sailors on the coast managed to throw the bow rope, which secured it on the nearest bollard. To the amazement of the Germans, a nearby ground army soldier approached a bollard and calmly threw the rope into the sea. The boat made another attempt to moor, this time successfully, but the Germans were surprised that the admiral did not react at all to what had happened. Later, the Germans learned that the part of the berth with the ill-fated bollard belonged to the ground forces; as for the private soldier who participated in the incident, he knew one thing: not a single Navy ship, Japanese or German, has the right to use this bollard.

And the shortage of torpedo

At the end of 1943, Doenitz sent another group of submarines to the Far East, of which three were destroyed by enemy aircraft in the Atlantic; Penang was reached only by U-510, which managed to sink five merchant ships in a short patrol in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. At the beginning of 1944, the Germans had seriously deteriorated in the matter of refueling boats with surface tankers, since in February the British destroyed one tanker, and in February - the second, Brake. The successful actions of the British were a direct result of the decoding of the coded radio messages of the Germans. The U-188 submarine, heading to Europe from Penang, managed to refuel from Brake, which had fallen under the guns of an English destroyer, but could not protect the tanker, as it had previously consumed a supply of torpedoes to destroy six enemy ships, and went under water. 19 June 1944, the U-188, arrived in Bordeaux, becoming the first of the Musson boats to return to France with a cargo of strategic materials.

The biggest problem for German submariners in the Far East was the lack of torpedoes; Japanese-made torpedoes were too long for German torpedo tubes. As a temporary measure, submariners took advantage of torpedoes shot from armed German raiders who were in the area. At the beginning of 1944, Doenitz sent two new VIIF type submarines to Penang, each of which transported torpedoes via 40 (35 - inside the boat, and also 5 - on the deck in waterproof containers). Only one boat (U-1062) reached Penang, the second (U-1059) was sunk by the Americans west of the Capo Verde islands.

In early February, 1944, Doenitz sends the next 11 boats to the Far East, one of which is a “veteran” (already the third hike!) U-181. The boat in August, safely reached Penang, managing to sink four ships in the Indian Ocean and twice escape from the enemy. For the first time, when the boat was on the surface, it was discovered by an amphibious aircraft, after which English aircraft and a sloop, after having bombed the boat with depth charges, hunted it for six hours. Then, on the way to Penang, at night, on the surface, the Germans noticed on the starboard side the silhouette of the English submarine, which made an urgent dive. U-181 immediately changed course to the opposite and left the area, and the British submarine Stratagem failed to find the target in the periscope.

Notable is the U-859 submarine trip, which spent days at sea 175 and was killed near a torpedo with the English submarine Trenchant near Penang. The boat, which left Kiel, rounded Iceland from the north and sank at the southern tip of Greenland the vessel which had lagged behind the convoy under the flag of Panama, after which it headed south. In tropical waters, the temperature on board the boat became unbearably high, which contrasted sharply with the first days of the trip, when the boat rarely had higher than 4 degrees Celsius. At the Cape of Good Hope, the boat hit the storm with 11 points, and then southeast of Durban was attacked by an English plane, dropping five depth charges on it. In a patrol in the Arabian Sea, she sank several ships, and then went to Penang ...

At the end of 1944 — the beginning of 1945 — of the German boats that came to the Far East, only two were combat-ready — U-861 and U-862, and eight more boats were serviced, repaired, or loaded for return sailing to Europe. The U-862 submarine, coming out of Penang, reached the northern coast of New Zealand, circled Australia, sank one ship near Sydney on Christmas Eve 1944 of the year and another near Perth in February 1945 of the year, and returned to base. This patrol is considered the farthest for all German submarines.

24 March 1945 from Kiel to the Far East went U-234 (type XB), carrying 240 tons of cargo, including 30 tons of mercury and 78 tons of radioactive uranium oxide (this fact was kept secret for many years), and three important passengers - General Luftwaffe (a new German air force attache in Tokyo) and two Japanese senior naval officers. Due to problems with the radio, Doenitz's order to return the boat took only 8 on May, when it was far away in the Atlantic. The boat commander preferred to surrender to the Americans. Not wanting to get on the list of those who surrendered, the Japanese went to bed, taking an excessive dose of luminal; the Germans buried them at sea with all military honors.

When it became known about the surrender of Germany, there were six German submarines in the Japanese ports, including two former Italian submarines. On the boats lowered the German flag, then the Japanese introduced them into the combat strength of their Navy. Two Italian-built boats had the dubious honor of serving Italy, Germany and Japan alternately.

