German submarine U-123 (1940)

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For other ships of the same name, see German submarine U-123.
Bundesarchiv Bild 101II-MW-3983-23, Lorient, Einlaufen von U-123.jpg
U-123 at Lorient in February 1942
Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-123
Ordered: 15 December 1937
Builder: DeSchiMAG AG Weser, Bremen
Laid down: 15 April 1939
Launched: 2 March 1940
Commissioned: 30 May 1940
Decommissioned: 17 June 1944
Fate: Scuttled at Lorient, France in August 1944
Career (France)
Name: Blaison
Acquired: 1945
Decommissioned: 18 August 1959
Fate: Decommissioned, 18 August 1959
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Type IXB U-boat
Displacement: 1,051 tonnes (1,034 long tons) surfaced
1,178 tonnes (1,159 long tons) submerged
Length: 76.5 m (251 ft) o/a
58.7 m (193 ft) pressure hull
Beam: 6.76 m (22.2 ft) o/a
4.4 m (14 ft) pressure hull
Draught: 4.7 m (15 ft)
Propulsion: Diesel/Electric
2 × MAN M 9 V 40/46 supercharged 9 cylinder diesel engines, 4,400 hp (3,300 kW)
2 × SSW 2 GU 345/34 double-acting electric motors, 1,000 hp (750 kW)
Speed: 18.2 knots (33.7 km/h; 20.9 mph) surfaced
7.3 knots (13.5 km/h; 8.4 mph) submerged
Range: 12,000 nmi (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
64 nmi (119 km; 74 mi)at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 48 to 56 officers and ratings
Service record
Part of: Kriegsmarine:
2nd U-boat Flotilla (Training)
2nd U-boat Flotilla (Front or operational boat)
2nd U-boat Flotilla (Operational training boat)
Identification codes: M 08 800
Commanders: Kptlt. Karl-Heinz Moehle
Kptlt. Reinhard Hardegen
Oblt.z.S. Horst von Schroeter
Operations: 12 patrols
1st patrol:
21 September–23 October 1940
2nd patrol:
14–28 November 1940
3rd patrol:
14 January–28 February 1941
4th patrol:
10 April–11 May 1941
5th patrol:
15 June–23 August 1941
6th patrol:
14 October–22 November 1941
7th patrol:
23 December 1941–9 February 1942
8th patrol:
2 March–2 May 1942
9th patrol:
5 December 1942–6 February 1943
10th patrol:
13 March–8 June 1943
11th patrol:
16 August 1943–7 November 1943
12th patrol:
9 January–24 April 1944
Victories: 42 ships sunk for a total of 219,924 gross register tons (GRT)
one auxiliary warship sunk of 3,209 GRT
one warship sunk of 683 tons
five ships damaged for a total of 39,584 GRT
one auxiliary warship damaged for 13,984 GRT

German submarine U-123 was a Type IXB U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine that operated during World War II. After that conflict, she became the French submarine Blaison (Q165)[2] until she was decommissioned on 18 August 1959.

Service history[edit]

U-123 was laid down on 15 April 1939 at the AG Weser yard in Bremen as yard number 955. She was launched on 2 March 1940 and commissioned on 30 May, with Kapitänleutnant Karl-Heinz Moehle (Crew 30) in command. He was relieved on 19 May 1941 by Kptlt. Reinhard Hardegen (Crew 33), who was relieved in turn on 1 August 1942 by his watch officer, Oberleutnant zur See Horst von Schroeter (Crew 37b). He remained in command until the boat was decommissioned in 1944.

U-123 conducted 12 war patrols, sinking 45 ships, totalling 227,174 gross register tons (GRT) and damaging six others, totaling 53,568 GRT. Among them were four neutral Swedish merchantmen; SS Anten, MV Korsholm, SS Nanking and MV Venezuela.

Operational history[edit]

1st patrol[edit]

U-123‍ '​s first patrol began with her departure from Kiel on 21 September 1940. Her route took her across the North Sea, through the gap between the Faroe and Shetland Islands and into the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland. She sank six ships in October, including Shekatika which was hit with no less than five torpedoes before she went to the bottom east southeast of Rockall. Nevertheless, her partial load of pit-props floated free before she went down.

The boat docked at Lorient in occupied France on 23 October.

2nd patrol[edit]

U-123 returned to the same general area for her second patrol as for her first. She was also almost as successful, sending another five merchantmen to watery graves. The voyage was marred on 17 November 1940 when Mechanikergefreiter Fritz Pfeifer was lost overboard. A week later (on the 23rd), after a successful attack, the boat was seriously damaged in collision with an unknown object ("probably a convoy vessel").

She returned to Lorient on 28 November.

3rd patrol[edit]

Her score rose steadily, sinking another four ships. One, Grootekerk, was sunk after a nine hour chase about 330 nmi (610 km; 380 mi)west of Rockall. There were no survivors.

4th patrol[edit]

Venturing further west of Ireland on her fourth sortie, the boat sank one ship, Venezuela on 17 April 1941. This was another vessel which required five torpedoes to ensure her destruction. There were also no survivors.

Having set-out from Lorient on 10 April, she returned to the same port on 11 May.

5th patrol[edit]

Patrol number five was conducted in the Atlantic, but in the vicinity of the Azores and the Canary Islands. Her first victim this time out was Ganda, a 4,300 ton neutral registered in Portugal. She went down on 20 June 1941. Following her sinking with torpedoes and gunfire, it was realised what her status was. On her return to Lorient, U-123‍ '​s war diary (KTB) was altered on the order of U-boat headquarters (BdU):[3]

The U-boat sank four other ships between 27 June and 4 July, but was depth charged for 11 hours on 27 June and only escaped by diving to 654 ft (199 m). She was also unsuccessfully attacked by convoy escorts west of Portugal on 12 August, although she sustained moderate damage.

6th patrol[edit]

Despite criss-crossing the Atlantic, U-123 found the pickings rather thin, she did manage to damage the armed merchant cruiser (AMC) HMS Aurania on 21 October 1941 and take one crewman prisoner. The ship had been travelling behind Convoy SL-89 with five other AMCs. The vessel was hit by two torpedoes but empty drums in the holds kept her afloat. A 25 degree list was reduced to 15 degrees; men had abandoned ship prematurely – hence the PoW. The ship continued her voyage, albeit at reduced speed.

7th patrol[edit]

U-123 took part in the opening of Unternehmen Paukenschlag ("Operation Drumbeat"), also called the "Second Happy Time" in January 1942. She began by sinking the cargo ship Cyclopsabout 125 nmi (232 km; 144 mi)southeast of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia on the 12th. Moving down the coast, she sank Norness, Coimbra, Norvana, City of Atlanta and the Latvian Ciltvaira. She was also credited with sinking San Jose on 17 January, although this ship was actually lost in a collision.[4] The Malay was only damaged because Hardegen had under-estimated her size and chose to use the deck gun rather than a torpedo. In a reference to American unpreparedness, he commented after sinking Norvana: These are some pretty buoys we are leaving for the Yankees in the harbor approaches as replacement for the lightships.

U-123 was attacked by an aircraft off New York, but withdrew without any damage being sustained. She also had a lucky escape on 19 January when Kormoros II tried to ram the boat off Oregon Inlet. At one point the ship was only 75 m (82 yd)away from the German submarine which had an inoperable diesel engine. The U-boat escaped when the recalcitrant power plant was restarted at the last minute and flares were fired at the larger vessel's bridge.

The Culebra and Pan Norway were also sunk off Bermuda. By now out of torpedoes and in the case of Pan Norway, the boat used the last of her deck gun ammunition and 37mm AA weapon to destroy the Norwegian vessel. The U-boat then encountered a Greek ship under a Swiss charter, which was directed to the survivors.

8th patrol[edit]

The boat's second Paukenschlag mission was also successful - sinking Muskogee and Empire Steel on 22 and 23 March 1942 near Bermuda before moving closer to the US east coast.

She then attacked the USS Atik, a Q ship. This disguised merchantman was hit on the port side, the crew started to abandon ship on the starboard side. The U-boat moved closer, at which point Atik dropped her concealment and opened fire with all weapons. U-123 ran off, (one man died in the action), but she dived, returned and sank the American vessel with a torpedo. There were no survivors. This was Captain Reinhard Hardegans 2nd patrol in charge and Quoted from U123 K.T.B war patrol log the following" Except for Holzer no one was wounded and a low pressure test showed that the pressure hull was intact. We were incredibly lucky. Eight 20 mm hits were counted on the bridge the next day. After we were out of range I went below deck and saw that the condition of F.z.See Holzer was hopeless. A 20 mm round detonated in his right thigh, ripped open the flesh from the hip joint to the knee and partially removed it. One could not see if the bone had been shattered. The leg was only hanging on small flaps of skin. We bound off the leg. We could only wrap a towel around the big wound because we had not enough dressing material for such injuries. It was immediately clear that such an injury could not be treated even by a doctor under the circumstances aboard a U-boat. We were many days from the next neutral harbor, so I took the decision to make it as easy as possible for him and injected a substantial dose of morphine. Holzer acted bravely in an exemplary manner. For one hour he was conscious, without a single word of complaint".F.z.See Holzer was buried at sea the following day.

The boat proceeded to sink or damage another eight ships; many of them resting on the sea bed in the shallow water with parts of their hulls above the surface. One such was Oklahoma which, although sent below in 40 ft (12 m) of water on 8 April, was re-floated, repaired and returned to service in December 1942. Another vessel, Gulfamerica was fatally struck about five miles from Jacksonville, Florida on 11 April. The ship had been on her maiden voyage from Philadelphia to Port Arthur, Texas, with 90,000 barrels of fuel oil. Nineteen crewmen were killed in the attack.[5][6][7][8] She did not sink until 16 April.

Another victim was Alcoa Guide, engaged at the relatively close range of 400 m (440 yd)by the deck gun, (U-123 had run out of torpedoes), on 17 April.

The boat then returned to Lorient on 2 May and proceeded to steam to Bergen in Norway before carrying out a series of short journeys to Kristiansand, Aarhus, Kiel and Stettin.

9th patrol[edit]

For her ninth patrol, U-123 left Kiel on 5 December 1942 and returned to the Atlantic. She sank Baron Cochrane on the 29th after the ship had already been damaged by U-406 and missed by U-591. U-123 also damaged Empire Shackleton, a Catapult Armed Merchantman north of the Azores. (The wreck was sunk by U-435 on the same day).

The boat returned to Lorient on 6 February 1943.

10th patrol[edit]

U-123 sailed to the West African coast. She sank the Spanish-registered motor ship Castillo Montealegreon 8 April 1943 west of Conakry, French Guinea. As per maritime rules, the neutral ship had the Spanish flag painted in both sides. Commander Horst von Schroeter ordered the shooting of 3 torpedoes and she sunk in less than a minute. The submarine surfaced, the commander confirmed that it just sunk a neutral ship, said "What ship?" and left without giving any assistance to the 40 survivors (five went down with the ship).

A few days later the Hill-class naval trawler HMS Inkpen rescued 29 survivors from a boat. 11 on a separated raft died. The affair was hushed-up by the government of Franco; indeed, the survivors were ordered to shut-up. The career of Commander Horst von Schroeter was unaffected by this affair and after the war he even became a NATO commander .[9]

U-123 was also successful against a British submarine, HMS P-615 100 nmi (190 km; 120 mi) southwest of Freetown in Sierra Leone on 18 April. She sank Empire Bruce on the same day, also southwest of Sierra Leone. She sank three more ships off Monrovia on 29 April, 5 May and 9 May. This included the Holmbury, which was sunk on 5 May by two torpedoes and gunfire. The crew (minus 2 firemen who were killed by the first torpedo) survived, after sailing to the Liberian coast in the one remaining lifeboat. The captain, J B Lawson, was taken aboard the U-123, where he was treated impeccably by Von Schroeter. Von Schroeter promised to send relevant photographs to Lawson a year after the war had ended - and did. (detailed in "70 True Stories of the Second World War", Odhams Press, 1953)

11th patrol[edit]

U-123 was depth charged off Cape Finisterre (northwest Spain), by Allied escort vessels on 25 August 1943 - the date is approximate. She was also attacked by a British De Havilland ('Tse Tse') Mosquito of No. 618 Squadron RAF on 7 November 1943. Its 57mm cannon killed one man and created a hole 18 × 6·5 cm, rendering the boat unable to dive.

12th patrol[edit]

U-123‍ '​s last patrol was her longest - 107 days, but after the incidents of the previous eleven, it was a bit of an anti-climax. She returned to Lorient unable to repeat her success, on 24 April 1944.

The boat was taken out of service at Lorient on 17 June 1944, she was scuttled there on 19 August. She was raised by the French in 1945 after Germany's surrender, and became the French submarine Blaison (Q165).[2] She was decommissioned on 18 August 1959.

U-37, a U-boat very similar to U-123 at Lorient in 1940. Note the twin rudders

Summary of raiding history[edit]

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage Fate[10]
6 October 1940 Benlawers  UK 5,943 Sunk
10 October 1940 Graigwen  UK 3,697 Sunk
19 October 1940 Boekelo  Netherlands 2,118 Sunk
19 October 1940 Clintonia  UK 3,106 Sunk
19 October 1940 Sedgepool  UK 5,556 Sunk
19 October 1940 Shekatika  UK 5,458 Sunk
22 November 1940 Cree  UK 4,791 Sunk
23 November 1940 Anten  Sweden 5,135 Sunk
23 November 1940 King Idwal  UK 5,115 Sunk
23 November 1940 Oakcrest  UK 5,407 Sunk
23 November 1940 Tymeric  UK 5,228 Sunk
24 January 1941 Vespasian  Norway 1,570 Sunk
4 February 1941 Empire Engineer  UK 5,358 Sunk
15 February 1941 Alnmoor  UK 6,573 Sunk
24 February 1941 Grootekerk  Netherlands 8,685 Sunk
17 April 1941 Venezuela  Sweden 6,991 Sunk
20 June 1941 Ganda  Portugal 4,333 Sunk
27 June 1941 Oberon  Netherlands 1,996 Sunk
27 June 1941 P.L.M. 22  UK 5,646 Sunk
29 June 1941 Rio Azul  UK 4,088 Sunk
4 July 1941 Auditor  UK 5,444 Sunk
21 October 1941 HMS Aurania  UK 13,984 Damaged
12 January 1942 Cyclops  UK 9,076 Sunk
14 January 1942 Norness  Panama 9,577 Sunk
15 January 1942 Coimbra  UK 6,768 Sunk
19 January 1942 Ciltyvaria  USSR 3,799 Sunk
19 January 1942 City of Atlanta  USA 5,269 Sunk
19 January 1942 Malay  USA 8,206 Damaged
19 January 1942 Norvana  USA 2,677 Sunk
25 January 1942 Culebra  UK 3,044 Sunk
27 January 1942 Pan Norway  Norway 9,321 Sunk
22 March 1942 Muskogee  USA 7,034 Sunk
24 March 1942 Empire Steel  UK 8,138 Sunk
27 March 1942 USS Atik  USA 3,209 Sunk
2 April 1942 Liebre  USA 7,057 Damaged
8 April 1942 Esso Baton Rouge  USA 7,989 Damaged
8 April 1942 Oklahoma  USA 9,264 Damaged
9 April 1942 Esparta  USA 3,365 Sunk
11 April 1942 Gulfamerica  USA 8,081 Sunk
13 April 1942 Korsholm  Sweden 2,647 Sunk
13 April 1942 Leslie  USA 2,609 Sunk
13 April 1942 Alcoa Guide  USA 4,834 Sunk
29 December 1942 Empire Shackleton  UK 7,068 Damaged
8 April 1943 Castillo Montealegre  Spain 3,972 Sunk
18 April 1943 Empire Bruce  UK 7,459 Sunk
18 April 1943 HMS P-615  UK 683 Sunk
29 April 1943 Nanking  Sweden 5,931 Sunk
5 May 1943 Holmbury  UK 4,566 Sunk
9 May 1943 Kanbe  UK 6,244 Sunk

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gröner 1985, pp. 105-6.
  2. ^ a b Kemp, p. 197.
  3. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "Ganda". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "Ships not hit by U-boats". German U-boats of WWII - 
  5. ^ "Excerpts from PAPA'S WAR, War on the Homefront -- The Torpedoed Tanker". Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  6. ^ U.S. Navy Armed Guard Index: Michael James Monohan
  7. ^ Civilian death due to operations of war. Washington Daily News, Sept 29 1942.
  8. ^ Florida East Coast Shipwrecks -- GulfAmerica Wreck
  9. ^ "El misterio del Castillo Montealegre". Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "WWII U-boat Successes Ships hit by U-123". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 30 December 2012. 


  • Gröner, Erich (1985). U-Boote, Hilfskreuzer, Minenschiffe, Netzleger, Sperrbrecher. Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe 1815-1945 (in German) III (Koblenz: Bernard & Graefe). ISBN 3-7637-4802-4. 
  • Kemp, Paul (1997). U-Boats Destroyed, German submarine Losses in the World Wars. Arms and Armour. ISBN 1-85409-515-3. 
  • "The People", Editor (1953). 70 True Stories of the Second World War. Odhams Press. 

External links[edit]

  • Helgason, Guðmundur. "The Type IXB boat U-123". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 3 April 2007#.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  • "U-123". Retrieved 4 April 2007. [dead link]
  • "Blaison" (in French). Retrieved 10 Sep 2010. 
  • Hofmann, Markus. "U 123" (in German).