Friday, November 6, 2015


New Tactics

For the rest of the day, Werner learned more about his new submarine as well as his new crew. He also discussed possible tactics with Lt. Fischer. As 1st Watch Officer, Lt. Fischer was the second-in-command as well as the man in charge of the sub's weapons, most especially the torpedoes. With the enhanced capabilities of U-1215, they would have to do some things a bit differently from what they used to do with earlier u-boats.

Earlier u-boats used diesel engines for running on the surface and electric motors for running underwater. The diesels needed air to operate which meant they couldn't be used underwater. The electric motors didn't need air to operate but they used battery power which didn't last very long.

U-1215, with its reactor, didn't care if it was used on the surface or underwater. It ran equally well in both. Fischer seemed to prefer running underwater indefinitely but Werner thought they should surface occasionally to reduce usage of the air scrubbers. They had a limited amount of the chemical compound needed to remove carbon dioxide from the sub's atmosphere so using natural air as much as possible would enable them to be on patrol for longer periods. Fischer argued that Allied warships now roamed the Atlantic at will and the new aircraft carriers protecting the convoys were making it dangerous to run on the surface for too long. He would rather stay below where it was safe than run the risk of being surprised by a patrolling fighter-bomber. Werner suggested they wait until they could do test dives so they could find out how fast the new sub could dive. A typical u-boat could dive in thirty seconds which was still too long really but if U-1215 could do better, they could take the risk of running on the surface whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Werner's old boat, U-684, which was relatively brand new, had a maximum surface speed of 19 knots and seven knots maximum while running underwater. If U-1215's specification of 18 knots submerged speed was realized, they could creep up on a convoy from behind instead of trying to get ahead of it or approaching and attacking from the side. Convoy lookouts were more alert at the front and sides of the convoy than the rear since present u-boat capabilities dictated these approach methods. Once a u-boat let a convoy pass them, they would have to surface to catch up and running on the surface increased the risk of discovery and counter-attack by the escorts. U-1215 actually had more options than the other u-boats. With her fast speed and silent propulsion, she could fire her torpedoes from anywhere, sprint to her next firing position so fast that the escorts would not be able to predict where she would fire from next.

The new torpedoes were more complicated than the ones presently in use. The old torpedoes were set to run at a specific direction and depth. This removed the need to "aim" the torpedo by pointing the submarine at the target. After a short delay upon firing, the torpedo would change course as per setting and move to the specified depth. If the captain's or first watch officer's calculations were correct, the torpedo's path and the target's path would intersect and both would meet at the intersection at the same point in time. If the calculations were off, or if the target changed speed or direction, the torpedo would miss and continue on until it hit something else or ran out of fuel.

The advent of acoustic torpedoes changed that, however. The torpedo had sound detectors in its head that steered the weapon towards the loudest sound it could hear. Targeting no longer needed to be very precise, just point the torpedo toward the target and the weapon would do the rest. Acoustic torpedoes, however, had one serious flaw. Upon being fired, the acoustic sensors switched on after the torpedo had traveled only 400 meters and would automatically start seeking targets. Occasionally, the torpedo would hear the submarine that launched it, turned around and kill it. Werner knew of at least two u-boats that had suffered that fate. U-1215's silence, however, would prevent that from happening.

U-1215's torpedoes had four settings: initial course, initial speed, activation distance, and search depth. After being fired, the torpedo would change course to the specified setting. It would then run at the initial speed setting (only two were selectable: 15 knots and 25 knots) until it reached the activation distance. At that point, three things happened: the speed would increase to maximum, the acoustic sensors were switched on, and the torpedo would move to the specified search depth. This ensured that the torpedo would be closer to the target than to the submarine that launched it. It also enabled the submarine commander to position the torpedo for a sure hit.

15 knots was not as bad as it first seemed. Most convoys traveled at speeds between 8 and 12 knots. If U-1215 positioned herself from the side, they could launch torpedoes from 15 kilometers away, outside of the protective ring of escorting destroyers and still hit their targets, the convoy ships that were bringing supplies and war material to England or North Africa. Fischer also brought up a topic that had been discussed around the submarine community over and over.

The u-boat's primary targets were the merchant ships. The escorts were to be avoided whenever possible. Escorts were fast moving, making them difficult to hit. The merchant ships in the middle of the convoy were bunched up, moved at a constant speed and, therefore, easier to target. Besides, even if they succeeded in hitting one or more of the escorts, the convoy commander could order the convoy's ships to scatter, making it difficult to target them. With the typical u-boat's slow submerged speed, pursuing the fleeing vessels was impossible unless a few of them blundered in his direction.

