U-534

U-534 Type IXC 40 is the worlds only U-Boat that has been raised from the sea after being sunk at the end of World War Two.  It is extremely rare to see this sub and  when I travelled up to Liverpool a few years ago, I managed to take a few photos. Read on to find more about this ill fated sub.

Coastal Command Liberator GR Mk VIII "G" for George, KH347 of British RAF 86 Squadron was responsible for the sinking of U-534.  This U.S Consolidated Liberator B24 Bomber was one of 18,188 planes that were produced during World War Two.

Their Pratt & Whitney R-1836-65 Twin Wasp, 1200 horse power engines could provide a top speed of three hundred miles per hour. Armed with eleven machine guns and an eight thousand pound payload of bombs, they were especially good as U-boat hunter killers. Indeed many U-boats met their fate at the receiving end of a Liberators brace of bombs and/or depth charges.

As World War Two submarines spent most of their time on the surface, they were relatively easy to spot from a good height and also at a distance.  When a U-boat was spotted, the plane would fly over into that area and drop its bombs into the vicinity, usually the U-boat would not have be able to dive in time.

The U-boat would either still be on the surface, as U-534 was, or just under the surface of the water, still vulnerable to bombs, and many were and indeed sunk in this way.

During the end of World War Two, late 1944 onwards, it was indeed a very perilous career being a U-boat crewman, with advances in submarine detection both on sea and in the air they were no longer the dark menacing kings of the sea.  The silent hunter wolves of the Atlantics days were seriously numbered.

Their heyday was indeed over and more than anything, a U-boat just presented itself as something to be hunted down and killed and indeed many were.  As reiterated later on this page, a grand total of 790 German U-boats were eventually sunk during World War Two, most of them in the last years of the war.  For the fate of U-534 we will now focus on May 5th, 1945, the very last day of the war.

Coastal Command Liberator, "G" for George, was flying over the Kattegat, north-west of Helsingör between Sweden and Denmark at around 13:15 hours and got a signal on their radar.  This signal signified a possible surfaced U-boat at a distance of four and half miles. At an altitude of 1,000 ft, the Liberator actually spotted no less than three U-boats on the surface.

A Liberator of 547 Squadron attacked twice but missed on both tries. This aircraft (E/547,Pilot, F.L. G.W. Hill ) took several hits from the U-boats 20mm and 37mm anti aircraft guns and subsequently a wing was shot off and the plane crashed into the ocean. There was only one survivor, he was rescued by a boat from nearby Anholt lighthouse. Two of the U-boats dived but U-534 remained on the surface.

The remaining surface U-boat was attacked with a brace of six depth charges set at ten feet explosion depth (surface depth) one of these actually landed on the upper deck of the U-boat! but didn't explode but just remained lodged there.

"G" for George then made a second run and a further four depth charges were dropped and the explosion off a close miss made the lodged depth charge roll off and it was this that detonated under the aft section of the U-boat splitting the pressure hull by the torpedo room.  This flooded the U-boat and the order to abandon ship was given. Forty nine of the fifty two crew actually managed to survive.

Brave Kapitan Nollau, Commander of U-534 made repeated dives back into the sinking U-boat to rescue several trapped comrades.  Kapitan Nollau never got over the loss of his sub and steeped with remorse he committed suicide with a shot to the head a year later in 1946. Below is the area of sea where U-534 was sunk.

Below: Actual photo of U-534 under attack from the Consolidated Liberator B24, that finally sunk her.

The  sub was not listed as a war grave and was subsequently raised on August 23rd, 1993 and rested at East Float Dock, Dock Road, Birkenhead, Wirral. on the A5139 road just off the River Mersey in Liverpool, England.  Karsten Ree, a Danish Businessman financed the raising oft the sub and the Dutch Salvage giant, Smit Tak, did the work to bring her to the surface.

U-534 IN FOCUS

U534 Type IXC/40 Long range Ocean class of the 33rd Flotilla Flensburg, Commissioned on December 23rd,1942. Sunk three years and five months later on the May 5th, 1945.  Raised forty eight years later on August 23rd, 1993.

