U 511 and Missiles

U 511, U 1063 and plans for U-boats armed with seabased missiles

The history of the German missile developments for combat employment in World War II is well researched and has seen many publications (see below some literature), above all the V-1 and V-2 and their engagement. After enormous efforts in human and material resources during the first years of the war for their development and the start of their mass production under the most cruel working conditions, these missiles, often in popular science writing called “Wonder Weapons”, were employed from June 1944 onwards, in particular against England. While the V-1 and the V-2 (“V” is short for “Vergeltungswaffen”= “Weapons of Retaliation”, with the “V-1” being originally designated as “Fi-103”, indicating “Fi” to stem from the aircraft designer Fieseler, and the “V-2” being originally designated as “A-4” from “A” = “Aggregat”) were generally missiles against area targets only due to their CEP of around 20 kilometers radius, there were other developments for much more precise missiles against targets at land, in the air and at sea.

Observing the timelines, this essay shall present some of the deliberations and actual trials for the seabased employment of V-1 and V-2 from U-boats, and the myths having derived from that. Also, some remarks about trials and employment of other missiles will be given.

Kommandant von U 511 und U 873 - KptLt. Friedrich Steinhoff
CO of U 511 and U 873 – Kapitänleutnannt (Lieutenant-Commander) Friedrich Steinhoff

Supposedly, an idea to use U-boats as means for transporting and launching missiles was born as early as 1941 by a family connection. This connection was represented by the brothers Kapitänleutnant (= Lieutenant Commander) Friedrich Steinhoff (born on 14 July 1909), Commanding Officer of the Kriegsmarine U-boat U 511 since 08 December 1941, and the engineer Dr. Ernst Steinhoff, MEngSc, (born on 11 of February 1908), who served as department chief for missile guidance systems under Wernher von Braun in the German missile development center at Peenemünde on the Island of Usedom at the Baltic Sea.

And, so in the Spring of 1942 at the shores of and in the Greifswalder Odde trials were actually executed using the Army grenade launcher “30 cm Wk Spr 42” (“Wk” = Wurfkörper = launcher). That launcher facilitated the firing of grenades filled with either explo-sive charges or flammable liquids, to distances of about 5,000 meters, to either take under fire entire areas or spread smoke for covering purposes. Following first test launches on 14 and 15 May 1942 from shore and on 27 and 28 May 1942 from a launcher sent to the bottom of the coastal water, some 4 launching racks were mounted at the upper deck of U 511 behind its con-ning tower between 31 May and 04 June 1942. Still at the 04 June 1942 eventually 1 shot was fired being at the surface and 6 more while being submerged. For that, U 511 had gone down to periscope depth of 12 meters, with the launcher´s muzzle still some 5 meters under water. The grenades reached distances between about 3,000 meters and about 4,800 meters. The trials with the brothers on board U 511 were a great success. Plans to fire further 48 test rounds had to be given up as U 511 was ordered to leave immediately for frontal duties.

p263_1_02This launch meant being one of the first, if not the first, missile worldwide fired from under water. The trials are well documented and even movie pictures have been taken.

After its construction at the Deutsche Werft at Hamburg the type XI C U-boat U 511 was commissioned on 08 December 1941, to pass its initial and advanced combat training until the end of July 1941 at the 4th (Training) Flotilla at Stettin at the Baltic Sea. From the commissioning, the Commanding Officer was Kapitänleutnant Fritz Steinhoff. On 01st of August 1942 U 511 became frontal U-boat at Lorient. Later, in compliance with the Ger-man-Japanese military cooperation U 511 was selected as “Führergeschenk” (= “The Führer´s Donation”) to the Imperial Japanese Navy, and eventually handed over by a formal ceremony on 16 September 1943 at Kure, Japan after the U-boat had sailed to

Kommandant Steinhoff auf der Brücke von U 511 in Peenemünde
CO Steinhoff on the bridge of U 511 at Peenemünde

