Niestle, Axel. German U-Boat Losses during World War II: Details of Destruction. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998
Preface; Introduction; maps; tables; Notes; Selected Bibliography; Indexes: U-Boat Commanding Officers, Allied and Axis Commanding Officers and Pilots, Allied and Axis Ships; Allied Air Force Units
Appendices: Chronological List of German U-Boat Losses during World War II; Tabular Monthly Overview on the Causes of U-Boat Losses; Distribution of German Front-line Boats on 8 May 1945; German U-Boats Surrendering or Captured by Allied Forces at the End of World War II
Anyone who likes datamountains of hard datawill appreciate this compilation by Axel Niestle.
However, Naval Institute Press having already published within the last year U-Boats Destroyed by Paul Kemp and U-Boat Operations of the Second World War by Kenneth Wynn, Niestle's title might not generate the plaudits and sales it deserves. Kemp's book covers almost exactly the same material as Niestle while Wynn offers the same material plus considerably more information. What sets German U-Boat Losses during World War II apart? For what Niestle endeavors to accomplishreporting accurately the circumstances of every U-boat losthis book appears to be the most comprehensive and definitive.
Niestle explains that during the war separate British and American committees maintained their own centralized records of successes against U-boats based on reports from various anti-submarine forces. At the end of the war the German U-Boat Command on Allied orders produced a list, handed to the Admiralty in June 1945, of all wartime losses with U-boat number, name of skipper, date of loss, and general area of loss. The Allies also searched all German ports for wrecked boats and they quickly translated the U-boat Command war diary for further evaluation. "Together with the Allied operational records and intelligence files on the individual U-boats prepared during the war, a broad base was available for a detailed assessment of the U-boat losses inflicted on the German Kriegsmarine." Unfortunately, before this evaluation could be properly completed, the assessment committees were disbanded.
At the top command level, the assessment of U-boat losses was now probably considered of mere academic and historical importance. In the summer of 1945, the credits for the sinkings of all those U-boats not rated as "known sunk" were attributed somewhat indiscriminately to those attacks considered as successful or promising during the war. Obviously, there had been often not enough time and/or personnel to verify the decisions by available information from the German records. Finally, in 1946 the British Admiralty and the office of the U.S. chief of naval operations reported their joint official results on the assessment of U-boat losses to their governments and the public.
That official report, flawed though it is, has been the source for a number of previous books about U-boat losses. After almost a decade of systematic cross-checking, Niestle, supported by the Naval Historical Branch of the British Ministry of Defence, has thoroughly reviewed and revised the official records, resulting in "the reassessment of almost one-fifth of all front-line U-boat losses during the war with several others still under consideration."
In a number of cases where the previous loss assessment had been proven incorrect, no final explanation for the loss of these U-boats could be found in Allied records. Thus, the number of U-boats now recorded as lost to unknown cause has markedly increased. A certain proportion of these U-boats probably fell victim to mines. Other losses were probably the result of marine accidents, mechanical or technical failure, or sabotage acts committed by resistance members at the dockyards and U-boat bases. Owing to the usually unobserved occurrence of such sinkings, many of these losses will remain uncertain until positive proof can be found.
German U-Boat Losses during World War II begins with an explanation of its table and index formats and an explanation of abbreviations for home bases and ports, ranks, ship types, aircraft types, and so on. (A good part of the loss data is coded with assorted crosses and arrows indicating such things as "sunk", "scuttled", "total loss of crew, no survivors".) Niestle next devotes an interesting chapter to the methodology of wartime Allied loss assessment and describes the ten categories of wartime assessment ranging from "known sunk" to "insufficient information to assess".
Next comes the chapter readers will, for reasons explained below, need to become most familiar with in order to use the book handily. This is the complete listing of "all U-boats contracted or impressed by the German Kriegsmarine between 1935 and 1945". This table shows U-boat number, design type, date ordered, yard number, and building yard.
