German U-Boats of WW11
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|By the end of the First World War the German Navy was one of the largest
in the world. However, under the terms of the Versailles Treaty in 1919,
the German government was restricted to vessels under 10,000 tons, forbidden
to own submarines and allowed only 1,500 officers.
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 he implemented Plan Z, a ten year programme to develop a fleet capable of challenging the Royal Navy. The main emphasis was placed on the building of submarines and fast surface squadrons in order to be able to control Britain's vital trade supply lines.
In 1935 Karl Doenitz was put in charge of the new U-Boats being developed. However he clashed with Hermann Goering who was unwilling to supply the necessary capital to spend on the navy. Doenitz said that he needed 1,000 submarines to win any future war with Britain but by 1939 he had only 57.
German shipyards had difficulty producing the ships ordered by Hitler and on the outbreak of the Second World War the German Navy only had two battleships, two battlecruisers, three armoured cruisers, three heavy cruisers, six light cruisers, 22 destroyers and 59 submarines. Soon afterwards the Bismarck was completed. At 41,700 tons, it was considered the most powerful warship in the world.
In 1939 Hitler promoted Erich Raeder to the rank of grand admiral, the first German to hold this post since Alfred von Tirpitz. Raeder attempted to build large navy, but This brought him into conflict with Hermann Goering who as director of the German economy wanted to direct more resources to the Luftwaffe.
In October 1939 Raeder sent Adolf Hitler a proposal for capturing Denmark and Norway. He argued that Germany would not be able to defeat Britain unless it created naval bases in these countries. In April 1940 Hitler gave permission for this move but he was disappointed by the heavy losses that the German Navy suffered during the achievement of this objective.
At the beginning of the war the German Navy was equipped with the 750-ton Type VII U-boat. These proved too small for Atlantic operations and larger long-range types were later introduced. Between 1940 and 1943 U-boats took a heavy toll of Allied shipping in the Atlantic, Arctic and the Mediterranean.
The German U-boats now had bases on the Atlantic coast which put them much closer to British trade routes. The Royal Navy used its older ships to protect the convoys bringing goods from the United States. From 1941 it was also able to use its growing number of corvettes.