From a statistical point of view, the fighting of German and Italian submarines in the Indian Ocean was not a great success. The Germans and Italians sank more than 150 enemy ships with a total displacement of about a million tons. Losses - 39 German and 1 Italian PL. In any case, the Indian Ocean confrontation was not for Germany “the battle that wins the war.” Rather, it was intended to divert the forces of the enemy (especially aviation), which in other areas could be used with much greater effect.

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  1. Amurets
    Amurets 5 February 2017 08: 05
    Thank! I learned a lot of new and interesting things. I read about some trips of German submarines, but these were trips with transport purposes. Here I also learned about military campaigns, and about the relationship within the Japanese armed forces, between the arms of the army.
  2. V.ic
    V.ic 5 February 2017 08: 51
    (C) The boats that received the additional fuel and supplies from the tanker now had to stay at sea not for 18 weeks, as planned when they left Bordeaux, but for half a year, 26 weeks

    The difference is big: 1/3 of the year is less than 1/2 year. What nerves and health needed to have just to live in inhuman conditions! Our submarines, too, from Vladik to Murmansk were distilled in 1942.
  3. parusnik
    parusnik 5 February 2017 10: 27
    Two boats of Italian construction had the dubious honor of serving alternately Italy, Germany and Japan.
    .. Honor is really doubtful .. Interesting article, thank you ..
  4. antivirus
    antivirus 5 February 2017 12: 32
    One of the Japanese officers was literally furious because the German sailors ignored the order and continued to pull heavily burnt Japanese from the water. A senior German officer was summoned to the office of the Japanese admiral, who explained to him that the incident had happened to a ship belonging to the ground forces, so the ground forces are required to deal with the wounded and bury the dead. The Navy has no reason to intervene in this matter until their colleagues from the ground forces specifically ask for it.
    Simple are not the connections in the mentality, but we are 25 years old: Sorge, Sorge, he foresaw everything. many saw this and the Yapov war did not go north because of their interests + such difficulties in Siberia (on the demarcation line, after the victory over the USSR) could lead to a war between the allies?
    And the Western Allies took this factor into account.
  5. andrewkor
    andrewkor 5 February 2017 14: 14
    The German submarine forces of the 1st World War II are definitely the best in the world. In the book “Battle for the Atlantic” 2-1 there is a map showing the locations of the sinking of German submarines, I was amazed to see badges at Cape Town and the Persian Gulf !!
    1. Aviator_
      Aviator_ 5 February 2017 18: 43
      The best are the best, in terms of range, but did the raid to Australia help Germany a lot? I believe that with greater efficiency boats could be used on the Atlantic theater of operations. Everything else is work for Dr. Goebbels.
    2. dauria
      dauria 5 February 2017 21: 02
      The German submarine forces of the 1st 2nd World War are definitely the best in the world.

      Sense? The fleet must be balanced. The emphasis on WWII boats is a necessary measure for the Germans. Without a surface fleet and aviation, what was their role reduced to? The success at the beginning against the merchant was explained by the enemy’s unpreparedness for PLO and radio communications, which allowed tactics of a “free pack”. But already from the 41st they were simply sickened, the locators drove them under water and Doenitz was looking for "tonnage" in places with weak PLO in North America, Africa and even in India. Think about it, “looked for tonnage”, and did not fulfill the tasks of the troops or even the fleet. As a result, even the vaunted submarine fleet could not even somehow influence the landing in Normandy. The “Battle for the Atlantic” is too loud, but what else can the British boast about on their island? And a frank lie about “be at Doenitz a hundred boats in the 39th ..” Yes, at least 200 and all of the 21st type of the 44th year. In the same way they would have been peeled by the 43rd year.
      Yes, and we are a science. “Varshavyanka” is good, but in itself is zero without a stick.
    3. Andrey Zh
      Andrey Zh 6 February 2017 19: 24
      Well, the Germans also lugged towards Antarctica, so South Africa or New Zealand should not be so amazing! By the way, the Germans seemed to swim a little like in South America, and into the Caribbean.
  6. Mista_dj
    Mista_dj 5 February 2017 22: 08
    Not a poppy topic for an article.
    Thank you!
  7. Andrey Zh
    Andrey Zh 6 February 2017 19: 21
    Thanks, all this is very interesting!
  8. Potter
    Potter 8 February 2017 14: 19
    Thank you for the article.