German U-Boats at War 1939-43
by Consim Press
History excerpted from Wikipedia
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot a shortening of Unterseeboot, which means “undersea boat”. While the German term refers to any submarine, the English one (in common with several other languages) refers specifically to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II. Although at times they were efficient fleet weapons against enemy naval warships, they were most effectively used in an economic warfare role (commerce raiding), enforcing a naval blockade against enemy shipping. The primary targets of the U-boat campaigns in both wars were the merchant convoys bringing supplies from Canada, the British Empire and the United States to the islands of the United Kingdom and (during World War II) to the Soviet Union and the Allied Countries in the Mediterranean. Austro-Hungarian submarines of World War I (and before) were also known as U-boats.
During World War II, U-boat warfare was the major component of the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted the duration of the war. Germany had the largest submarine fleet in World War II, since the Treaty of Versailles had limited the surface navy of Germany to six battleships (of less than 10,000 tons each), six cruisers and 12 destroyers. Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote “The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”
U-boat pens in Saint-Nazaire, France
In the early stages of the war, the U-boats were extremely effective in destroying Allied shipping, initially in the mid-Atlantic, where there was a large gap in air cover. There was an extensive trade in war supplies and food across the Atlantic, which was critical for Britain’s survival. This continuous action became known as the Battle of the Atlantic, as the British developed technical defences such as ASDIC and radar, and the German U-boats responded by hunting in what were called “wolfpacks” where multiple submarines would stay close together, making it easier for them to sink a specific target. Later, when the United States entered the war, the U-boats ranged from the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Arctic to the west and southern African coasts and even as far east as Penang. The U.S. military engaged in various tactics against German incursions in the Americas; these included military surveillance of foreign nations in Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean, in order to deter any local governments from supplying German U-boats.
Because speed and range were severely limited underwater while running on battery power, U-boats were required to spend most of their time surfaced running on Diesel engines, diving only when attacked or for rare daytime torpedo strikes. The more ship-like hull design reflects the fact that these were primarily surface vessels which had the ability to submerge when necessary. This contrasts with the cylindrical profile of modern nuclear submarines, which are more hydrodynamic underwater (where they spend the majority of their time) but less stable on the surface. Indeed, while U-boats were faster on the surface than submerged, the opposite is generally true of modern subs. The most common U-boat attack during the early years of the war was conducted on the surface and at night, see submarine warfare. This period, before the Allied forces developed truly effective antisubmarine warfare (ASW) tactics, was referred to by German submariners as “die glückliche Zeit” or “the happy time.”
On September 3rd 1939, after Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany in response to the invasion of Poland, the following message was transmitted to all Kriegsmarine ships. “Hostilities with England effective immediately”, thus began “the Happy Times” for those in the U-Boat command. The “Happy Times” were characterized by the rampant sinking of ships bringing supplies to England and lasted until approximately June of 1943. After that time the technical advances made by the Allies made attacking the newly formed convoys a hazardous undertaking for the Unterzeeboot service.
These technical advances included the convoy system, with sufficient escort vessel accompanying them; advanced radar, sonar and direction finding; and the monitoring of the German “Enigma” system, showing the location of active Wolfpacks. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, German subs feasted along the East Coast of the United States until active anti-submarine methods were employed there as well.
The Hunters is a solitaire, tactical game, involving the player as the Kommendant of an active, patrolling U-Boat. There are various types of subs used by Germany in World War II available for you to command. Each of these boats has a date attached in which they are available for sea service. To begin in 1939 only the Type VIIA or B and the Type IXA are available, giving the player the entire time span covered by the game. The date determines when your first patrol may begin.
What’s in the Box?
- 1 24-page Rule Book
- 1 Die-cut counter sheet including damage counters, torpedoes, AA gun rounds and the
- other counters needed to play the game.
- 1 pad of Patrol Log Sheets, upon which is recorded the damage and sinking’s of enemy
- ships over the duration of the patrol.
- 4 Double-sided Submarine display mats, covering the different types of subs available
- 1 U-Boat Combat Mat upon which all combat actions encountered while on patrol are
- 4 Player Aid Charts covering the rosters of enemy ships, patrol assignments, airplane
- encounters, random events and so forth.
- 5 Dice, 3 six-sided(one black, two white) and two ten-sided(one black, one white).
Upon selection of the submarine you wish to command and noting on the Patrol Log Sheet its type, ID number and the name of the Kommandant, you begin the outfitting of your vessel for its first patrol. you take on torpedoes to its full capacity, the same for deck gun ammunition. Place upon the mat your rank token, crew quality marker, Hull Damage and Flooding markers. You are now ready to roll for your first patrol with two d6.