Fischer wanted U-1215 to target one or two of the closest escorts at the same time as the other convoy ships. This would eliminate some of the impediments. He would then sprint to a new position and, while the other escorts searched for him at a place where he wasn't, he could target the merchant ships. If the convoy suddenly scattered, U-1215 could chase after them with his speed advantage and keep shooting at targets until he ran out of torpedoes. Werner found Fischer's idea interesting. Present day tactics took into consideration the capabilities of existing u-boats. With the new capabilities of U-1215, new tactics needed to be formulated and he, as captain, was going to have a hand in formulating them.

Late in the afternoon, a soldier presented Werner with a message. The admiral would be arriving shortly and would meet with him, Lt. Commander Meyer and Lt. Fischer, at the captain's office. Werner instructed Fischer to have Meyer located and brought to his office where they would wait for the admiral.

The Tests

The admiral arrived presently and they began their briefing for the coming tests. They used Captain Werner's office which had a circular conference table.

They had already run tests with the reactor, turbines, and generators and even dived the boat while it was inside the submarine pen. During that test, the sub's air scrubbers, water distillation systems, and every system that could be operated were run during that test. They had remained submerged for more than a week without encountering any problems. Since the previous tests did not involve the propulsion systems and torpedoes, the only tests they really needed to do was to actually go out to sea and run speed and diving tests. They were also to run mock operations against two captured French destroyers fitted with sonar equipment. The ships were to do their best to detect U-1215 while the sub tried its best to avoid detection. These vessels were also to serve as targets for practice torpedoes (torpedoes with their warheads removed).

Scene with the Admiral

After the dates for the tests were established, the admiral dismissed everyone else except for Captain Werner. After the door closed behind the others, the admiral turned to Werner who had a stern look.

"I can understand that look, Captain. You have learned a few things that you don't agree with. No worries. You can begin asking your questions."

Werner had imagined himself bursting out and shouting at the admiral while walking and waving his hands about but that had been wishful thinking. Only a fool would do that to an admiral and Werner didn't think of himself as a fool.

"Admiral, I have been told that this project is not sanctioned by the Fuhrer. You and I, as well as every German on this earth, knows that hiding something this big from him can be called treason or whatever he decides to call it. The penalty for such an offense is summary execution and I, for one, find that very worrisome. I find it terribly unfair that I wasn't informed of this fact. I am also at a loss as to why you, yourself, decided to continue with the project in spite of this."

The admiral had been looking at Werner when he started talking but his eyes soon stopped and stared at nothing in particular at the mention of "summary execution." He didn't answer immediately and Werner was beginning to think that the admiral had not listened to what he had just said.

The man suddenly took a deep breath as if he had forgotten to breathe. He took a glance at Werner and began walking around.

"I was a torpedo-man in submarines in the last war, Werner, and by the time the war ended, I was a midshipman. I was an officer but a very small and insignificant one. I was also an officer in a navy with hardly any ships. Germany had been defeated and humiliated, and we had a navy with ships that were so small they may as well have been toy ships in a bathtub. I stayed in the navy, however. I had no other skills and, besides, being in the military gave me a sense of purpose.

"I was given command of a tugboat, would you believe?" The admiral smiled at the memory. It seemed so long ago. "She had big diesel engines that could push bigger ships around the harbor. No one got in or got out of harbor without my tugboat helping them move. She was the best tugboat among the lot. I drilled my crew as if we were in the navy and they responded by making the tugboat so efficient that people began to notice. Soon, I was assigned to a coastal gunboat patrolling the seas around Germany's shores.

"From there it was on to bigger ships and when Hitler came to power, my rank rose even faster. My aptitude for organizing and for bringing ideas for improvements got me my present job of overseeing projects for new types of weapons and systems. All that time, my motivation has always been the safety and well-being of the Fatherland."

The admiral had kept pacing around the room, walking slowly as he recounted his story. Werner had remained standing but as the story wore on, he began to wonder if he was going to hear the reason for keeping the U-1215 project a total secret.

"It was while visiting another project that I came across the research about nuclear power. I immediately saw the potential of the technology and convinced Donitz it was worth looking into. He agreed and I proceeded having people design and, later, build the boat. After the capture of France, I decided we should build this secret sub pen here where we could make the tests in actual ocean conditions rather than the sheltered waters of the Baltic Sea. Under great peril, we towed U-1215 behind one of our u-boats, keeping her underwater the whole trip. The towing u-boat traveled at maximum speed on the surface at night and at low speed while submerged during the day. The air scrubbers were manually operated and everyone subsisted on bread and water but we arrived here without incident."

