World War 2 History: The Only Time in History a Submerged Submarine Sank Another Submerged Submarine

Updated on August 20, 2018
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

British Sub HMS Venturer

WW2: HMS Venturer. August 18, 1943.
WW2: HMS Venturer. August 18, 1943. | Source

Sub To Sub

In movies and books about the Cold War and whatever era we are in now and wherever we're going, it is not uncommon for two submarines to fight each other deep below the ocean's surface. Usually, one emerges victorious, while the other, holed or blown to pieces, disappears into the freezing, inky depths below. In actuality, there is only one documented instance in history of a submerged sub attacking and destroying another submerged sub.

German U-864 Was a Large Type IX U-Boat

World War II: A smaller Type VII U-Boat (left) next to a large Type IX U-Boat in the submarine pens at Trondheim, Norway after the war. U-864 was a Type IX.
World War II: A smaller Type VII U-Boat (left) next to a large Type IX U-Boat in the submarine pens at Trondheim, Norway after the war. U-864 was a Type IX. | Source

U-Boat U-864

The German U-Boat U-864 was assigned to carry out Operation Caesar, a plan to take critical advanced war supplies and design documents to Japan, in December 1944. U-864 was a large Type IX U-Boat, displacing 1,800 tons and designed for long ocean-going missions with a range of over 18,000 miles. A series of mishaps and Allied bombings delayed her sailing until February 1945, when she left Bergen, Norway for the Far East. She was carrying parts and drawings for jet fighter aircraft and V-2 missile guidance systems as well as 67 tons of mercury stowed in more than 1,800 steel bottles. The mercury was critical for the manufacture of explosives, especially detonators. On board were 73 men, including two Japanese engineers and her captain, Ralf-Reimar Wolfram.

The Enigma Machine

WW2: Enigma Machine at the Imperial War Museum, London. It was enigma intercepts that alerted the Royal Navy to Operation Caesar.
WW2: Enigma Machine at the Imperial War Museum, London. It was enigma intercepts that alerted the Royal Navy to Operation Caesar. | Source

HMS Venturer

During the months before her departure, the British had intercepted and deciphered Enigma-encoded messages and knew all about U-864's mission. The Admiralty diverted the British submarine HMS Venturer to search for U-864 along Norway's west coast. It was a small V-Class submarine, displacing 740 tons, with a crew of 37, including its captain, 25-year-old Jimmy Launders, who was something of a boy wonder with a genius for mathematics.

Misfiring Engine

On February 9, U-864's bad luck continued when one of her engines started misfiring. Captain Wolfram informed headquarters at Bergen he was returning for repairs and was told that an escort would meet them the next day. Unfortunately, the misfiring greatly increased the submarine's noise signature and Venturer picked it up and decided to investigate.

Traditional Surface (2-D) Firing Solution

A two-dimensional (surface) firing solution. Launders had to figure in the third dimension and fill in all the variables for his firing solution.
A two-dimensional (surface) firing solution. Launders had to figure in the third dimension and fill in all the variables for his firing solution. | Source

U-864 Stays Submerged

While at periscope depth, Venturer spotted U-864's periscope or snorkel and began tracking the German sub, waiting for it to surface in order to get a good shot at it. U-864 soon detected it was being followed and remained under the surface, where it knew it would be safe from the enemy submarine, and Wolfram commenced zig-zag procedures. For several hours Venturer followed U-864, but it was apparent that the German was not going to surface, so Launders began to calculate a three-dimensional firing solution. A ship on the surface moves in only two dimensions, forward/backward and left/right, and is difficult enough to hit. U-864 had an extra dimension to play with-- up/down-- and such a complex solution had never been tried before, since the mathematics were so difficult. Adding to the problem was the fact that surface targets were visually acquired, while the three-dimensional location of U-864 was based on sound alone.

The Attack

Launders and his crew bent to the task of calculating where U-864 would be four minutes in the future, applying all they had observed in the hours tracking her as she zigged and zagged and dove and rose. Finally, they had the best solution they could come up with and readied their four forward torpedoes (they only had eight torpedoes total). One by one the torpedoes were fired, each at a different angle and target depth, 17 seconds apart. After the last torpedo launched, Launders immediately dove to evade any retaliation. Upon hearing the torpedoes in the water, Wolfram also ordered a dive. For four minutes the torpedoes ran. The first one missed. The second one missed. The third one missed. But the U-864 had dived right into the path of the last torpedo, which struck her. She imploded and split in two, taking all hands with her to the bottom 500 feet below the surface.

