Commercial submarine

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The Germany as a commercial submarine

As a trade-submarines nonmilitary be submarines called, can be transported by means of which goods or raw materials, despite a naval blockade. Compared to conventional merchant ships, merchant submarines are distinguished by the fact that they allow a sea blockade to be breached unnoticed by diving . Since commercial submarines are unarmed submarines, they are civilian vehicles with a civilian crew and thus enjoy full protection under international law as a commercial ship.

First World War

Commercial submarines were constructed because the German Reich was largely cut off from overseas trade in the First World War due to the English naval blockade. The primary goal was to safely transport strategically important raw materials that were necessary for the continuation of the war into the country. Payment for the required raw materials was indirectly based on the principle of barter , since consideration in Reichsmarks would have been disadvantageous for the American trading partners.

On November 8, 1915, the Bremen merchant Alfred Lohmann , the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping company and Deutsche Bank founded the new German Ocean Shipping Company (DOR). When it was founded, they commissioned a cargo-carrying submarine, the Deutschland . U-Germany was entered in the shipping register on March 28, 1916. In tonnage certificate 791 were  BRT and 414  NRT entered. Six more merchant submarines were commissioned, but before their first use as merchant submarines, due to the increased naval blockade of the Royal Navy and the entry of the United States into the war in 1917, they became artillery submarines, so-called U -Cruisers that have been converted.

Plans to supply the German East Africa colony and to break the sea ​​blockade there with the help of submarines came up in the Reich Colonial Office in 1916 . However, they were not taken up by the Imperial Navy because of their own submarine needs due to the unrestricted submarine warfare and the foreseeable technical hurdles. Other obstacles were the confusing situation on the East African theater of war and the withdrawal of the German protection force from the coastal areas.

Second World War

During the Second World War there were projects to build and use merchant submarines again. However, it remained with the so-called milk cows , which were used to supply the deep-sea submarines. Furthermore, regular combat submarines were entrusted with transport tasks several times. The XB mine-laying boats selected for this purpose brought technical plans and materials from Germany to Japan. The cargo included mercury , uranium oxide , V2 rocket motors and documents for the Me-262 and Me-163 fighters and various jet propulsion systems . In return, raw materials such as tin and rubber were transported. Of the eight boats deployed, only U 219 and U 234 survived their deployment.

Post-war plans and current use

As part of the development of the oil reserves in Alaska and Russia , there were also projects for transport submarines. Gigantic submersible nuclear- powered oil tankers would have been used to transport the oil under the Arctic ice .

Every now and then newspaper reports appear about smuggler submarines that have been intercepted by customs because they are said to have been used for drug smuggling. Initially, mostly mini submarines were used, which can transport a few hundred kilograms of narcotics , but current boats have a transport capacity in the ton range. Probably the largest smuggler submarine was discovered in an underground shipyard in Colombia before its completion and had a transport capacity of 200 tons. Most of these submarines are built on Russian models. It is essential, however, that these smuggling submarines have not yet been able to dive completely and are therefore also referred to as semi-submersibles . This means that the boat moves below the surface of the water, but at least a tower structure or even a larger part of the top of the ship is above the water and thus the control is simplified and the drive can take place via normal diesel engines, since the air supply is ensured is. It is common that these boats are only used for one-time transport and are sunk at the point of arrival. It is now estimated that a third of the drugs that are supposed to be brought to the USA by sea are transported by submarine.

Well-known commercial submarines

So far, only two larger commercial submarines have been designed and used worldwide. These were the German merchant submarines Deutschland and Bremen , which were put into service at the time of the First World War.

Submarine Germany

The U-Deutschland was the only commercial submarine that could complete two trade trips between the United States and Germany. After the USA entered the war it was converted into a submarine cruiser.

Submarine Bremen

The sister ship of Germany , the Bremen , was lost on its maiden voyage. Their fate has not yet been clarified. Upon completion, it was handed over and on 8 July 1916, the DOR in the shipping register of Bremen entered. The captain was Karl Schwartzkopf. He was a reserve officer in the Navy , trained on submarines and was released from active service before the Bremen took over. On August 21, 1916, the left Bremen to Kiel harbor and made short in Helgoland harbor station, and then to begin the crossing. It was lost on this trip. Even after the hostilities ended, the fate of this boat was not clarified; However, the British auxiliary cruiser Mantua reported a collision with a submarine-like object south of Iceland . Another theory, supported by naval historian Anthony Preston , among others , assumes a mine hit .


  • Paul König: The journey of Germany . Ullstein, Berlin 1916, Machdruck: Salzwasser, Paderborn 2012, ISBN 978-3-86382-616-1 .
  • Eberhard Rössler : The German submarines and transport submarines . Bernard & Graefe, Bonn 2003, ISBN 3-7637-6246-9 .
  • Jan Heitmann : Underwater into the new world. Commercial submarines and imperial submarine cruisers in the field of tension between politics and warfare . Spitz, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-87061-788-8 (dissertation, University of Hamburg, 1996, 365 pages).
  • Claus Geißler: Code name U 200 - The dive boat post story 1916/1917 . Potsdam Philatelic Office, Berlin 2005, DNB 956 613 853 .g

Web links

Wiktionary: Commercial submarine  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Reinhard K. Lochner: Battle in the Rufiji Delta - The end of the small cruiser "Königsberg". The German Navy and Protection Force in the First World War in East Africa . Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-453-02420-6 .
  2. Fast crooks . In: Der Spiegel . No. 26 , 2008 ( online - via Colombian Smuggling Submersibles).
  3. The drug mafia submarine intercepted in Honduras. In: Standard. July 14, 2011, accessed August 20, 2012 .
  4. Drug smuggling. Disguise and deceive. In: Public Safety. Federal Ministry of the Interior, September 2010, accessed on August 20, 2012 .
  5. Submarines from the drug jungle. In: Spiegel Online . June 25, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2012 .
  6. Jump up ↑ Submarine with ten tons of cocaine. News T-Online, October 23, 2009, accessed August 20, 2012 .