The admiral suddenly stopped his pacing and stared at one of the portraits, Donitz', and his tone became bitter.

"Right at that point, Donitz calls and tells me that the Fuhrer had ordered all submarine orders except for the Type XXI and Type XXIII to be stopped. Every resource was to be concentrated into these two submarines.

"The Allied bombings have exacted a heavy toll on Germany's industrial sector. Steel plants, oil refineries, factories that provide us with our equipment have been bombed again and again. We are running short of materials needed for building tanks, planes, ships, and submarines."

The old man suddenly turned to face Werner. "Hitler ordered priority be given to the production of tanks and aircraft! The old fool doesn't realize that by regaining the upper hand in the war in the Atlantic, the Allies will not be able to mount an assault on mainland Europe. He is getting ready to defend the shores of France and Italy instead of putting all efforts into getting u-boats into the sea and sinking the Allies' supply ships. U-1215 and her sisters will be the best weapon we have that can defeat the Allied warships and destroy their precious convoys, and they won't even be able to defend themselves against us."

The admiral had begun to pace around the room as if in anger. "The Fuehrer knows nothing about submarines, he was an infantryman in the last war and continues to think that way. Donitz couldn't convince him to allow U-1215 to continue and would not hear about it. I convinced Donitz that we should go ahead since the submarine was almost completed. It's our best weapon for preventing the Allies from re-supplying their forces in England. With it we can save the lives of our soldiers and seamen."

At that point, the admiral suddenly seemed to weaken and he dropped down on one of the seats. "I had two sons, Werner."

Werner's head turned towards the admiral in astonishment. Had?

The admiral continued. "The eldest was lost in U-65 in 1941 off the coast of Ireland. The youngest was on the Bismarck when she was sunk."

The admiral had slumped in the chair, his head so low that his chin rested on his chest. Werner closed his eyes as he tried to imagine the man's loss. In April 1941, BdU had made its last contact with U-65. The Bismarck had been sunk the next month. Two sons lost in the space of two months. For a parent, the admiral had given the ultimate sacrifice for the Fatherland.

"Germany lost more than just my two sons, Werner. U-65 had a crew of 50 and Bismarck had over 2,000 men in her. You may call it the reality of war but I call it a waste." The admiral stirred from his chair and got up wearily. "U-1215 is the best answer we have to prevent such losses. I intend to prove that she can run circles around any Allied warship and sink so many of their convoy ships that they will have no choice but to surrender! I will not have Germany lose any more of her sons!"

Werner had remained standing all throughout the admiral's story. He finally understood the admiral's reasons though he still wished things had been different. Sure, Donitz had given his blessings and he might even persuade the Fuhrer to approve the project eventually. The admiral's statement about the U-1215, however, was plausible. She was a new and unknown weapon. The Allies didn't have anything to counter her. Right then, Werner resolved to help the admiral get her into operational service as soon as possible.

"Admiral, your explanation is good enough for me. Thank you for enlightening me."

The admiral looked at Werner and looked about to say something else. Instead, he nodded his head, stood up and got his cap and coat. Werner opened the door for him but before he stepped out, the admiral turned back to him.

"Germany needs us, Werner. We shall save him."

Werner nodded and saluted the admiral. The man stood at attention and returned the salute and walked out.

Meyer, Fischer, and Schmitt were just outside the building when the admiral came out. They saluted him as he walked past while bidding them goodnight. Werner joined his officers in watching the old man walk to the long flight of stairs to the upper level.

"Did you men know about his two sons?" Werner continued to watch the admiral as he climbed the stairs.

"Yes," Schmitt answered. "He was inconsolable for a time after that. I thought when he lost his daughter and son-in-law that he would breakdown completely."

"His daughter?" Werner whirled around to look as Schmitt.

"He didn't tell you? His daughter was killed in an air raid on Hamburg a few weeks ago. Commander Weber was so distraught that he slipped out and got drunk, stole a car and drove it into a tank at high speed."

Werner looked at Meyer with a question that remained unasked but was answered just the same. "Yes, Captain. Commander Weber was the admiral's son-in-law."

Werner turned back to watching the old man as he arrived at the top of the stairs and disappeared through the door. A man's best legacy is his children but the admiral had lost everything. The U-1215 was his son now, his only family. He was determined to see it grow into an adult and unleash it into the waters of the Atlantic.

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