When she was bombed by the Liberators, that dropped depth charges set at ten feet explosion depth the  starboard rear, lower hull was cracked by the pressure of the explosion. This was enough to flood the vessel. This damage to the subs hull can be seen in the image below.  It was through this damage that the sea water cascaded in, relentlessly flooding her compartments.

Water pressure even at ten or twenty feet is enough to allow water to force its way through cracked and damaged  steel plating at a tremendous rate. The buoyancy of a submarine is delicate, and it would not take long for water to fill up her compartments from damage received in an attack to start sinking the sub.

All submarines are very susceptible to bomb and machine gun fire as they have a relatively fragile superstructure in that they have a very small amount of armor plate.  A submarine cannot have much armor if any at all, as they have to keep the weight down. Diving would be easier for sure but surfacing would be a lot harder if the submarine was over weight.

In all a total of 87 type IXC/40 U-boats were built from 1941 to 1944, these boats were modifications of the standard  type IXC.  U-boats  in general are quite a large vessels, U-534 for example is 253 feet long, 26 feet wide and 15 feet tall, to the top of the hull. I had to stand a long way back so that I could get all of it into shot!

It could dive to a depth of two hundred meters and had an emergency diving time of 35 seconds. Surface speed of 18 knots, and just over seven knots  submerged. with 214 tons of diesel fuel oil it had a range of 11,400 miles surface or 63 miles submerged on battery power.  The  U-boat was complimented with a crew of 52 men. The most premium resource in a submarine is space, so all available space was filled with supplies.

THE WRECK

U-534 is  to be preserved and  restoration work has begun on this fated sub, she will be restored to her former glory. This task will still take time and money even though the sub is generally intact.

When I recently visited the sub it was noted that the conning tower had been restored and that all of the barnacles and silt had been removed from the hull that had accumulated after forty eight years of being under the sea.

This is a close up of the bow of the sub, the anchor and the bow planes can be seen, the torpedo doors are closed.

 

The engine room as it is today.

The galley all rusted up but still recognizable.

Some of the many relics that were discovered aboard U-534

Many cookery items were found, still intact!

It will take years to sift through all of the artefacts and to clean up the entire submarine to  a respectable former glory. A very rare opportunity for the restorers and one that I am slightly envious of!

THE SEA SHALL HAVE THEM

During World War Two, an amazing total of one thousand one hundred and sixty two German U-boats were built.  Out of that number a total of seven hundred and ninety of them, which equates as eighty percent, were sunk by enemy action.  This represents the most successful outcome on the enemy during World War Two, an eighty percent kill ratio sustains the fact that the U-boats suffered the most losses out of all enemy forces of the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht and indeed  Kreigsmarine Naval shipping.

It must be mentioned that all wars are wars of attrition, If for example I had ten thousand aircraft and you only had one thousand, its a good possibility that I would win by shear volume alone.  As mentioned elsewhere on the military section of this website, Joseph Stalin had a saying: " Quantity has a quality all of its own! "

Below are 790 hash symbols, whereas each # represents  one U-Boat. This is to help you envisage what 790 sunk U-Boats resemble in figures.  Its a lot isn't it! When we think that each U-Boat had a compliment of 50 to 60 men, most of whom died when their boats were sunk. May they all Rest In Peace.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

 Indeed what a total waste of life and materials, but sadly necessary during the conflict of Second World War, in its fight for freedom from the evil tyranny and suppression of the Third Reich.

A submarine is a colossal feat of engineering when you think about it, just consider the amount of thought and work that went into each one, each submarine being built by hand. Every one of the thousands of steel panels, wheels, pipes, cables, spindles, screws, locks and nuts all had to be manufactured all to do their job...just to be eventually destroyed.

40,000 Officers and men were employed in the U-boats during World War Two.  Out of this number, an incredible 30,246 were killed.  5,338 were rescued from destroyed and slowly sinking U-boats making a grand total of  35,584 U-boat crewmen who were directly and diversely affected.

