Type 201 class submarines (1960)

Bundesmarine (1960), 3 ships: U-1 – U-3

The Bundesmarine’s first submarines

The Type 201 were the first post-WW2 German submarines to see the day. They derived from a long process started with the reintegration of Germany into NATO and the idea that the Bundesmarine could need small submarines as a way to defend the eastern Baltic.

Very innovative, they built out of amagnetic steel, notably to counter the threat of magnetic naval mines. However the material in which her outer hull was cladded, had been insufficiently tested. In service with the Bundesmarine, microscopic cracks developed in the pressure hull, an unacceptable issue that soon forced the cancellation of the nine next boats (out of the twelve) in order at Howaldtswerke. This led also to the rebuilding of the U-1 and U-2, completed in 1967 as the Type 205 submarines. Ingenieurkontor Lübeck headed by Ulrich Gabler was responsible for the program.

Program development

After the end of the Second World War, there was a 10-year break when it came to provide the new German navy (Bundesmarine) with any ship, or submarine. Time notably to setup back all the manufacturing and supply network needed to engineer and deliver complex military systems, and submarines were no exception. Soon after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, rearmament was authorized under the vigilance and encouragements of NATO, as the 15th member on May 9, 1955.

In the course of the formation of the armed forces, the Bundesmarine was setup with various organization personnel and assets, notably the sea border protection and mine clearing association in Cuxhaven. These were largely units under Allied command after 194, which cleared Baltic minefields in order to enable trade in the area. The submarine was very last on the list, even behind fast attack crafts and training vessels. However, as all German submarines from WW2 had been confiscated as war prizes, the others simply broken up for scrap metal, there was nothing to start with but blueprints and former engineers.

Former submariners veterans were legion however, and had a hard time doing a livelihood on land. Many former officers of the Kriegsmarine were still alive, including most members of the staff of Karl Dönitz, while the latter, which headed for a short time the Flensburg government in May 1945, ended in the Nuremberg’s war crimes trials. Judged guity of waging unrestricted submarine warfare contrary to the Naval Protocol of 1936, and vilified for his loyalty to the regime, purged his sentenced until 1 October 1956 and retired in he small village of Aumühle in Schleswig-Holstein from where he wrote his memoirs but never was ever again in contact with the new Bundesmarine.

However between May 1945 and 1956, the German Mine Sweeping Administration and successor organizations still retained their former Kriegsmarine cadree. They became a transition stage while the US Navy maintained the Naval Historical Team in Bremerhaven, formed of Kriegsmarine officers acting as historical and tactical consultants, embedded into the NATO senior naval staff. Some expressed opinions that given the technical knowhow of Germany on the topic of submarines, it was advisable to create at least a new R&D structure in Germany dedicated to submarine programs. The problem was acceptance by all members of NATO.

Greenlight is given to German subs

Former Type XXIIIs

Recovered U-Hecht 1956
The Western European Union eventually, after many discussions, allowed the Federal Republic to build twelve small submarines, of a coastal type only as they were capped to 350 tons. In order to train submarine personnel for the new U-boats, ‘U Hai’ “unterseebote shark” (tactical identification S 170) was acquired in 1956, and entered service under her new commander, Kapitänleutnant Ehrhardt, on August 15, 1957. “U Hai” was a small boat, just 34.6m long, 3m wide effectively a Type XXIII, late WW2 coastal model with intensive battery power to reach great underwater speed, but only armed with two 53.3cm bow torpedo tubes (21 inches). It was previously built under the identification U 2365 on May 8, 1945, and she was sunk by her crews in shallow water near the Kattegat to avoid capture. In all, over 980 of the type ordered in 1944, only 63 were completed, or semi-completed, 8 sunk in action, the others destroyed by bombing or scuttling (31).

The small sub was soon located and needed to be cleaned anew. She was refloated in June 1956, sent and overhauled at the Howaldtswerke shipyard in Kiel, which became the mecca of cold war modern German submarines. Before it was available for the Bundesmarine, the WW-2 vintage sub was to be completely scrapped and cleaned up, then entirely re-wired and modernized. U Hai became in effect the first Bundesmarine training submarine. It could carry a maximum of 19 crewmembers for coastal training missions. Her conning tower’s coat of arms was very similar to the naval officer training class XII/39, with a shark jumping to the left. This crew badge was used on eleven submarines during World War II.