After the determination of which patrol you are designated you place your U-Boat marker next to he first Transit box on the Submarine Display Mat. You again roll 2d6 to see if there is an enemy encounter in that first Transit box, if none you proceed to the next patrol box and roll again. Should there be an encounter, you transfer to the Combat Mat to resolve this encounter. If it is an aircraft encounter it must be resolved immediately, if an escort of a convoy or capital ship you may endure a depth charging. If the encounter is of an unescorted ship you plot that ship by tonnage on the Combat Mat and make the decision as to whether you want to engage the target or not, remember attacking a ship or convoy is always voluntary.
Encounters with Capital Ships and Convoys are always escorted and thereby subject to you being detected by the escorts. After being detected by the escort the vessel will undergo a depth charge attack with any subsequent damage recorded on the Display Mat.
After the first attack by the escort the detection roll must be made again, which if positive will result in another depth charge attack. The procedure will continue until the U-Boat can successfully escape detection, or will sunk or driven to the surface by the damage taken. One method of escaping detection is to submerge to below the test depth of the vessel, but this self-inflicts damage on the sub and should not be attempted lightly.
Attacks on Capital Ships, if successful, will guarantee the Kommandant a Knight’s Cross as a reward, but because of the heavy escorts of such vessels is a risky business at best.
As I said before attacking a ship or convoy is always voluntary, however the success or failure of your patrol is based on the tonnage sunk. Since ships available to attack range from small freighters to large ships of over 10,000 tons, attacks on larger vessels are more advantageous. A convoy consists of four ships for game purposes. This would be the number of ships in your immediate area regardless of the size of the entire convoy.
After determining the composition of the four ships and their size the decision comes down to which of your potential targets are worth attacking.
Night time attacks may conducted by the use of surface gunfire, using your deck guns.
Surface gunfire may also be used against single targets during the daytime as well. Vessels noted on the Encounter Table as “Ship”, “Two Ships”, or “Tanker” are not escorted upon contact. If not sunk on the first attack, a second round of combat must be accompanied by a die roll for escorts or aircraft appearing on the scene and the possibility of damage being inflicted on your boat.
Special Missions are included in the patrol mix, these include Mine-Laying trips to various coasts and the delivery of Abwehr agents to various countries. The failure of these special missions will label the entire patrol a failure with the consequent detractions from your overall prestige regardless of ship tonnages sunk.
Damage is sustained by your boat as a result of each air or escort attack. This is resolved on the damage table using 2d6. Using the one black die and one of the white dice, the damage is resolved by designated as the “tens” die and the other as the “ones” die. This damage is recorded on the Display Mat on the proper tracks. You as the Kommandant may inflict damage on your own boat in an effort to break off detection from the escorts by exceeding the Test Depth of your vessel. Damage is inflicted upon specific systems as well as the general Hull damage or Flooding. These systems include the Periscope, Engines and Fuel Tanks. Such damage may be repaired on site by rolling a single die, failing to repair the damage will result in an inoperable system. The result of an inoperable system may be the aborting of the current patrol. If the decision is taken to abort the patrol the U-Boat token is placed on the nearest Transit box and encounter is rolled for in the normal way. This procedure is repeated until the vessel is back into port.
Returning to port now subjects the boat to an interpatrol refit. Minimum refit period is one month. So if your first patrol is in September your next patrol will begin in November. Additional refit time is assessed for damage to the Hull, Flood damage, inoperable systems and crew injuries. As the refit time accumulates your next patrol will be delayed that much longer.
Dependent upon the success of your patrol additional medals may be awarded, with the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds being the ultimate reward. Crew advancement is tied to the number of successful patrols completed. Advancement of individual positions and general crew advancement will impact repairs at sea reducing the chance of aborting a patrol based on inoperative systems.
Random Events are triggered once in the course of a patrol. The role of 12 on 2d6 will trigger the random event during an encounter roll. A second roll of 12 during that patrol will be ignored for a random event. These events will be processed immediately. Some events will be set aside to be used at a future time, such as superior torpedoes.
Rules are included for playing two-player games and various types of tournaments. Optional rules are included to enhance the historical recreation of this period in history.
A section is included outlining the top ten U-Boat Historical Captains and their accomplishments.
I found this game to be a challenge and a joy. A challenge because completing a successful patrol is not a “breeze”. The Hunters requires a judicious and thoughtful decision at each box entered during the course of a patrol. Factors outside the direct control of the Commander and Crew bear can have a distinct impact on how the patrol is completed.
This game is highly recommended for any gamer who wishes to delve deeper into captaining a submarine in a war setting. As a solitaire game, it allows you to make your decisions and take your chances in the field of undersea warfare. Naval gamers will be enlightened by this game as they plot their attacks and dive deep for pending depth charge attacks. To say this is an enjoyable game is really not giving it ample credit for its design. The Hunters is now going into its “Third Printing” which should provide the reader who has not yet purchased the game an idea on how good the game really is. So, button up your leather submariner jacket as you face not only the enemy but also the weather of the North Atlantic.
Available from GMT Games for $45.00