Only 4,400 men ever returned home at the end of the war, most of whom were under the age of twenty five years old. The Atlantic battles between U-Boats and ships was total war, they didn't do things by halves.


Allied Merchant Shipping Losses World War Two

Year

Vessels Lost

Tonnage

1939

221

755,237

1940

1,059

3,991,641

1941

1,299

4,328,558

1942

1,664

7,790.697

1943

597

3,220,137

1944

205

1,045,629

1945

105

438,821

Total

5,150

21,570,720

Of the 5,150 Allied merchant vessels sunk during World War Two, 2,828 were sunk by the direct action of German U-boats. This equated to a fair few million tons of important shipping.

PRESERVATION

U-534 now resides  at Woodside Ferry Terminal, Mersey Ferries, Woodside, Birkenhead, Merseyside CH41 6DU.  She is now a permanent static display for the public to visit.

U-534 is no longer intact as a complete submarine. For better or for worse, she has been decimated into sections.  Indeed, she has been sliced up into four big sections, these sections have then been arranged in a big display area. Below is shown the dissected U-boat, just after she was cut up.

She will be displayed in sections, so that the general public can actually see right inside the U-boat without actually physically going inside it. Below is a clear image of the U-boat, just after she was spliced and separated.

She was cut up into four sections with a slow revolving diamond wire saw band that encompassed the entire hull, it took several weeks to finally quarter up each section of the hull.

          

There is a difference of opinion about the quartering of this historic World War Two artefact, some say it was corporate vandalism and irresponsible destruction of a rare piece of World War Two history, whilst others say it was a step in the right direction in which to display her.  No doubt the debate will continue for many years.

Apparently there were health and safety issues and also the European Union of Human Rights stipulates that all public displays must have wheel chair access as not to discriminate against the handicapped.  Since it was impossible to push a wheel chair bound person around the interior of U-534 then cutting her up was apparently the best option.

I have learned that health and safety has gone into overdrive, especially in the U.K, this is not because companies have real concerns over everyone's well-being but they are terrified about being sued for compensation over claims for injuries and apparently the U-534 as an attraction was no exception.

Below the image shows the engine room of the U-534, lots of rusty  and jagged pieces of metal to cut or graze a visitor. However, each section of the U-boat has had the end of it sealed with Perspex glass to allow the visitor a clear view of the interior without risk of injury.

So the governing body stated that either the U-boat was to be cut up into sections or it was to be cut up and sold for its scrap metal value, it must be said though that more cash could be generated over time as a public display then to scrap her.

The U-534 display was built at a cost £5 million of charitable donations and people wanted their monies worth or they would not have donated.  The list goes on as to why the U-534 was cut up though.  Either way, U-534 is now on permanent display and there is a fine purpose built museum (and as I understand, a restaurant) next to it that tells the story of U-534 and the war in the Atlantic during those desperate years.

When I visited U-534 over ten years ago, I could not get to see inside it at all and all the artefacts were all huddled together in the corner of some seedy little room.  This has all now been rectified and U-534 is now listed as an official public attraction for visits by families and schools.

So overall this new display is an improvement as it offers the chance for everyone young, old or disabled to see her.  So now all that remains is for you to consider whether or not you would like to visit the attraction.  If you are a submarine fan or historian then its worth the visit, even if you are flying in from afar.

She may be visited at the appropriate opening times and this information and more is now on the brand new U-534 website here...

www.u-boatstory.co.uk

I personally feel a little " cut-up " that U-534 has ended up this way, but I feel that it was perhaps the only way that it could have been permanently preserved albeit in sections.  U-505 in Chicago was put on public display as a whole unit where the public can go inside and see her as-is.

Unfortunately the interior of U-534 was a jagged mess of rusted up fixtures and fittings and was inherently unsafe for viewing from within, so if left as-was then maybe we would never have seen as much as we can now.

Good luck to the attraction and may she educate generation after generation about U-boats and the Atlantic war that took so many lives.

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Page created 2002 reposted July 23rd 2005.  Updated November 6th 2012