Previously, the Kriegsmarine operated “U Hecht” U 2367, refloated in August 1956, overhauled also at Howaldtswerke and relaunched. This was followed by a test drive with the shipyard team on board as “U 2” on her conning tower. On October 1, 1957, U Hecht was recommissioned with the tactical identifier S 171 with Captain Hass as first commander. Her coat of arms was reminiscent of the one sported by U 81 in World War II. In addition, there was a stylized pike on it (“hecht”). She had been lost in a collision near Schleimünde.

Former Type XXIs

After these two small U-boats approval from the Western European Union secured the recovery of a larger boat, for later use. This time it was a 1,621 tons class XXI boat, former U 2540. She had six 53.3 cm bow torpedo tubes, and originally was scuttled by her crew also in shallow waters on May 4, 1945, near the Flensburg lightship. Under the name “U Wal”, this submarine was also completely overhauled at the Howaldtswerke shipyard in Kiel.

She was recommissioned on September 1, 1960, with Korvettenkapitän Voss in command. This model was soon renamed “U Wilhelm Bauer” (the XIXth cent. German sub pioneer) with the tactical identifier Y 880. The crew created a new emblem for this boat, an underwater elephant with its trunk above the surface, breathing, symboiozing its snorkel. It was inspired by the coat of arms of U 236 or U 1227. Unfortunately, U-Hai sank in a gale off the Dogger Bank, in September 1966. This tragedy cost 19 of her 20 crewmen and remains up to this day the greatest maritime disaster the Bundesmarine has suffered.

All three boats were subordinated to the testing command, and later, submarine training group based in Holstein, which belonged to the submarine command in Eckernförde. Captain Otto Kretschmer took command of this unit. He was in 1960 a celebrity, veteran submariner ace from World War II, with a tally board of 44 ships, including one warship for a total of 274,333 tons.

Kretschmer was Fregattenkapitän with the 2nd officers training course held at NS-Ordensburg Sonthofen, then inspection group leader at the acceptance organization. On 16 June 1956, he created the 1. Geleitgeschwader (Escort) squadron, which he commanded until 15 October 1957. He also attended a training course until 28 February 1958 for amphibious forces in USA, and until 31 October 1958, her becale Admiralstabsoffizier (admiralty staff), Fleet Command, then transferred to Bundesmarine’s amphibious forces until 15 January 1962. Promoted to Kapitän zur See in December 1958 he headed from January 1962 the department for naval task force training and naval tactics. On 28 August 1963. Promoted in 1965 as flotilla admiral he also became chief-of-staff of NATO command COMNAVBALTAP, Kiel in June, then admiral on 15 December, until 31 March 1969.

Bundesmarine order for the Type 201

After gaining such initial experience, the Federal Ministry of Defense placed an order to Howaldtswerke on March 16, 1959, to build twelve class 201 submarines. These were given the provisional construction numbers 1150 to 1161 and they were based on the blueprints created by Dipl. Ing. Ulrich Gabler, from the Lübeck engineering office. These were small 350 tons (standard) units as authorized, designed to perform rolling twenty-day deployment tours in the Baltic Sea.

Base design for the Type 201

Gabler started with the blueprints of the existing Type XXIII and XXI, and tried to create a mix between the best features of both, on still a small package. They were much larger than the Type XXIII though (234/258 tons), and he managed to create the impossible feat of cramming eight bow torpedo tubes on that small hull, a rather strong armament for such small boat, with high stability.

The new 53.3cm torpedoes of the types DM2A1 Seewaal, SST 3 Seewaal and SUT were not yet ready when he designed the boats, so the tubes were made compatible with the only ordnance available by then, the British Mk 8** torpedoes, or the NATO-provided US Mk 37 torpedoes, slightly smaller at 48.3 cm. There were no reloads of course. In alternative, 16 sea mines could replace the torpedoes.

The first series of the new submarines consisted of U 1 to U 3. These were 42m long and 4.60m wide. The 1,200 hp diesel gave the boats an overwater speed of 10.7 knots and a range of 3,800 nautical miles when driving economically. Thanks to the 1,200 hp electric motors with double-armature motors, the boats in this series drove significantly faster under water, namely up to 17.5 knots. But at such high speeds the range was not particularly high. The maximum underwater range was only 270 nautical miles at three knots. On March 20, 1962, the first boat was ready. U 1 was solemnly commissioned on this day by its commander Korvettenkapitän Baumann and his 20-man crew and left a short time later for the first training runs.

