Each of the survivors has been refitted with Air Independent Propulsion similar to the Bundesmarine’s Type 212 and the Israeli version, the Dolphin class. They also have new diesels, although with greater output than those fitted to the 212s – remember a Type XXI is a serious, ocean-going U-Boat, in their day the largest submarines afloat.
Don’t get too hung up on the age thing – there are plenty of examples of warships still in commission more than 50 years after they were built. The General Belgrano, very properly torpedoed by the Royal Navy in the Falklands War, was at Pearl Harbor, more than 40 years earlier. The Big E is not only still going but has a good few years left in her judging by her state when I was on her in 2006. The wonderful Iowa class were decommissioned prematurely, without a big-gun land attack/fire support replacement, over 50 years after they first went to sea. HMS Hermes, probably the world’s oldest commissioned surface warship, now serving with the Indian Navy, was laid down on 21st June 1944 and might even see her 70th birthday, counting from her laying down (she was a long time commissioning, partly as she was redesigned with a canted deck). She might even see another war, making up for the sad facts that she missed Korea, Suez and ‘Nam.
This is not to say there isn’t some mystery about the XXIs – what are their numbers, are they all Schichau boats or were some built in another yard, what is their precise diesel fit, are they still using schnorkels (there is reporting the schnorkels were removed during their most recent refits) and where were they based after ’45? How many have been lost, in what circumstances and what was the maximum fleet size? I recently heard a figure of 50, in the years after World War II, and didn’t argue against it.
What we do know is that the Kriegsmarine’s official build figures were as phoney as the German government’s claims that Auschwitz-Birkenau was a holiday camp. Hold the presses – untrue claims by the German government in the Nazi period! It is extraordinary how gullible historians can be – Nazi-era records tend to be taken at face value. They should not be. The claim that the Type XXI was principally designed for combat operations was also a phoney, intended to justify the development cost to Hitler and the Nazi government. Although they engaged in limited combat operations – after the war was already lost – the Type XXI was designed as a cargo carrying boat, hence its large internal volume.
From the fall of 1944 they carried intelligence officers, documents, cash, gold, blueprints, weapons and anything else Canaris, von Lahousen (who was in day to day charge of the DVD after the Abwehr was formally wound up and Canaris was arrested) and the directing staff of the DVD needed getting out of Germany. They also did a number of Germany-Japan runs. The DVD’s boats were never on the Kriegsmarine’s books, although they were crewed by Kriegsmarine personnel, some of whom were probably listed as dead. Faking deaths in Germany in 1944-5 was pretty easy.
The cover-story for Canaris’ death was so flimsy it shouldn’t have stood up to a day’s scrutiny, but there was hardly any scrutiny at all. What there was, was often under the control of DVD assets in OSS such as Richard Helms, or Colonel Whiting, or ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, although you could argue that the latter was closer to the Jesuits and worked with the DVD rather than for them.
MI6 were just as badly penetrated.
Some XXIs have been broken up or scuttled, but since the discovery in the Madeleine McCann case in 2007/8 that they had been used to smuggle kidnapped children, a discovery which left Leicestershire Police a long way behind (no offense, but DC ‘Plod’ were so far out of their depth on that one they could have been swimming in the Marianas Trench) there has been a covert sub war. Although the US and Royal Navies have helped with the tracking the application of kinetic effect has been left to our gallant wartime ally Russia.
The Russian Navy are reported to have done excellent work, and seem to have bagged at least four, including one on a drug run off the coast of Norway (they do drug runs into the East Coast as well) . That was down to a Kilo class, which put a 533 mil torpedo into a XXI which was surfaced hull-down (a number of Jerries were left on the surface, four of them turning up dead in a zodiac on a Norwegian beach, causing puzzlement in Oslo).
The Russians have tended to use SSKs rather than SSNs for both tracking and engaging XXIs, for sound tactical reasons. So far as is known no Russian surface vessel or aircraft (they have some useful ASW kit, including the old but sturdy Il-38) has ever engaged a XXI, but that day cannot be far off. I would prefer to see the XXIs forced to the surface but for political reasons the decision has been taken to sink rather than capture, preserving deniability.
The time has come to unleash the Royal Navy and US Navy as well, and to move from sinking to capture. A real live World War II U-Boat complete with a haul of drugs or kidnapped kiddies or a half-megaton nuke, and a bunch of sorry-looking Jerries, being escorted into Portsmouth or Norfolk would take a lot of explaining away. Even Josef Goebbels, Germany’s top spin-doctor in the Nazi era, would have had trouble coming up with an innocent explanation for that one.
We may have lost some children in these operations, sadly, but they would have been murdered by the DVD in snuff movies anyway and were probably spared a fate worse than death. The Russians love children and they have tended not to go for XXIs on the kidnapped kiddie runs from the Sao Paolo region of Brazil (into Portugal, or the Sao Tome & Principe Group for trans-shipment, although I hear a very nice bunch of SEALs may have shut down that facility), concentrating on drug runs.
The Russian skippers have shown great skill by the way, tracking at very long ranges and staying very quiet. Several have earned decorations and probably ought to be decorated as a courtesy with British or American medals.
World War II is back on, people.