Germany wasn’t the first nation to utilize submarines, but in 1905 followed the British Royal Navy’s new focus on the then-cutting edge technology by adopting the U-1 (Unterseeboot 1). The 139-foot long boat was powered on the surface by a heavy oil engine and by an electric motor when submerged; and while primitive by today’s standards, proved to be a stepping stone for the Kriegsmarine’s emphasis on a new type of warfare.
During World War I, submarine warfare proved to be a key component of Germany’s failed strategy to defeat the Allies, and the U-Boats were part of the German Navy’s efforts again in World War II. Barred from having submarines in the Bundesmarine after World War II until 1960, West Germany lagged behind in the development of submarines.
Beginning with the Type 201 submarines there has been renewed focus on submarines that has continued into the twenty-first century. The current generation of German Bundesmarine submarines is the Type-212A (aka U-212A), a submarine that earned a reputation as a reliable and advanced submarine. Developed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) for the German and Italian navies (as the Torado-class for Italy), the Type-212A was the first to make use of Fuel Cell AIP (Air Independent Power).
The submarines can operate at high speed on diesel power yet switch to the AIP system for silent cruising at slow speed. It can also stay submerged for up to three weeks with little exhaust heat—making the Type-212A virtually undetectable. The German Navy has boasted that it is the quietest submarine in operation today.
As the German Navy has expanded its operating area to cover the waters of Northern Europe, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, the Type-212A has been crucial—allowing Germany to operate in the littoral areas as well as the open sea. The submarines are also equipped with a highly integrated command and weapons control system that interfaces with the sensors, weapons and navigation systems.
The Type-212A offers an even greater range, diving depth and displacement than its predecessor submarines while being equipped with improved communications systems and reconnaissance capabilities. In support of the modernization efforts, the sixth Type-212A submarines in service have also been equipped with land-attack capability. The first of the improved class, U-32 is approximately 183-feet long with a beam of nearly twenty-two feet. It has a draught of nineteen feet.
It is notable that the Type-212A boats are manned by just five officers and twenty-two sailors, and the submarine features two decks—which provides additional sleeping and living space and the end of “warm bunking.” The boat’s torpedo area is even reported to be spacious enough that it is no longer necessary to divide the interior to reload weapons.
Torpedoes are still the primary weapon, and the Type-212A features six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes. The tubes are positioned in two rows of three, four pointing slight left and two tubes to the right. Additionally, the submarines can be used to deploy German special operations forces through the torpedo tubes. While the German Bundesmarine may only have six of these Type-212A boats in operation these are quite a powerful—and quiet—boat that can help with it the ability to operate in brown, green and blue water environments.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
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