The meat of the book ensues: the "Loss Register". This is arranged into 35 separate sections, one for each U-boat type (ranging from Type IA to Type VII C/42 to Type XXVI W) plus "foreign submarines captured by German forces and designated for service in the Kriegsmarine". Each section opens with specifications for the particular design type and a table outlining, by shipyard, quantities ordered, completed, canceled, etc. Then comes the main table of six columns: number or name of U-boat, date of commission, date of last departure, name of base or port from which departed, rank and family name of U-boat commander, and final fate of boat. Much data is shoe-horned into that last column (some of it coded with symbols as mentioned above): date (and sometimes time) of loss; geographical position and latitude/longitude; reason or weapons responsible; type, nationality and name(s) of ship(s) or designation of aircraft and airforce unit(s) involved in loss together with rank, initials, and family name of commanding officer or pilot at the time of sinking action; total number of crew killed as the result of loss; and total number of crew rescued after loss. All told, this tabular data accounts for about 160 of the book's pages.
Niestle also offers several excellent appendices. The first is a chronological listing of all U-boat listings with date, U-boat number, and cause compressed into tight columns on nine pages. (It's interesting to note that Kemp's book is arranged in chronological sequence by loss, so this format makes it easy to compare the twoor at least the bare essentials, since the bulk of Niestle's loss data is not included in this appendix.) Two pages of tabular data present the month-by-month losses of U-boats broken down according to cause of loss: ship, ship-based aircraft, shore-based aircraft, etc. The third appendix shows, as its title says, "Distribution of German Front-line U-Boats on 8 May 1945"; this gives U-boat number and location at the end of the war in Europe. Appendix four lists every U-boat surrendered to or captured by the Allies at the end of the war, grouped by location.
As if that were not enough, nine pages of maps also show, by U-boat number, the known or suspected location of every loss.
Finally, more than 160 endnotes provide additional detail for information presented in the "Loss Registry" tables. Some of these notes are extended explanations of altered assessments, refutations of previous assessments, and speculations about probable causes for losses as yet unknown. Had the layout permitted, these would have better served as footnotes on the appropriate pages rather than at the back of the book.
The information contained in Niestle, Kemp, and Wynn overlaps considerably but the styles of presentation vary. Picking a U-boat at random, here is how each of the three covers U-180. (Each is rendered as closely to the printed format as HTML will allow.)
Niestle. German U-Boat Losses during World War II
||FK W. Musenberg
||30.9.43 decomm. Bordeaux, conversion to transport boat
at Bordeaux, recomm. Bordeaux
||OL R. Riesen
||after 23.8.44 Biscay W. of Bordeaux [sunk] /
56 killed / [total loss of crew, no survivors].152
|152. U 180 was outbound on a transport mission to the Far East. When U 180
failed repeatedly to signal its position, it was posted as missing in the
Bay of Biscay effective 15 September 1944. There is presently no known
explanation for its loss. Some sources attribute its loss to mining in the
RAF air-laid minefield Deodar off the mouth of the River Gironde. It is
unlikely that U 180 hit a mine because it had already reached the
two-hundred-meter depth-line when released from its escort late on the 23
Wynn. U-Boat Operations of the Second World War
U 180 Type IX D-1
Built by AG Weser, Bremen
Keel laid 25.2.41 Launched 10.12.41
Commissioned 16.5.42 Feldpost Nr. M 44 013
Sunk 26.8.44 possibly after striking a mine
4 U-Flotille, Stettin May 1942 - February 1943 (ab)
12 U-Flotille, Bordeaux February - November 1943
and April 1944 - 26.8.44 (fb/fb-t)
FK Werner Musenberg May 1942 - January 1944
OL Harald Lange (temp) October - November 1943
OL Rolf Riesen April 1944 - 26.8.44
Patrols: 2 Ships sunk: 2 (13,298 grt)
U 180 was one of only two Type IX D-1 boats, the other being U 195. She
underwent eight months of trials before setting out on her first
1. 9.2.43 [details of first patrol omitted]
2. 24.8.44 Left Bordeaux, on transport duty to the Far East.
Outward-bound, U 180 sank on the 26th, possibly after
striking a mine 40 miles W. of Lacanau-Ocean.
There were no survivors, 56 dead.