S-182 was laid down on October 12th, 1960 and launched on May, 7th, 1962, entering service on June, 20th 1964, and until September 1967, thereafter leased by the Norwegian Navy as Kobben in 1962-64 ad returned to the Bundesmarine. She went on to serve until 1971, expended during trials and stricken. However the Type 205 saw much more success, being exported to Denmark and Poland, the latter being in service as far as 2019…

The loss of U Hai

U Hai at sea, 1961 (S 170)

On September 14, 1966, a special event brought rescue, safety measures and life-saving equipment of submarine in the Bundesmarine into question. On that day, U Hai, together with U Hecht, U 3 as well as the Tender Lech and the escort ship Passat, left for a fleet visit to Aberdeen. A propeller accident occurred on U Hecht, so that the tender Lech had to tow her in a storm at force seven.
Because of the 5 meter high waves, it became increasingly difficult for the formation to stay intact, especially as the submarines drifted further apart, so much so that eventually all visual contact was lost between them.

To make matters worse, Lecht also lost radio contact with U Hai, which meanwhile, went ahead of the formation, out of sight of anyone. On the latter, wave after wave caused extensive flooding, and suddenly a larger wave tumbled down the air inlet of the retracted snorkel. It happened just after 10 p.m. Water rushed into the engine room bilge. The resulting stern heaviness of the submarine resulted in continuous venting of the aft diving cells. Initially not noticed in the massive pitching in the storm, it was only when she was about to capsize. Water entered through the tower hatch when Lieutenant Wiedersheim noticed the emergency of the situation, ordering all hands on board, and eventually ten more sailors managed to exit the submarine.

U Hai sank 138 nautical miles northwest of Heligoland, on the Doggerbank, at 40m deep. Survivors were blown apart relatively quickly by the waves and wind. The only thong saving them was their just introduced TR 66 diving rescue suit. After drifting for 13 hours, Petty Officer Peter Silbernagel was spotted and rescued by the fishing trawler St. Martin. His remaining 19 fellow mariners all died in the accident, the gravest of the Bundesmarine so far.

This event subsequentely darkened the reputation of the Type 201, but the condition of this catastrophy should be understood as a deadly chain of events, trigerred by a boat essentially derived from a 1940s design born out of desperation, when life was cheap. The road was not long before the Bundesmarine had its first really successful designs.


The godmother of U 1 submarine was Mrs. Kretschmer – wife of the former commander of U 99 in World War II. U 99 had a horseshoe that was open at the bottom as a boat coat of arms. In the opinion of Ms. Kretschmer, luck fell out of it below. For this reason, the new U 1 of the German Navy received a boat coat of arms with a horseshoe that opens upwards. U 2’s godmother was the wife of former captain Wilhelm Schulze, formerly in command of the U 98 submarine from World War II. The motif of U 2’s coat of arms was the famous black cat of U 48 who drove this boat on the upper front of the tower.

U 48 was the most successful submarine of World War II. In the new German Navy, the black cat in front of a yellow background should stand for the fact that something that is in and of itself peace-loving can also go into a defensive position and shows a tense readiness for defense as well as the ability to defend itself.

In addition, this pose is intended to demonstrate vigilance and the ability to observe. Of course, this was aimed at the new role of the German Navy in the Western European Union and the Cold War. On July 10, 1962, two months after U 2, U 3 was put into service under Lieutenant Ullmann. The coat of arms of the boat became the coat of arms of the godfather town of St. George in the Black Forest.

With the adoption of the city coat of arms in the boat coat of arms, a tradition of the Imperial Navy, which had already been cultivated in the Kriegsmarine, was adopted. In addition to the connectedness to the sponsored community demonstrated here, the coat of arms also shows the willingness of the boat to ward off threats for the benefit of the community.
When they were commissioned, the boats were given the tactical identifiers S 180, S 181 and S 182 one after the other and were all subordinated to the 1st submarine squadron of frigate captain Hans-Günther Lange in Kiel-Wiek. This squadron drove a coat of arms in which the left leg of a red “U” represented the tower of the Laboe Naval Memorial and the right leg the number “1” of the squadron numbering. A class XXIII or later NATO class 240 boat with the typical post-1961 tower design passed through the red “U”.

Type 201 specs

Displacement: 395 tons surfaced/433 tons submerged
Dimensions: 42.4 x 4,60 x 3,8 m
Powerplant: 1 shaft 880 kw (1,180 hp) diesel generator, 1,100 kw (1,500 hp) electric motor
Top speed: 10.7 knots surfaced; 17.5 knots submerged
Armament: 8 TTs 21 in (533 mm) bow/16 mines
Electronics: Hull Sonar, radar, periscopic GHC
Crew: 21

Deployment and the “steel crisis”

In the period that followed, the first crews each went at sea with four officers, twelve non-commissioned officers and five ranks. For U 2 and U 3, however, the end came in July and August 1963, respectively. Crystalline cracks and stress corrosion cracking had been discovered in the hull made of antimagnetic steel. The hulls had to be rebuilt with ferritic ST 52 steel, after which they were reclassified to class 205. The boats were later put back into service, but as type 205s.

This summer 1962, with the first cracks in the diving cells appearing, the other boats, U2 and U3 were also inspected and revealed the same problems. It quickly became apparent that the steel used (designated AM 10 by the Austrian Company Schoeller-Bleckmann Stahlwerke) was just unsuitable for submarines. When this problem became public, the Bundesmarine had its first -and largest- armaments procurement scandal in decades, known as the “steel crisis”. It was revealed that errors in the preparation and execution of this construction contract led to mishaps later, and after a commission of inquiry found out, the particular test methods used at the time for submarine steel proved totally inadequate and off the mark.

When the problem was identified, all three boats of class 201 were sent back in drydock and throuroughly rebuilt, emerging of the first boats of Type 205. The construction freeze followed of course for the initial Type 201 which affected the U 9-U 12 serie, while U 4- U 8 were completed as Type 205s. The two test boats of the class 202 were also affected by the steel crisis and rebuilt as Type 205s. As a consequence, several steels were tested for the Type 205 boats and a steel from the company Phoenix-Rheinrohr, designated PN 18 S2 was eventually selected. Ever since it was used on all subsequent designs, proving itself a most reliable material for outbuilding all other yards concerned by submarine design in Europe, until the Type 212 A.

Type 201 at sea

The Class 201 boats were the first new submarines to be built in Germany after WW2, with no less than twelve on order. However, changes in tactical requirements were soon expressed by the Bundesmarine, including the ability to travel in mined areas, surfaced. This resulted in the Type 201, with only three submarines, optimized for pure underwater travel actually built. Their service life greatly reduced by corrosion problems, U 1 and U 2 only in service for little over a year. U 3 was loaned to Norway for two years after acceptance, then was returned to the Bundesmarine and served another three years, thus having the longest service time of the Type 201 (five years) before her conversion as a test submarine for wire-guided torpedoes, for about a year. Eventually all class 201 boats were scrapped, not rebuilt. The U 1-3 of the Type 205 had little to do with these early boats.

U 1 was launched on October 21, 1961, christened by the wife of U-boat ace commander Otto Kretschmer, commissioned on March 20, 1962, with the newly created 1st Submarine Squadron. She took over the tradition of U 99, Kretschmer’s own Type VII submarine & coat of arms. U 1 (S180) was commanded by Korvettenkapitän Baumann from March 21, 1962 to June 22, 1963. She was decommissioned in June 1963 and replaced by a newly build Class 205 entering service in June 1967.

U 2 was christened on January 25, 1962 by the wife of veteran captain Wilhelm Schulze (U 98), commissioned on May 3, 1962, 1st Submarine Squadron. Sine the same problems were identified, she was decommissioned on August 15, 1963, replaced by the Type 205 U 2 entering service in October 1966. Her only captain for her short service was Lieutenant Commander Hanns Freytag.

U 3 (S182) was launched on May 7, 1962, and immediately after completion she was loaned to the Norwegian Navy until 1964 as KNM Kobben (S310), for testing. After returning from Norway, U 3 re-entered the Bundesmarine, commissioned on June 20, 1964, as a training boat, with the Neustadt (Holstein) training group, until September 15, 1967. Decommissioned, the hulk was used for strength and wrecking tests. In 1970, the hulk was subjected to a final stress test in Kiel’s pressure dock, until crushing. The wreck was then sold for scrap. In German service, U 3 was commanded by Oberleutnant Mauch (June 20, 1964-September 29, 1965) and Oberleutnant Hammer (September 30, 1965-September 15, 1967).

About the Norwegian Kobben

From 10 july 1962 to 16 June 1964, U 3 was loaned to the Norwegian Navy, as Kobben. This was the first Kongelige Norske Marine (Sjøforsvaret) post-WW2 submarine force, consisting at the time in three captured German Type VIIC submarines, and five British U- and V-class submarines. Norway wanted to replaced these boats with a modern type, with financial support from the USA. Since their own industry could not deliver a small submarine type, lacking the skills and experience to do so, Norway adhered to a European submarine construction program.

Eventually the naval commission examined several designs, including from the US, France and UK, and opted for a modified design of the German Type 201, designated ‘Class 207’. This happened to be also the first Federal Republic’s submarine export (with many, many more to follow). The class 207 was ordered shortly the first Type 201 were launched, even though there was no service experience yet, such was the Norwegian confidence in German designs. Eventually instead of a new built, Norway choose to asked a loan of the newly completed U 3, for testing and training, before being returned in the Bundesmarine. She was commissioned for two years as KNM Kobben (NATO pennant S310).

KNM Kobben was plagued by the same acute corrosion problems of the non-magnetic steel and at the end of 1962 she only was granted a permissible diving depth of 40 m. In the autumn of 1963, the Germans carried out a remote pre-crushing depht test in the Oslofjord with U 5 and U 6. They were lowered all three by floating cranes, with flooded diving cells, in the fjord.

Kobben reached 114 m without damage and the Norwegian navy granted it a permissible diving depth of 100 m. She made a normal service, covering a total of 12,100 nautical miles, about five times the Bundesmarine U-boats. The Norwegians however criticized the problems of the Type 201. Notably they hated her large turning circle at low speed, which caused problems in small ports of northern Norway when no tug assistance coukld be found, and the rugged coast and numerous skerries. The small kiosk, protected only with canvas like old WW1 boats, lacked display and control elements for course and speed when surfaced for the staff, and proved very indequate in rough seas due to the hatch design. The latter could not be closed because of a communication cable to the control center below. Water constantly leaked iin the control center. Back to Germany, KNM Kobben became U 3 (S182) again, and she managed to serve for another four years.

About Howaldtswerke shipyard, Kiel

Type 205 U 4 (S 183) at sea in the 1970s

Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft was first created in 1838 and notably ws the site where the grandfather of all German submarines made its first apparition: Wilhelm’s Bauer’s Brandtaucher. They helped the inventor to realize his boat, but engineer August Howaldt and entrepreneur Johann Schweffel funded the company to manufacture Boilers and thus soon reached expertise in fundry technique and thick metal plating.

By the start of the 20th century, the yards already had turned out 390 ships, and benefited from lucrative and frequent navy maintenance and repair contracts, being located at one of the two main bases of the Kaiserliche Marine. Howaldtswerke later built 33 VIIC U-boats in its Hamburg yard and 31 in Kiel. It was not dismantled after the war and soon participated in the 1960s “economic miracle”, also participating in the rebuilding of the Bundesmarine, aside turning freighters and tankers.

Now owned by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, the company delivered all U-Boats of the Bundesmarine. It was respnsible for the construction of 12 Type 205 submarines (1960-66) plus two more at the Copenhagen Naval Dockyard under German supervision in 1967-70. The yard also built the following 18 Type 206 boats (1969-75), the exceptional Type 209 (1971), 61 completed mostly for export so more than another submarine in Europe since WW2, and the post cold-war Type 212, for which 20 are already planned and using AIP propulsion, some built at Fincantieri SpA.

Sources/Read More

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-95
Karr, Hans (2014). Deutsche Uboote seit 1956 (in German). Stuttgart: Motorbuch
U. Rodewald: Die U-Boot-Waffe der Deutschen Marine. Hamburg 2008
Siegfried Breyer, Gerhard Koop: Die Schiffe und Fahrzeuge der deutschen Bundesmarine 1956–1976. München 1978
Heinrich Schütz: Nur Vergangenheit oder schon Geschichte? – Die Stahlkrise im deutschen U-Boot-Bau. Marineforum 2009
Rüstung: U-Boote – Rostwärts. (Titelgeschichte). Der Spiegel 1963
Alexander Bredt (Hrsg.): Weyers Flottentaschenbuch 1959. J. F. Lehmanns München 1959
Hans Knarr: Typenkompass Deutsche Uboote. Motorbuchverlag, Stuttgart 2014
Lutz Nohse, Eberhard Rössler: Moderne Küsten-Uboote J. F. Lehmans Verlag, München 1972
Alexander Bredt (Hrsg.): Weyers Flottentaschenbuch 1959. J. F. Lehmanns Verlag München 1959
Hans Knarr: Typenkompass Deutsche Uboote. Motorbuchverlag, Stuttgart 2014
Hannes Ewerth: Die U-Flottille der deutschen Marine, 2. überarbeitete Auflage Hamburg 1995
Bjørn Erik Strønen: Kobbenklasse undervannsbåt 1964 – 2002, Marinemuseet, Horten 2005

On the Deutsch U-Boat musem
On die-marine.de
Der Spiegel article 1963
politische-union.de archive
Technical parts Type 201/205
On militaryfactory.com
On seaforces.org
On taucher.net

Model kits

1/700 model by OKB Grigorov, 2 metal parts
Type 205 model kits

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