Japan for more than 80 days from Lorient via Penang in Japanese occupied Malaysia (see our series “Myths” and the article about U 511 and the Far East”)

Under the code name “Ursel”, the success of the trials with U 511 led to a development program by the arms producers of Rheinmetall-Borsig of an anti-ship-missile to fight escort units, which, however, did not see any operational readiness until the end of the war in May 1945. The trials with U 511 in June 1942 were not the only ones testing missiles. We know of plans to equip the German Type II B U-boats in the Black Sea with those missile systems as U 511 had tested them, since the Commanding Officers reported of worthwhile targets ashore that were to be reached only by those “special weapons”. Especially, the oil installations at the Soviet port of Poti were targeted.

In fact, launching racks were brought to the German Black Sea Base at Constanza, and, as Gerd Enders has written about in an article in 1994 (see: Literature), three U-boats (U 9, U 19 and U 24) of the 30th U-Flotilla executed a number of test-firings in the Summer of 1944, which failed throughout.p263_1_03

Killing of another myth is advised that enjoys a healthy life in some literature and certain Internet-Fora as it is taken simply for granted without prior checking. There is absolutely no proof of any operational use of those missiles against shore establishments, such as Poti, neither in the war diaries of these U-boats nor in any other documents related to them. On the other, it is well documented that the massive Soviet air raid against Constanza on 25 August 1944 hit the launching racks stored at the pier causing an explosion to such an extent that U 18 berthed nearby was severely damage.

p263_1_04The flying bomb V-1, which could be called “cruise missile” in today´s terms, with its range of more than 300 km, was ready deve-loped in 1943. Although this missile needed a launching rack of about 55 meters length, the V-1 was also taken into consideration for a seabased employment. Particularly, after the entrance of the USA into the war at the end of 1941 first ideas came into exist for a possible engagement of V-1 launched from U-boats against the Eastern shores of the US. Beginning in March 1943, the deliberations concentrated on the new type XIV U-boats under development to be used as platform. However, after the abandoning of any plans for mass production of that type of U-boat, the already introduced large type IX C U-boats were explored as carrier platform. But, no documents or records have been found yet saying anything about possible trials with the V-1 on board U-boats, let alone any actual employment.

Also, the vision, born after the US entered the war, to fire at the US an advanced multiple stage version of the V-2 (the project A-9/ A-10 with ranges of more than 5.000 km) gained some momentum following a proposal brought forward by a director of the “Deutsch Arbeitsfront” (= German Labor Front, a sort of national socialistic controlled trade union), Otto Lafferenz. After a visit of the facilities at Peenemünde and a meeting with the Mili-tary Commander, Major General Walter Dornberger, in the Autumn of 1943, he proposed to develop floating containers to accommodate V-2s and to tow them by U-boats before the US Eastern coast, to fire at New York and other area targets utilizing on their range up to 300 km. This arms project now called “Lafferenz-Project” (somewhat irritating, various authors in historic writing use other project names such as “Schwimmweste”= “Life Vest”, “Apparat F” , or “Prüfstand XII”= “Test Stand XII”) was consequently developed further, and as a first step a floating container was invented able to transport and launch, to be towed by U-boats. The end status of the concept envisaged an operation, where up to three containers were towed simultaneously by U-boats across the Atlantic Ocean, to be erected in some distance before the coasts into a vertical firing position by partial flooding – and to launch the V-2s.

p263_1_05For that the Weapons Test Command No. 10 at Stetting developed a container with a length of about 32 meters, a diameter of about 5.5 meters and a displacement of some 300 tons, to be constructed at the Vulcan shipyard at Stettin. At the turn of 1944 to 1945 successful towing trials were actually executed using the type VII C/41 U-boat U 1063, which went through its basic and combat readiness training with the 5th U-boat (Training) Flotilla at Stetting at that time, after it had been commissioned on 08 July 1944 at the end of its construction by the Germania shipyard at Kiel. Following its training period until the end of February 1945 the U-boats came frontal unit as of 01 May 1945 at Bergen, Norway.