Kemp. U-Boats Destroyed
Notes Mined west of Bordeaux
||10 Dec 1941
||16 May 1942
||Oberleutnant zur See Rolf Riesen (lost)
|Date of loss
||22 August 1944
||Bay of Biscay, off the Gironde Estuary, 44 00N
Given that they all offer loss assessments, how do the three compare? Here are the salient facts from Niestle, Kemp, and Wynn for ten randomly selected U-boats. (All these boat numbers are lower than U-511, as volume two of Wynn is not yet available.) Note that, rather than giving the exact listings as in the examples above, the information here is condensed and paraphrased from the original text for comparative purposes.
||25.8.44 Constanza Roads; written off after Soviet air raid
||25.8.44 Konstanza; scuttled after air raid damage
||27 April 1943 Atlantic, S. of Newfoundland; USN air
||27.4.43 N. Atlantic S. of Newfoundland; USN air
||27.4.43 ESE of Sable Island; air attack
||31 July 1942 Atlantic, S. of Azores; depth charge
||31.7.42 N. Atlantic S.W. of Azores; RN
||31.7.42 E of the Azores; depth charge
||March 1945 Irish Sea, St George's Channel; cause unknown
||??.4.45 Irish Sea S. of Isle of Man; cause unknown
||Early April 1945, position unknown; unknown causes
||27 February 1945 English Channel; depth charge
||after 30.1.45 Arctic or N. Atlantic; unknown [specifically
refutes 27 Feb 45 sinking in English Channel]
||Possibly 12.2.45, position unknown; unknown cause
||20 September 1943 Baltic, off Hela; diving accident
||20.9.43 Baltic off Hela; diving accident
||20.9.43 off Hela; diving accident
||5.10.44 decommissioned, Bergen; captured by British forces,
||Decommissioned 5.10.44 at Bergen
||10 March 1944 Mediterranean, SE of Anzio; depth charge
||10.3.44 Mediterranean N.W. of Naples; RN and USN
||10.3.44 S of Anzio; depth charge
||24 July 1943 Atlantic NW of Cape Ortegal; air attack
||24.7.43 N. Atlantic N.W. of Spain; RAF
||24.7.43 NW of Cape Ortegal; air attack
||11 August 1943 Atlantic, SW of Dakar; air attack
||11.8.43 mid-Atlantic S.W. of Dakar; RAF
||11.8.43 SW of Dakar; air attack
Another good example is the fate of U869 which was unexpectedly discovered off New Jersey in the 1990s after having been originally listed as sunk near Gibraltar by a pair of American and French destroyer escorts. Kemp shows the old, inaccurate information. Wynn shows the corrected location of the sinking off New Jersey, but inexplicably continues to credit the two DEs (which really were operating near Gibraltar). Niestle has the latest information with the correct location plus speculation, based on the condition of the wreck, that 869 might have been sunk by its own torpedo.
From this and other perusal, it appears Niestle's loss assessment is probably the most complete and reliable of the lot. Wynn, on the other hand, offers very much the same kind of loss dataperhaps not as thoroughly cross-checked and revisedplus a large measure of additional information. In that sense, Niestle will probably appeal most to specialists (and Naval Institute Press appears to have positioned the book accordingly, publishing it without a dustjacket) while Wynn might prove to be a superior choice for more generalized histories, including loss data, for every U-boat.
There is one very frustrating aspect to German U-Boat Losses during World War II. Because the losses are broken down according to U-boat type, it's not possible simply to go directly to a U-boat according to its number. Since there's no index of U-boat numbers, it's necessary to go to the opening list of U-boats, determine its type, thenbecause the page headings all look the same and don't show the typego to the table of contents to find out where the listings for that type (there are 35 of them) begin, and finally turn to the appropriate section to find the boat. Not the best system! (Kemp, while listing all losses chronologically, has an index according to U-boat number; Wynn is arranged by boat number, which in general is the handiest format.)
Nevertheless, Mr. Niestle is to be congratulated on a magnificent research effort and a fine book.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Naval Institute Press.
Thanks to NIP for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 30 July 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone