Type VII U-boats

Author: Robert C. Stern
Publisher: Brockhampton Press
Year: 1991
Reviewer: Daryl Carpenter, Subsim.com




The German Type VII U-boat needs no introduction. The one warship that could win or lose the war for Germany, 709 were poured out, and plans were put in place to build twice that number. It has since come to represent the stereotypical image of the World War II-era submarine, appearing in Das Boot and That Other U-boat Movie.

Type VII U-boats is a compact hardcover book, divided into five chapters, a glossary, and three appendices. Though primarily a technical history of the type, it also describes in some detail a number of the procedural and "domestic" issues of everyday U-boat operations. Stern argues that the VII was an early example of an integrated "weapon systems," 40 years before the term came into widespread use. Special attention is given to the new weapons, sensors, and experimental defenses developed by the Germans after "Black May."

The illustrations consist of about 160 black and white photographs, many Iíd never seen before, and a number of original plans that have been re-annotated into English. Robert Sternís research for this work was quite extensive, and the BdU Kriegstagebuch and U-boat war diaries are quoted throughout.

The first chapter, Design Genesis, provides a brief introduction to the WWI U-boats that were direct antecedents of the VII, and the secret outsourcing of submarine design to Turkey and Greece. The next section explains the major differences between the nine VII subtypes, including the unbuilt C/42 and C/43 models, and Donitzís reasoning for producing so many VIIs.

Chapter two, Physical Characteristics of the System, begins with a description of the building process, and a guided tour through the pressure hull. This tour takes us to the boatís exterior, followed by a general overview of the propulsion systems that includes an interesting treatise on the Schnorchel. The chapter also includes information on the crew and their positions onboard, provisioning at sea, and the limited sanitation facilities.

Chapter three, the bookís meatiest, covers the Weapons and Targeting Systems. First up are plain-language descriptions of the G7a steam and G7e electric torpedoes that were the U-boatís main weapon, and the torturous failures of the Pi 1 magnetic detonator. Advanced weapons like the FaT and LuT anti-convoy and T5 acoustic torpedoes, torpedo loading and storage, and the boatís fire control systems are also discussed. The next section is on mines, including an look at the nearly forgotten MTA mobile mine.

The next section covers the boatís guns - namely the 8.8 cm deck gun and the various AA guns and tower configurations. The last section describes a number of experimental weapons, such as anti-aircraft rockets and Biber submersibles carried on deck.

Chapter four describes Sensor Systems, ranging from radio equipment, radar detectors, and hydrophones. The final chapter looks at Countermeasures, including anti-radar and anti-sonar coatings (a precursor to the anechoic tiles used on todayís subs) , the "Aphrodite" radar decoy depicted in Iron Coffins, and the 'Bold' active sonar decoy.

The first of three appendices is a photo-heavy examination of the boatís general appearance, focusing on the subjects of camouflage and personal insignia. Appendix B provides a brief profile of Admiral Donitz, while Appendix C lists which shipyards produced which boats. As with many books of this type, there are many typos and annoying editing errors, along with jarring changes in typeset. Iíve come to expect this from smaller independant publishers, but itís still pretty annoying.

Type VII U-boats provides a fairly comprehensive, but not exhausting, look at a single weapons system and how it worked. Despite being a technical history, it doesnít read like a technical memorandum, and "greener" naval enthusiasts shouldnít have a hard time reading it. It also provides some tantalizing glances into experimental German devices, including a hand-held infrared detector, active sonars, and the U-Flak boats.

Robert C. Stern is an on-again, off-again writer of books on military history since at least 1979. His other books include U.S. Subs in Action, Battle Beneath the Waves, and SS Armor.



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