First story: The deployment of the task group “Seewolf” (= “Seawolf”) with 6 type IXC U-boats (U 518/ U 546/ U 805/ U 858/ U 880 and U 1235) in mid March 1945 to the US east coast, as mentioned by Rohwer in his book “Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945”, has been re-written by some to being an alleged mass attack by these U-boats with V-1 against New York, one of the V-1 is even claimed to have crashed into the sea off New York after its launch. Also, a few months before, on the day of the US Presidential election on 07 November 1944, US Intelligence is to have warned before a German U-boat based V-1 attack against New York. Alleged proof is the missile raid warning announced for the NYC region between 04 and 10 of November 1944, as reported about by the US Armed Forces newspaper “Stars and Stripes” in its issue of 14 May 1945.

Second story: Other sources have changed the above story to an attempt the U-boat High Command to have deployed not less than 10 U-boats to the US east coast, to strike a V-2 attack out of towed launching containers, even U 873 is mentioned in this connection, although this U-boat was detached to the Caribbean. Proof for the threatening attack is again US Intelligence and its warning before a missile attack by V-2 being imminent.

As mentioned also by Rohwer, the US Navy consequently mounted its “Operation Tear-drop” to counter the U-boats.

In fact, 4 of the U-boats of task group “Seewolf” (U 518/ U 546/ U 880 und U 1235) were sunk, two more (U 805 and U 858) surrendered to the US at the end of the war. Besides: Doesn’t ring a bell there with regard to a similar myth one has read about before when mentioning the key word “Detachment of a group a 10 U-boats”? Immediately, that mystical convoy of German U-boats comes to one´s mind which allegedly sailed at the end of the war 1945 via South America to the “Fortress Neuberchtesgaden” at the Neuschwabenland area of Antarctica, to evacuate secret material and national socialistic leaders (see out story about the myth around U 977).


Stories about German U-boats off the east coast of the US occasionally emerging in the context of myths about “Wonder Weapons” of the Third Reich which are to launch missiles against New York, can be done away as mere fantasy when sticking to simple estimates of the then available technique and the overall maritime strategic situation. One should just imagine the large scale launching racks for V-1 at the upper deck of type IX C U-boats necessary, or the transit of U-boats of up to 30 days across the Atlantic Ocean towing their V-2 transport and launching containers.

As a matter of fact, so far no reports or even photographs of changes to the U-boats outer design necessary to facilitate such operations have been discovered yet. If not sensational discoveries occur in records, files and other documents released about alleged transport of missiles across the Atlantic Ocean to attack the mainland USA from U-boats, such stories may be classified as clear myths. Any planning for seabased operations of missiles launched from U-boats has never passed beyond advanced conceptual phases and first trials. Some developments in missile technology were rather advanced at the end of the war, e.g. the land based air defence or air-to-air missiles, and the effects of the land based V-1 and V-2 between mid 1944 and March 1945 are known too well, in particular those against London.

However, most developments never reached any combat readiness. Rather early, the Kriegsmarine has refrained from concentrated further development of seabased missiles, neither those to enable U-boats to defend against aircraft nor to employ those from U-boats against targets at sea or ashore.

The first seabased launch of a V-2 (length 14 meters and launch weight 13 tons) occurred on the 06 September 1947, and that using a V-2 seized by the US Forces at the end of the war 1945 in Germany (seized com-ponents of some 100 V-2 were shipped to the US) from the upper deck of the 45,000 tons US aircraft carrier USS Midway (“Operation Sandy”). The first seabased launch of a missile further developed in the US based on the V-1 (missile: LTV-N-2 “Loon”) was executed on 07 March 1948 from the upper deck of the US submarine USS Cusk (SS-348).


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Text & Picture: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum