German submarine U-557

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Career (Nazi Germany)
Name: U-557
Operator: Kriegsmarine
Ordered: 25 September 1939
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: 6 January 1940
Launched: 22 December 1940
Commissioned: 13 February 1941
Fate: Rammed and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Orione west of Crete on 16 December 1941
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Type VIIC submarine
Displacement: 769 tonnes (757 long tons) surfaced
871 t (857 long tons) submerged
Length: 67.10 m (220 ft 2 in) o/a
50.50 m (165 ft 8 in) pressure hull
Beam: 6.20 m (20 ft 4 in) o/a
4.70 m (15 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Height: 9.60 m (31 ft 6 in)
Draft: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Propulsion: 2 × supercharged Germaniawerft 6-cylinder 4-stroke F46 diesel engines, totalling 2,800–3,200 PS (2,100–2,400 kW; 2,800–3,200 bhp). Max rpm: 470–490
2 × BBC GG UB 720/8 double-acting electric motors, totalling 750 PS (550 kW; 740 shp) and max rpm: 296
Speed: 17.7 knots (32.8 km/h; 20.4 mph) surfaced
7.6 knots (14.1 km/h; 8.7 mph) submerged
Range: 8,500 nmi (15,700 km; 9,800 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
80 nmi (150 km; 92 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Crush depth: 250–295 m (820–968 ft)
Complement: 44–52 officers and ratings
Service record
Part of: Kriegsmarine
Commanders: Oblt.z.S. Ottokar Paulssen

U-557 was a Type VIIC U-boat built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine for service during World War II. She was laid down on 6 January 1940, launched on 22 December 1940 and commissioned on 13 February 1941. Oberleutnant zur See Ottokar Paulssen was in command throughout her career. For her first three war patrols her 2nd Watch Officer was Herbert Werner, who later wrote the memoir of U-boat service, "Iron Coffins". She sank six merchant ships and one warship, a total of almost 37,000 gross register tons (GRT) over four patrols.[2]

She was rammed and sunk by mistake by an Italian torpedo boat on 16 December 1941 west of Crete.


Emergency in the Baltic[edit]

U-557 commissioned in February 1941, and was assigned to 1st U-boat flotilla, then based at Kiel. She spent the next four months at Königsberg, working up in the Baltic. During this period she suffered a diving accident, during which one crewman died.[3] Werner describes this incident graphically in his book: He tells us that a routine dive in the Baltic turned into an emergency when the boat sank out of control. She hit the bottom stern-first with a thump. The depth gauge read 142 m (466 ft); the submarine was in severe difficulty, having taken on tons of water, poisonous chlorine gas was leaking from the batteries and there was the danger of an explosion. U-557 had also suffered her first death; a mechanic sustained fatal head injuries in the after torpedo room. A human chain of sailors was formed, passing buckets of sea-water to each other, in an attempt to shift some of the weight from the stern to the bow. After many hour's toil, the boat pivoted so that the bow hit the bottom. But the sheer weight of water (about 40 tons), prevented U-557 from reaching the surface. The boat, having exhausted its supply of compressed air, stayed on the sea-bed. The crew, under the direction of the Chief Engineer, rocked the boat by moving rapidly from stern to bow and back again. The submarine eventually worked herself free. After 20 hours, U-557 surfaced and sailed on to Kiel.[4]

First patrol[edit]

U-557 departed from Kiel on 13 May 1941 to take up station in the Atlantic.[5] On 24 May her captain was directed to support the sortie by battleship Bismarck and join a five boat patrol line west of the French coast to form a trap for units of the British Home Fleet, which were in pursuit as Bismarck fled towards the French coast.[6]

Despite their efforts the trap failed and Bismarck was attacked and sunk on 25 May. The Home Fleet had been able to track down and destroy Bismarck without hindrance from the U-boat Arm.[7]

The trap was dissolved and U-557 was directed to join patrol line West, searching for North Atlantic convoys. However the Bismarck operation had disrupted U-boat operations and only two ships sunk in latter two weeks of May; one of these was Empire Storm, sunk by U-557 on 29 May.[8][9]

On 1 June U-557 re-fuelled from supply ship Belchen, but later that same day Belchen was caught and sunk by Royal Navy units engaged in hunting down the Operation Rheinübung supply train.[10]

On 3 June U-557 joined Group West, but the group had no success; this period following the capture of U-110 and the consequent penetration of German Enigma code meant the Allies were able to re-route threatened convoys around areas of known U-boat activity and losses were kept to a minimum.[11]

U 557 abandoned her patrol after six relatively fruitless weeks, arriving at Lorient on 10 July.[5]

Second patrol[edit]

U-557 sailed on her second war patrol on 13 August 1941, though she returned two days later (reason unknown), sailing again on 20 August to take position south of Iceland.[12] On 24 August U-557 found and reported convoy OS 4 and commenced shadowing. As reinforcements arrived, Paulssen was permitted to attack; he made three approaches, sinking four ships in total.[13][14] Seven other U-boats joined the assault, but only one other had any success. U-557 continued to shadow, but had no further success, and on 28 August the attack was called off. On 28 August U-557 joined the Bosemuller patrol line.[15] On 2 September this was reconfigured into patrol line Seewolf.[16] Neither had any success and on 15 September U-557 was ordered to return, arriving at Lorient on 19 September.[12]

Third patrol[edit]

On 19 November 1941 U-557 sailed from Lorient bound for the Mediterranean.[17] Werner had been reassigned and had left the boat at this point.[18] On 25/26 November she successfully penetrated the Straits of Gibraltar, despite Allied ASW patrols, and on 2 December sank the freighter Fjord off Cape Estepona, Spain. This caused some controversy, as a subsequent investigation showed this attack had infringed Spanish neutrality, taking took place within Spanish territorial waters.[19] U-557 arrived at Messina on 7 December 1941.[17]

Fourth patrol[edit]

On 9 December U-557 sailed again on her fourth and last patrol, into the eastern Mediterranean.[20] In company with the Italian submarine Dagabur, on the night of 14/15 December 1941 she encountered the British light cruiser HMS Galatea. Both submarines made attacks on the cruiser and she sank with the loss of more than half her crew.[21] U-557 has been credited with the sinking.[22]

News of this sinking even reached the Submarine Tracking Room in London.[23]


At 1806hrs on 16 December, U-557 sent a short radio signal indicating that she was 18 hours from port. At 1800hrs on the same day, the Italian torpedo boat Orione left the Cretan port of Suda. The commander had no knowledge that a German U-boat was in the area of Crete.

When the Italian commander saw a submarine at 2144hrs, heading in a northerly direction, he decided to ram it, supposing it to be British. U-557 sank immediately with all hands; the damaged Italian torpedo boat headed back to base. The position of the incident was given by the Italian commander as 35°19′N 23°11′E / 35.31°N 23.19°E / 35.31; 23.19Coordinates: 35°19′N 23°11′E / 35.31°N 23.19°E / 35.31; 23.19.[2] [24] An investigation by Supermarina (Italian Naval Command) determined the collision was an accident, though they reserved judgement on whether the ramming was intended, or the result of a navigational error.[25] They also noted that German notification of U-557s presence in the area did not arrive with Supermarina until 2200hrs, after the incident had taken place.[3]


Summary of raiding career[edit]

Date Ship Name Nationality Tonnage Fate[26]
29 May 1941 Empire Storm  United Kingdom 7,290 Sunk
27 August 1941 Embassage  United Kingdom 4,954 Sunk
27 August 1941 Saugor  United Kingdom 6,303 Sunk
27 August 1941 Segundo  Norway 4,414 Sunk
27 August 1941 Tremoda  United Kingdom 4,736 Sunk
2 December 1941 Fjord  Norway 4,032 Sunk
15 December 1941 HMS Galatea  Royal Navy 5,220 Sunk


  1. ^ Gröner 1985, pp. 72-74.
  2. ^ a b Helgason, Guðmundur. "The Type VIIC boat U-557". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b U-557 at
  4. ^ Werner pp. 16-19
  5. ^ a b U-557 first patrol at
  6. ^ Blair p288
  7. ^ Blair p289-292
  8. ^ Empire Storm at
  9. ^ Blair p293
  10. ^ Blair p299
  11. ^ Blair p305
  12. ^ a b U-557 second patrol at
  13. ^ Blair p339
  14. ^ OS 4 at
  15. ^ Group Bosemuller at
  16. ^ Group Seewolf at
  17. ^ a b U-557 third patrol at
  18. ^ Werner p68
  19. ^ Fjord at
  20. ^ U-557 fourth patrol at
  21. ^ Blair p400
  22. ^ HMS Galatea at
  23. ^ Gannon, Michael - Operation Drumbeat - the dramatic true story of Germany's first U-boat attacks along the American coast in World War II, 1990, Harper and Row publishers, ISBN 0-06-016155-8, p. 200.
  24. ^ Niestle p69
  25. ^ Kemp p75
  26. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "Ships hit by U557". German U-boats of WWII - Retrieved 2 February 2014. 



  • Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). Deutsche U-Boot-Verluste von September 1939 bis Mai 1945. Der U-Boot-Krieg (in German) IV (Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn: Mittler). ISBN 3-8132-0514-2. 
  • 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. 

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