U-864's Grave

WWII: The location of the World War 2 German submarine U-864. It was sunk here by the British submarine HMS Venturer in February 1945.
WWII: The location of the World War 2 German submarine U-864. It was sunk here by the British submarine HMS Venturer in February 1945. | Source

Aftermath

Several awards were given to Venturer's crew and Launders himself received the Distinguished Service Order, considered second only to the Victoria Cross. The techniques he used became the basis of modern torpedo computer targeting systems. Launders stayed in the Navy until he retired in 1962 with the rank of Commander and died in 1988 at the age of 69.

The wreckage of U-864 was discovered in 2003 about three miles west of the island of Fedje, Norway. It is classified as a War Grave, however the bottles containing the mercury are deteriorating and an estimated 9 lbs of the toxic substance leaks into the waters every year, contaminating all the sea life in the area. Norway has suggested entombing it in 40 feet of sand and encasing that with concrete or gravel, but critics are concerned about future leakage. A plan to raise it has been put forth but, at a cost of $150 million, the plan has been postponed.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Hunt

    Comments

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      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Jerome, nice to know. I'll do better than just post your comment; I've put a link to your book on Amazon in the hub.

      • profile image

        Jerome Preisler 

        6 years ago

        For the full story of U-864 read my book CODE NAME CAESAR: The Secret Hunt For U-Boat 864 During World War Two, just released in the U.S. by Berkley/Caliber. Yes, it sounds like an unmitigated plug, and to some extent I suppose it is, but I think anyone interested in this subject will learn a good deal about it, as I did in my research. Thanks.

      • The Republican profile image

        The Republican 

        6 years ago from USA

        Do you know of any veterans, if you do, would you please leave their names on my hub 'Veterans Forever'? Thank you,

        ~The Republican

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thank you, Gypsy, for your comment and sharing. Yes, apparently that's a lot of mercury poisoning the waters. If I did the math right, mercury could be leaking from the wreck for another 13,000 years or so. Of course no one knows how much mercury was spewed out during the explosion and subsequent implosion. War pollutes.

      • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

        Gypsy Rose Lee 

        6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

        Voted up and interesting. This was a fascinating read. The information and video great. I sure hope they discover a solution for that polluting problem. Passing this on.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, aethelthryth. I enjoyed researching this and, after I wrote it, found the video series and was glad the facts jive. I always like it when sepearate research from several sources is reinforced like that.

      • aethelthryth profile image

        aethelthryth 

        6 years ago from American Southwest

        Another dramatic article. Good job.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for reading and commenting, MG Singh. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • MG Singh profile image

        MG Singh 

        6 years ago from Singapore

        Fascinating information.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Peter, I admit to a certain level of "verifying" the computer's work, but I think a three-dimensional firing solution would have made my head explode. Thanks very much for your comment.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi, jolinabetts. What an awesome comment! I've always felt history can be interesting and I try to write it that way-- but never by bending the facts as I think I know them. And thanks for following. I have returned the favor and am following you-- your hubs also look interesting.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        alikhan3, thank you for reading and commenting. I'm sure you know, as a writer, how gratifying it is when someone enjoys reading one's work.

      • Peter Geekie profile image

        Peter Geekie 

        6 years ago from Sittingbourne

        Dear unamedharald

        An excellent and well researched article. I'm one of the old school who still works things out in my head before using a computer. I'm always amazed how the hard way worked just as efficiently 70years ago

        Thank you for a good read

        Kind regards Peter

      • jolinabetts profile image

        Sunshine Diaz 

        6 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

        Great Hub! this is like reading out of a Tom Clancy book. I really enjoyed reading it! Thumbs up for interesting and awesome! AND i'm following you too, awaiting for your next good hub!

      • alikhan3 profile image

        StormsHalted 

        6 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

        Great Hub.....very interesting

        i enjoyed reading that

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        You're very welcome, Natashalh and thanks for reading and commenting. I felt the same way-- I was surprised it's only happened once. Glad you like the diagram. It was something I ran across just after I first published it and thought it was perfect.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        Fascinsting! I had no idea there was only one case of a submerged sub sinking another submerged sub. I really like the diagram and explanation of the tactics used. Thanks for putting this together.

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